Eight Quarters and Lesson Learned

by Crystal Bowman

I was annoyed with the long exit line on the hospital parking ramp. Eager to get home after visiting a friend, I inched my way to the ticket booth where the attendant informed me of the eight-dollar fee. I handed him a ten-dollar bill, expecting two dollars in return. I did, in fact, get two dollars back—eight quarters.  

“Sorry, that’s all I’ve got,” he apologized. I groaned and rolled my eyes, even more annoyed than before. I planned on dropping the quarters into our coin jar but forgot about them when I got home. Several days went by and the quarters still jiggled in the bottom of my purse. 

Later that week I had a book signing at a local bookstore. This was during the early days of my writing career, and I was excited for the opportunity to promote the handful of children’s books I had published.

Many people think a book signing is a glamorous event for rich and famous authors, but nothing could be further from the truth! Most authors are neither rich nor famous, and book signings are a lesson in humility.

No one came to the store just to see me. I sold a few books to some shoppers who happened to be there, but that was about it. One woman asked me to watch her daughter while she went to the bathroom, and another customer asked me to help him find a book by another author.

As I began packing up my books to go home, a middle-aged woman with a contagious smile came to my table. “Are you a real author?” she asked as she picked up one of my short chapter books.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Well,” she said, “I can’t read very well, but I know I can read this one.”

She fumbled through her purse for a few minutes and then her smile faded, “I don’t have enough money to buy your book,” she said. She put the book back on the table and started to walk away.

 “Wait,” I said. “How much more do you need?”

“Two dollars.”

At that moment I remembered the eight quarters in my purse that had never made it to the coin jar. “I might be able to help you out. I have a bunch of quarters that I don’t need, and you can have them.”

Her smile returned as I counted the quarters and dropped them in her hand.

“What’s your name,” I asked. “I’ll write a note in the book and sign it for you.” 

“My name is Gina.”

On the inside cover I wrote, “To my friend, Gina. I hope you enjoy reading this story. May God bless you.”

Too many times I let little things that don’t matter—like those eight quarters—annoy me. I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s challenge to the Christians in Colosse, which challenges me as well. He taught them to live a new life in Christ and put to death the old life. He told them to put on compassion, kindness, humility, and patience as if they were clothing (Colossians 3:12).

Even though we cannot live perfect lives, we can ask God to help us live in a way that shows we belong to Him. Colossians 3:14 (NLT) says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”  

As far as book signings go, my time at the bookstore was not very productive. But I learned a lesson from those eight quarters, and I met a woman name Gina whose smile I will never forget.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 NLT

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Crystal Bowman is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 100 books including, Our Daily Bread for Kids.She and her husband have three married children and seven huggable grandchildren.

When a child’s grandparent or great-grandparent is afflicted with dementia, it’s difficult to explain the disease in a way that helps the child understand why the person they love is not the same. I Love You to the Stars–When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembersis a picture book inspired by a true story to help young children understand that even though Grandma is acting differently, she still loves them–to the stars!

Join the conversation: What are the little things that you find annoying?

No Smell of Fire

by Michelle Ruddell

“I never knew you were a single mom,” a woman told me as we walked across the church parking lot. I considered her statement a compliment. Her words implied to me that our family appeared normal. I had believed in my mind and in my heart that everyone knew our struggles just by looking at us.

As a divorced single parent, I felt inadequate. I worried that my shortcomings would glare like a flashing neon sign that read, “This mom is a failure.” Added to this, I was afraid my mistakes would forever damage my children.

While struggling to parent my two young daughters I pleaded with God to help me. Again and again, I relied on His promise to be “a father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5 NIV). The fact that the woman from church had known me for a couple of years and did not know I was a single parent suggested to me that God was keeping his promise.

A few years later I had a similar experience. A new colleague was surprised to hear that I had suffered the death of a child, escaped an abusive marriage, and had two daughters diagnosed as teenagers with chronic neurological conditions. This man said to me, “No one would ever know what you’ve been through. You walk around here with a smile on your face, even on the bad days.” His words brought back the memory of a scripture in a story from the third chapter of Daniel, which I read during one of my daughter’s lengthy hospital stays.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship an idol. The fire was so hot that it killed the men who threw them in. These young men believed God could save them from the fire; yet they were obedient without knowing the outcome.

