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Exploring Our Theme, Part 1: Anchored in Hope

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.                                         It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” Hebrews‬ ‭6:19‬ ‭NIV

When I sensed God prompting me last December to choose hope as my word of the year for 2017, I had no idea how important this decision would be.

This has been a year filled with the storms of life.

First, we learned that we owed a large amount in property taxes on the house and property we had inherited from my husband’s mother. We made arrangements to begin making monthly payments on these taxes. Living on Social Security, supplemented with a self-employment income that varies greatly from month to month, this put a severe strain on our budget.

A few months later, our only vehicle broke down. When we learned that repairing it would cost more than we could afford and more than the value of the car, we were suddenly without transportation.

Then an actual storm, Hurricane Harvey, touched our lives. While we were fortunate that our home was not flooded, we did not make it through the torrential rainstorm without damage. Our roof sprung a leak, part of the ceiling in an upstairs room we use for storage collapsed, and water got into the walls and shorted out the wiring that supplies power to close to half of the house.

This however was not the most devastating result of the hurricane.  The Friday before the storm began on Sunday, our special needs son David began running a fever. Since David doesn’t regulate his body temperature very well because of his brain damage, we just watched him closely, using medication and cool compresses to reduce the fever. But by the following Tuesday, it’s was obvious David was fighting a major infection so we contacted his doctor for an antibiotic. We quickly learned that finding a drug store open and well stocked in Houston in the days following Hurricane Harvey was not an easy task. No one we contacted had the original prescription in stock.

Finally on Friday, after again contacting David’s doctor for a prescription of a different antibiotic, we were able to begin David on an antibiotic for what now appeared to be pneumonia. The next day, the house calls group we use for our son’s medical care sent out a mobile x-ray unit to do a chest x-ray, and pneumonia was confirmed. A stronger prescription was ordered, and we began treating the pneumonia at home.

The following Wednesday, it became obvious this home treatment plan was not working, in spite of the antibiotic and aggressive respiratory care our son’s nursing team was giving him. We called 911 and transported him to the hospital.

And thus began one of the most intense periods of our year so far.  We learned the pneumonia had caused fluid to fill David’s right lung, and the lung had collapsed. After several procedures to drain the fluid and reinflate the lung, and other health problems being diagnosed through further testing, it is now two and a half weeks later and we are still in the hospital.

So what does all of this have to do with being anchored in hope?

 When we go through the storms of life, we need an anchor to hold us steady. Hope in Jesus Christ is the anchor that holds us secure as we are blown and tossed by the wind and waves of the storms of life.

In today’s culture, hope is often equated to wishful thinking. But biblical hope is so much more. According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, to hope is “to trust in, wait for, look for, or desire something or someone; or to expect something beneficial in the future.” Biblical hope is rooted is trust in God and confident expectation based on His character and promises, especially during times of waiting for His answer.

As our family has walked through these difficult circumstances in 2017, our trust in God has not been shaken. If anything, these trials have drawn us into a closer relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There have been times of feeling overwhelmed, but even those have been taken to the Lord and our anchor has held. As I write this, we are still in a time of waiting for God’s answers. But through it all, the anchor of hope has held us steady in these storms of life.

 

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Five Minute Friday: Place

I’m a day late, but it’s time to join the Five Minute Friday writing community. Each week, Kate Motaung gives a prompt and for five minutes we do free and unedited writing on the week’s topic. Today’s prompt: Place

When I first saw this week’s topic, I drew a blank concerning what to write. Then I looked up the definition of place and found it can also refer to a state of mind. This opened my eyes.

In one way, our family is currently in a difficult place. A place of great uncertainty concerning the future. A place of stressful circumstances and waiting to see if God will come through for us.

But it an important way, this has also been a place of blessing. In recognizing our need for God to intervene, this has become a place of close fellowship with God. A place of new intimacy in relationship with my Lord. A place of growth in prayer. A place of peace in the midst of the storm.

