Still Counting

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds– James 1:2, NIV

So, maybe if you are like me, there are a few Bible verses that I know and have memorized, but which give the most difficulty to follow. Like the one above from the Book of James. I first memorized the verse as “Count it all joy” I like the word consider better. But still. I really struggle to consider any type of trial as a reason for joy. James tells us why we should as he continues in verse 3; “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.…” Okay. I get it. Our modern version of the verse might read, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That part I understand. We go through trials and struggles and we get stronger. But counting it s joy is my struggle.

Another version of James 1 reads”My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.”( NKJ) It always seems as if we are falling into trials. It is not something we desire, it just happens. And the word fall describes how I feel sometimes; like I am losing my footing; my security and falling into misery and a stress out state. It is difficult to feel joy when you are completely stressed out and anxious.

Struggles hit us all. Trials, as James writes. He knew then as we know now- human nature and its struggles hasn’t changed much- life is full of trials, struggles, and difficulties. We all could come up with a fairly long list of the stuff we have had to deal with in our lives. We surely can count those. But joy? I need to be deliberate about that one. Can I really count them and place them under the heading of “joy”?

But, what James was getting at is the opportunity that these struggles give us to draw closer to God. We are probably more drawn to prayer when we have problems we want help with. We get overwhelmed and cry out to God. As we call out to Him, we are placing more of our trust and faith in Him. We realize our struggles are more than we can bear on our own. When life is going well for us, we forget how much of that is not our own doing, but the grace of God. But, trials and struggles can be God’s grace as well if it draws us closer to Him. He desires this close relationship with us and wants to grow us into the people He created us to be; stronger when we are leaning on Him and fully focused on Him, and not on ourselves.

Trials and struggles will come and go in this life, and over the years I can look back and realize that during the most difficult times in my life are the times when I spent more time reading the Bible and praying and letting God grow and stretch my faith. We cannot escape the difficulties of this life, there is no way to avoid them. So for now I will keep trying to count them as joy, even when I don’t understand the joy yet. -God Bless You- Nancy

Amazed

We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.

– Paul in his letter to the Christians at Thessaloniki (Thessalonians 2:2)

What amazes you? It might seem at times that there is nothing that is amazing. Nothing that just encourages you to the point of feeling overwhelming joy and contentment. You see, I think that is a result of being amazed. We are filled with both joy and contentment. It’s difficult right now to find this joy and contentment. Or to be amazed. If you are following along with this blog, than you will recall last week’s topic of weariness. If you don’t follow, I encourage you to do so, in order for you to not miss any of the blogs. And you can join me in this journey of walking out my Christian faith through difficulties, and changes that we all face in one form or another. I try to encourage you from my own life, that while life is a challenge and is constantly moving forward, we do not have to lose heart. God is with us.

In Paul’s letter, quoted briefly above, Paul is writing to a church located in Thessolonica. He, along with Silas and Timothy, had shared the Gospel of Jesus there over the course of a three week time period, with several people responding positively to the message that Jesus was the promised Messiah, had been crucified and rose on the third day. He was their hope and salvation. However, there was a group of Jewish leaders who tried to have him thrown out of town He narrowly escaped. You can read more about this in Acts chapter 17. The message had been accepted by some, and a group of Christian believers began to meet. After a time, he sent Timothy back to encourage these new believers in their faith. He himself was not going back to avoid a riot. The believers there had also been subject to persecution for their faith and yet remained hopeful and looked forward to the return of Christ. This news brought joy to Paul and it was the reason he wrote back to them in this letter.

So, what does this have to do with being amazed? Well, like the Thessalonians, we all face struggles, difficulties and have the option to lose faith and hope. We are all the same. Human nature has not changed. But, they remained faithful.

There have been times, when I have struggled and felt like the whole world was falling apart, or at least my world. In those times, what I needed was a reminder of just how awesome God is; how amazing He is, and how this life, despite its struggles, is not falling apart, but is growing me and deepening my faith.

I can recall several times, when God has shown up in a time I was struggling. It is something small, and what others would overlook or consider a coincidence. But to me it was the greatest sign that God was with me and encouraging me to hold onto hope. To focus on His goodness, despite the bad circumstances in my life.

I remember one time, as I had left a Christian conference, not uplifted, but to be honest, I was rather discouraged. The conference had the right intentions, but the wrong motives. I had been given an insiders look into this ministry and was looking forward to someday serving in a leadership role, only to find myself very disillusioned and discouraged by what I saw behind the scenes. Though the conference was to last the entire day, I asked my husband(who was attending with me) if we could leave early, before the last session. He didn’t like the idea of leaving early, but reluctantly did for me. I recall it caused a bit of a heated discussion between us.

If you have been around churches or Christian ministries for awhile, disappointment is bound to happen. When we get more involved, we will find the flaws and truths. Sadly, this turns many away from Christianity and at least in my case, discouraged me, because I had really thought this was a legit group. Just like in Paul’s day, there are many who claim to be in ministry to serve others, but they are not, and need to be avoided. It is not just that they are people who are not perfect and sin, there are some people who are intentional defrauding others for their own benefit.

My husband and I drove away from the conference early and stopped at a nearby dollar store. If you are not familiar with these stores, in the United States we have stores that sell basic household needs for one dollar per item. The quality is not great, but if you just need something quick, it is the place to go. I cannot even remember what we were stopping to purchase, but I DO remember feeling so discouraged, hurt, angry and sad. And mostly confused. My thoughts began to rattle around in my head as my husband went off down a different aisle. I recall standing near the glasses and fighting back the tears. I did the only thing I knew to do:pray. So as I walked by those glasses, I began to pray silently, asking God to help me, to understand He was still there, to help me forgive those who had hurt me, and to ask forgiveness for myself, if I had acted wrongly towards my husband or others, by leaving the conference early. I barely notice as someone passed by me with a cart loaded with items, and handed me a piece of paper. It was a Gospel tract with the photo of a rose on the front with the words “You’re Special” printed just above the rose.