The story continues with the image of a fourth man seen in the fire before Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego escaped unharmed. The king knew it was God who rescued them. However, the part of this story that stuck out to me is the verse that says, “there was no smell of fire on them” (Daniel 3:27, NIV).

There are some terribly painful, unfair, fiery trials that we go through. Some involve family relationships; others are health related. God doesn’t promise an easy, trouble-free life, but He does promise to never leave us or forsake us. When we are in the furnace, He is there. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we have the other One in the fire with us. We can come out with our faith stronger and our joy deeper. We can walk out of a “furnace” with no smell of fire.

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Daniel 3:26-27 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Michelle Ruddell is a high-school math teacher in Robinson, Texas. Now an empty-nester, she is writes and speaks to share the stories of God’s faithfulness through the death of her son, her escape from an abusive marriage, and single-parenting her two daughters. Read more at http://www.michelleruddell.com or contact Michelle on Facebook. Michelle’s book, Welcome to the Club, I’m Sorry You’re Here describes her journey from bitter to better after the death of her son in a car accident.

Join the conversation: Have you been through a painful or fiery trial recently? Did the experience make you stronger?

Rising and Falling and Grounded Faith

by Beth Duewel

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd… Mark 6:34 ESV

One particular night—after being grounded back to my room by my daughter, who’d grown tired of me watching her sleep—I went to Scripture. Not in the casual, easy way I’d always searched before, but with urgency. Because my daughter had a brain tumor, and wasn’t Jesus gonna fix this?!

I can honestly say, I’m so thankful for the hardest days of our lives, and for the freedom in the fall. Why?

Because there is something about being stripped of our security that makes a whole lot of everything elsefall away, too. You’re left standing without reliance on what you’ve put your hope in—what you’ve fixated on. Which for me, so long ago, was to make sure my daughter stayed alive by the power of my stare and a teeny-tiny little nightlight. Suddenly it seemed there was nothing left to do but fuzzy-slipper-shuffle back to bed where I belonged.

One of the first life changing things I discovered during my “grounding,” though, I found in John. It’s where Jesus was holding a banquet that was more than just about food—showing us that their time together was less about eating and more about getting fed. Because Jesus gives this instruction, “Have the people sit down.” I mean, He could have had the people listen and eat while standing, He didn’t want that. John tells us: “There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about 5,000 of them” (John 6:10 ESV).

Why would this detail about “plenty of grass in the place” be important enough to include in Scripture if it wasn’t a significant indication of God’s caring character? Reading this then, I think: God Cares for our comfort even on the most uncomfortable days. But also, if He cares this much about our physical needs, how much more can He care for our souls?

It’s a relief, really. Especially, freeing, don’t you think? To know we don’t have to work this day like dough in our hands and fix all the flaws in it? We don’t have to spend anxious hours worrying about what’s to come.

So, we’re back to that hillside, as the disciples tell Jesus, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Instead, Jesus feeds the people.

After this we read, “When they all had enough to eat, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted” (John 6:12 NIV). This is the kind of God that He is. There is hope here. Joy, also.

Let me throw a wild thought out to you. If Jesus would have wanted more bread, couldn’t He easily have placed another order for bread into the heavenly realms instead of collecting the leftover crumbs? He could have. But He didn’t.

Can’t we then, trust a God who gathers small pieces of bread, breadcrumbs, just so nothing would be lost? My amazement exactly. We need to remember this today. We can trust that God doesn’t waste pain. Not yours. Not mine. Today when I considered the breadcrumbs, I was reminded: Pain serves a PURPOSE. And there is a special place for it in our lives.

The ability to sit with pain and not try and wiggle out from under it, or help my kids escape it, is a lesson I’m still learning. Give me 75 degrees and comfortable, that’s all I’m sayin’. But Jesus replaces our firm steps with seawater. We step out, unknowing, even forgetting that faith is supposed to feel like this. Buoyant and unfixed. Rising. Falling. Giving way to God’s good work as He cares for us. Wholly nurturing us: mind, body, and soul.

All these years later—I can tell you; our family has prayed God would restore Brittany’s health. Fix it. We see her faithful then, smiling now (currently five months pregnant), and we know: He had in mind to do so much more.

