Giving When You Have Nothing to Give

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Some time ago, I went to a large children’s consignment sale.

Because the consignment only accepted cash or check, I had to withdraw a set amount of money before I entered. Of course, I did not remember this until after I pulled in the parking lot, turned off the car, lifted my son out of his car seat, strapped him in his stroller, and headed towards the building.

When I realized my dilemma, it was a great deal of trouble to retrace my steps, lift my son back out of his stroller, strap his unwilling little body back into his car seat, fold up the stroller, and drive in the direction of an ATM (when the consignment sale was located in an out-of-the-way location).

Therefore, when I retrieved the $60 cash from the ATM and headed back to the sale, I was determined to spend every cent of it. I had a list in my head: My daughter was growing out of the size 5 clothes I had just bought her, and I knew they weren’t going to last the winter.

Once inside, I zoned in on the girls’ section, size 6 racks — a woman on a quest. I gave my son his first snack (to buy myself a few minutes of browsing time), and I started to pull item after item off of the racks. Everything she needed: pajamas, pants, long-sleeved shirts, jeans, skirts.

A few women came near me, perusing, but I wanted them to go away. I needed to get to the best clothes first. I needed to clothe my rapidly growing daughter. And as I was hurriedly hoarding most of the size 6 rack on my pile, I felt a tugging on my heart.

The worship music playing in the background blared a little louder, like someone had turned up the volume — each word pushing into my spirit. I could hear all the verses about letting others go first, about giving and serving — about trusting. And then I felt it — God’s whisper to me: Carol, I want you to give some of that money away.

What? I didn’t want to. In fact, I was most annoyed at being bothered in the middle of my IMPORTANT SHOPPING MISSION. My arguments:

Me: My daughter needs clothes.

God: I will provide.

Me: I am doing a good thing by shopping at a reduced price establishment — this ain’t Macy’s.

God: She really doesn’t need these items yet.

Me: I’m being a good mom by stocking up and preparing for the months to come. Hello, Proverbs 31 woman, anyone?

God: Do you trust me?

I sighed and surrendered, painfully eliminating a third of the clothes on my stroller, and then I began looking for a target. Everyone near me had moved away.

“Whom do you want me to give the money to, Lord?” I asked.

I felt that it didn’t really matter. The point was to open up my selfish heart.

I got into line behind a woman with her grandchild. As I looked closer, I noticed the stroller was shabby. The woman was dressed in workout clothes — her grandchild in a T-shirt. They only had a handful of items.

I struck up a conversation with her — and when the line neared the cash register, I told her that God had impressed it on my heart to give someone money for her purchases that day. She didn’t want to accept the money, but I insisted, and then there was an awkward silence as we waited for an open cash register.

I don’t know if she really needed financial assistance. Nothing profound happened other than she got a big smile on her face. But it felt good to be obedient and to not ignore God’s nudge. So many times before I have refused.

I was reminded of some words from my Joyce Meyer New Day, New Day devotional:

One time I gave a woman a nice pair of earrings. My flesh wanted to keep them for myself, but my spirit said to be obedient to the Lord and give them away. Later that woman stood up in a meeting and told how she had been given the earrings she was wearing as a “free gift.” The Lord spoke to me and said, “Yes, it was a free gift to her, but it cost you, just as salvation is a free gift to you but it cost Jesus His life.” Love is the greatest gift of all. When you show forth the love of God, do it freely, sacrificially — and aggressively!

The very next night, my husband came home with a $25 gift card from one of his drivers. He had picked up an extra job at a driving school when I quit teaching to help cover some of our expenses. One of his students’ parents had given him an unexpected tip.

Not even one day had passed and I got the return for the small bit I had given away. With $5 added to it. Instantly, I felt ashamed of how I had doubted God could supply for me in my want.

My idea of giving is to give out of abundance — when I have something extra to spare. But God’s idea of giving is to give out of my need when it will cost me something.

And when I do — He delights in showing me what an easy thing it is for Him to replace, even surpass the little that I give away.

Related Bible Verses:

1 Kings 17:13-16: “Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make me a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the Lord sends rain on the land.’ 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 jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

Luke 21:4: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

*Adapted from a post originally published December 16, 2014.

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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 love music 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 three children.

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Learning to Depend on God

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“I can do it myself!” my daughter announced as she raced ahead of me down the sidewalk. My heart did a little sideways flip-flop as I watched her neon shoes hit the pavement, causing her Lalaloopsy backpack to bounce against her narrow frame.

It was the second day of kindergarten. At my oldest daughter’s pleading, I had allowed her to ride the bus home from school. As the bus rumbled to a stop and the kids filed out, I did not catch sight of her. Worried that she had been placed on the wrong bus, I peered in to ask the driver and found my daughter giggling with two new friends on the front seat.

Looking surprised to see me, she jumped out of her seat and bounced down the stairs onto the sidewalk. Her feet had barely hit the pavement before she whirled around and insisted, “I can do it myself!”

Obviously, she had no idea where to exit because this was her first time riding the bus home, but rather than admit her need for my help, she declared that she would have been just fine had I not leaned in and collected her.

Watching that determined little girl skip away down the sidewalk, I felt a rustle in my spirit. Isn’t this what I do to God on a regular basis? How often does He fetch me off the “bus” only to see me claim that it was all my own doing?

Perhaps that heart flutter I felt was because I am often the little girl in this interchange. I am the one telling God, “I can do it myself.”

Independence as a Coping Mechanism

A can-do spirit has always been stitched into my DNA. My parents would most likely corroborate, but in looking back, I also developed self-reliance as a weapon I used to fight back against circumstances I couldn’t control.

Unfortunately, I had some situations in my childhood where I tried to voice my needs, and I was answered with irritation, anger or silence. I soon discovered that it was easier not to assert myself in some situations. Easier not to create a problem.

I became self-sufficient so that I wouldn’t impose on anyone. I built a fortress of one to protect myself. I didn’t realize that whether or not people always have good reactions to me, I need to share my needs. God doesn’t want me to cover up who I am in an unhealthy way to please others. I am not a problem if I speak up or express how I feel.

Giving up Self-Sufficiency for God-Dependency

Self-sufficiency wasn’t the only way that I tried to manage those people around me and make them like me; I also made the decision to be really useful. Not only would I never inconvenience the people in my life by expressing what I wanted, but I would also display how productive I could be — how successful. I would prove to everyone I was worth it.

Particularly in college and the first few years of teaching, I became extremely performance-driven. Although I didn’t recognize it as such, I was relying on my own fleshly attitudes to make it through my life. I believed in God, but I didn’t really know that He could help me with all the finite details of my emotions. I didn’t think He cared about that. My “It’s all up to me. I have to make this happen” attitude in college took a toll on my body.

I developed a nervous stomach and paralyzing fear and anxiety. While other people agonized over the extra pounds they were gaining, I fit easily in size zero jeans. All of my worrying whittled me down to very thin. One particular Sunday, I went forward at church for prayer when stress had brought me to the point of near collapse — and the preacher happened to say something about the cause of anxiety during the prayer time: fear.

