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Catherine’s Story

Have you ever felt like you’re getting the consolation prize in life? You know how the winner on those old TV game shows would get some fabulous prize like a trip to Hawaii and the losers would get a blender?

I will confess to you, for a long time I thought that people who were joyful over God’s hope must be cut from a different cloth than me. Maybe they were just naïve, or more spiritual than me. Or maybe they just had nothing in this life they were hoping for, and so hope in God was all they had. I decided, subconsciously, that God’s brand of hope was kind of the consolation prize for people who lose.

Recently I found out that a dear friend of mine is expecting. She and her husband had struggled with infertility and had basically given up hope, and she is near the end of her childbearing years, and so this was an unexpected thrill for both of them. Now, I will tell you I am thrilled for them, but when she told me, for a moment I was nearly overcome with pain and sadness.

In my own life, a deep grief has been not being able to bear children. I got my hope of finding a wonderful man. But the hope of children, at least in the natural, wasn’t fulfilled. And I have grieved over that.

The Bible says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Heart-sick means crushed in spirit. Have you ever felt like your spirit was crushed? God understands this and He is there to comfort us in times of heart ache and grief. It says in Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

I thought I had dealt with my own loss a long time ago. But when I heard that my friend is expecting, I found myself saying, “God, that’s great what you did for my friend, but what about me? Why did I get passed over?”

And right at that time, I sensed His Spirit saying, “are you sure that’s not still what you think I am, the ‘consolation prize’?”

I wrestled with Him over that in my heart, for the better part of a day until I was finally able to say, “Lord, You are not the consolation prize, You are the only real prize. And You love me, and Your plan is perfect. I will put my hope in You.” And His peace flooded over me again.

Your situation may be entirely different than mine. We each have our own blessings and gifts, and we each have our own challenges and griefs. But God can meet us where we are, when we’re honest with Him, and He can fill us fresh with His hope.

David said in Psalm 42:11, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” That is living in His hope. We can have hope, because we have a God we can trust.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, Bella apologized for her tears. “I’m sorry for unloading on you. It’s just been so hard recently.”

Two miscarriages in the last few months had left her raw. And as the wife of someone in church leadership, it seemed she had no one to talk to about it. “Unless you’ve lost a baby, you can’t understand how how much it hurts,” Bella explained. “And well-meaning people can say such insensitive things.”

All I could do was listen and cry with her. “It’s so hard to trust God in all of this,”
Bella confided before we said goodbye. “But I just have to believe that He’s doing something good in me in the process.”

Here’s the rest of the story, in Bella’s own words.

I hit bottom on my first baby’s due date. I felt so discouraged. Nine months, two lost babies, and still empty-handed. And now I was scared that not only would I have to deal with losses, but would I now have to deal with infertility again?

I remember one day having a very honest conversation with the Lord. I told Him that I was angry, frustrated, and tired. I felt that I was coming to a place where this burden of pain and loss was more than I could bear. I wanted this season of pain to be over. And I told Him I was so disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant, and to please have mercy on me.

And in that moment I felt His presence so strong with me. I heard Him tell me to just hang on a little longer, that this season would soon be over, and that He was holding me by my hand and would not let me go. I also felt Him say that I didn’t conceive because He was answering the very thing I had asked Him, and that was to not allow it to happen until it was His time. But then I heard Him say that my time was coming very soon and to just be patient.

I felt such a peace come over me about having another baby and the timing. Even the way I felt about the babies I lost… God gave me such a peace about that. There is no way to explain what He did. It was completely effortless on my part. I just felt different. I felt such a healing work from the Lord. It was like although He knew already what I was feeling and thinking, I needed to be honest with Him and myself first.

That night that we spoke, I didn’t know yet, but a few days later I found out that I am expecting again! Naturally I am nervous, but I must say that I feel different than with the last pregnancies I lost, especially the second one. With that second one I lost, I was in a constant state of anxiety, panic, and worry. I knew something was wrong, and I felt completely helpless to save my baby.

So here I am now, expecting again. Hopeful, but cautious. I know I have a long road ahead of me before I can feel completely at ease about whether this baby will make it. But I am trusting in the Lord. I know He is with me.

