Holding on to Hope

by Grace Fox

Last year at this time, my husband and I held high hopes for the future. As co-directors of a missionary sending organization, we looked forward to seeing how God would raise up more workers for the harvest at home and abroad. We anticipated attending our annual staff conference in Poland, leading short-term teams to Eastern Europe, and training Middle Eastern nationals for career ministry. As a Bible teacher, I busied myself writing materials for upcoming women’s retreats. We’d booked our calendar and bought airline tickets.

Then the pandemic struck. Countries closed their borders, airlines grounded their flights, and authorities banned public gatherings.

Saying that 2020 propelled us into unfamiliar territory is an understatement. It stretched and tested us, and it brought Isaiah 42:16 to life. “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”  (ESV)

As our usual ministry doors closed, we asked God to guide us in a new direction. He led us down the Zoom road to stay connected with our international staff. Becoming more comfortable with virtual communication paved the way for us to host an evangelistic outreach to Poland, complete with translators and breakout rooms for Bible study. After my speaking events were canceled, He directed me to develop and host two online Bible studies—truly a modern-day miracle for a techie-challenged person like me.

God shone light into our darkness and leveled rough ground before us within the context of ministry.

He did the same for our family when my 88-year-old mother’s health failed. She’d always been strong and independent. One morning, an unexpected diagnosis propelled us into foreign territory. Suddenly we were sitting vigil by Mom’s bedside in a hospital with relaxed but confusing COVID restrictions. But God once again fulfilled His promise to lead us along a path new to us. He guided our decisions about Mom’s care until she passed from our presence into His, and He continues to walk with us as we journey this road called grief.  

Here we are, my friend, at the beginning of 2021. Last year at this time, we may have looked forward to the unknown with eager anticipation. This year, skepticism or fear might cloud our perspective. Vaccines can end the pandemic but they can’t fix political strife, restore lost income, or bring back those whom we loved and lost. They can’t heal the hurt that 2020 inflicted on our hearts in so many ways. A little voice in our head warns us not to hold high hopes lest circumstances beyond our control dash them again.

Let’s silence that voice.

You and I don’t have a clue about what this year holds. But this we do know—God promises to lead us on paths we have not yet known. This One who sees everything from beginning to end will guide us. The Light of the world will illumine our darkness. Almighty God for whom nothing is impossible will level the rough places before us. Therein lies our reason for hope.

Let’s face 2021 with confident expectation of a good outcome. That’s not to say everything will turn out as we wish or expect. It’s saying that, whatever happens, God is still in control. We hang onto hope because we’re in the hands of almighty God who loves us more than words can say. And there’s no better place to be.

“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7

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

About the author: Grace Fox is a career global worker and the author of ten books. She’s a regular contributor to Mornings with Jesus (Guideposts) and a member of the First 5 writing team (P31 Ministries). She and her husband of 39 years live on a sailboat. Together they celebrate three married kids and nine grandchildren. Her new book, Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos (Rose Publishing) offers bite-sized nuggets of encouragement for those whose minds are on overload.

Learn more about Grace and her books at gracefox.com.

Join the conversation: How have you been staying positive in these difficult times?

Don’t Let the Grinch Steal Your Christmas

by Dena Dyer

They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. Psalm 145:7

What does the word “Christmas” bring to your mind? Caroling and joyful family reunions, or last-minute gift searches and fights with your teenagers? Maybe in 2020, you feel anxiety over the restrictions a pandemic has placed on us, or you’re grieving (and rightfully so) about not being able to gather with friends or relatives this December.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve had many celebrations that fell short of my expectations. That led to disappointment, discontent, and sometimes even depression. Not a great way to start the New Year!

However, I now realize that perfectionism is a dangerous adversary–a Grinch who can only steal my joy if I let him. Really, what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t have a perfect tree, a ten-course meal for all my relatives, or a stunning Christmas card (that I got in the mail by Thanksgiving) to 500 of my closest friends?

Most of the burdens we place on ourselves don’t come from the people who love us and want to spend time with us around the holidays. They come from scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, comparing ourselves to other women who seem to do everything better than we do.