A light bulb went off in my head, and I began to see how my terror that I wouldn’t measure up or succeed was paralyzing me and causing me to over-work myself in an effort to succeed. When I realized that the antidote to fear is trust, and I could hand over my worry to God and rest, my schoolwork became a lot more manageable. Because at the bottom of all of my self-reliance was a huge fear: that I would fail. I would fail in relationships. I would fail at being successful.

And when I failed, I had an even bigger fear — I would be rejected.

Acting Out of the Flesh

What I didn’t realize a few years ago is that by trying to change myself to please people, I was attempting to manufacture acceptance from the people around me with my actions. The desire to do things without God is something every person attempts to do whether he or she recognizes it or not. Even Christians can operate in the flesh.

According to a By Divine Design conference I attended, living in the flesh is when we attempt to meet our own needs for love, acceptance, worth and security apart from God. This desire to be independent came into the world when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:1-21). Our flesh wants control, but we cannot experience abundant life when we live out of our flesh rather than His Spirit (John 6:63).

I’d grown up in church and had only heard flesh defined as our sinful nature that leads us to lie, cheat, steal, lust, etc. However, I didn’t realize that flesh is a little more encompassing. Certainly, we may be tempted in those areas that I just listed, but acting out of our flesh also includes the ways we try to do life in our own strength and the coping skills we use to get what we want out of our environment —  even those skills considered socially acceptable (By Design). I tried to do this with my independence and performance; however, there are other coping strategies that exist as well: criticism of others, workaholism, stoicism, escapism, perfectionism, and the list goes on.

The more I tried to cope by using my own flesh patterns, the more tied up in knots I became. It’s not wrong to have needs or express them, as I learned, or let the people in our lives help us feel loved and cherished; however, it’s a problem when we lean the entire weight of our identity on others’ reactions and our own achievements. God never intended us to generate our own devices to get through our circumstances. Consider what God says about how we are to approach life in Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

The New Living Translation actually says that this means “do not depend on your own understanding.” Therefore, the Bible teaches a dependence on God — not on our own flesh. In practical terms, this means seeking out the advice and will of God in our choices, relationships, and actions. In fact, The NIV Application Commentary suggests that not leaning on our own understanding goes beyond just asking for help in daily decisions; depending on God means “not being wise in [our] own eyes” (Prov. 3:7).

We shouldn’t necessarily feel guilty if we go somewhere for lunch before consulting Him; however, this does mean that our attitude is one of acknowledging God’s wisdom as surpassing our own. Trying to bull-doze through life on our own strength is being wise in our own eyes. Being dependent doesn’t mean we don’t have a personality or a brain. Being dependent means giving up our self-made strategies and learning God’s better ones. Being dependent means trusting so that we don’t have to fall for the lie that “it’s all up to me.”

Because the other part of Proverbs 3:5-8 is this: When we choose to depend on God’s ways over our own, He “makes [our] paths straight.” The Hebrew word for “straight” indicates “travel made safe by clearing and leveling the road” (The NIV Application Commentary). That means when we choose to lean on God instead of ourselves, He literally clears the way. It doesn’t mean we won’t be met with obstacles, because we will, but we will be traveling a way leveled in advance for us by the Almighty God.

We can rest because He’s got our back. And I don’t know about you, but that way sounds a whole lot better than trying to “do it myself”!

*Revised from a post originally published February 5, 2015.

Editor’s Note:

Please note that in the articles “Set Apart for God’s Special Purpose” and “Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm,” changes were made to account for sources that were not included in original draft and/or bring clarification to key concepts. While we make every effort to correctly identify sources in original, at times corrections do have to be made after publication. We apologize for not including those in original draft. Please check out our new publication policy on our About page.

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Want to listen to co-hosts Carol Whitaker and Suzy Lolley talk through and explain the points in our latest posts? Check out the brand new Beulah Girl podcast on Soundcloud. Subscribe on Soundcloud and receive all of our latest episodes!

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 love music 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 three children.

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Having the Faith to Get Through Your Storm

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Hey friends! Tune in for our first podcast episode: Faith in Storms. Suzy Lolley and I talk about how to have real faith when you are faced with trials and fear that threaten to knock you off course.

Some people in the Bible inspire me, but also intimidate me a little. I think, Why can’t I have the boldness of Paul when he instructed the sailors to abandon the ship in the storm, witnessed to the Roman guard, or killed the serpent? Certainly, in looking at other people like Daniel who prayed faithfully three times a day and did not forsake God even while serving a pagan ruler or Esther who risked her life for her own people, I feel small in comparison.

However, Peter is a person I can relate to. He often said the wrong thing or messed up in a big way, and yet, Jesus loved him. In looking at the story of Peter walking on water, we can find encouragement for those times when our faith feels small and our obstacles big. When we want to follow hard after Jesus, but we feel overwhelmed and pulled under by the trials we face.

In Matthew 14:28-32 (NLT), Peter sees the Lord walking on the water and asks to come out to Him. Jesus consents, and Peter leaves the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus:

Then Peter called to him, ‘Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you walking on the water.’ ‘Yes, come,’ Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save Me, Lord!’ he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’

Peters starts out with such courage, “presumption” even, according to Matthew Henry. You have to love Peter. He is the first one to step out of the boat after Jesus, and he is completely un-phased at first by the elements of the storm. He simply wants to be near Jesus.

And we are often the same way. When we ask Jesus what we can do for Him, He calls us to a specific service for Him. We embrace the task with excitement and joy. It may be frightening to leave behind the safe boat we were once in, but we can’t wait to get over the side of the boat and onto the waves. We may feel courage in our quest, “presumption” even. However, we quickly learn that walking on top of the waves is no easy feat. While Jesus makes water-walking look easy — gliding on top of life’s situations with calm and complete control — Peter realizes quickly that the work of following Jesus is no cake walk. Before he knows it, he begins to get fearful and starts to sink.

All of Peter’s bluster and fortitude evaporate rather quickly. And it runs out because he takes his eyes off of his Savior and fixes them on the waves, the wind, and the precariousness of his circumstances. However, when he calls out for Jesus’ rescue, Jesus immediately comes to his aid and pulls him up.

Jesus isn’t rattled or put out by Peter’s unbelief. He chides him and says, “You have so little faith. Why did you doubt me?” (v. 31). However, He does so to seize the moment to teach Peter, not demean him. Also, we see that Jesus doesn’t cast Peter out of His presence. Jesus doesn’t tell Peter his failures prevent him from being in relationship with him.

What we can learn from this exchange:

We need the supernatural power of God to do His work.

Many of us know, in theory, that we need to depend on God to complete His work, but it is only in stepping out that we realize that to do what He has called us to do is a supernatural “water-walking” endeavor. We can’t achieve it in our own strength. We need Jesus to enable us to rise above our treacherous circumstances to walk as Jesus did above the fray.

Not too long ago, I read a Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional written by Tracie Miles where she gives a story about an obstacle course she went to with her daughter. When she climbed up to begin the course, she looked down and chickened out. Her daughter swung across the ropes with ease — and yet, Tracie couldn’t get over her fear. That is the way with our walks with God. He keeps taking us deeper and deeper until we are positioned in a place where we have to be completely dependent on Him.