Do you have a secret pain? A private grief? Your secret pain doesn’t have to consume you. Give it to Him today. Let Him hold you and give you His peace in the midst of it. And trust Him to do something good in you and through you in the process.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

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“I don’t know if you remember me. I hope I’m not bothering you…” The man’s voice is hesitant, almost apologetic, with a distinct midwestern drawl.

The number on my phone shows an unfamiliar town in Missouri, and the voice isn’t registering as anyone I know. Wrong number?

“We met on the bus to Springfield,” the man continues. “I had just gotten out of prison.”

My heart jumps as it all comes rushing back. Just after New Year’s. The greyhound bus from St. Louis to visit my grandmother.

The young man sitting next to me had struck up a conversation with me during the three-hour trip. He revealed that he had just gotten out of prison. That morning. Drugs and the wrong friends had messed up his life, but he was ready for a fresh start, he’d said.

“Fresh start.” Those were his very words. Jesus had met him in prison, he’d said, and he had read the Bible he’d been given over and over. When I told him about Fresh Start For All Nations and the blog I write, he agreed to let me tell his story. “If my story can encourage someone else, then please use it.”

Before I got off the bus, I gave him my business card with the Fresh Start website. It was only afterwards I realized it had my personal cell phone number too. Was it wise for a single girl to give her phone number to an ex-con?

And now, four months later, he’s calling me.

“I’ve gotten mixed up with my old friends,” he confesses softly. “And I’ve started doing drugs again.” I can hear the defeat in his voice.

My heart is heavy. He was so hopeful when I met him a few months ago. So confident. And now…

“I’ve been looking through old phone numbers,” the man continues, “and I remember that you were so sweet and encouraging. I was just wondering if maybe you would pray for me.”

What else can I do? I feel so helpless.

“Can I pray for you right now?” I ask. The man agrees. Taking a deep breath, I plead on behalf of this broken man.

“Father, thank you for your grace and forgiveness…” I ask God to be with this man, to bring him good friends, to help him get connected with a good church and a recovery support group. “…And most of all, may he know how much you love him…”

When I finish, the man thanks me. “That was so sweet. I really appreciate it.”

As I hang up, I still wonder if I did the right thing. But what else could I have done? “Always be prepared to give an answer… for the hope that you have,” we’re encouraged in I Peter 3:15. Hope – that’s what this man needed.

Is there someone God has brought in your path who is in need of HOPE? Are you prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have? All you can do is point that person to the One who is the source of all hope – Jesus. And pray that he or she will cling to that hope. It’s a hope that does not disappoint us.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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My hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…” I tell myself. Yet my eyes are irresistibly drawn to the drop-off on the right side of the car. I just barely catch a glimpse of the yawning gulf stretching out endlessly in either direction before whipping my head back to the front again. Wiping a sweaty palm on my jeans, I try to take deep breaths.

“This is amazing!” Beth is ecstatic. She peers out the passenger window at the snowy ridges that seem to stretch on forever. “I can’t believe we’re here!”

The whole trip was Beth’s idea. “I have to see the Grand Canyon before I go back home,” she’d said. “And you have to come with me!”

An exchange student from Asia, Beth’s been my language tutor for the past few months. We studied the Gospel of John for our lessons, which sparked many interesting discussions. “I’ve met so many Christians in America,” Beth explained to me once. “And they’re such good people! But I can’t become a Christian. I have to go back to my country soon, and it’s different there.”

Now, driving on the snowy roads of the Grand Canyon National Park, I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing. This is a bad idea, I worry, my heart pounding. What if I hit an icy patch and lose control of the car? The car will skid and swerve and then careen over the edge of that cliff. It will all be over in a matter of minutes. And no one will even see it happen…

“Are you OK?” Concern in her voice, Beth reaches out and touches my arm gently. “You don’t look so good.”

Shaking my head to dispel the disturbing images, I snap back to reality. “Um, I guess I’m a little afraid of heights,” I confess shakily. “I didn’t think I was, but…” My voice trails off.

“What you need is some worship music,” Beth decides, scanning the radio stations until she finds a familiar Chris Tomlin song. “And we should pray. But you keep your eyes open!” She shakes a finger at me teasingly, then gets serious. “God, please help Michelle not to be afraid. Help her to trust You. Amen.”

