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It’s a simple thing. Something I’ve done thousands of times. But today it takes all my energy to turn the key in the ignition of my car. The first attempt twists my wrapped and splinted wrist in a way that sends shooting pain towards my elbow. I drop the injured hand to my lap and wait a few seconds for the throbbing to subside. Then I awkwardly stretch my left arm across my body and around the steering wheel to turn the key with my left hand. The engine finally roars to life, and I slump back in my seat, relieved. I’m sweating and I haven’t even left the parking lot yet.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime in the last few weeks I must have strained my wrist when lifting heavy trays of food or carrying stacks of dirty dishes at my summer catering job. The little every-day activities – chopping an avocado for guacamole, swiping my card for a Guatemalan brew at my favorite coffee shop – have suddenly become difficult and painful endeavors. And now I’m supposed to wear a splint to keep the wrist still and allow the joints and tendons to recover.

What amazes me is how this little pulled tendon in my wrist has such rippling repercussions. Each time I turn a doorknob or pour a glass of orange juice, my neck and shoulder muscles automatically tense up, my body tilts to shift weight to the left side, and my limbs contort in unnatural positions to avoid unnecessary strain on the “weak link.”

It gets me thinking of that passage in the Bible where Paul is comparing the followers of Jesus to a human body. He explains: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” …If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (I Cor. 12:21, 26, NIV).

Just as the rest of my body can’t ignore my injured wrist and go on with life as usual, so I can’t ignore the hurts of my brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow members of the Body. The book of Hebrews tells us to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:2, NIV).

So how can I help support the “weaker members” of the Body? I can pray for the pastor imprisoned in Iran, as if his chains were around my ankles. I can write to the widowed woman in Vietnam, reminding her that she is not forgotten. And I can put my arms around the tired young mom who sits two rows behind me in church, being a friend and a listening ear when she feels discouraged and alone.

Is there a hurting member of the Body that you can pray for, support, and encourage today? Give away what you’ve received! Share the GOOD NEWS of hope and healing with someone else today – so that the Body can be whole and healthy and working as it should!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“But God has put the body together, …so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
(I Corinthians 12:24-25, NIV)

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The brilliant Cartagena sun beat down on the scattered group sitting on folding chairs in the open patio. A bird called, breaking the stillness. My stomach rumbled, and I glanced discreetly at my watch. How many more hours until dinner?

I was nineteen years old, in Colombia on outreach with my Youth With A Mission team. Several of the YWAM students at this Cartagena base had significant financial needs, and we were joining them in a day of prayer and fasting.

“God, what can I possibly give? I don’t have anything.” My mind kept wandering as I shifted in my chair, waiting to hear something.

Give that chapstick in your pocket to Gina. The thought came suddenly, unexpectedly. I glanced over at the Colombian girl to my left, who I’d just met this week. Surely I’d heard God wrong.

“But God, she needs money. She doesn’t need chapstick.” I shook my head and tried to clear my thoughts.

Give the chapstick in your pocket to Gina. I couldn’t ignore the nagging prompting. Give her the chapstick. Give the chapstick to Gina.

Feeling completely ridiculous, I reluctantly rose from my seat and slowly approached Gina. “God, do I really have to do this? It’s not even new! Isn’t she going to be offended that I’m giving her a tube of used chapstick? She’s going to think I’m stupid…”

Gina looked up inquisitively when I tapped her on the shoulder. “Um, I know this is weird, but…” Face flushed, I fumbled in my jeans pocket, my fingers closing on the plastic tube. “…I felt like God told me to give you this,” I muttered, thrusting it into her hand.

Her eyes widened as she looked at the tube, opened it, sniffed it, applied some to her lips.

“You won’t believe this, but I’ve just been sitting here, thinking about how I need chapstick. It’s such a small thing, but my lips have been so dry… And vanilla is my favorite scent!” Gina smiled at me through tears. “Gracias… Thank you so much.”

Slipping back into my seat, I sighed with relief. I hadn’t just imagined it. God DID speak to me.

“Did God REALLY say….?” It’s one of the Enemy’s oldest tricks in the book. Since the Garden of Eden, he’s tried to plant seeds of doubt in our minds. “Did you hear God right? Are you sure?”

In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” We are His sheep, and He DOES speak to us. The more we listen and obey, even if it seems like a small thing, the more we can hear Him clearly. When I question my ability to hear my Heavenly Father, I remember that day in Cartagena many years ago. and a tube of vanilla chapstick. And I remind myself that I’m His sheep, and I CAN hear His voice!

Going Vertical!
MJ

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It’s no secret to those who know me well that I like to be in the spotlight. As a young girl, I would practice gymnastic routines in my backyard, imagining the roar of the crowd as I won Olympic gold for my country. Or I would pirouette in front of my parents’ floor-length mirror, pointing my toes just so, trying to hold my head erect with that graceful look of the ballerinas I saw on TV. And my performances in school plays, to small audiences of proud parents and squirming siblings, seemed to be just stepping-stones to my glittering future career as an actress on Broadway.