Circumstances may land us in a certain place emotionally. But we have a choice in how we will respond. Seasons of great trial present us with two options. We can either turn our focus on the difficulties we are walking through and feel overwhelmed. Or we can turn our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and His promise that nothing can separate us from His love and be sustained.

We can turn our eyes on the problems, or we can turn our eyes on the Lord who is bigger than any problem we face. The decision we make will determine whether the place we are walking is one of defeat or victory.  Of turmoil or peace.

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Casting Your Cares on the Lord Through Prayer Journaling

My day yesterday was full – full of hurrying to get to one place, waiting, then more hurrying and waiting. First, it was hurrying to a 10am appointment for a mammogram, which didn’t actually take place until 10:40am. We left that office around 11am, made one stop on the way, then rushed to another appointment, this time with one of my doctors, only to settle down for another time of waiting. We finally got in to see the doctor, then left and hurried home in an attempt to miss a major storm that was coming. Overall, it was a productive but exhausting day.

As I was reflecting on the day this morning, I recognized it provides a good description of how my life has been recently – a series of moving quickly from one problem to another, only to enter another time of waiting on answers. At the same time, it’s been a spiritually productive time, even though as I write this the answers to several months of prayers are still in the future. And like my day yesterday, the process has been exhausting.

So how do we make it through such times of waiting? There are many answers to this question, but I want to share just one that has really helped me during this time. It’s based on Psalm 55:22, which says “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

How do we cast our cares on the Lord? One method that has worked extremely well for me over the past three months is prayer journaling. Through prayer journaling, I have shared my thoughts, emotions, and fears with God daily, casting them on the Lord. Then, I’ve taken time to listen for His response, which I also recorded in my daily journal entry.

This definitely has not been an easy time. Some days between the daily struggles of living with the pain and limitations of chronic pain and illness, dealing with new problems concerning our special needs son, and living with the daily stresses we are now facing, it has been hard to keep going. But sitting down each morning and sharing my current struggles with the Lord has consistently strengthened me to face another day.

Through this discipline of honestly sharing my heart with God on a daily basis, sometimes through tears, and then listening to His instruction for the day, I have truly been sustained. This season of testing is still not over. But even now I can look back on it as a time of spiritual intimacy with the Lord, hearing just what I need daily to keep pressing forward through another day.

No matter what you are facing today, I recommend highly that you take time every morning to cast the burden you are walking under on the Lord. Come to Him with honesty and humility, not trying to be “spiritual,” but  genuinely expressing what is on your heart to the Lord. Then take time to listen to His response. I believe you too will experience His sustaining power through whatever you are facing.

Learning About Prayer

I am the leader of prayer ministries for a large and growing ministry for ladies with chronic illness. I am currently leading a prayer study for the Sunday school class my husband and I attend. So prayer is important to me. But I do not consider myself an expert in prayer. As my responsibilities in the area of ministering to others in the area of prayer have increased, the knowledge that I still have a lot to learn has become foremost in my mind.  I am a learner in the area of prayer.

I shared in a recent article that my husband and I have been walking through some difficult circumstances in our lives. I don’t want to go into the details again, so I’ll share the link for anyone who is interested in this story.        https://readywriterbr.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/living-outside-my-comfort-zone/

God has been at work through these circumstances in both my husband’s life and my life, but in different ways. In my life, He has had me in what I would describe as the Holy Spirit School of Prayer

During the same period of time, I have been preparing to lead the prayer study in our Sunday school class using The Battle Plan for Prayer Bible Study materials from Stephen and Alex Kendrick, producers of the movie War Room.. What I share today is a combination of what God has personally been teaching me and what I’m learning through the study of these excellent materials.

Now I have a more balanced understanding of what prayer includes. Up until recently, when I thought of prayer, what primarily came to mind was confession of sin, lifting our needs up to the Lord (supplication), and intercession for the needs of others. I always felt like I was falling short in these areas, especially in supplication and intercession, because the needs were so overwhelming that it would literally take “prayer without ceasing” to cover all of them daily.

