An Injection of Hope

An Injection of Hope

 

The thing that makes life so great is also the thing that makes it so hard — it’s full of change, often extreme change.

hope2Seasons shift; one life fades; another begins.  Joy turns to mourning then back again, just as light gives way to a darkness that soon returns the favor.

Yet, in the midst of the night, our hearts often cry out, questioning, “When will the sun rise again?  Will the darkness last forever?”

Seasons of hardship are just that, hard.  My husband and I have experienced some tough things during our ten years of marriage, but there were a couple of years, in particular, when hardships seemed to endure relentlessly.  During those years, I regularly needed injections of hope just to survive — the kind of hope that can only come from the Lord.

This especially difficult season of life gave us sudden job loss, two years of stressful, disappointing job hunting, a multi-state move, a toxic job environment, financial strain, an unexpected, complicated pregnancy, and the birth of our 10 week premature son, along with his seven week stay in the hospital NICU.  We also witnessed the devastating tragedy that was my father-in-law’s fight with terminal cancer, the death of my husband’s beloved grandmother, and the heartbreaking loss of my own grandmother.  Intermingle raising two young children in the midst of these struggles, the marital stresses that naturally occurs, and you can quickly recognize the lingering nature of hardships these two years brought.hope9

Yet, even in the midst of this incredibly dark time, it always happened that when I was at my absolute breaking point, just about to give up, God would always, somehow, give me an injection of hope.  Sometimes, it took the form of a simple, encouraging conversation with a friend or maybe even a prayer from a perfect stranger at church.  Sometimes, it was a scripture that just jumped off the page during my quiet time.  And, sometimes, God Himself would speak to directly to my heart.

One day, in the darkest of hours, when I felt like I could no longer continue as we were, God gave me hope in a special way — through a powerful dream.

As I dreamt, I found myself walking in the woods.  I looked back, over my shoulder, and saw a flood of dark, murky water coming up swiftly from behind.  I frantically looked to my left and then immediately to my right — water was coming in from those directions as well, giving me no clear way of escape.  I walked faster, trying to outrun the rising water, only to find myself on the shore of a dark, muddy lake.  At that moment, I realized that I had nowhere else to go; it was completely hopeless.  I stepped into the murky water and immediately began to sink.  As I sank farther down into the abyss, I called out to the Lord, “Jesus help me, I can’t do this alone — I am going to drown!” All at once, I heard the Lord reply in a calm, reassuring voice, “I am with you, Amanda.  Begin to swim up slowly. You will not drown — you will be fine.”Amanda and Kids

I awakened from the dream and was immediately surrounded by the all-surpassing peace of the Lord, once again filled with His hope. And, I knew that even though the trials might not end with the coming of the day, they were only for a season, even if it seemed like a very long one!  God was with me, and He would help me make it through.

God’s hope can get you through anything!  It’s not that wishful-thinking kind of hope, but a real, life-altering hope that is activated by our sincere faith and trust in a loving, living God that will never forsake us, who is always there for us through every hardship.

Seasons of hardship are unavoidable — just as fall must give way to winter and day to night.  Yet, even so, we are not overcome — God’s abiding hope gives us the power to persist.  Just as the Word declares:

Now, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

If, by chance, you too are going through a hard season, may this be your first injection of hope.

God has not forgotten you.  He is with you, and He will not let you drown.  He loves you very much — more than you can ever know.

 

Our Disobedience Affects Others

Our Disobedience Affects Others

Is God calling you to do something and you keep putting it off?  Has God told you not to do something and you continue anyway?

Disobedience has consequences — something I learned the hard, smelly way.

You see, it all started with my harmless desire to get a nice patio set for our back porch, but it soon spiraled into a mess that affected everyone around me. `

ignoring-copyRummaging through internet listings, I finally found the perfect patio set on Craigslist.  It had everything I wanted — it was the right size, the right style, the right fabric.  I could already see myself lounging in those perfectly comfy chairs, coffee on the table, book in hand, birds chirping, a gentle breeze flowing in from the lake.

Like most things on Craigslist, the price was a little too high and the seller’s location a little too far.  However, negotiation was my specialty, a challenge I loved to tackle, so I started working my bargaining magic.  But, from the moment I began speaking to the sellers, a family living an hour away, I had a strong feeling that I did not need to proceed.  