Here’s a question: what if God could use the chaos and uncertainty of 2020 to help us release the burden of having a “perfect Christmas”? What if He’s asking us to look at our weirdly empty calendar as a blessing, not a curse…to see the restraints COVID-19 has placed on us as calls to creativity and not despair?

What if we asked Him to show us how to lean into, and not fight against, the strangeness of this year? If we do, we might find ourselves empathizing more with shepherds who heard angels singing, a virgin who was asked to bear God’s son, and a promised Messiah born as an infant.

Let’s pray to have God’s perspective on the holidays. What an amazing gift we could give ourselves and others this year if we could see with His eyes and give ourselves (and others) grace. After all, that’s what God gave to us when He sent His son.

In Lion and Lamb, Brennan Manning says it so well: “Christmas means that God has given us nothing less than Himself and His name is Jesus Christ. Be unwilling to settle for anything less . . . Don’t come with a thimble when God has nothing less to give you than the ocean of Himself. Don’t be contented with a nice Christmas . . . Pray, go to work, play Trivial Pursuit, eat banana bread, exchange presents…feed the hungry, comfort the lonely, and do all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God, give me your perspective this year as the holidays approach. Forgive me for putting unrealistic expectations and burdens on myself. Thank you for your grace and mercy, and most of all, for the greatest gift of all, Your Son. Help me to honor Him with the way I celebrate and serve this Christmas.

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

About the author: Dena Dyer is an award-winning author, speaker, and non-profit leader. She loves encouraging hurting, harried women with humor and hope. You can find her on Instagram or Facebook, or at her website.

Book Cover

You’re invited to download a free copy of Dena’s devotional book, Grace for the Race, which uses real-life stories, Scripture, and gentle humor to soothe the souls of frazzled moms. By being honest and vulnerable about the ways God has shown Himself to her as she’s struggled with motherhood, Dena hopes to help women realize that they’re not alone, and they’re not crazy!

Join the conversation: How has God given you perspective this holiday season?

So Close Together

by Lori Altebaumer

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

In a year where we’ve been forced into isolation and distancing, I am reminded of a favorite Christmas memory. It was the Christmas our family of four spent living in a travel trailer. We had no room to spare, so I joked that everyone was getting gift cards for Christmas. They would be the only thing we could fit under the twelve-inch tree on the fold out table. I also wasn’t going to be preparing a traditional Christmas feast in that limited kitchen.

But on Christmas morning, as we sat scrunched together opening gifts, our son looked up and said, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

I didn’t think he was referring to the gifts he’d received. As gifts went, this was a meager Christmas. I asked him why he thought so, and his answer has influenced my Christmases ever since. “I guess it’s just because we are all so close together.”

Close together indeed. We were practically sitting in each other’s laps in that tiny little space. No fancy tree or decorations. No extravagant gifts or spectacular feast. Just four people who loved each other celebrating the birth of their Savior together.

I love the Christmas season. I love the decorations and lights. I love the music and festive feeling in the stores. I love the abundance of edible treats I know I shouldn’t eat but can’t resist.

But my heart does not belong to any of these things.

They are but a reflection of the love Christ has for us. Take them all away and that love remains. It inhabits the tiniest of living quarters and meagerest of circumstances. It shines in the faces of our loved ones and lives in sacred moments we spend together.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21 NKJV). With this statement, Jesus warns His disciples to be careful about what they choose to value most. The things of this earth won’t last. These are the things that “moth and rust destroy” or “thieves break in and steal” (see Matthew 6:19).

That Christmas, my son’s heart wasn’t on the gifts or the decorations or the food. It was on something far more valuable. What he valued most was knowing he was a part of a family who loved him, a family that chose togetherness over the ostentations of the season.

How much greater must God’s delight be in us when we choose Him over the extravagances of the holidays— when we value time with Him over fretting about holiday plans.

I don’t remember much about that Christmas as far what gifts I received or what we ate for dinner. But I will never forget the love. Moth and rust will never destroy it, and no thief can take it from me.

This year has been one of altered plans and missed events. It has been the fertile soil of confusion and fear where isolation, loneliness, and despair have taken root. The thief of COVID has stolen moments of celebration and replaced them with moments of sorrow. A contentious political election has had a rusting effect on our hearts, and the moths of hatred and division have swept in to eat holes in our sense of community.