These are important parts of prayer, but prayer is so much more. I knew in theory that worship, praise and thanksgiving were all elements of prayer, but in my mind they were separate things. I had even tried using the A.C.T.S. acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication – during my prayer time, but I saw this more as a formula for prayer, with worship, praise and thanksgiving more as preparation for prayer than as actual types of prayer.

I had also read of the importance of using God’s Word in prayer, but in my mind and on my daily schedule Bible reading and prayer were two separate things. As we have walked through this difficult season, I’ve begun to understand each of these things as a part of true prayer.

At it’s root, prayer is communion and communication with God. When Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are to pray without ceasing, he was not talking about what I used to think of as prayer. He was saying throughout the day we are to stay in open communication with God. The main way God speaks to us is through His Word, so we are to read His Word expecting Him to speak to us. And we are to respond to what He shows us in prayer. Bible reading and study are meant to be a part of our prayer life, not separate from it.

This season of my life has caused a major change in my daily quiet time. Instead of seeing it as composed of a series of things I do, I have begun to see the whole quiet time as a part of prayer. Praise and worship are no longer preparing my heart for prayer – they are prayer. Overcoming discouragement by looking for God’s blessings in the midst of our trials and expressing my gratitude to Him is also a part of prayer. And when I pick up my Bible or open a Bible app on my iPad to begin reading and studying, I do so with an attitude of prayer and expectancy.

One thing that has really helped me gain this new understanding is prayer journaling. I’m not new to journaling. I remember many years ago as a new Christian getting up and reading my Bible and writing in my journal every morning before leaving for my job as a kindergarten teacher. And through the years, I’ve filled hundreds of notebooks and journals from this habit. But again, I saw this as separate from my prayer life.

When we began walking through this season where the cry of my heart daily became “God, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles‬ ‭20:12‬b‭ NIV)‬‬, I began prayer journaling. I now begin my quiet time with a prayer for God to speak to me through His Word, and as He began to do so regularly I grew into an expectancy that this would happen.

Now, as I read God’s word, I do so with a pen in my hand and my current journal open so I can put in writing the things God in showing me. This isn’t really much different than the journaling I’ve always done, but I no longer stop there. Those insights now become prayers of worship, praise and gratitude to God, of confession of sin, of honestly telling God where I am and asking His help, or of commitment to obey something He has shown me I need to do. Often as I’m reading a Scripture, someone with a need comes to mind and I intercede for them. Or I read a verse that gives a burden for Christians facing persecution for their faith and I turn this into a prayer. Or I read a passage that reminds me of how messed up things are in our nation , and I pray using that passage for our nation. Whatever God speaks to my heart during this quiet time in His presence is turned into a prayer of response.

As a result of this growing understanding of all prayer includes, and of learning to make prayer an important part of my day and not just an add-on to my Bible study time, I have been walking through one of the most difficult trials of my recent life, one where my normal response would be fear and anxiety, in almost constant peace. There have been days when staying close to God was a battle – life as a Christian in this fallen world is like that. But by staying in communication with God by talking with Him throughout my day, walking in meekness and submission to His will and purposes in our lives, and resisting the devil and his lies, I’ve experienced God’s peace and strength as seldom before.

As I was praying this morning about this article, a picture came to my mind of someone throwing a large stone into a lake. When the stone breaks the surface of the water, it creates a ripple effect, with concentric waves of water moving out from the spot where the stone landed. This is a picture of the effect of true prayer in our lives. True prayer isn’t just something we do as a part of our daily schedule, or even throughout the day as we become aware of needs. True prayer is like breaking the surface to enter into the presence of God, and the result has a ripple effect. It changes every part of our lives and even spreads out to touch the lives of others.