Amazing. Beth, who says she doesn’t even believe in God, is telling ME to trust Him! I’m convicted and forced to examine my heart. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Do I really trust God to keep me safe in ANY and ALL circumstances? Is He able to calm this pounding fear that’s threatening to paralyze me?

“Just remember, God is with you!” Beth’s voice is earnest. “You don’t have to be afraid. It’s going to be OK.”

As I park the car and turn off the engine, I let out a deep breath and relax my shoulders. Here, at the edge of this cavernous depth, I face my fear head-on. I will NOT be afraid. Fear has no power over me. God is with me. I can trust Him.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” I smile at my friend in the passenger seat. “Let’s go see the Grand Canyon!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 34:4 (NRSV)

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“Trapped. Hopeless. Depressed. That’s how I felt after four intense years of teaching English in an extremely sensitive, highly stressful area in northeast Asia.”

Thirteen pairs of eyes watched me intently as I began my story at this foreign English teachers’ retreat. Seated on metal folding chairs in a semi-circle were American teachers from a large university in Asia. They were all single women, ranging from age twenty-three to fifty-something. Several of these ladies had served in this country for five, ten, fifteen years. I could see the weariness in some of their eyes.

I had only just met these women. And I didn’t know their stories. Yet I felt such a strong connection to them. I wanted to fling my arms around them and say, ‘I know what it’s like! I’ve been there too!’

“Many times over those months and years in Asia, I wondered what on earth God was doing,” I continued. “I couldn’t see the results of all my work and investment in relationships. I struggled with homesickness, cultural barriers, serious conflicts with team members. And I felt so alone.”

“Yet time after time I felt the Father gently ask me, ‘Is it enough that I have asked you to come and you have obeyed? Even if you never understand? Even if you never see any results? Can you trust Me?’ ”

“Over and over again I had to surrender to Him, not knowing or understanding it all, but trusting that He would somehow, someday use it for good.”

I smiled. “You know, God didn’t have to show me why I experienced some of the hard things I went through.” I had to fumble for a tissue in my pocket before I could go on. “But here I am today, standing before all of you, sharing my story. And I feel He’s giving me just a tiny glimpse of His bigger purpose.”

At the end of the three-day retreat, one young woman came up to me with a broad smile. “I love how much you cry,” she said. “Thank you for being so real and vulnerable in sharing your story. It gives me permission to cry too.”

The author of Corinthians says that “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort… comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (II Cor 1:3-4, NIV).

If through my tears I can encourage one woman that she is not alone, if I can remind her that God has a purpose in HER pain, if I can give her hope that she, too, can find help in her time of need, then it’s all worth it. Because HE is worth it.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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“NOOOOO!!!!” The happy hum of preschoolers enjoying their snacks is instantly shattered by three-year-old Thomas’ screams of rage.
“I don’t WANT you to put the straw in my juice! I can do it MYSELF!!!” Crossing his arms, Thomas glares at me. “I’m MAD at you!”

It’s going to be a long day. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This is more than I bargained for when I agreed to sub for the three-year-old preschool class today.

All day long, Thomas throws screaming fits when something is not exactly to his liking. “But I don’t WANT to color the T!” “I don’t WANT to sit next to Samuel!” “He’s touching MY crayon!” “NOOOOOO!!!!!” I’ve never seen a preschooler put in time out or sent to the principal’s office so many times in one day.

“Thomas’ family just moved to the area,” the other preschool teacher explains to me in a whisper. “His dad’s in the military and gone a lot. Plus his mom just had a new baby. He’s mad at the world right now.”

My heart goes out to this angry little boy, but I don’t know how to handle his fits of rage. So I start to ignore Thomas. When Allison needs help with her letter T worksheet, I gladly show her what to do. When Gregory wants me to read to him, I pull him onto my lap and cheerfully start “Curious George at the Dentist.” But I avoid even looking at Thomas, afraid that the smallest thing might set him off.
Almost done, I sigh with relief at the end of the day. We are letting the kids run off some energy in the gym before their parents pick them up. Like clockwork, after a few minutes Thomas plops down in the middle of the gym and screams, for no apparent reason. None of the other kids seem concerned.

This little boy needs a lot of love, I realize with a pang. He needs consequences too, but if I only give him attention when he does something wrong, isn’t that just reinforcing his bad behavior?