We look at the ropes and the ground below (or in the case of Peter, the wind and the waves), and we panic. We’re in way beyond our comfort level — and that’s how He wants it to be. He wants us in a place where we have to rely on Him, but it is not comfortable for us. We want to climb down where the heights aren’t quite so dizzying. However, it’s when we walk in trust that He enables us to have the power to do His work.

As Psalm 63:8 says, those who cling to God are held up by God (Henry). When we seek the more convenient path that isn’t the way He would have for us or doubt that God has the power to help us overcome the obstacles we face, we start to sink. It is only through His power that we are able to walk on top of life’s situations and make it through the difficulties that will come our way.

Jesus helps us in our failures.

In moments of unbelief or fear, we tend to beat ourselves up, to assume that maybe Jesus doesn’t want us anymore. But Jesus reaches out to Peter in His failure in response to Peter’s cry. Sure, Jesus chides Peter, but Jesus does not stop loving Peter or stop wanting Peter as a follower because of Peter’s mistakes. Similarly, even when we try to do it all right, we won’t be perfect like Jesus. We’ll sometimes say the unkind word, walk past a person who needs help, or deny Christ in our life with our actions. Those moments are opportunities for us to return to Jesus, confess, and allow Him to rescue us.

If you use a GPS, you know that when you get off course the GPS will calculate a new route to get you back to where you need to be going. That is the way with God. We stray. We’re a little unfaithful here, we mess up there, and He gets us back on track. We may have delays in our journey. We may not get there as fast as we want to, but He doesn’t leave us and reject us when we’re attempting to follow Him and come up short.

Recently, I have been walking through a situation where I need God to come through for me, but I feel He hasn’t. There have been times in the past where He has performed miracles and rescued me. I know He is able. I don’t doubt His existence or capability, but I have been experiencing severe doubts in this situation because there are so many impossibilities. There has been strain on relationships and finances and my health. I’m having trouble believing God is going to help me in the way I need. I went to church one Sunday in a not-so-great state of mind, as I was struggling with negative thoughts.

My daughter had had a virus all week where she broke out in spots. We had had numerous commitments and events for the kids’ school on top of that which left me exhausted. When we walked in the doors, my son told me his stomach was hurting. So, I took my other two to class and decided my son needed to sit with me. However, I didn’t want to bring him into the service because I feared he might throw up. Therefore, I sat out in the foyer with him and watched the broadcast of the service on a screen.

Sitting there with my son in my arms — far away from the “real action” — God’s presence began to rest on me when I closed my eyes. I started shaking because I was so bone-weary and dry, and I needed His strength and His help. Not surprisingly, the pastor began to preach on doubt — and how we can believe even when we don’t know how God could possibly come through for us. That is faith.

I left the service so renewed. My son’s stomach still hurt and none of my circumstances had changed, but I knew that it was going to be OK. We stopped by my health teacher husband’s classroom after the service. As we were sitting in the classroom talking while the kids were running around, my husband turned on some worship music. He “just happened” to play a song by Third Day called “Mountain of God.” It’s an older song, but the lyrics say, “Thought that I was all alone / Broken and afraid / But You were there with me / Yes, you were there with me.”

Tears came to my eyes because here God was reassuring me a second time, as he was in the sermon, “Have faith. Don’t doubt. I am with you. You’re on the right path.”

Conclusion:

We will fail at times in our walk with Christ. We won’t do it perfectly, and we will be tempted to fall away when our faith feels small. However, we would do well to be like Peter and call out to Jesus when we are sinking — knowing that Jesus will save us from our troubles.

As Henry emphasizes, our remedy in times of trial is to re-establish our hope in God. The Bible tells us that faith is believing despite what the circumstances look like. In fact, as Henry includes in his commentary, Romans 4:18-25 (MSG) gives us a picture of what it’s like to hope in the midst of difficulty:

Abraham was first named ‘father’ and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, ‘You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!’

Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.’ Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, ‘Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.’ But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.

Peter, although imperfect, can still be commended because he stepped out of the boat. He endeavored to go on a walk of faith towards Jesus. While it is true that he slipped up and started to go under, Jesus wasn’t taken aback by this. He wasn’t surprised by it. He still bid Peter come.

Many of us don’t want to get out of the boat because we know we can’t make the walk perfectly. We are afraid to fail. We are afraid of the storm. But Jesus knows our weaknesses. He still wants to use us. He wants us to advance towards Him.

*Updated November 4, 2017.

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 love music 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 three children.

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Being Prepared for God’s Promises

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I walked out of the brightly lit emergency entrance of the hospital into the dark night, holding my then 4-year-old son’s hand. Only a few cars were parked in the lot. Two nurses off-duty walked briskly past, their voices echoing in the still night air. I fumbled in my purse for my keys, and after a few moments, I grasped onto them and unlocked our mini-van.

Strapping my son into his car seat, I climbed wearily in the front seat, started the engine, and steered the vehicle toward home.

As my son munched on a cereal bar in the back seat, I stared at the dark December sky twinkling with lights and had a talk with God: How much more, God? Where are you? I am so tired. When are you going to show up?

The ER visit had been just one more catastrophe in a string of catastrophes that had hit us one right after another in the previous two months: Unexpected medical bills. Illness. Broken down appliance. Loss of contract on the sale of our house. Dead car battery.

We were in a season of transition where we knew we were supposed to move at God’s leading, but all of the pieces hadn’t come together for us to do that yet. This particular week, my son had been fighting a virus. After calling his pediatrician that evening due to my son’s high temperature and hacking cough, I had taken her recommendation to take him to the ER to be screened for pneumonia.

By the time we had gotten there, his fever had already been calmed by medicine and all his X-rays came back normal. However, the visit was one that had further rattled me. I couldn’t help but think as I drove that we had to be on the brink of some kind of miracle. All of this was happening because we were close to something good. But the temptation in the moment was to give in to my discouragement.

The next morning, groggy-eyed from lack of sleep, while my son slept peacefully upstairs in his bed, I sat on the couch and heard the ping of my phone’s voicemail. I almost opted not to even listen to it in that moment. However, when I did, I heard this message from my realtor: “We got an offer on your house!”

I listened to her words in disbelief. As the message ended, I put my head in my hands and burst out crying. Just when despair threatened to overtake every thought in my head, when I was too tired to get up from the couch or clean my house for one more prospective buyer, when I was battling negative thoughts like, “Just give up! Your house is never going to sell!” — God showed up.

Quite honestly, the word God had given me in that season was one that stretched me the most because it was “wait.” Waiting for a long time for anything, especially when trials and problems persist, can make a person doubt. My desire to give into doubt made it difficult for me to wait any longer. I wanted to take my house off the market, possibly hand over my responsibilities as a mom and wife to someone more capable. Waiting stretched me beyond what I felt I could do in the moment.

Some people who had a hard time waiting in the Bible were the 10 virgins in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25. They were virgins waiting for the bridegroom — excited, young, hopeful. But half of them were foolish and did not bring any oil with them to light their lamps. When the bridegroom took longer to show up than they expected, they all fell asleep. When they awoke to the news that the bridegroom had arrived, only half of the virgins were ready. The foolish ones had used up all of their oil and had to run off to buy more. However, when they came back to join the wedding party, it was too late. The door had been shut.

