Encouragement When the Road Feels Broken

Beulah girl dec jan

Our house has been for sale since the beginning of the summer.

After just a few weeks on the market, we received two offers. However, through a series of events, both offers fell through, and we’ve had a long stretch since then of realtors texting me at all hours of the day to see our property and the continued challenge of keeping it clean with two small children underfoot.

My husband’s new job (the one that necessitated our move) has been proving to be a stressful transition for my husband and our family. He has been commuting long hours and putting extra time into the basketball program where he is serving as a coach. As a result, I have had many long evenings and weekends alone with my small children.

To add to the mix, shortly after we lost the offers, I found out that I am pregnant.

While this is exciting news, at 36, everything in my body hurts — my knees, my legs, my stomach, everything! I’ve been fighting all-day nausea, so each day feels like an uphill battle. And to add to that, God keeps pruning away at character issues in me that has me feeling so worn out. All the cutting away God has been doing has left me feeling like I should just give up on myself. At certain intervals these past few weeks, I have wanted to back out on selling our house, on starting a ministry, on continuing to step out into the difficult territory God keeps calling me to.

However, just in the past two weeks, I’ve received texts from several old friends I haven’t spoken to in some time asking how I am doing, letting me know they were thinking of me. Another friend from years ago messaged me to ask me if she could pray for me. She said God had put me on her heart. Just her simple few lines brought me to tears because I felt so cherished and loved when I received her words.

I knew God had orchestrated these special contacts on my behalf. I knew that He was looking out for me and sending me much-needed comfort. I was reminded by my friends’ words of all the other times God had rejuvenated and motivated me to keep following Him down the path He had for me even when so many trials made me want to look for an easier way.

A Woman Who Walked a Difficult Road

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a woman who must have longed at times for a simpler course. We often think of the Christmas card pictures of Mary — a serene woman garbed in blue cradling an equally serene Jesus. But what that picture does not portray is the pain she had to go through in being the mother of the Messiah. Let’s take a quick peek at Mary’s early road as the mother of Jesus:

— She was impregnated by the Holy Spirit as a virgin and had a whole lot of explaining to do to her family and fiancé.

— She was pregnant out of wedlock in a time when it was not socially acceptable for women to be pregnant without being married.

— She endured a long expedition on a mule while pregnant.

— Once the trip to Bethlehem was complete, the inns were too crowded to house her, so she had to give birth to Jesus in a stable.

And this was just at the beginning of her role as Jesus’ mama! I don’t know about you, but at this juncture I might have been ready to throw in the towel and tell God that I wasn’t cut out for this job, you know?

However, at this point in her journey, after the birth of Jesus in the stable, shepherds saw angels in the sky proclaiming Jesus’ birth and came to see this new infant king. And then the shepherds left to tell everyone in the town what they had seen.

These shepherds were strangers to Mary. They just showed up after Jesus was born and spoke of her baby with awe and wonder because of the message they had been given through the angels. After the proclamation of the shepherds’ news, the Scriptures tell us that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). To “ponder” means to “think about or consider something carefully” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Most likely, the shepherds’ confirmation and joyous proclamation of her God-son was just the news Mary needed after a hard, long journey — a journey that was only beginning. Surely the shepherds’ visit validated Mary in a way that helped to lift her up after enduring tough circumstances.

Mary Examined the Other Moments in the Past

And perhaps Mary, in her pondering of the shepherds’ visit. was not only encouraged but was able to examine these newest developments in her story and her son’s story and gain further insight into the person she had birthed.

She could compare this newest spiritual occurrence with instances in the past: when the angel had visited her to tell her of the child she would bear; when she met with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy in her womb; and when Joseph was told by an angel in a dream that Mary had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit.

With each of these events, Mary could further be assured that God was with her and was indeed going to accomplish what He said.

Because so often God tells us a vision of what we will accomplish for Him but provides us with no other details, and those are not filled in until we are actually underway on the journey. Personally, I, too, have had a string of events that have gone beyond just the most recent messages from friends that have helped to not only comfort me but clarify a call that felt very fuzzy initially.

A few years ago when I was just starting to get a sense that God wanted me to start a ministry, I was visiting my parents in my home state of Washington and happened to attend a small church where no one knew me or my story. The first time that I visited, I received prayer from a woman who told me that God was going to use me in a big way in ministry. I gave her no details about myself, but she repeated and even expanded on what God had already told me.

The second time I visited, exactly one year later, the pastor himself approached me and gave me a prophetic word. He told me that God was going to use me to write curriculum for others and how God had given me administrative gifts that He was going to utilize in me to lead others. Just a few months after visiting his church, I knew what that “curriculum” was going to be. I felt God specifically tell me to write down the lessons He had taught me in a blog.

Even with these past occurrences where God has confirmed to me the direction I should go — I have felt distracted and pulled down by just how hard everything has felt the past few months. That big vision God gave me concerning how He wants to use me feels suffocated by the other things going on in my life.