Sensitive to these “feelings,” God’s guiding hand in my life, I sat down and thought through everything again.  And then, not so sensitively, consumed with the thought of having that perfect patio set, I pushed on.  After all, why would God really care if I purchased lawn furniture?  I wasn’t being a bad steward of our money — the price was right, negotiated way down, and the family was even going to deliver it for me.  This “feeling” didn’t make any sense.  

So, I chose to ignore it, God’s caution, and did exactly that which I had already justified — I planned the delivery.  “Tomorrow at 10 am,” I said, finishing the call in excited anticipation.

Routine as usual, the next morning was bright and sunny.  I decided to cook a chicken for dinner, placing it in a pot on the stove and setting the temperature for a slow boil.  This was going to be perfect, especially since I would be back to the house in just a couple of hours to meet the family bringing my new patio set!

shattered_glassBut, just an hour after I got to work I received a call from a very frustrated woman — it was the lady with the patio set.  She began to tell me a tragic tale.  They had driven 20 minutes down the road, the patio table and chairs on the trailer, when all of a sudden the table’s glass top flew off the trailer, shattering into millions of pieces all over  the interstate.  I immediately recalled that “feeling” I chose to ignore, God’s conviction that I had spurned.  And, in that moment, I recognized that my disobedience had affected this family.  I cringed thinking about how the events unfolded and how it could have been even worse.

Thankfully, no one had been hurt. But, these people’s lives were harmed because of me.  They lost any money they could have received and also wasted gas money, not to mention all the danger, hassle, and frustration that must have accompanied the incident on the interstate.

I called my husband, telling him all that had happened.  And, since we didn’t need to meet the family any more, we decided there was no longer a need to run back to the house — we would wait until it was closer to lunch.

So, we waited.

Just after noon, we pulled into our home’s driveway, and I casually got out of the car to go unlock the front door.  As I opened it, billows of smoke began to pour out of the house.  Frantically checking for signs of a fire, we could tell that all of the windows were glazed with a dingy film, even those on the second floor.

All of  the sudden I remembered the chicken.

My husband began to run through the house, opening all of the doors and windows, and I ran to the kitchen to remove the boiling chicken from the stove top.  The pot had no water in it and no semblance of a chicken, just charred bones and flakes of ash remained.

My disobedience cost us.  It took more than $1,000 dollars to remove much of the smoke damage from our walls, vents, and furniture.  Much of the work on our house involved harsh chemicals, which I couldn’t really be around pregnant, so my husband had to do most of the cleanup on his own.  And, besides all of this and few hundred extra dollars in coins, it also cost us hours of our time as we sat at the local laundromat for two days, washing and rewashing all of our clothing, trying desperately to remove the disgusting smell of burnt chicken.  

Woman Smelling an Unpleasant OdorDid I mention that my sister-in-law was also living with us during these lovely events?  For some strange reason, her hair had “the smell” for close to a month — no amount of washing seemed to help.  It eventually wore off, and I think she eventually forgave me.  And then, of course, my father-in-law decided to have some fun with my predicament, making me the center of “chicken” jokes for quite some time!

Yet, even with all of this, I know things could have been so much worse.  I am so grateful that our house did not burn down or that no one was seriously injured. I thank the Lord that even in my disobedience He was merciful.

As you can tell from my unfortunate story, disobedience has consequences that not only affect us but also others, those unsuspecting bystanders that are in our wrong place in our wrong time.

Are you being disobedient to God in some area of your life, maybe even in something as seemingly insignificant as a purchase of lawn furniture?

Maybe you’re pursuing a degree that you know you’re not supposed to be? Or, maybe you’re in a relationship that you just know is wrong?

Maybe you’re not sharing the gospel with that friend, neighbor, or co-worker, even after feeling constantly prompted by the Holy Spirit?

Remember, what you do or don’t do will affect the lives of those around you.  And, it can be worse than simply the short-term, costly consequences of my story.

Disobedience isn’t worth it.  Like me, turn around and get back on the path of obedience with our loving, heavenly Father — there’s always a reason for His leading!