They key difference between the virgins that had oil and the ones who did not bring any with them is that the wise virgins did what they could to stay prepared in the waiting. Though I generally think of waiting as doing nothing — the kind of waiting God has us to do is expectant waiting. We watch for him and do what we can in the moment to stay ready.

In doing some study of the customs of the time period, I found that marriage was a big deal to the Jewish people. The celebrations were elaborate events that involved the entire community. The bride and groom would enter into an agreement long before the actual wedding. On the night of the celebration, the groom would make his way to the bride’s father’s house. Virgins would wait outside for the groom’s arrival and help light the way. They would need to bring a supply of oil for a long night of waiting. Their neglect in keeping their lamps lit would have been a grievous insult to the groom and the wedding party. When the groom arrived, the foolish virgins were shut out not only because their torches were out but because they did not do what they could to make the groom welcome.

While clearly the story is one that warns us to be ready for the second coming of Christ, the story can have implications on a smaller scale as well: when we are waiting on the fulfillment of a promise or in a season where we aren’t sure what God wants us to do next. It’s tempting in those times of waiting, when life is hard and challenges are thrown our way, to not have sufficient oil. To not do the small faithful things God asks of us. To not read His Word or keep showing up to church services and serving in whatever capacity He has called us to. To not be obedient in the small actions of the daily grind because we haven’t seen God show up the way we though He would.

The takeaway is this: We need to do as the wise virgins did and be prepared for the promise to come in God’s timing. I love what author Micha Boyett advocates. She says that we need to make a place for the promises, even as they haven’t happened yet, and welcome them from afar.

In the case of my house, I wanted to give up and take it off the market. I didn’t want to wait anymore. But keeping my lamp oiled in preparation meant doing what I could do on my end to welcome the promise. So I kept cleaning my house and opening my house to would-be buyers every week. I kept pulling the weeds popping up in our front yard and trimming the bushes. I kept spending time with God and attempting to hear His direction in our situation. I called the repair man when appliances broke down, drove my kids to the doctors, and trusted God for the money to pay the bills that kept coming even though our cash flow was at an all-time low.

What it felt like was a whole lot of dead waiting where nothing was happening. I wondered many times if I should be doing more. Something deep inside of me wanted to bolt — to just force the sale to happen or try to do something desperate like make over our kitchen (even though we didn’t have the money) or give up entirely and rip the house off the market.

But just when I had decided that circumstances were too much, and I was crushed beneath the weight of them, I heard the ping on my phone alerting me to the reality that, yes, our house was indeed going to sell. If anything, I had been strengthened in my faith through this situation. Through my doubt, my mistakes, my wondering — the bridegroom eventually came.

It encourages me that as I wait on impossible promises, those that still haven’t happened. What can I do now to welcome those promises? Am I being faithful in the things I know to do now?

How about you? Are you waiting for a promise to come to fruition? Is there something you can do right now in the wait to welcome the promise?

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 love music 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 three children.

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4 Things to Help Get Us Through Our Storm

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Singer song-writer Laura Story once said that when we suffer we assume that God doesn’t love us.

I have found that to be a belief, however false, I’ve held in my own life. Recently, I was going through a troubling circumstance, and I felt irritated with God because I had been praying about it for some time and had heard no answer to my prayers. Feeling especially discouraged one Sunday, I got the kids ready for church, packed the diaper bag, and headed to church — not really expecting anything other than a routine service.

However, I could not have been more surprised when the pastor began speaking a message that might as well have been personally addressed to me. It pertained uncannily to the situation I was going through to the point where I almost fell out of my chair when he began to speak.

I should not have been surprised. God does respond to my prayers on a regular basis — many times through the course of a sermon or church service — but I was surprised. I had begun to doubt that God was going to answer, that He even cared at all. Never mind that I have a whole history of times where He has miraculously answered or intervened for me. This time felt especially difficult.

In Mark 6:41-52, we see a passage where the disciples experienced a similar test of faith in their walk with Jesus. Jesus had just performed the miracle of the five thousand loaves. They knew Him to be capable of miraculous things, and yet, they seemed to forget all that when Jesus sent them out into a storm. Let’s take a look at the passage:

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, when he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on the mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

While Jesus had good things in mind for them when He sent them out on a boat, the disciples could not see the circumstances with His same broad gaze. They saw the fact that it was dark, they were on a boat toiling against winds blowing against them, and that Jesus was not with them. Certainly, these were circumstances that would warrant doubt and unbelief to enter in.

But when we look at the circumstances through a wider lens, we can observe several things about Jesus’ care for them in the midst of the storm:

1. Jesus sent them into the boat for their protection.

While the disciples could only see the storm they had entered into, Jesus sent them where He did to get them away from a larger danger. After the miracle Jesus performed in feeding the five thousand, the crowds wanted to make Jesus king. But their plans were of a secular design and not a kingdom one. Jesus knew the motives of the crowd and sent His disciples, who may have been swayed by the crowds, into the boat and Himself went to a mountaintop to pray.

What we can take away from this is that there may be a situation we are in that we want so badly to turn out a certain way, but God may not allow it for our own protection. He knows the weakness of our hearts and has a perspective that is much different than ours. As the Danny Gokey song says, “Love sees further than we ever could.” God says no to what we may view as the more comfortable or desirable path because He knows what is best for us in the long run.

2. Jesus came at an appointed time to end their struggle.

I don’t know why God waits so long in certain instances to answer, but I do know that He is always aware of what we are going through. There is never a situation where God is running around in a panic trying to think of a solution. Similarly, there is a never a situation that God doesn’t know about. In this passage, even when Jesus was away from His disciples on the mountain, He “saw the disciples straining at the oars” (v. 48). Even though He saw, He chose to wait to come to the disciples until the fourth watch of the night, which was the last.

Clearly, there are situations where we get into storms because of our own bad choices, but there are storms that come even when we follow the will of God. We may be so frustrated because we are straining at the oars. Everything in us may be screaming, Where are you, God? Why aren’t you here? And yet, He may choose not to answer us in the way that we think He will or may not show up in the way we want Him to, but that doesn’t mean that our struggle will last forever. As we see in this story, there was an appointed time that Jesus came to the disciples. Like in the instance of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t come when His friends wanted Him to (even though He loved them); He came at the moment that would give God the most glory — even though from a human vantage point things looked the most hopeless.

We can take comfort in the fact that God sees us from where He is, and though we may be tired and may feel like our situation is just getting worse, God has a point where He will put an end to the struggle.

3. Jesus showed up differently than they expected.

When Jesus did show up in their situation, they didn’t recognize Him. They thought He was a ghost and were afraid until He calmed them with His voice and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (v. 50). Granted, it would be pretty alarming to look up in the middle of a storm and see a figure approaching, but the disciples had been walking with Jesus long enough to know that He was prone to do unexpected things. Except, here, they were slow to comprehend that it was Him.