His Comfort Keeps Me Going

But by receiving the comfort He is providing now and meditating on key times He has shown up for me in the last few years, as Mary did when she saw the shepherds, I have been able to find fresh inspiration and strength to continue on in my course.

Because the promise we have is this: whatever God has called us to as far as kingdom work is not work we do alone. He will refresh us in the process (Proverbs 11:25). Yes, there will be hardship and inconvenience and trials, but God is there to renew us at pivotal points.

And when I survey His faithfulness, I can rest knowing that the next stretch of the journey, whatever it is, however hard it is — is that which He has already charted.

I can know that those moments in the future, just when I am about to plunge into despair, when I am too weary to go on, is right where God will provide again — another pearl of encouragement to ponder.

Related Bible Verses:

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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When You’re Down to Your Last Loaf

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I’m an over-thinker.

This gets me into trouble in my writing because I often over-analyze the process, and I sometimes write two or three versions of a piece before I post it. And I have to decide which version to use.

And the over-thinking begins.

Over-exhausting! Let me tell you! I need an editor to end my madness.

My hyper-processing of information served me well when I was an English teacher because I could spin fresh meanings from the same tales year after year. But the downside is that it gives me decision paralysis where I can’t make a choice about what to keep in and what to exclude in some of the pieces I write.

A story that I considered expanding on in a previous post I wrote (about a sum of money God asked me to give away at a consignment sale) was one from 1 Kings of a widow in great need. However, something wasn’t flowing right with the piece, and so I simply listed the Scripture reference at the bottom.

And then I second-guessed myself.

Since then, the widow’s story has been one that I can’t get off my mind. Therefore, although I had planned a much different companion piece for my previous post, I had to scrap that in order to give voice to the one inside me wanting to be heard.

A Woman in Need

In 1 Kings 17, we see a story of a woman in a dire situation. Down to her last jar of flour and jug of oil — with no hope of obtaining more as the area is suffering in a drought — she goes out to gather sticks by the town gate when she is met by the prophet Elijah.

He has been told by God to go to Zarapheth where he finds her. Elijah asks her to make him a small loaf of bread and fetch him some water. She informs him that she has only enough flour and oil to make herself and her son one last meal — and then they will die (vs. 12).

Elijah assures her not to be afraid but to do as he says, and when she does her flour and oil will not be depleted. Verse 15 in the passage tells us: “She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

Several important things stand out to me about the passage.

1. God chose her.

As commentator Matthew Henry suggests, many other men or women could have been appointed to welcome Elijah into their home — richer or more distinguished persons. However, God chose an unassuming, poor, at-the-end-of-her-rope widow to provide food and lodging for Elijah. While the widow viewed her situation as bleak, God saw it as the perfect circumstance to reveal Himself and His glory. As Henry observes, she was “more in a condition to receive alms than give entertainment” — but God chose her to feed His prophet!

Too often we see our lack as just that, but it is in our weak and humble positions that we can encounter God. He looks to use us in those situations where we think we have no way out — and we don’t — until He steps into the midst of our mess. Out of all the people who could have met the prophet at the gate, God selects a most unlikely candidate.

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2. She had come to the end of her resources.

The widow had reached the end of what she could do. Although it does not say it outright in the passage, we can imagine that she had scraped and pinched and worked to feed herself and her son, but all that remained was still not enough to sustain her family past that night. God can provide when we are in the position to acknowledge that we cannot make it on our own.

3. She obeyed even when it didn’t make sense.

Even though she was a Sidon woman and did not most likely believe in the God of Elijah, she still obeyed when the instructions made no earthly sense. She made preparations to give away her last meal — and trust — when nothing in her circumstances suggested that she would have provision past that night.

God could have supplied Elijah with food for the woman or orchestrated the scene at the gate to unfold differently, but He first asked for the woman’s action of faith before she received her blessing. So many times in my own life, He has asked me to take the impossible, hard-to-understand step. And it is only in my obedience that I reap the benefit.

4. She was rewarded for her faith.

Her sacrificial act did not go unnoticed, and God offers us the same opportunity for a miracle. Although we may not be down to our last meal or our last paycheck, we may be surrounded by insurmountable difficulty. Our way out may be to give up what we may be holding on to. This may not be a monetary item — but could be our reputation, a dream, a relationship, or a vice that we don’t want to relinquish.

5. Her trust exceeded her doubt.

Although this is a story about giving, we find it is really a story about trust. What God wants to get at in all of us is our faith level. When He asks us to let go of the job, the key ministry position, the money from the sale we had planned on using for ourselves — He essentially asks the question: Do you trust me?

He asked it of me at the consignment sale when I felt His whisper to give up some of my preciously guarded money away to a stranger. He asked it of me when He put it on my heart to quit my job and step out into a ministry that didn’t exist three years ago. He asked it of me when He told me give up serving on a worship team for a season though I dearly love music.