But the spotlight’s not on me tonight. As I slip in and out among tables of happily chatting guests in the candle-lit reception hall, scooping up dirty plates and refilling water glasses, I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. The black dress shirt, black pants, and long black bistro apron of my uniform are intended to help me blend in rather than stand out. As a server for a local catering company, my goal is to be unnoticed, so that all eyes can be focused on the star of the show – the bride.

As I scrape leftover food off salad plates and lug bags of trash outside to the dumpster, navigating the hot kitchen with bustling cooks and scurrying servers, I have to smile to myself. God certainly has a sense of humor. For a girl who loves to be admired and appreciated, it’s challenging to be in a job with very little recognition or appreciation.

A verse suddenly pops in to my head – “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” It’s from Luke 17, and Jesus is making the point that when you’re working as a servant, you don’t expect thanks or reward for your efforts. Jesus Himself was our ultimate example of this attitude of humility and self-sacrifice. The Bible says that He came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

What would make the omnipotent God of all Creation take on fragile, weak human form, and put up with the pettiness and potential pain of life on planet Earth? What made Him confident enough to kneel in the dirt to wipe the grime off Peter’s and John’s and even Judas’ feet? Jesus knew that His identity didn’t come from others’ praise or recognition. One week the crowds were ready to crown Him as the conquering hero, the next week they screamed for His death. But Jesus knew that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God” (John 13:3). His identity was secure in WHO He was and WHOSE He was.

“Thank you, Smiley.” My internal reverie is broken by the kind voice of a gray-haired gentleman in a meticulous black suit.

Concentrating on trying not to spill as I pour water into his glass, I’m momentarily taken aback. I didn’t realize I was smiling. But his comment makes my night. “You’re welcome!” And I can’t help grinning even wider. Though it’s certainly nice to be appreciated, tonight has been a good reminder that my value doesn’t come from the recognition of others. My value comes from my identity as the beloved daughter of my Heavenly Father. And that is definitely something to smile about.

Going Vertical!
MJ

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“Lai Lai! Hello! Come!”

Eager hands grasped at my suitcases and tugged on my arm, yelling their offers of assistance. The taxi from the East Asian airport had dumped me within view of the train station with my two 70 lb. suitcases, one rolling carry-on, and a backpack – all stuffed to the limit with gifts and teaching supplies. But as soon as I stepped out of the taxi, I was bombarded by eager porters and pedi-cab drivers. Finally I gave in and accepted the help of a bicycle-pedaled cart.

Loaded down with multiple bags and one weary traveler, the cart wove between speeding taxis, fleets of bicycles, and crowds of pedestrians. Closing my eyes, I tried not to think about the seemingly inevitable collisions.

Miraculously, we made it across the busy street unharmed. The hair-raising trip had taken just a few minutes. Thankful to be safely at my destination, I pulled out a couple of bills from my wallet to pay.

“Bu, bu, bu!” The driver shook his head vehemently. Apparently there was a misunderstanding. I thought he’d said 2.5 Yuan, but he’d asked for 250 Yuan! In my town in the northeast, 2 Yuan would get you anywhere you wanted to go on the bicycle-pedaled carts. But 250, just for taking me across the street?? That was a rip-off!

He wouldn’t budge, no matter how much I protested. Soon a curious crowd gathered, shouting encouragement to the driver. “That’s right! Tell her! Don’t let this foreigner get away!”

Physical and emotional weariness from the long hours of travel and very little sleep were making me cranky and irritable. I couldn’t believe that no one would help me or defend me. Finally I snapped. Angrily I threw the 250 Yuan at the driver and stormed off.

Tears streaming, I stumbled over the broken pavement, lugging my heavy suitcases. Looking around desperately, all I could see were Asian faces. All the signs were in Mandarin. I couldn’t even tell if I was in the right place. For all I knew, the taxi driver and the pedi-cab driver had taken me to the wrong place. How would I ever find my train?

There was nothing to do but sit down and cry. A few of the hurrying travelers stopped briefly to gawk at this bedraggled American girl, collapsed on a pile of suitcases in the middle of the pavement, bawling her eyes out. But no one stopped to ask what was wrong or to help. I felt so utterly alone.

“Are you OK?” The voice sounded like it was in a German or Dutch accent. But it was in ENGLISH! Looking up, I saw a tall, blond young man.

“No, I’m not OK!” I sniffled, wiping at my nose with the back of my hand. I poured out my whole story to him, ending with, “And I don’t even know if I’m in the right place! I can’t find the entrance to the train station!”

He smiled gently and pointed over my shoulder. “But it’s right behind you.” Surprised, I turned around to see a very clear entrance just a few feet from where I was sitting. How had I missed it earlier?

“Thank you so much!” I turned back to my new friend… But he was gone. He had been there, standing right in front of me, now he’d completely disappeared! I scanned the crowd, but there was no sign of a tall blond man in the sea of Asian faces.

Was it an angel? Or had he just melted into the crowd? Whoever it was, I knew with great certainty that God had sent him to me. At my moment of desperation and helplessness, my loving Heavenly Father had given me a reminder that I am never alone. He is watching me. He sees me in my distress. He is able to rescue me. And He will do the same for you.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.”
Psalm 18:6 (NIV)

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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