Perhaps the disciples were so worn out that they had stopped hoping that He would even come. Maybe like me in the church service, they were so burned out with their circumstances that they had stopped looking for Jesus. Commentators note that at the start of the journey the disciples were on the watch for Him. Some say that the disciples rowed close to the shore expecting Him. Others say that the very reason they were out as late as they were and encountered a storm is because they were slow in rowing out initially as they fully anticipated that Jesus would come to them. But when He didn’t arrive right away and the storm blew up against them, they were so exhausted and fixated on the storm that they couldn’t make out their Savior right in front of them.

And perhaps we are no different. We are so tired of our situation that we’ve stopped expecting Jesus to come. We may have boxed in our own thinking in about the way He will arrive that we don’t even recognize Him standing in our midst. But Habbakuk 2:1-3 tells us to stand at our “watch” and “station [ourselves] on the ramparts.” Jesus will not leave us alone, but perhaps we need to adjust our faith level and believe that He will come, although it may be in a different way than we expect.

4. When Jesus came, they immediately got to where they were going.

In the John account, the disciples “immediately” got to where they were going as soon as they welcomed Jesus into the boat. Some scholars assert the idea that this was another supernatural happening of the night. That not only did Jesus feed five thousand, walk on water, enable Peter to walk on water, and calm the storm — all in one day and night — He enabled the boat to reach the shore with miraculous speediness.

Whatever the case, whether the disciples were able to reach the other side swiftly simply because Jesus calmed the storm, and thus the rowing was easier, or because Jesus performed another miracle that night, the disciples could not doubt by what power that boat had made it to the other side .

And I believe that is the way with God. We shouldn’t give up hope or believe that God has abandoned us because there may still be a “fourth watch of the night.” That though our pain has lasted a long time and our difficulty has been beyond what we can bear, it isn’t over. With a snap of His fingers, with one conversation, one phone call, one opportunity, God can turn a hopeless situation into a hope-filled one.

And we will know that no one other than God could have turned something so dire around. Just like with the disciples, when Jesus shows up in our storm, we will be given just one more proof that Jesus truly is the Son of God.

Friend, I don’t know where you are as you reading this, but I know that your struggle may be real and hard and relentless. But I know that Jesus knows, He sees, and He cares. I love these words from L.B. Cowman’s Streams in the Desert: “Difficulty is the very atmosphere of miracle — it is miracle in its first stage. If it is to be a great miracle, the condition is not difficulty but impossibility. The clinging hand of His child makes a desperate situation a delight to Him.”

If your answer hasn’t come, keep on rowing. You’ll see Him soon enough walking across the waves.

*This is another version of a post published August 5, 2016.

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 love music 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 three children.

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Help for the Hard Days

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I love running.

Having said that, I am fully aware not everyone is as smitten with this activity as I am. In fact, I have multiple friends on Facebook who — after I post about a great morning run — love to post variations of the following anti-running meme:

running meme

Whether you adore running as much as I do or hate it like the plague, please allow me to utilize its metaphorical elements to explore something with you that God showed me during my most recent 10K event.

This particular race was in the backwoods of a local park. It was a dense area, and the running trail was, most of the time, only about 12 inches in width. There were moments when the path was straight and free of debris, but there were also lengthy intervals during this run where the path was rocky and/or riddled with tree roots that had popped up into the trail.

At times like that, I maneuvered around the dangers as best I could, but there were a few moments where I stumbled despite my best efforts. There were other points in the course where the trail was so steep, I couldn’t run up it. I had to walk — at what seemed like a snail’s pace — to make it up those hills before I could finally get to an area where running was possible again.

Now, stop a minute and reflect on that because I didn’t just describe the course for my recent race; I described life.

There are moments when life is simple, and your path is clear. It’s easy to run and not grow weary. But then obstacles, challenges, pop up and life gets confusing. The days seem like a never-ending uphill battle, and you can hardly function. Thankfully, though, time passes and circumstances change. Finally, living becomes possible again.

Like running a race, living life can be hard. But give praise to God, races, like the seasons in our lives, have finish lines to look forward to.

 

Lately, I have been experiencing countless moments where, by the end of the day, the stress of life so debilitates me that doing simple tasks is like trying to run up a steep hill — with the force of gravity beating me backwards every second.

I find myself beyond exhausted at the close of each day. I’m left in a weakened state. I feel spent, weary, and crippled. As if I’ve run a marathon!

It is in times like these, when life feels impossible and it appears the best thing to do is just take myself out of the race for the day … or the week … or the month. But then, I hear Him; God gently whispers to my heart that there is hope. I hear the One in control of all things say, “Keep running! Don’t give up! There is a finish line!”

And just when I feel as if I can’t put another foot in front of the other, I hear Him remind me, “[You] can do all things through Christ who gives [you] strength” (Philippians 4:13).

His Word renews me. It’s like catching a glimpse of a water station directly ahead after running four miles in the heat.

Stop and drink in His Word:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Phillippians 4:11-13)

When I’m ready to forfeit my day because the struggle is just too much, this verse helps me push through. It reminds me that whatever course I find myself on, as a child of the Most High King, I can endure it. I can fight through it. I can find the strength I need in Him.

Today, if you are struggling, find your renewed strength in Jesus. Just as in the midst of a race it’s OK to stop at a water station and drink to rehydrate before continuing on, so also life calls for times of refreshing. And as children of God, we can find this in simply knowing that Jesus is our strength, and He is always there when we call on Him.

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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A Love Note: How God Shows His Love for Me

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“Are you the coach’s wife?” A woman standing next to me asked.

“Yes, I am,” I replied with a smile. As the wife of a high school basketball coach, I was often approached at games.

Parents frequently came up to me to compliment my husband or “ooh” and “ahh” over our small children. But this time was different. The woman proceeded to tell me how sorry she felt for me. She said that my husband’s players had no respect for him and that she feared that he had completely lost the team.

Though I think she meant to be sympathetic, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.

I felt so vulnerable, so exposed. There I stood with my three-old-year and five-month-old watching my husband (10 pounds thinner than he should have been from the stress of a tough season) coach his heart out — only to be verbally berated by a woman whose name I didn’t even know.

After the game (one his team lost by 30 points), disgruntled parents swarmed the floor waiting for the team to come out of the locker room. A cold wave of fear washed all over me as I watched the angry crowd, not sure if a confrontation would happen. It didn’t, but I had never felt that hostile of an atmosphere after a game before.

Shaken, I went home and couldn’t sleep that night. The next evening was a big one for me: the second night of our choir’s church musical. I had earned a small duet and was thrilled because I had been hoping for several years to get an opportunity to become more involved in music again. The moment had finally presented itself.

Friday night’s performance had been flawless. No nerves. No problems. And then the next night, the incident at the game. It took away all of my want-to. Sunday night, I didn’t feel like singing and fell flat in my delivery. Though I managed to get through it, I was disappointed in myself and discouraged that all of my joy in the part had drained away.

As my husband’s season wound to an end, he stepped down from the head coaching position and stayed on as an assistant coach in a different sport. Within the next year, he moved on to a varsity coaching position in lacrosse at another school.