He asked it of the widow when Elijah requested the loaf of bread.

He doesn’t just ask for a side portion — He asks for everything — our trust. And sometimes, it feels like He asks for too much.

Too often, I take my eyes off Him and flounder. I look at the mounting bills, the unrepaired house, my unruly children, a dream that hasn’t been realized. And I doubt.

I tell Him that I won’t make that loaf of bread or give up my meal. Because it’s my last one.

But it’s only in the trusting, the letting go, the releasing, the yielding, that my empty flour jar and oil jug get filled again. Only in the steps of faith that I look and see another portion of flour for the next day — a little oil. Enough for another meal.

What is He asking of you? As Henry notes,”The meal and oil multiplied, not in the hoarding, but in the spending … When God blesses a little, it will go a great way, even beyond expectation; as, on the contrary, though there be abundance, if he blow upon it, it comes to little, Hag. 1:9; 2:16.”

Related Bible Verses:

Haggai 1:9: ” ‘You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.’ ”

Haggai 2:16: ” ‘When anyone came to a heap of twenty measures, there were only ten. When anyone went to a wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were only twenty.’ ”

 Re-published. Original publish date December 19, 2014.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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What Does Heaven Look Like?

Beulah girl dec jan

This past month, I attended two funerals. The first was for a little boy who was only five years of age. The second was for a woman who was a wife, mother, and grandmother.

I haven’t been to many funerals in my life; the two I have gone to before these recent ones were very different. From my first funeral, which was at a Catholic church, to my second one, which was a traditional Baptist ceremony, I have experienced a range of final services. But the funerals I attended this October were uniquely different from my previous experiences. Each one gave me a precious glimpse of heaven I will treasure the rest of my days.

The first funeral I went to last month was for my children’s pastor’s young son, Christian. This sweet boy was taken suddenly one morning after having trouble breathing.

This is the event everyone prays they will never have to attend — the funeral of a child.

As I sat down in the church sanctuary waiting for the service to begin, I made sure I had plenty of tissues in my purse. I was anticipating a weepy cry fest. How else do you respond to the tragic loss of the youngest son of your pastor and his beautiful wife?

I quickly realized, though, that this was not going to be your typical funeral. Although there were times where I shed tears, I spent more time standing and singing than mourning and grieving. The central theme of Christian’s service was that he is currently in heaven and enjoying Jesus, and although it is sad he is no longer with us, if we know the Lord, we will one day see this wonderful little boy again and enjoy Jesus with him.

Christian’s funeral quickly turned into a worship service! The choir began singing Babbie Mason’s song “All Rise.” Everyone’s voices joined together: “All rise (all rise), all rise (all rise), to stand before the throne, in the presence of the Holy One. All rise (all rise), all rise (all rise), as we worship the Messiah, all rise!”

I could instantly see myself before the throne of God with Christian and other believers. I’ve never experienced anything like it before in my entire life. It was surreal. It was like I was playing an active role in the scene found in Revelation 7:9-10:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

I left that funeral having glimpsed heaven, and later that month, I realized God wasn’t done revealing to me more about our ultimate destination.

Beulah girl dec jan - Copy

The second funeral I attended this past month was for a dear friend’s mother, Diana. She had battled cancer for over five years before slipping away from her family and friends.

Diana led a life of service for Jesus in The Salvation Army. Upon hearing of her critical condition, many came to visit her in the hospital, and many more made it a point of coming to her funeral.

Her funeral was a traditional Salvation Army celebration of her life complete with a brass band and time-honored hymns. But what primarily held my attention throughout the service were the words that were stitched on a covering they had draped over her casket: Promoted to Glory.

While listening to the music, I sat contemplating Diana’s promotion to glory.  As various friends and family spoke about a life well lived, it was almost as if I could see her approaching the throne and could hear Jesus say to her, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” It was an extraordinary moment.

And again, I left a funeral having glimpsed heaven.

Recently, in my quiet time, I read these words in Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment devotional:

“Listen to how Jesus describes the inhabitants of heaven: ‘They will walk with me and wear white clothes, because they are worthy … ’ (Revelation 3:4). Listen to the description of the elders: ‘Around the throne there were … twenty-four elders … They were dressed in white and had golden crowns on their heads’ (Revelation 4:4). All are dressed in white. The saints.”

Now, when I close my eyes and picture heaven, I see little Christian dancing for Jesus in front of the great throne in a small white robe. I see Diana, with one hand raised, also clothed in white, singing “Holy, holy, holy!” I see my loved ones — my grandmother, my precious baby Angel — there talking with my Jesus.

What do you envision there?

If you have recently lost someone, please allow me to say, I am so sorry for your loss. There are no words that can be written to ease your pain. But praise be to God, we do not grieve as those without the hope of Christ do. Our loved ones are there, with Him.

Related Bible Verses:

Revelation 22:1-5 (ESV) : “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

In Memory of Christian and Diana

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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