I don’t really want to do it. But I know I need to. I walk over to him and force myself to smile.

“Thomas, would you like me to swing you around?” He looks up, surprised, and agrees hesitantly. I pick him up, and he quickly wraps his legs around my waist and holds tightly to my neck.

“Ready?” I ask. He nods. As I start spinning around, I’m surprised by a sound I haven’t heard all day. I stop and look at Thomas. He’s actually giggling!

“Want to do it again?” He grins. Once more I spin around, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until we’re both dizzy and laughing. Amazing. Thomas isn’t throwing fits. And I’m actually enjoying myself!

As the preschoolers gather their coats and backpacks for the carpool line, I think of another friend in my life who sometimes acts like Thomas. Deeply wounded by life’s hurts and disappointments, she reacts in anger, verbally attacking anyone who comes near. Recently I’ve started to avoid contact with her completely. To keep from being hurt, I’ve been withdrawing from the relationship.

But aren’t there times when I, too, react out of pain and anger, hurting those around me? Yet the Heavenly Father always takes an interest in me. Not because I’m always acting lovable. But because He loves me unconditionally. Right then I decide to make an effort to reach out to my friend. Because I’ve been forgiven, I can forgive. Because I’ve been given grace, I can extend grace. Because I am loved, I can love.

Do you know someone who is throwing a tantrum at life’s injustice? Do you have a friend who’s been hurt deeply and is lashing out in pain? Though the temptation is to back away from someone like that, consider how you can reach out to that person this week. Even a screaming fit of rage is no match for forgiving, grace-filled, unconditional love.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 86:15 (NIV)

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1094501_life_preserver“I’m not gonna make it.” I was so very tired. It would be so easy to just give up and submit to the waves that were trying to submerge me. “I just can’t keep going anymore.”

Half-wading, half-swimming, my mom and my brother Stephen and I had made our way through the clear, shallow waters of the secluded bay that afternoon, anxious to test out our snorkeling gear. Brilliant yellow and blue fish darted in and out among the rocks, so close we could have touched them! Visiting my parents here in Costa Rica was a refreshing change from my busy life as an English teacher in East Asia, and the week was going by far too quickly.

When I finally decided to swim back to the shore, my legs and arms were already starting to ache. All that snorkeling around the rocks had worn me out more than I realized. I swam underwater for a few minutes, then decided to stand up and take a break.

My feet didn’t touch the bottom.

Looking back to where my mom and brother were still snorkeling, I realized we had drifted down the coast with the current. “I guess it’s a bit deeper at this spot. When I’d swum out here, it had been shallow the whole way!”

Swimming on my back this time, I aimed for the beach once more. But every time I turned my head to look, it seemed no closer than before. And when I tried to stand after a few minutes, there was nothing but water beneath me. This time my head went under and I got a mouthful of salty seawater. Coughing and sputtering, I looked toward the distant beach where my dad was reading in the shade of a tree. I waved my arm frantically to get his attention. He cheerfully waved back.

“He has no idea I’m in trouble,” I thought in desperation, struggling to keep my head above water. I’d never been a strong swimmer, and now I felt so desperately weary.

“No one would even see me go under,” I realized. My mom and brother still hadn’t noticed my distress, and we were the only ones on this isolated stretch of beach. “I’m going to drown right here within sight of my dad on the shore.”

I don’t know how, but somehow I made it to the shore that terrifying afternoon in Costa Rica. My dad later told me that when I was swimming on my back, I was actually going in circles. No wonder the shore never seemed to get any closer. When I finally crawled onto the sand, gasping for breath, I couldn’t believe how close I had been to giving up.

Hopeless. Helpless. Desperate. I’ve been there before. Sometimes life just seems to be one pounding wave after another of pain and disappointment and loss. And I feel like I’m drowning in it all.

But God doesn’t leave me there. When I have nothing left, not even the strength to yell for help, I look to Him in desperation. And even if He doesn’t pluck me out of the circumstances I’m in, He gives me the strength and the grace to make it through the rough waters.

How about you? Are you stuck in destructive cycles of conflict and harmful relationships? Are you in danger of drowning under waves of disappointment? Do the depths of pain in your life seem endless? You are never without hope. Help is on the way. He won’t let you drown.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“…He pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”
Psalm 18:16-19 (The Message).

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