As excited as I was for him to secure the job, I found myself tied up in knots at the start of the new season. Would he be successful in his role? Would he win games? Would the parents like him? Would his administration look upon him with favor? As much as I wanted to let go of my anxiety, the woman’s words kept replaying in my head; I kept seeing my husband wading through livid bystanders — and me, observing from a few rows up the bleachers, helpless.

Just a few weeks into the season, I went to my mom group and shared my fears. We had recently finished a segment of Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and had been talking about trust in God. As much as I wanted to summon up some, I felt only worry. The ladies at my table prayed for me and encouraged me with kind words, but I couldn’t shake the tension seeping into every muscle in my body.

I left mom group with a long to-do list. We had been invited to attend a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet that evening where college football coach Mark Richt was going to be the keynote speaker.

I had a full afternoon in front of me to get myself and the house prepared: a 40 minute drive home; lunch to make for my son; a daughter to pick up from preshool; a bedroom to prepare for their grandpa (who was coming to watch the kids and stay the night); and a pizza to pick up for the kids’ dinner.

As I squealed out of the driveway at 6:05 (barely enough time to make it to a 6:30 banquet), negative thoughts filled my head: Why am I going to this banquet? We have too much going on right now to do this tonight. I should have told Keith to go alone. There are going to be a whole lot of athletic-y and coach-y people there. I am going to be so out of place. There couldn’t possibly be anything that I get out of this night.

But something quiet inside kept pushing me to go.

Meeting my husband in the parking lot of the conference center, I burst into laughter when I caught sight of him. He had had a similarly hectic day chaperoning a field trip and running a lacrosse practice, only to battle traffic and arrive in mud-spattered athletic pants with barely a minute to spare. Whipping off his coaching clothes in his car and zipping up his khakis, he sprinted with me in hand to catch the last golf cart bringing guests into the banquet.

But we made it.

After dinner and opening remarks, Mark Richt was introduced and ushered to the platform. As he gave his introductory statements, I imagined he would most likely talk about his salvation story, the work of FCA at the high school level, or some stories about how some of his players were getting saved and the work he was doing to insure that. Although he did mention some of those details within the body of his talk, I almost fell out of my chair when he introduced the topic of his speech: Trust in the Hot Seat.

He then proceeded to tell in-depth stories about games that he had expected to easily win and then didn’t; times when his mother called him crying (almost every season) because she had read articles predicting his termination; websites that placed his name near the top of their “Top 10 Coaches Most Likely to Be Fired” lists. Although he gave a lot of stories about individual football games and situations with players, his message was simply this: He gets through the stress of his job by putting His trust in the Lord.

The very topic we had been discussing in small group that morning.

I sat there letting his words sink in. And it shouldn’t amaze me, but it always does — that even when I’m going to a coaches’ function that is really aimed more at my husband, a highly influential college coach gets up to speak and his words are those that have already been all around me for the last few weeks.

And though God can use anybody, and often does, He used someone I never expected to speak to me. Somehow, he inserted the very words I needed to hear into the brain of a stranger. Mark Richt isn’t just another coach from nowhere. He is in movies and commercials, makes millions of dollars every year. He could have easily turned down a little FCA engagement. He could have declined the drive up north to instead lounge in his leather recliner in his custom house. No one would have blamed him.

But there he was, on the stage in front of me, weaving in the fabric of his football stories a message intended for me. In Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, Bonnie Gray relates:

Jesus has a way of slipping his love notes to reach that little girl in me. Just this morning, as I listened to piano music streaming from Pandora, the words he shared with his disciples those last hours floated their way to me.

Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you … so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14:1-3 NLT 1996)

I realized that the entire event was God’s way of reaching out to me, reassuring me, ministering to me. I have started to discover how subtle God is, how quiet at times. I can easily miss Him. If my heart hadn’t been open and listening for Him, I may never have recognized his words of encouragement for me, his provision for my anxious heart.

Consider what Charles H. Spurgeon says in a Streams in the Desert devotion (based on Habakkuk 2:1):

Without watchful expectation on our part, what is the sense in waiting on God for help? There will be no help without it. If we ever fail to receive strength and protection from Him, it is because we have not been looking for it. Heavenly help is often offered but goes right past us. We miss it because we are not standing in the tower, carefully watching the horizon for evidence of its approach, and then are unready to throw open the gates of our heart open so it may enter. The person who has no expectations and therefore fails to be on the alert will receive little help. Watch for God in the events of your life.

Jesus pens His letters to me into the fiber of my everyday doings. His voice wafts over to me through a speaker’s words, through the devotion I’m reading, through the song on the radio. He is everywhere. All around me. I need only open up His letter and read the contents, drink my fill.

In my darkest hour, scariest circumstance, He whispers His words, sends them my way —

In a love note to me.

 

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 love music 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 three children.

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Dealing With the Challenges That Come With Change

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (9)

Not long ago, I started a new job. Well, in truth, it’s not new, really. I just transferred to a new location. Same job, different building. Same job, different colleagues. Same job, different challenges. So, the same but different.

Anyone else out there dealing with different right now?

Change can bring tremendous blessing, but it can also bring tremendous anxiety. I can testify to this, and I suspect others can give the same declaration with similar confidence. Change is a part of life, but it does, more often than not, come with a roller coaster of emotions.

Different can be scary. And when different begins to present challenges, you start to second guess your decision to embrace change in the first place. Even though it may have clearly been the right decision to embrace this difference, these doubts can be painful.

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (10)

And so much comfort in life comes from the predictability of routine, the familiar people that surround us, and our everyday environment, so when one of those things (or all of them) changes, we can suddenly feel disabled. It’s as if we’re toddlers struggling to learn how to walk again. Tripping over our own feet. Stumbling over unfamiliar territory. Wondering if there is something, anything, nearby we can hold on to that would help guide our way.

Moving away from home? Changing jobs? Making a life-changing decision like staying home with the kids? Or homeschooling? Searching for a new church home?

What is your change — your different — that is seemingly pressing in on you?

During this challenging time in my life right now, this time of transition, my biggest struggle is with finding a new rhythm. I’m trying to relax and enjoy my new surroundings, but everything feels so awkward, so foreign. It’s distressing and wearisome.

Recently, I read a devotion in Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, by Lysa Terkeurst, that took a closer look at Exodus 27:20, and it gave me hope. In this chapter of Exodus, God is instructing the Israelites on how to build the altar of burnt offering. The passage reads: “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.”

Terkeurst makes the following observation: “Isn’t it interesting that the olive branch is often seen as a symbol of peace? And yet in order to get what’s most valuable from the fruit of this tree, there is a lot of pounding, crushing and pressing that is required. Those words don’t usually go hand in hand with peace.”

There is a great truth in her words: A greater good is often found on the other side of pressing times in our lives. As Terkeurst points out later in her devotion, Jesus is an excellent example of this truth: “In order for Him to truly be ‘the light of the world,’ the prophecy of his beating, death and resurrection had to be fulfilled. His greatest hardship became our greatest hope.”

When we feel that God has asked us to make a change, and we are obedient to that prompting, it can be hard, trying. We may feel as if we are being pounded and crushed. However, after time passes, we are sure to reap a harvest of joy from our submission — whether it’s in this life or the next.