By the way—in case you’re wondering. I haven’t been grounded to my room lately. Well, last night. I. Was. Not. Grounded.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the author: Beth Duewel is a writer, speaker, and blogger at Fix-Her-Upper.com. She has three almost adulting children and lives with her husband in Ashland, Ohio. Beth and her coauthor friends are super excited about their new book,  Faith Pump, a 40 day devotional that will make your spirit soar.

Join the conversation: How has God nurtured your mind, body, and soul lately?

True Love

by Melissa Heiland

As I was walking on the beach one morning, I saw someone had written in the sand in bold letters for everyone to see, “I love Rachel.” This touched my heart and I thought wistfully, I wish someone would declare his love for me in such a public manner. The Lord quickly spoke to my spirit and reminded me, “ I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16 ESV). Oh, the love of the Lord, that He would engrave our names on His hands!

Everybody loves love. Most of us think of romantic love when we think of true love. The Hallmark Channel is a favorite because of its portrayal of love. Sweet woman meets strong guy and we know from the first scene that the story ends with a promise of forever and a kiss. Fairy tales often consist of the prince marrying a girl that no one had previously noticed, and they live happily ever after.

It is also very popular to talk about self-love. Programs that teach us how to love ourselves abound, assuring us that the most is important love is love of self.

Although these concepts have some appeal, they fall hopelessly short of true love. Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce and even healthy marriages have struggles and pain. And if I had to believe that the truest form of love came from myself, I would spend a lot of days very discouraged.

True love comes from our Heavenly Father to us. The love God has for us is perfect and unconditional. God’s love, unlike these other forms of love, is not dependent on my looks, my behavior, or my moods. God’s love is unending, without restriction. His love is pure.

God’s love is enormous, without bounds. Psalm 36:5 ESV says, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.”

Throughout the Bible, God’s love is described as steadfast. Steadfast means immovable, not subject to change, firm, or loyal. This is the love our hearts long for, a love that never ends regardless of circumstances. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV).

God’s Word clearly tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. We have all experienced the loss of love from someone who promised us forever. The pain is deep and can leave us afraid to trust again. But God’s love is unfailing. We find peace and comfort in His promise.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38, 39 ESV

Dependence on love from other people and even from ourselves can leave us feeling stressed and insecure. Hurts from our past arise in our minds causing us to doubt and fear. But when we put our hope and trust in the love of the Lord, we will never be disappointed. We will never be left wanting. Our longing for true love is only satisfied in our God. He is the only One who is unfailing, the only One who keeps every promise. Our hearts will be at peace as we rest in the love of the Father.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Melissa Heiland is the Founder and President of Beautiful Feet International, a mission organization that plants pregnancy ministries around the world. She is an international speaker and author who is passionate about mommies, babies and sharing the Gospel. She has written devotionals for pregnant moms, new mothers and short-term mission teams, as well as a children’s book based on Psalm 139. She and her husband Ken have 6 children and 5 grandchildren.

Part devotional, part pregnancy journal, A Mother’s Journey has forty chapters that correspond with each week of pregnancy, offering comfort and spiritual guidance to those facing challenges. Each week’s reading includes Scripture verses and a journal prompt, as well as information about your baby’s development at various stages to help you get to know the little one growing inside you. A Mother’s Journey is a great resource to help you connect deeper with your baby, yourself, and your heavenly Father.

Join the conversation: Are you able to rest in the love of the Father?

Hospitality—with Sugar on Top

by Rhonda Rhea

Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality… Hebrews 13:1-2 CSB

I’ve probably mentioned before that I don’t usually cook for the people I love. Because I love them. And while there’s much that could be said here about being hospitable, there are also a couple of sentences I could add about being “hospital-able”—which, I’m telling you, could also be a thing.

Sometimes I imagine chefs narrating while I’m in the kitchen. Mostly I hear them saying things like, “Oh honey. Just…no.”

You’re probably tempted to tell me I can still set out a nice table of prepped and packaged store-bought goodies. Been there, bought that. And thank you, snack-packagers, for having my snack-back. The last time I did that, though, I realized I’d accidentally purchased an entire table of sugar. In addition to the cookies and candies and chocolate-covered this and that, I bought two beautiful, humongous cakes. This is great, I thought. We have one to eat now, and another one to also eat now.

