Gratitude vs. Grumblitude, 2022 edition

Happy Thanksgiving! Or is it? What is the attitude of our hearts? Are we exhibiting gratitude or grumblitude? What exudes from our beings? Sweetness or sourness? Compliment or complaint?

Sometimes, we lose perspective on what is important, and we come down with a case of the grumbles. I hear it in the voices around me. I hear it coming out of my own mouth. “I wish my house….” “I wish I had a….” “I wish I could ____, but no, I am stuck with _____ instead.”

So, how can we quell the flow of such unthankful thoughts coming from our hearts, minds, and mouths? We change our perspectives and take in new things so that we can in turn pour them out.

God reigns in the kingdom of men. It is He who holds our very breaths. What a magnificent thought!

What can we see, touch, hear, feel, taste, and do? Perhaps some of our limbs and senses do not function correctly or very well, but we do still have some amount of function.

Have we eaten? Slept under a roof? Worn clothes? Experienced warmth? Had joy at some point in our lives? I know I have.

So, the fact that my car is eighteen years old and dented (by a pole in the parking garage that shouldn’t have been in my way 😊), and it’s buried under years of country dust because I cannot lift the hose and brush to clean it, should still be a cause for gratitude.

The fact that my couch reached the age of seventeen years old, was worn, sagging, had shot springs, and had a piece of wood frame jutting out should not have been a source of grumbling.

The fact that I live in a smaller home which needs repairs and landscaping, rather than living in my dream Victorian mansion with park-like gardens, should not faze the attitude of my heart.

The fact that I play a piano I bought out of the want ads rather than play the concert grand I saw at the music store (which cost more than my home, by the way) humbles my heart because God miraculously gifted me with a beautiful instrument and the gift of music.

In all of these places, I have been blessed. In all of these places, God has come near. In all of these places, I have wept with others, rejoiced with others, and listened to their hearts, as they have done for me.

God has drawn near in other places, as well, with possessions I have only held temporarily. A value menu sandwich filled the stomach of a homeless man instead of mine while we sat together on the curb in sub-freezing December temperatures. But there, while I sat next to him with my tummy grumbling, I was filled with gratitude. His tummy was now full and grateful. I heard his heart. I looked into his eyes. And I knew what mattered that day—not my sandwich, not my needs, not my collection of money to be spent on little things for myself that day or set aside for bigger things someday down the road—it was our hearts that mattered. What mattered was eternal, and God gave us both a perspective to see as He sees. This man heard about the love that Jesus has for him, that had searched him out even in his lowest of places. It was a holy moment as God drew near. He heard both of our hearts. For this moment, I will ever be grateful.

Yes, for all these things, and much more, I will express gratitude rather than grumblitude. I am humbled by the grace of God that has searched me out even in my lowest of places.

So, whether you join me in my well-used car, on my well-used couch, in my well-used home, on a freezing concrete curb, or just through the words on this page, I pray you will hear how much God loves you and that His grace is searching for you.

Welcome to grace and gratitude.


NOTES

©Revised text and photo Francee Strain, November 23, 2022. Original article posted November 28, 2019 and reposted November 20, 2020.

Take Heart (revised)

Back in the spring, I wrote an article entitled “Take Heart.” That title just won’t leave my mind. The past few days, it has been ringing in my heart. And after eight months, I still find that article is just as relevant, perhaps even more so today with the way world events are unfolding and with the holiday season approaching and the difficulties that come with it. And so, I am going to share from this article again today. We can all use a reminder from time to time that there is still hope.


My heart is heavy, and it’s broken for the pain I’m seeing. I have cried, and I have cried out to God. And He has whispered to my heart to take heart.

A day can start out going in one direction, and within seconds, change to a completely different one. By evening, the landscape has changed, and sometimes it has become completely unrecognizable. Death and destruction have come, despair and derailment are realities, shattered hopes and dreams lie at our feet, and lives are forever changed.

And in the midst of all this pain is the search for answers and peace, help and hope.

Recently, I encountered several young people in their twenties who were going through very difficult times. They were hurting, searching, and suicidal. I looked into their sad eyes and drawn faces, pained that I could not fix their problems and make their hurts go away. But thankfully, I was still able to help them. I gave them my time, my listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a hug, a prayer, and ultimately hope.