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Meditating on this truth found throughout the Bible helps me when situations threaten to overcome me.

The knowledge that these present trials can be used for future good helps me get out of bed every morning. Just taking time to remember that everything turns out all right in the end brings me great comfort.

He is in control. He is on His throne. He works all things for the good of those that love Him.

During your quiet time today, thank God for what He is doing in your life. Take time to let His peace, that surpasses all understanding, wash over you.

I have come to a place where I can thank God for my new job — and all its new challenges. After being reminded by God’s Word that the hottest fires bring forth desirable things in my life, I can approach Him now with thanksgiving in my heart. Because now I realize that difficult is only temporary, and God has so much He can do through it.

Will you join me in praising Him for your new change? Trust me. It helps.

 

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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Letting Go of Fear When It Has Been a Familiar ‘Friend’

Letting Go of Fear When It Has Been a Familiar 'Friend'

I’ve been frozen for almost eleven months now. Frozen in fear. It’s debilitating and it’s crippling and it’s exhausting. But, as sick as I am of it, I’m stuck. Or at least it seems that way.

Almost a year ago, my daughter was born two months ahead of schedule. I had severe preeclampsia, and an emergency C-section was performed to save both of our lives. I visited my little girl in the NICU every day for the longest month of my life.

She was so tiny, and to me, so fragile. She had to learn how to eat and breathe on her own, and I wasn’t familiar with how to care for a full-term baby, let alone one weighing 3 1/2 pounds. Her nurses assured me that she was one of the strongest preemies they had ever seen and that I had nothing to worry about, but I am embarrassed to admit that most of the time I didn’t see her strength.

I saw her feeding tube. I saw her IV and her blood pressure cuff. I saw her heart and oxygen monitors and I heard the jarring alarms when her heart rate dropped too low. All of it terrified me.

I knew she was a miracle. I knew that we were watching God form her before our eyes. I knew deep down that we were all going to be OK, but the spirit of fear that had seized me wasn’t loosening its grip anytime soon. When the day I had been praying for finally came and our little baby got discharged, I remember asking her doctor, “Are you sure she’s ready? Should she stay longer?”

The doors of the NICU were at long last opened wide for us to leave, but I’d become so comfortable there, enclosed in that small wing of the hospital, that I was scared to do the thing we were meant to do, the thing I had longed for — go home as a family.

Home we went, and our daughter was and is perfectly fine. She has excelled in every way, and now is virtually indistinguishable from a baby born at full-term. It’s me who’s not fine. I remember all too well the alarms, the monitors, the tubes and the lonely, sleepless nights without her.

I obsess about her health, my heart sinks when I hear her crying, and I fear getting the slightest thing “wrong” because if I screw up some awful thing might happen. Basically, I’m a mess, and when anyone asks me why, I point back to the NICU.

My paranoia understandably annoys those closest to me. Quite often, I find that I can’t enjoy time with or without my daughter because I’m too worried about her. This, naturally, creates tension for everyone around me. My family has been incredibly patient during my many meltdowns over the last year, but the thing about living in fear is that it not only paralyzes you, but everyone around you. My fear controls me, but my family experiences the bondage as well.

I’ll admit it — the traumatic events surrounding my daughter’s birth have become my go-to. The NICU has become my justification for agonizing over every detail of her life. It’s not right or healthy, and at some point I’m going to have to let it go, but I have no idea how to do that.

One of my favorite songs by Jason Gray says, “There’s no thief like fear.” And it’s true. Fear has stolen my joy, my peace, my sanity, my sleep, my health and my identity. Not only is fear a thief, but it’s deceiving. When you’re afraid for as long as I’ve been afraid, you swallow the lie that there is no other way to be. You cling to your fear. You justify it. You defend it.

I was in tears one afternoon at my parents’ house, trying to get up the nerve to leave my daughter with them for a while so that my husband and I could have some much needed alone time. I was listing all the reasons why I was scared to leave her, why I had no choice but to be afraid even though it was destroying my life.

My father, in growing frustration, was shooting down my pitiful excuses one by one. Finally, I said, “None of you … not one of you knows what it’s like to visit your baby in the hospital every single day for the first month of her life.”

My dad calmly said, “Well, you’re right. But it’s time to leave the hospital.”

It’s time to leave the hospital. My daughter had been given a clean bill of health and had been discharged for several months. And I had never left the hospital. Rather than allowing myself to experience the freedom we had waited for, I turned my nose up at the miracle in favor of the terror that something, anything might go wrong. That the other shoe would eventually drop.

I’m reminded of the story of Lazarus, which is found in the Gospel of John. You may be familiar with it, but the long and short of it is that Lazarus, a man Jesus loved, fell sick and died. In fact, Jesus knew he was going to die, and allowed it anyway, so that God would be glorified (John 11:4). Jesus knew the outcome; He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, gaining all the glory from his suffering and that of his family.

And even though He knew the ending would be a happy one, Jesus still wept when He reached the gravesite, knowing and feeling the pain that His children experienced as part of God’s perfect plan. The Bible says that in a loud voice, Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the grave, and out he came.

Here’s where I draw the comparison to my story. What if, when Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, the man had refused?

No, Lord. I’m too afraid! You don’t know what it’s been like. You don’t know how sick I was. I could get sick again. I could get hurt. I could die all over again. I just can’t do it. I’m just going to stay here. It’s too scary out there.

It’s more than a little ridiculous. But haven’t I done just that? The Lord had miraculously delivered me, in the nick of time, from a potentially fatal illness. He had gloriously rescued my daughter from my failing womb. And when she was strong enough and His timing was right, He had called her out of that hospital and home with us.

Only I had stayed behind. Physically, I’ve been home with her and my husband nearly 11 months now. In my mind, gripped by fear, I’ve been in that little rocking chair in the NICU, staring into that isolette at a baby much too small.

The reality is that God’s plan all along was perfect. My daughter was born early by our calendar, but not God’s. He saw, ahead of time, the sickness and the suffering, and He knew the purpose of it all. He allowed the pain and planned the miracle, knowing He would take the glory. And I, in so many ways, have refused the miracle in favor of the pain.

My dad’s words to me ring in my ears almost every day. It’s time to leave the hospital. Just like it was time for Lazarus to leave the tomb. Who am I to say no, to continue to live imprisoned when freedom Himself calls to me?

It’s time for me to do what I should have done a long time ago, and that is to obey the voice of Jesus rather than the voice of fear. The voice calling me to “Come out!” instead of the voice telling me it’s safer in the dark. So much has been waiting for me on the outside.

My little preemie, almost at her first year birthday, is about to take her first steps, and so am I.