Seriously. How can I be so bad at snacks that I can’t even buy them well?

We have a Bible study in my home. We hadn’t met too many times before one of the ladies volunteered to bring the food. She brings snacks for every meeting. Every. Meeting. I confess, I pray for this woman now more than I ever did before. Everyone in our Bible study does. She can never, ever miss Bible study. Ever. We need her.

Just a reminder here, that when it comes right down to it, we’re all needed. Even those of us who might be considered hospitality-challenged (hospi-snack-ety challenged?) are included here.

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul recaps life before Christ, when we were “foreigners to the covenants of promise.” But then in the next verse, he reminds us as well that we are now included. Needed. On the “in.” “But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Just a few verses later, he says, “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household…” (Ephesians 2:19, CSB).

Hospitality is not so much about our house. Or its snacks. It’s about that household—and expanding it to include others. As a matter of fact, hospitality is not merely welcoming people into our homes, it’s welcoming people into all our spaces. Into our lives. Into our hearts.

Hebrews 13:1-2 CSB puts it together this way: “Let brotherly love continue. Don’t neglect to show hospitality.” Without the heart, it’s not the genuine, Jesus kind of hospitality.

I love the part of this passage that gives us the how-to when it comes to loving and showing that hospitality. It’s in verse 20. “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—through the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (CSB) Who equips? Not narrating chefs. Not snack-packers or cake-bakers. Only our God equips us to do His will, through Jesus.

What sweet relief. Everything He wants to accomplish, He will do. All glory to Him.

It’s also a relief to remember that hospitality is about the people, not the party spread. I don’t even have to sugarcoat that. Though let’s be real, I could totally sugarcoat that if I wanted to.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and an award-winning humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLifeLeading HeartsThe Pathway and many more. She is the author of 17 books, including the Fix-Her-Upper books, co-authored with Beth Duewel, and the hilarious novels, Turtles in the Road and Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated, both co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea. Rhonda lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

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Got baggage? Ever find yourself lugging around messy spiritual baggage like so much purse clutter? Rhonda’s latest release, Messy to Meaningful: My Purse Runneth Over, will help you stop holding on to what you don’t need and start fighting for what you do. Learn to walk out your faith life less weighed down, lighter, and freer that ever!

Join the conversation: What do you do to welcome people into your heart and home?

Cryptic Jesus

by Julie Zine Coleman

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.   Ephesians 3:20-21 NASB

The town was several days into the wedding feast. The food and wine had flowed in abundance, provided by the groom’s parents. But then the wine ran out. And Mary, in concern for the hosts’ embarrassment of not having enough, went to Jesus, who was in attendance with several of his disciples. “They have no more wine,” she anxiously informed him. She knew him better than anyone, as only a mother knows her child. He had always shown himself to be wise and capable. Maybe he would have an idea to help their hapless hosts.

But his response was not so warm and fuzzy as we might expect. In fact, it gave me pause as I studied this passage for a book I was writing. He replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.”

Some commentators suggest Mary was overstepping her bounds, and Jesus was drawing a line in the sand. But would Jesus treat his mother with such callous disregard, especially in light of the concern she had just expressed for the wedding hosts? Not likely: Jesus actually rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting their parents (in light of the fifth commandment: Honor your father and mother). It is inconsistent to think that Jesus would turn his back on Mary when he qualified others’ disregard for their parents as erroneous.

A closer look at the story provides a different purpose to Jesus’ puzzling words.

The literal translation of his response is “What to me and to you?” It was an idiom of the time. Other idioms are common today, like: “he has a chip on his shoulder”, or “to rub someone the wrong way”. We don’t take the words literally, but understand the meaning behind the metaphor.

So what then was Jesus doing with his cryptic response?

It is helpful to compare this conversation with another mother, the Syrophoenician Woman (Matthew 15:21-28). She also came to Jesus with a request: that he would deliver her daughter from demon possession. He also refused her at first. Then he gave a reason why he should not help, just as he did at Cana. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24, 26 NASB).

What turned the tide in both conversations? Expressions of faith. The Syrophoenician Woman said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27 NASB). Jesus commended the Syrophoenician woman for her great faith. He then granted her request.  

Same with Mary. She told the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it” (John 2:5 NASB). With this instruction, Mary was expressing faith in Jesus. She trusted him to work things out in his perfect way, in his own time. And as he did with the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus responded to her faith with a miracle.