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Living Outside My Comfort Zone

The Five Minute Friday writing community, led by Kate Motaung and in which I routinely post, is writing on the prompt COMFORT this week. This is technically not a Five Minute Friday post – the two guidelines for Five Minute Friday posts are free writing for five minutes and no editing, and what I need to share today cannot be written in five minutes and is too personal and important to post without editing. But seeing Kate’s prompt for the week showed me the direction for this article which I’ve been sensing God directing me to write this week.

 

If I were in charge of my life, I would never step outside of my comfort zone, that place where I feel confident and comfortable and function with ease and familiarity. But many years ago, I turned the control of my life over to another, to Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. One big thing I’ve learned in the thirty-five plus years since then is that God is much more concerned with my character than my comfort.

From the automobile accident that took the life of our firstborn daughter Teresa and left me with crippling injuries, to the birth of our son with severe brain damage and profound mental retardation, to my later development of a long list of chronic  illnesses as a result of the injuries I received during the accident, comfort has not been a word I would choose to describe my life. Yes, in each situation, there has been a measure of comfort from God in the midst of heartache, but my Christian life has not been lived in my comfort zone.

In recent months, my husband and I have been walking through another dark valley, another season of life where in ourselves we can see no way out. It all started on a Saturday in May when we decided to take some much needed family time and have a meal out. My husband, daughter and I enjoyed our pizza and were on our way home when our car broke down on one of the busiest roads in southeast Houston. God protected us from injury and provided a way home, while our car was towed to a shop. Later, we learned that repairing our car – our only vehicle – would cost more than it was worth. We began praying, asking God to make a way for us to buy an affordable but dependable used car.

Fast forward a few weeks, and a series of letters, phone calls, and one visit to the court house opened our eyes to another major problem. We learned that the house and property we had inherited from my mother-in-law, which we thought the probate attorney who handled Mom’s estate had taken care of for us, was still in the name of the estate, and another plot of land on which she owed back taxes and which we had been advised by our attorney to just turn over to the county had been transferred to our name, apparently brecause of an error made by some level of local government. In addition, we learned that the senior homestead exemption we filed in January on our home had been lost by the county tax assessors’ office. Because of all this, we suddenly owed thousands of dollars in past due property taxes and penalties, on property that wasn’t even officially in our names.

It’s now the middle of July, and so far neither the need for a dependable car nor the property paperwork and tax issue has been resolved. We are still in a time of waiting to see what God is going to do.

Yet while our prayers have not yet been answered, this doesn’t mean that God hasn’t been at work behind the scenes. I can’t speak about how God is working in my husband’s life through these circumstances – that’s his story to tell. But God is doing a major work in my life during this season, first in teaching me about the power of prayer, and also in helping me to walk in faith in the midst of uncertainty.

Nothing prompts us to prayer better than a crisis! When circumstances feel over-whelming and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change them, you learn how dependent upon God you really are. What began in my heart as a simple cry to God for help has become a major classroom on the discipline of effective, strategoc prayer. I’ve come to understand as never before the need to hear from God before I pray, and to be honest with Him in sharing the burdens of my heart. I’ve learned the effectiveness of praying God’s Word back to Him. And I’ve learned to keep praying and not give up until the answer comes.

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The last two months have also been a time of taking hold of the fact that I am loved and accepted by God, even when I’m struggling. It has been a season of having my trust in God stretched to the breaking point, but also of my trust becoming stronger as I spend time in His presence and Word daily. Daily prayer journaling has become a way of life, as it my weakness I recognize my need for God’s strength to make it through another day. My relationship with God is now stronger than it’s ever been in the past, and my morning quiet times have become the biggest blessing of my days.

We still don’t know what God is going to do in either of these situations. We have done everything we know to do, so now both problems are in His hands, awaiting His answer in His timing. I want to close with a verse God gave me about a week ago, from 2 Chronicles 20, the last portion of verse 12. It says, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” That’s where we now are, as we wait on God to work on our behalf.