If anyone loves me, he will obey me. ” John 14:23

God’s Timing, Not Mine

God’s Timing, Not Mine

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” – Psam 27:14

Timing.  It’s so very important.  And, this time it made all the difference.

I am 33 years old and grew up not knowing my father — well, that is until recently.

You see, as teenagers in a quick-lived romance, my mom and dad, just 16 and 17 respectively, got the surprising news that they were pregnant.  In the midst of the shock that inevitably followed, my father concluded that I just couldn’t be his.  And with that, it was over — he went off to the military, and I was born into a chaotic, single-parent home.

Years passed and life happened.

I didn’t know much about him, just a few scattered facts, bits and pieces strung together from random conversations with my mom.  However, one disappointing fact stood out above the rest — he was addicted to drugs and alcohol.  At hearing this, my naive hopes of him coming back into my life faded.

But, in high school, I started hanging out with some Christian friends and got to know their families.  Something about being around all of them together, so tight-knit and close, seemingly perfect, made me think a lot about my own father.  I decided to find him, sifting through countless internet search records and asking a friend’s FBI dad to help me out a little.  Yet, all I could find were disconnected phone numbers and bad mailing addresses.  For whatever reason, it just never worked out.

With every failed attempt, I began to sense more and more that I needed to wait.  The Lord was asking me to trust Him — to trust that when the time was right, He would let me know.

So, doing the only thing that I knew or could do, I started praying — praying for my father, wherever he was, his wife, and even his other children, potentially my step-brothers and sisters.

Again, more years passed, but I kept trusting the Lord and kept praying.

Then, strangely, while attending seminary, my younger brothers and sisters, most born to different dads, began to reconnect with their fathers, generally with positive results.  Hearing their stories, something began to stir in my heart again.  Often I would find myself daydreaming about meeting my dad for the first time, how it would look, the conversations we would have — how great it would be!

Now, I hadn’t told any of this to my husband, which makes this next part seem rather odd.  But, not long thereafter, he came to me with a strange look on his face.  He said, “Amanda, I had a pretty intense dream last night — it was about your dad.”  He continued, “You and I went to meet him and his family, and it was anything but great.”  The details of the dream were dark and hurtful. “I don’t know what’s going on or if you were going to try to reconnect again, but I really think you should wait.”  And, though shocked, I did wait, all the while trusting the Lord and praying.

More years passed, 32 all together — then, it happened.

I’m standing in church worshiping the Lord, His presence in the 1,000+ seat auditorium almost tangible.  Our worship pastor pauses while  playing the piano and begins to share something God is placing on his heart.  He testifies saying, “Some of you in this church have been struggling with broken relationships in your families, and I believe that God is about to move, bringing restoration and reconciliation.”  Looking at my husband, I remember saying, “I really feel like that’s for me, but I can’t think of anyone in my family that I need to reconcile with.”

Five days later, on a Friday night, I received a Facebook “friend request” from someone I had never seen — it was my father.  In complete shock, I sat there just staring at the request, my heart and mind racing.  Hours later and still shaken, I accepted his “friendship” request.

Then, on Sunday, one week from the day that I felt the worship pastor’s words sink deep into my heart, I received this Facebook note:

Amanda, I don’t really know how to start this, so I just will. I’m your dad, your mom just contacted me, so now I know where you are. I know your grown and have your own family, but if you wish to get to know me; I would really like that. I would love to get to know you and your children and husband. you can find some basics about me on facebook or message me and we can talk, if you like. God bless and have a great day.”

There were many more Facebook messages, a lot of questions, and eventually phone calls and texts.  We got to know one another and heard each other’s stories.

Just a few short years before, he had accepted Christ following his incarceration for a DWI.  His life was totally different; he had been clean from drugs and alcohol for two years.  Not only that, but he had also met and recently married a Christian woman, bought a house, found good work, and was even in college, determined to become an addictions counselor.

We began talking about meeting one another, even scheduling several meetings, but conflicts and unforeseen circumstances kept interfering.

God’s timing, not mine….

Fourteen months after the initial Facebook contact, my husband and I were able to meet my father on Easter Sunday, discovering just a couple of days before that my father was getting baptized at his local church.

We had a four hour drive to his home, and although I was nervous, I was confident that our meeting would go fine because I had waited on the Lord, obeyed Him, and trusted Him — His timing is perfect.