Jesus’ initial refusal in both accounts were really a means to an end. He drove both women further in their trust relationship with him. His puzzling words were merely a way to move them forward. The wine he provided through his first miracle was of superior quality, better than anything the hosts had already produced. Faith was the conduit for God’s abundant blessing.

Hebrews tells us: “Now faith is the assurance of things not seen…and without faith it is impossible to please Him…” (Hebrews 11:1, 6 NASB). When we ask in faith, we are acknowledging that God is capable and powerful enough. But we are also submitting to his good and perfect will, which might not necessarily align with our request. We are trusting him to do the best thing, no matter how that might look in light of our specific desire.

Trust is what God wants from us. We tend to think that our actions are most important to God. But how well we behave or how many accomplishments we achieve for him cannot be the basis for any request. Jesus miraculously changed water into the very best wine. It came through someone choosing to trust him, no matter what he did.

Trust in the integrity, wisdom, and goodness of our capable God. He will always do the best thing.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

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About the authorJulie Zine Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or crafting. More on Julie can be found at her new website JulieZineColeman.com and Facebook.

Many Christian women are torn between the church’s traditional teachings on gender roles and the liberty they experience in secular society. But what if the church’s conventional interpretations aren’t really biblical at all? Julie’s new book, On Purpose, releases today!! It is a careful study of the passages in the Bible often interpreted to limit women in the church, at home, or in the workplace. Each chapter reveals timeless biblical principles that actually teach freedom, not limitation.

Join the conversation: What is the biggest challenge to your ability to trust God?

Praying with Power for Those We Love

by Grace Fox

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. Ephesians 1:17 CSB

I have three adult married kids. None live locally, so we stay in touch through texts and phone and video calls. I like to know what’s happening in their lives so I can pray for them. Sometimes, though, life gets busy and we don’t connect for a couple of weeks. Even when we do visit, they don’t necessarily tell me every little detail about their high and low points, and that’s okay. How, then, can I pray most effectively when I don’t know specifics about their challenges or personal struggles?  

The same question applies to praying for extended family members and friends, especially those I haven’t seen for a long time. The best answer I’ve found is to pray God’s Word on their behalf. One of my favorite Bible passages to use is Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV). “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

Everything about our loved ones’ well-being flows from their regard for God. If they don’t understand Him as their Creator who has a plan for their lives, then they’ll follow their own path apart from His wisdom and direction. They’ll make decisions based on what they perceive to be in their best interests, and that can prove both heart-breaking and destructive.

However, if they respond to God’s love by loving Him in return with every part of who they are, they’ll develop attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors based on His truth. Doing life God’s way brings His blessings. It doesn’t guarantee a problem-free existence, but it promises His presence and empowerment to help them through the hard times. Loving the Lord first and foremost aligns their hearts with His, and everything—values, priorities, goals, money matters and more—falls into place.

Everything about our loved ones’ well-being flows from their relationship with God, but much also depends on their relationships with others. Do they view others as people loved by God and treat them accordingly? Are they able to forgive those who offend them? Are they kind? Servant-hearted? Compassionate? Are they willing to see beyond their own needs to meet other’s needs? Can they set aside their own opinions long enough to listen and consider another’s perspective? Healthy relationships contribute to one’s emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical well-being. Therefore, I pray for those I love to learn to love others well.

Praying Matthew 22:37-40 for my children, extended family, and friends has become a daily practice. I pray it for my grandchildren, too. I don’t know the specifics of what everyone’s dealing with today, but that doesn’t matter. I want them to make wise decisions, demonstrate humility, and walk in integrity. I want them to live pure lives steeped in godly wisdom and compassion. Loving the Lord with every part of who they are and loving others as they love themselves is the key to their ability to flourish.

Unlike the generic “bless my loved ones and keep them safe” prayer I offered for years, Scripture-based prayers are rich and packed with life-changing truth.

When we use God’s Word to intercede, it becomes our weapon, and we become warriors doing battle on our loved one’s behalf.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Grace Fox is a career missionary, speaks at women’s events overseas and across North America, and has authored 12 books. She’s a regular contributor to Mornings with Jesus (Guideposts), a member of the “First 5” writing team for Proverbs 31 Ministries, and co-host of the podcast “Your Daily Bible Verse.” Her new devotional Keeping Hope Alive: Devotions for Strength in the Storm is available wherever Christian books are sold. Join Grace’s FB group at www.fb.com.gracefox.author.