Where are you today? Is God asking you to live outside of your comfort zone and trust Him? If so, let my story encourage you to seek Him with your whole heart and hold nothing back. Even before your prayers are answered, you too may be amazed at the work He is doing in your life.

Five Minute Friday: Play

It’s Friday and time to join the Five Minute Friday writing community. Each week, Kate Motaung gives a prompt and for five minutes we do free and unedited writing on the week’s topic. Today’s prompt is: PLAY

When I saw today’s topic, I almost decided to skip posting this week. After all, it’s been an extremely busy week, I have an appointment this afternoon, and taking one more week off from writing was not an unreasonable adjustment.

But then I decided to look up the definition for play using my Meriam Webster Dictionary app. One meaning jumped out at me, and suddenly I knew exactly what I needed to write on.

Play – recreational activity; especially : the spontaneous activity of children

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I love watching children play, but at this point of my life this isn’t a thing that happens very often. Two words stood out to me from this definition: recreational activity.

Because of the effects of several chronic illnesses on my body, I am no longer able to play sports or participate in activities we typically think of as play. But I do recognize the importance of balancing work and recreational activities.

I have an extremely busy schedule, spending time daily in the Word of God and prayer, managing paperwork for our special needs son and home-based business, being on the leadership team for a large and growing Christian ministry for ladies with chronic illness, writing for my blog, and currently preparing to lead a study on prayer for our Sunday School class. Even though most of these are things I enjoy doing, they still fall under the category of work, leaving little room for relaxation.

A life with all work and no play leads to stress and shut-down. That’s not how I want to live. So I’m learning to set aside some time every day to do something I enjoy. While these activities are not what we typically think of as play, they serve the same purpose. They help me to relax and be refreshed. My fun activites include listening to music, reading, and occasionally playing a few rounds of  Solidaire or Spider on my iPad.

I used to feel guilty for taking time for relaxing, but God has been showing me this is false guilt. My life is often filled with stress, and relaxation is an important part of dealing with stress.

So my message to you today is simple: Take time to play!

Five Minute Friday: Walking Steady

As a woman with knees badly damaged from an auto accident and feet crippled from peripheral neuropathy and degenerative arthritic conditions, walking is a challenge. I use a walker daily to keep me steady on my feet, and when I’m going somewhere that will require extended walking my wheechair is needed.

This week, God has been speaking to me about a different kind of walking steady, about spiritually walking steady. Difficult circumstances such as the ones we are currently facing add great stress to our lives, and as Christians this puts us in a battle. Will we give into our emotions, or will be continue to stand strong and walk steadily in the Lord? God’s Word makes the correct choice clear.

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For many years, I’ve had the habit of spending the first part of my day as a type of spiritual prep time for the day ahead. So this week, doing this came naturally. But on the other hand, this wasn’t a typical week in this area. My sense of need to spend time in God’s presence and hear from Him was so intense that it got me out of bed earlier than usual. And each day, God graciously met me in the place I have set aside for this.

On Monday, before I even got out of bed, God spoke to my heart that I was to study the first thirteen verses of Hebrews 12, which was not on my scheduled reading plan for the day. As I obeyed, God opened my eyes to some encouraging truths in this passage that I had never noticed before.

Verses 12-13 especially stood out to me: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” Sensing God wanted me to take the time to really understand what He was saying here, I did some word studies in the original Greek. Where the English translation says “weak knees,” the Greek says “palsied knees.” As the mother of an adult son with extremely severe cerebral palsy, this had special and clear meaning to me. And for the rest of this week, during my quiet times God has continued to bring new insights to my heart all coming out of these first thirteen verses of Hebrews 12.

I don’t know what circumstances you are currently facing, but perhaps God is also speaking to your heart of a need to walk steady spiritually. If so, I pray you will set aside an unhurried time each morning of this coming week to hear from God. Whatever the need, God is waiting to open your eyes to exactly the truth you need to continue a steady walk with Him in your current situation.