I’ll be honest I was scared to look up, or turn around. I knew it had been from God, and frankly I expected to see an angel in disguise, pushing that cart. When I did gather my wits about me and turn around, they were gone. No one in the store with a loaded down cart, ANYWHERE. Yeah, God showed up. and amazed me with His care and concern. I still can’t believe it, except for the fact that I have that little Gospel tract to this day. Oh, I’m sure there are some who would doubt the identity of my fellow shopper, but it doesn’t matter, I believe God uses whatever means to deliver messages of hope.

I think He continues to do this, but we are the ones who don’t notice. I had another amazing incident recently, but not so dramatic. It required me to do some research, but once I had, I was once again amazed by God. He answered my prayers, but not in the large demonstrations, but in small ways. I had almost overlooked it, it appeared so insignificant. I wonder how many times God has answered our prayers, but we fail to notice, because we are not seeing what He has done. We need to look for the amazing. Looking for God’s handiwork in our lives.

Paul was filled with joy as he wrote, not because he recalled his own difficulty there, but that there had been fruit form his preaching, “You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.” verse 1 chapter two. He was amazed by what God had done there through the Holy Spirit. He could have focused on his own life threatening experience, but chose instead to see God’s hand at work.

Struggles and difficult times do not last forever, but sometimes we must go through them. Yet God is with us. God bless and look for the amazing this week.- Nancy

What Did You Say?

What? I’m sorry, I didn’t get that? Pardon? Excuse me? Huh? have you ever used one of these phrases in reply to another? You know when you are supposed to be listening? We all have from time to time. It is so easy to get distracted these days, between looking at our phones or tablets, or allowing the noises around us to distract our listening. Sometimes it is just that we are so busy, so rushed, so hurried, that we simply do not focus on the speaker. We all seem to be so preoccupied these days, in these days since the world started waking up from its pandemic slumber. We had been forced by the pandemic to slow down, stay home, work from home, teach our children from home, and we were force to stop and contemplate our lives. And listen.

At least that was my experience. My husband was shut down at his work and was able to spend time with me. As a student and writer, I am often home alone, working by myself, with just the dog and cat for company, so I enjoyed the pandemic shutdown. My husband and I had great conversations over breakfast, we enjoyed morning walks in our neighborhood, and tackling home improvement projects together. Life was good. And then everything started back up again this year, and now I barely see my neighbors, the walks have given way to keeping up with schedules. Traffic has become hectic again, and people are stressed out and angry. We as a society have seem to have forgotten our vows made during our pandemic pause to slow down and enjoy life and the people in our lives.

Recently, I had the opportunity- finally– to visit some older family members. And what has struck me is how important enjoying a good visit can be. Slowing down, listening to the stories from the past, trying to understand who my family really was, and where there had really come from. We miss so much when we fail to slow down and listen to others.

As I have gotten older, I have learned to appreciate more the struggles endured by my family of origin. I have learned of their incredible perseverance, despite the difficulties. I have always enjoyed listening to their stories, but in particular, as I too have faced difficulties in life, I can understand what they went through. As we get older we do tend to learn and respect our families more. I look back on my life and often I feel regret for my own failure to listen to them in the past. I was too busy with raising my own children, to really listen to their stories of how they raised my brothers and I or how my grandparents raised them. I was preoccupied with life. I was looking forward to the destination, instead enjoying the journey. Let us remember to slow down, enjoy this journey of life, taking time to be present and listen to those around us. – God Bless, Nancy

Role (ing)

I heard her before I saw her in the store. She had a distinct voice, not the usual tone for a woman, much lower and slightly booming. Apparently her child riding in the shopping cart ( a buggy for my southern friends) had done something for which she didn’t approve. Her yelling at her son caused me to look up and see who was making all the noise in the store.  She was  a youngish mom and was obviously not happy with what her son had done, but her yelling only made him continue. She continued to yell and shop, completely ignorant of the other customers around her.

As the mom of three,  I’ve been there done that- except for the yelling part. Believe me, I know how long summer vacation can be with kids, but I’ve got to confess, I actually did like having my kids home from school. I still do.

But….. I am a realist, there will be meltdowns when you have children, especially toddlers and teenagers, and it’s not the kids who are doing the melting down- it’s the parents. I have had my own share of meltdowns as a parent.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, much like marriage it takes work- a whole lot of work and patience. Kids are not mini adults; they are growing and they will act like kids. Eventually they will be adults and as the Bible says you will reap what you sow  (Galatians 6:7).  Children really do model what they see their parents doing. It’s unavoidable, despite what we try to tell them to do, they learn by what they see us doing, and often mimic us. Oh they will hear some of what we say- the gossip about others- and at the most inappropriate time will repeat what they heard. It can be a real eye opener and embarrassing to us as parents.  However, it is what they watch us doing that stick with them the most.

My husband and I survived the ordeals and meltdowns of early parenthood and we made our share of mistakes in the process. But we have seen how the good habits we demonstrated in front of our kids have stuck with them.  Praying about everything and helping others are two of the good habits I see them doing now as adults.  We are our children’s greatest role model.  As we grow ourselves in our relationship with Christ, let our children see our faith in action. Yelling at children doesn’t bring about much good- it only models how to poorly handle frustration.  How are you role(ing) this summer? If it’s more than you can handle without losing your peace, reach out and ask for some help. Take a break for yourself so you can regroup, or if you can’t then take a deep breath and count to ten before you yell at your kids. Be patient they aren’t adults yet. Happy summer- Nancy