Sharon Early

With a bachelor’s degree in English, Sharon Early did not actually put her English background to use right away. She began a job as an animal trainer out of college and then moved on to become a marketing writer. Her latest role is now stay-at-home mom to her infant daughter, Mellie Christine. Married for almost 3 years to her pilot-husband, Sharon has lost 3 babies to miscarriage and is currently pregnant with a brother or sister for Mellie. A Lord of the Rings fan, Sharon once tried to learn Elvish, and dreams of visiting New Zealand where the movies were filmed. She also loves musicals, particularly Phantom of the Opera. Over the course of her life, Sharon has struggled with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, and promiscuity before coming to Jesus at the age of 23. Because she still struggles with many of these things, Sharon believes that the worst thing she can do as a Christian woman is pretend like these issues do not exist. Because she has been the recipient of judgment and criticism from other Christians for battling these demons, Sharon is passionate about letting other Christian women know it’s okay to not be okay, and that it’s only when we admit we are not okay that we can begin to fully rely on God’s grace. Sharon firmly believes that we defeat the lies of the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11).

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Waiting on God When You Are Facing a Red Sea Problem in Your Life

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When you have grown up in church and heard certain Bible stories told multiple times, it’s easy to assume you know everything about familiar tales and view them in one particular context.

However, what I have found to be true the last few years is that the Word is truly active. Stories that I thought I knew in and out can have fresh meanings I never considered or understood until I walked through particular circumstances where that story suddenly became one I was living.

One such passage as of late that has become more alive to me has been Exodus 14, when the Israelites left Egypt to escape from Pharaoh and were led up against the Red Sea. The story is one that I have seen illustrated in hundreds of books and heard about in many different sermons. However, I used to see it only from the angle of the miracle-working power of God to deliver His people. And while that is certainly an important thrust of the story, I began to see it from a different perspective recently. I began to see it as a story that could show me what I should do when I encounter situations that look impossible.

A few of the treasures I can glean from this passage:

1. Our circumstances are never bigger than God.

Exodus tells us that the Israelites were led to the Red Sea and there they saw the vast water stretched in front of them, Pharaoh behind them — and they saw no escape.

God had done all sorts of miraculous signs in Egypt to deliver them from Pharaoh’s hand. He sent a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them away from Egypt. He even told Moses, their leader, that Pharaoh would pursue them and God would take care of it. Clearly, He was not going to abandon them at this point in the story. And yet, here, they grumbled and complained because they looked at their circumstances and took their eyes off of God.

I can relate. There are those situations where I can survey what God has done in the past and remember His faithfulness — and yet, I survey the current situation and say, “But God, where are you now? I need you to show up for me now!” And even though I know God has rescued me before and can do it again — I worry that He won’t.

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And perhaps most shocking of all, most offensive to human reason is that God may have brought us to the place we are right now. He may have put that obstacle in front of us. As commentator Matthew Henry notes, the Israelites were instructed by God to turn from their route and head towards the Red Sea. A position, mind you, that not only put the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind him them, but further “penned” them in with Pi-hahiroth, a range of sharp rocks, on one side; and Migdol and Baalzephon, believed to be forts and garrisons, on the other side (Matthew Henry Commentary).

God had a reason for leading them this way. He led them away from Philistine country where He knew that they wouldn’t be ready to handle a battle. But He led them to a place that looked, from a human vantage point, like a dead-end.

However, as Henry notes, they still had somewhere to go and it was “upwards.” He continues, “We may be in the way of duty, following God and hastening towards heaven, and yet be in great straits, troubled on every side … If God himself brings his people into straits, he will himself discover a way to bring them out again.” And although faith translated into action is good and can move obstacles, sometimes God brings us to a place that appears hopeless and asks us to do nothing but wait for Him. We look around in vain for an escape, and we get desperate when we can’t find one.

But God is bigger than any circumstance. He is never thrown off guard or taken by surprise. He knows exactly where we are. If we look at Him rather than the scary obstacle(s) in front of us, we will be able to still ourselves enough to see how He plans to deliver us or hear what our next step is.

2. God can use even our enemies to further His plans.

The other element here that is entirely offensive to human reason is the fact that not only did God put the Israelites up against a Red Sea, He hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would pursue them. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like the action of a compassionate and loving God.

However, if we look deeper, we see that God did it so that His glory might be displayed. And He used the opportunity to take out Pharaoh and his entire army. While the Israelites viewed their situation as dire, God knew the outcome and wasn’t worried. But the people, again, saw only the circumstances and fretted with great distrust! How many times have I done the same? God has told me something that is to pass but the moment that I find myself in peril, I stop believing! But by doing so I essentially tell God that He isn’t strong enough to save me.

Pharaoh certainly didn’t think God was powerful enough to stop him. While Moses depended on God for the plan, Pharaoh depended on himself and the might of his power and his armies. Even though God had clearly shown Himself to be an unconquerable foe when He brought the plagues on Egypt and even took Pharaoh’s firstborn, Pharaoh did not believe, even after all of that, that God could outmatch him. Hearing of the Israelites’ unfortunate position against the Red Sea, Pharaoh seized on what he thought would be the perfect opportunity to take back the Israelites.

However, he quickly learned the folly of going up against the Almighty. He led himself and his men straight to a humiliating death when God closed up the sea and swallowed up Pharaoh and his armies! And just to add insult to injury, so to speak, Pharaoh’s men even admitted the might of God right before their death. After following the Israelites onto the path into the Red Sea, God took off their chariot wheels, and they said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (v. 25). Pharaoh must have been a bit irked to hear his men speaking against the wisdom of following the Israelites when Pharaoh was the one who had insisted on the pursuit.

Clearly, what I can see here between the steadfast devotion of Moses and the self-pride of Pharaoh is that trying to do things outside of the will of God is never a good idea.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27)

God can and will use your enemies to forward His own plans. So while our human tendency is to view certain people as blocking our path, making it impossible for us to reach our Promised Land, we can look at this story and realize that our enemies may be key characters in the ultimate story of our deliverance. God hardening their hearts against us may be an act of great tenderness that has to do with His glory.

And while God’s way may just not make any sense to us initially, we can look at Pharaoh and know that however bad things get, we should never attempt to create and lean on our own plans rather than God’s.

3. God may allow your circumstances to strengthen your trust in Him.

One last little nugget that we can find tucked away in the story is that not only did God display His greatness by delivering His people and extinguishing their enemies in one flourishing swoop, He used the circumstance to teach His people to trust Him. After the Israelites looked at all that had happened, verse 31 tells us that “the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

I remember going through a particularly challenging circumstance a few years ago where nothing on the outside lined up with the vision God had given me for my life. I was so confused. As I was relating to one of my sisters about this particular season of my life (which is still ongoing in many ways), my sister said this: “Maybe God put you in that situation so you could trust him.”

I really didn’t like that answer but as I’ve thought about it, I’ve had to conclude that she was right. In that time where nothing made sense, and I felt like I was at a dead-end (and I was mad that God had brought me there), I did gain some great gifts from that circumstance. One such gift was that I learned how to better trust God.

So, while this story has everything to do with the unsurpassed power of God that I heard about so often in my Sunday school classes as a child — this story has many other layers as well. It has everything to do with the impossible scenario I find myself in right now. The one I am doubting God can deliver me from. The one that has me losing sleep at night. As Henry notes, in such situations, “Your strength is to sit still (Isa. 30:7), for the Egyptians shall … threaten to hurt in vain.”

You and I can be encouraged that God is at work. We may not see Him or hear Him right away, but He has a plan for bringing us where we are and a plan for bringing us out. We need only wait!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 love music 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 three children.

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