What hope do I have to share? For those who want to give up the fight, I can tell about the One who fights for them. When they want life to end, I can tell them where Life begins. When they want to know peace, I can introduce them to the Prince of Peace. When they think life is meaningless, I can show them it has eternal purpose.

And if you are someone who is hurting and alone right now, know you are seen and loved. If you are someone who is suffering and shattered right now, know there is hope and healing available. Cast all your cares on God, because He cares for you. Seek His face and His strength forevermore. When all else shakes, He is the sure foundation, the Rock, the One who will hold you securely and never let you go. In times that are desolate and dark, His light still shines. When life is cold and bleak, the warmth and comfort of His presence can enfold you. When you feel lost and unsure of which way to go, He will hold your hand and guide your steps.1

Take heart. His love will speak to your heart. 

“Since before time began, a call went out to you. Even in the midst of a crowd, God has been seeking your heart as an individual. An invitation was developed with you in mind. From the time that the foundation of the world was laid, Jesus prepared to die for you and for each soul that would ever live. His sacrifice was arranged before you were ever a thought—before a single soul had ever lived. He did this so that you might have eternal life. Have you responded to His invitation?2

“This call has gone out directly to you. … God is offering you a most amazing prize: the gift of eternal life. This gift was given in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life'”3

His heart is for you. Take heart.


If you are struggling right now, please reach out for help. There are people who can listen and help you 24 hours a day. The National Institute of Health has listed some numbers that you can reach. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached by calling 988. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741. If you are a veteran, you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 or you can send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.4  


You may also contact me through email or my website if you need a listening ear or someone to pray with you. My email address is eternalpurposepodcast@gmail.com. My website is www.franceestrain.com

Remember, you are never alone. Take heart.


NOTES

See 1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 105:4, Psalm 18:2, Micah 7:8, John 14, and Proverbs 3:5–6.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 4.

3 Ibid.,4. John 3:16 is taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

4 Information taken from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention

©Revised text and photo Francee Strain, November 23, 2022. Original article posted March 20, 2022.

All the Days Ahead

The world seems like it is unraveling. Many things are happening that cause fear and trepidation. But God is still very much on the throne. Although perhaps unseen by human eyes, His mighty hand is at work. He holds today in His hands, and He holds the future, too. He has not forgotten us, nor has He abandoned us. A perfect plan is in motion with each piece and part being placed at just the right moment. There are no accidents. There are no coincidences. Delays allow us to arrive right on time. Detours direct us to where we need to be. Just the right number of moments lead to a bigger moment. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of this. For me, the reminder came through moose, a milkshake, and a medical diagnosis. These separate moments all converged into a perfect moment.

World events have been very disheartening. I have felt pain in my heart and had tears course down my cheeks. My personal life has resulted in the same. But last week, my heart was lifted as moment after moment connected into one big reminder that God is with me today and will be through all the days ahead.

I can trace the starting moment to about two weeks ago. I went through two bouts of seasonal illness back-to-back, and when added to my chronic illnesses, I was housebound for twelve days. The things I wanted and needed to do were not accomplished. Appointments and plans were canceled. Essential errands went undone. But on that thirteenth day, I thought perhaps I would make an attempt to head into town and get some essential things done even though I was not fully recovered. Well, my health continued to be uncooperative until 3:00 in the afternoon. When I thought there was somewhat of a lull in symptoms, I gathered up the things I needed to take with me and stepped out onto my porch, locking the door behind me. As I turned away from the door and began to head to my car, I found myself looking at a large moose in the neighbor’s yard behind my garage. I froze in place, overcome by awe and fear. She was a beautiful creature, but would she tolerate my presence or charge me? And then her baby came on the scene, which jeopardized my life even further. I gingerly went back into the house and got my camera. I cautiously took a few photos, and then I began sending messages to family members and neighbors to move through the area with caution. I continued to observe the two moose exhibiting fascinating behavior. Suddenly, a male mule deer strolled right past the two moose. And shortly thereafter, a female deer approached them. It was incredible to see all of these animals together in one location. My camera finger got busy, and then it got even busier as a second baby moose arrived. God gave me such a special treat in viewing these beautiful creatures. After several more minutes passed, I hoped the mother moose had decided I was not a threat because I needed to get to my car and be on my way. She graciously allowed me to drive past her.