Join the conversation: How about you? Do you have a Scripture prayer that you pray frequently for your loved ones?                       

Created for a Purpose

by Shadia Hrichi

Happy Mother’s Day! There is perhaps no mom more famous than Mary, the mother of Jesus. Though Jesus’s conception was unlike any other, like all moms, Mary had hopes and dreams for her child. What he would be like; how he would make a difference in the world.

But what happens when God has a different plan?

God also had a dream for Mary’s child. A dream that was planned from eternity past. That her child would be the promised Savior who would take away the sins of the world. And just as Jesus had a purpose that only He could fulfill, so did Mary. In fact, God has a dream for every child He creates, and sometimes that dream looks different than what we expected.

The reality is that even before a child is conceived in her mother’s womb, she is first conceived in the very heart of God.

When the call of God came to the prophet Jeremiah, the first words God spoke to him were a reminder that God is His Creator. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5 ESV). What an amazing truth! God knows each of us, before we are even conceived. Every heartbeat is a testimony to God’s love.

However, for some, the news of a pregnancy is not always welcome. Rather than experiencing joy and celebration, some may find themselves full of fear and questions. When I discovered I was pregnant at the age of 15, fear led me to make a tragic choice. For years, I suffered the fallout: more poor choices, suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse, and so much more. But then one day God opened my eyes to His great love and forgiveness.

God knows every soul suffering under the weight of tragic choices, yet His grace to forgive is greater still. “. . .though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 ESV).

In fact, this is why Jesus came. Leaving His heavenly home to enter our world, Jesus didn’t take any shortcuts. He didn’t arrive as a grown man, but was conceived in a virgin’s womb, experiencing all the wonders of life as you and I know it. Roughly thirty years later, He fulfilled the mission planned before the beginning of time: to give His life as a ransom for our sins (Matthew 20:28).

And in doing so, He opened up the way for each of us to become all that God intended us to be! What a gift!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .” (1 Peter 1:3 ESV)

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT)

If you or someone you know has lost a child to abortion, there is hope. My Bible study, Worthy of Love: A Journey of Hope and Healing After Abortion, has ministered to countless women (and tugged on the hearts of quite a few men as well). We all know someone who needs hope.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Shadia Hrichi is a passionate Bible Teacher who loves seeing lives transformed by the power of God’s Word. In addition to numerous articles, Shadia is the author of various Bible studies, including her latest study, TAMAR: Rediscovering the God Who Redeems Me, as well as LEGION: Rediscovering the God Who Rescues MeHAGAR: Rediscovering the God Who Sees Meand Worthy of Love: A Journey of Hope and Healing After Abortion. Shadia holds an MA in Biblical and Theological Studies, as well as an MA in Criminal Justice. Currently residing in northern California, Shadia regularly speaks at churches and women’s events and loves to visit the ocean each week for ”a date with Jesus.” Visit www.shadiahrichi.com

Join the conversation: Do you have a vision of God’s purpose for you?

The Vine Spoilers

by Robin Farnsworth

Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom. Song of Solomon 2:15 ESV

“It’s my fault,” my husband admitted as we scooped the garbage into a new bag. “I should’ve put a lid on it.” He said it’s squirrels, but I liked to think something a bit more menacing could cause such a mess, like a Gruffalo—that fictional animal with large teeth and horns. Whatever it was had a big, bad party in the back yard and didn’t clean up. I like to picture the creatures hiding in the trees, paws covering their dirty snouts and chuckling while we schlop their mess back into the can.

Life is full of loose ends, like a giant junk drawer. I think it should be, that a life that’s too pulled together is dangerously aseptic. It’s like the Good Bacteria/Bad Bacteria theory that explains the explosion of super-bugs. We need to be a little dirty. God ordained it. When life gets too spick-and-span, it becomes something incompatible with life on earth. Sterile and phobic, we close the glass trophy door behind us and watch the world go by.