During his baptism, I thought about all of the years that I wondered about my dad and prayed for him.   I was overcome with thankfulness to the Lord, for His patient hand in my life and the amazing way He orchestrated everything so perfectly.  Had I met my father just a few years earlier, a face to face meeting could have been devastating — he openly shared about the type of person he had been and it wasn’t good.

I was also very thankful that while I was waiting, praying, and trusting, God had helped me walk through forgiveness, forgiving my dad for the decisions he made in his life that affected mine. Watching firsthand as he got baptized, I was again reminded of that forgiveness,  but more importantly the forgiveness that our Heavenly Father extends to each and every one of us — He washes our past  clean!

As you could expect, we still have a lot to learn about one another, but I am confident that as we pursue this newly reconciled relationship that God’s blessing is upon it.

I don’t know who or where you are, what life has thrown at you, but, like me, I encourage you to trust the Lord.  Trust that He has a perfect plan for your life — that as you pursue Him, He will guide and direct you.  Trust, that even through life’s ups and downs, He is faithful.  Trust that He knows you and knows what and when you need it.  And, trust that He loves you — loves you enough to make  His timing in our lives perfect!

Choose forgiveness, start the journey.

Choose forgiveness, start the journey.

It has been said that unforgiveness is like taking a glass of poison from someone, drinking it, and then expecting them to die.

If you have been following my blog then you’ve probably read about some of the abuse I endured growing up, terrible things that no one should have to experience.  And, with each troubling episode, the pain in my heart grew, the hurt deepened, and the scars multiplied.  I carried those scars with me through high school and college, even after I accepted Christ.

But, the Lord, full of compassion, seeing all of the hurt and pain still in my heart, began leading me down the road of healing, to the place of total restoration.  The first step on my journey — forgiveness.

God began to work in my heart, encouraging me to forgive those who had inflicted all of the hurt and pain; it wasn’t easy.  Yet, with each person I forgave, I discovered more and more freedom in my life.

One day, however, my journey screeched to a halt, the choice to forgive a seemingly insurmountable task.

My  mom and I were talking, neither of us anticipating where our conversation would lead, when, randomly, we began to talk about the past, specifically my childhood.  We had never discussed the abuse, what had happened to me under her watch — I wasn’t really even sure she knew much about it.  Yet, somehow, in that particular moment, I found myself sharing with her some of the things I endured.

And, as I went on, I shared how the Lord was healing my heart and helping me forgive all of the different people involved.  All of a sudden, in one spontaneous moment of transparency, my mom started to cry, confessing that she had indeed known about the abuse as it was happening but did nothing to stop it, not really knowing how.  Looking at me with tears in her eyes, she asked me if I could ever forgive her.

Shocked by this confession, my mind racing, I didn’t know how to respond.  “Mom, I want to forgive you, but I’ve got to process all of this,” I said.

I was so hurt, confused, and angry.  How could any mom, especially my mom, allow such awful things to happen to her own children!?!

I went home, and for the next week or so, I prayed — I prayed that God would help me forgive my mom.  The Lord, ever with me on my journey, began to do something special in my heart, something supernatural.  He reinforced His love toward me, and then, He showed me how much He loved my mom.

Soon, I began to understand that even though my mom had knowingly allowed the abuse to continue, I could still choose to forgive — I could still choose to love her.

I made a choice that day.  I forgave my mom along with all of the other people in my life that had hurt me.  I was able to go back to my mom and honestly tell her that I had forgiven her.  I was able to share how much God loved her, how He would forgive her and help her forgive herself, if she would only let Him.

You see, forgiveness is a choice; it’s not a feeling.  And, it doesn’t mean that you will forget the injustice or that you are excusing the one who wronged you.  Instead, it means that you are no longer going to hold it against them — you choose to extend God’s supernatural grace.

You’re making the deliberate choice to show that person the same mercy and grace that Christ showed you.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

Unforgiveness is a poison that hurts you — it holds you back, preventing you from walking in freedom and experiencing God’s healing touch, His restoration.  I know it’s tough; it’s not easy.  But, I also know that God can and will do a miracle in your heart, if you’ll let Him.