Our earthly treasures have been proven the fragile and temporal things they are.

The holidays may look different this year. Perhaps for that we should be grateful. Maybe this is the year we put aside everything that stands between us and our loving Father. We choose our treasures wisely and we snuggle in close to our Father’s heart and say, “This is the best Christmas ever.”

And when He asks us why, we say, “Because we’re all so close together.”

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

A Firm Place to Stand by [Lori Altebaumer]

About the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. With her boots on the ground, head in the clouds, and heart in His hands, she is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart in search of life’s best adventures. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Her first novel, A Firm Place to Stand, released in January 2020. She also blogs regularly on her website www.lorialtebaumer.com. In between writing, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here.

Join the conversation: How has 2020 changed your perspective on Christmas?

Who Knows

 by Susie Crosby 

“…Who knows? Maybe you were made for such a time as this.”  Esther 4:14 MSG

 Who knows?

I guess nobody does.

Right now, in the middle of a global pandemic, there is overwhelming uncertainty. I have so many questions, and I keep looking for answers from government leaders and scientists and doctors. I watch the news and search on my phone, but no one can tell me for sure if school will open in the fall, if the groceries I pick up at the store are safe, how long I have to stay 6 feet away from everyone, and if the people I love are going to be okay.

But then I remember that God knows. God knows every single thing. He knew this was going to happen, He knows how our lives have changed, He knows what it’s going to look like on the other side.

People keep saying this is “unprecedented.” On a huge scale, yes, it is. But if we think about it, we experience unprecedented things in our lives all the time.

The first time we live independently and earn our own money.

The first time a disease or injury affects our family in life-altering ways.

The first time we experience loss.

The first time we create or grow or try something new.

The first time our life takes a turn that wasn’t planned.

The first time we fail publicly and have to figure out how to come back.

The first time we step out in faith and trust our hearts to Jesus.

We grieve, we delight, and we grow profoundly through the “firsts”.

The book of Esther is the story of a brave and thoughtful Jewish woman who found herself experiencing one of these “firsts”.  For a Jewish woman–especially an orphaned, captive Jewish woman like Esther– to become Queen was completely unprecedented. I imagine that being part of a king’s harem and living in a palace together with all of his concubines was not what Esther had expected her life would look like. And risking her life to save her people by standing up to the king was not something she would have ever dreamed of doing.

But in chapter 4 of her story, we find her in this unexpected situation. She is experiencing something that she really can’t control, and she doesn’t know whether it will end well or not.

Sound familiar?

At the crisis point, her father-figure Mordecai encourages her by saying, “…Who knows? Maybe you were made for such a time as this.”

Esther dared to believe that God’s plan included her. She prayed and fasted for three days before approaching the king on behalf of her people. And God honored her faith and her bravery. Through a series of surprising and unpredictable events, King Xerxes reversed the death sentence he had ordered against the Jews and gave them freedom and power over their enemies.

We can’t possibly imagine what amazing things God is growing and changing and working in the midst of this pandemic. We don’t think the way He thinks or work the way he works, and we don’t always get to know His plans ahead of time.

But we do know that He loves us unconditionally, that He makes all things new, and that He works all things together for good. We know that He does unexpected and surprising work through unlikely people and unfamiliar circumstances all the time. And we know that He is listening to our prayers and holding us in His strong and gentle hands through such a time as this.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

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Who Knows – encouragement on #FollowingGod from Susie Crosby on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

susie crosbyAbout the author: Susie is a grateful mom of two (almost) grown boys who currently live and go to school in Honolulu, Hawaii. She and her husband live in a seaside town in the Puget Sound region called Mukilteo. They love to hike and kayak, they are huge Seattle sports fans, and they mostly love hanging out at home with their little dog Koko. Susie teaches P.E., Art, Technology, and Music at an all-kindergarten school which keeps her busy full time. Her passion and joy is sharing encouraging words with the people she loves. She is an active blogger and speaker, and she is the author of Just One Word: 90 Devotions to Invite Jesus In. She is always on the lookout for fun coffee shops, inspiring books, remote beaches, and farmers’ markets. Connect with Susie at www.susiecrosby.com.

Join the conversation: How can you imagine God using you in such a time as this?