But the other end of that spectrum is the junk drawer that morphs into a junk house. I remember looking at hoarding pictures snapped by a rescue team that extricated a woman from the only space left in her dwelling. Piles of papers, dishes, boxes and broken lamps covered what was once a home. She had been consumed by her own mess.

Somewhere in-between lies sanity.

I’ve thought along these lines lately, reflecting on some of my own near misses, where vanity and self-interest have collided with truth. Many years ago, as a new believer, I became offended by something my pastor said and decided to go out on strike. I’ll show them.

One week went by, two, three… Then, around week four, as the phone stayed eerily quiet, and the mess from my pity-party was starting to stink, the Holy Spirit spoke these words: My kingdom goes on, with you or without you.

Ouch.

I have never missed church since. Was I right to be offended? Maybe. But my rights pale in the light of the cross, don’t they? God’s scorching rebuke saved me from derailing and also taught me a lot about my place in His kingdom. It’s not my right, it’s my privilege.

The little foxes will nip right at the root of our salvation. God is nurturing and training our crazy branches into something beautiful and even fruitful; then a little critter called Offense, or Jealousy or Resentment begins to gnaw at the tender vine.

Jesus said He had to go home to heaven so that He could send us all some help. He must’ve known we’d need it. And the Holy Spirit is the Helper. He wants to help us grow and learn and start to teach others. Some dirt, a seed, then water. And lots of light.

My theory is that most hoarders knew at one time they should just get rid of stuff, that the stuff they held was beginning to hold them. But they refused. And the slow death began.

 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 ESV

Or sometimes he dresses up like a cute little fox. The point is let’s be watchful, with hearts turned towards the light and ears towards heaven. I don’t want to be an old trophy. I want to be just one of God’s beautiful crazy branches that Jesus delights in, with fruit that bears His glorious name.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Robin Farnsworth is an award-winning author and speaker. She and her husband Calvin live on Cape Cod, where they run Higher Ground Outreach, a Christian non-profit for incarcerated men and women.

On duty as an ER nurse in 2002, Farnsworth identified her son, Spencer, minutes after he was pronounced dead. He was the unintended target of a murder. So begins her memoir, The Greater Weight of Glory, an extraordinary journey that explores the power of faith and forgiveness with true candor and courage. Website and blog: http://www.spencersmom.com

Join the conversation: Are you struggling with offense, jealousy, or resentment?

What Do We Do When Hope is Worn Thin?

by Beth Vogt

Sometimes I get to the end of the day and my hope is worn thin.

If you’re a J.R.R. Tolkien fan, you might recall how the hobbit Bilbo Baggins described himself to Gandalf the wizard in The Lord of the Rings: I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

There are days our hope gets stretched too thin by circumstances in our lives. It’s as if we’re caught in an unending cycle of hardships and disappointments that deplete our faith.

There was a season in my life when I dealt with chronic vertigo—a season that lasted for more than three years. I once described vertigo as having my own personal roller coaster in my head. Humorous, yes. But the reality of living with vertigo every day for so long was exhausting. Most days I felt just a little off-balanced if I tilted my head to the left or if I bent down to empty the dishwasher or to transfer laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Then there were the times I’d be hit with a major attack and forced to lie flat on my back in bed for days.

During this time, I fell asleep every night exhausted—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

One lesson I learned: Hope is a renewable commodity. No matter how the stressors of my day frayed my hope, I discovered I could wake up each morning to new hope. How? I clung to the truth in Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV): “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Each morning we wake up to a renewed portion of God’s steadfast love and mercy. God’s love for us is unwavering. His mercy is everlasting—we can’t wear it out, no matter how worn down we feel by the trials we’re enduring. The Hebrew word for great means God’s faithfulness toward us is exceedingly abundant. Surely that’s enough to refresh our hope when it’s been drained by the demands of the day.

Tonight, if you crawl into bed and your hope is worn thin, go ahead and tell God how you’re feeling. Offer your fragile confidence to him, trusting him to renew your hope because of his steadfast love, everlasting mercy, and abundant faithfulness toward you.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Psalm 62:5 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

About the author: Beth K. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She’s a national speaker and established magazine writer, as well as a mentor to writers, and the author of 14 novels/novellas, including The Best We’ve Been, the final book in Beth’s Thatcher Sisters Series. Find out more about Beth and her books at bethvogt.com.

Join the conversation: What do you do when your hope wears thin?