There is freedom in forgiveness.  There is healing in the Lord.  God will restore your life.

Today, make the choice — begin the journey.

 

$7 Dollars and a Little Trust…

$7 Dollars and a Little Trust…

 

Trust — it’s such a simple concept, and yet it’s still so difficult to practice!

Just two days after giving my life to Christ at a teen ministry conference, I returned home apprehensive, unsure of my family’s reaction to the surprising news.  What would they think?  How would they react?  What would Mom say?

Hesitating momentarily, I finally found the courage to walk through the front door, ready to reveal my life-altering decision.  My Mom greeted me, and, just as I had rehearsed a thousand times over in my head, she asked the question, “So how was your weekend?”

Cautiously, every word measured, I began to share, “My weekend was great!  In fact, you could say that it was life-changing…”  I kept going, explaining everything that had happened, “Mom, this weekend I accepted Christ and have committed my life to serving Him in the ministry.”

There was more.

“I’m also turning down the full-ride tennis scholarship I was offered — I’m not going to attend a state university.  I feel like I need to find a Christian college that can help me grow in my relationship with Christ.”

Ambivalent, she replied, “I’m not surprised.  I always knew you’d do something like this.”  She continued, “You know that I can’t help you pay for college, right?  How are you planning to go to school without a scholarship?”

I replied anxiously, “Mom, I don’t really know.”

As I lugged my suitcases back to my room, I remembered something a pastor had said during the weekend ministry conference — the answers to life’s questions are in the Bible.  Innocently, maybe naively, I picked up a Bible and let it fall open, scanning the unfamiliar text for my answer.  And, though the Bible didn’t specifically address the issue of college scholarships or student loans, sure enough, I found my answer in the middle of the page…

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. — Proverbs 3:5-6

I quickly memorized the verse and shared it with my mom.  Just a few short months later, I found myself in a Christian Studies program at Howard Payne University, a private, Christian college, where I not only learned to study the Bible but also became a true follower of Christ.

And, that was just the beginning of my journey trusting the Lord.  

Now, as he leads me, I try my best to trust Him and follow.  Still, sometimes I doubt God, unsure that everything will really fall into place.  Often, instead of trusting Him, I’ll try to figure it all out on my own, questioning His direction, debating in my mind whether I’m really following His will.

Yet, when I do step out in obedience and trust what God has spoken to my heart, blessings always seem to follow.

This became even more clear to me as a college student.

I had been a Christian for a couple of years and had spent that particular summer ministering on trips abroad.  Because of this, I hadn’t been able to work a summer job or save up any money.  Arriving back home, a church that had sponsored me asked if I could come out and share about my recent ministry work in Estonia.  Although I wanted to go and share all that God had done through their generosity, the church was located over an hour’s drive away and I only had $7 left in my bank account.  But, when I prayed, I felt that God wanted me to go anyway — so I went.

While driving to the Church, I felt a comforting peace that God was going to provide, but I had no idea how.

I shared my testimony and prayed with several people who had come forward.  And, once the service ended, a pastor walked up and handed me a $25 check to help with my travelling expenses.  I told him how grateful I was, thanked him again and again for the church’s sponsorship, and inwardly marveled at the faithfulness of God.  But, He wasn’t done.

A woman in the church parking lot shouted my name and ran over to me, introducing herself and sharing how my testimony had touched her heart.  Before she left, she gave me another envelope, a gift God wanted her to give — at least that’s what she said.  I thanked her for her wonderful kindness and got in my car, only to discover that the “gift” was worth far more than I ever anticipated — $350 dollars.  For a college student who had planned to live on little to nothing for the next couple of weeks, $350 was an amazing gift.  I was overcome with thankfulness to God.

Not only had God provided for my immediate needs, but He had also covered everything that I would need in the coming weeks.

At that moment, the Lord whispered to my heart, “I know AND meet your needs before you even think about them.  Just trust me.”

And, that promise from the Lord has always been true.  Sometimes His directions don’t seem to make rational sense, and there are times when His provision feels very “last minute,” maybe even late.  But, He has always been faithful, giving me every reason to trust Him.

Won’t you?

Whatever He is asking of you, just do it. Don’t try to figure out all of the details — just trust Him.  He is faithful!