As I did a few errands that afternoon, now thirty minutes behind schedule, I had the opportunity to express gratitude to those who provided service to me at each business. As I was heading home, I stopped at a gas station and went inside. When I finished in there and was heading toward the exit, I felt prompted to veer to the right and enter the restaurant area of the station. There were three customers dining, and I felt I was supposed to approach one of them. I began a conversation and offered to purchase dessert for this person. A chocolate milkshake was the dessert of choice. For the sake of privacy, I will not share the details of the conversation here, but when I offered prayer at the close of our conversation, this person broke down crying, carrying heavy burdens. We chatted a few more moments, and then I prayed over this person. We parted ways with words of God’s blessing to one another. On the drive home, my heart ached for this person who was experiencing so much pain—and not from just one traumatic life event, but three. I hoped God’s love, comfort, and encouragement would be felt on that person’s drive home with each sip of the milkshake and each remembrance of the conversation and prayer.

By the time I arrived home, I knew I needed to return to that restaurant and speak to the employee who had prepared the milkshake. It was the dinner hour when I arrived at the restaurant the second time, but there was no one dining in there. As a result, I was able to carry on a conversation with the employee and discover the heavy burden on that person’s heart for a family member who was in the hospital with a new life-threatening diagnosis.

Only God could have orchestrated the events of my day with such timed precision. The delays of illness, the delays of wildlife, and the delays while conducting business in the course of my errands, all resulted in absolute perfect timing where God could reach down and speak to the hearts of the people I encountered. But there was another heart He spoke to as well: mine. He reminded me that even though my life seems to be going awry and I have absolutely no control over it, it is very well orchestrated by His loving hands. God is very active in the details of our lives, and He does all things well and within His perfect timing.

Take heart. Keep the faith. Run the race. Today, and in all the days ahead.


The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;

For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.1

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way.2

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.3

You are my God, and I will praise You;
You are my God, I will exalt You.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.4


NOTES

1 Psalm 23:1–6

2 Psalm 37:23

3 James 1:17

4 Psalm 118:28–29

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, November 20, 2022. The photo is of the second baby moose.

The Persevering Heart

(Part 3 of 3 in “The Runner” series)

(This is a revised and updated version of a February 2021 post.)

“Mrs. Strain? This is So and So’s doctor’s office. I am calling to let you know that we found something on the ultrasound indicating something may be wrong with the baby. It is something with the spine. It could be spina bifida. You will need to come in again in a few days and have another ultrasound performed.” These were not exactly words a pregnant mother wants to hear to start off her week, nor are they words a pregnant mother wants to hear ever, on any day of the week. My reaction? Fear gripped my heart. Tears spilled down my cheeks. And then…I prayed. And then I asked others to join me in praying. I’d already been through a high-risk pregnancy two years prior—a risk to both me and my baby. Many people had prayed, and my miracle baby girl was born safely and was healthy. And now, for days, many prayed again, and when that next ultrasound was performed, a perfect spine showed on the screen. And five months later, a perfect little boy joined our family.

“Mrs. Strain, I’ll be right back.” The pediatrician left the exam room while I kept my nine-month-old son laying on the exam table. The doctor was gone for what seemed like an eternity, and when he came back, he was not alone. Two other doctors followed. Talk about fear gripping a mother’s heart. The pediatrician instructed the doctors to examine my son and perform certain motions with his legs. They did so, and all left the room. What is going on?! The pediatrician returned presently and informed me that he believed my son had a neurological disorder, and we were being referred to a specialist.

“Mr. and Mrs. Strain, your son may never walk. He has a genetic muscle disease.” What?! I had always joked that I wanted my son to be a musician like me rather than an athlete like his father. And now? All I wanted was for him to be an athlete. A mother’s mind races at times like these. The chest tightens. The tears spill. And the fears come. “Mr. and Mrs. Strain, we will put him into some physical therapy and see what happens. There are one of ten possible diseases he has. Do you want to do invasive testing now or just wait and see if he deteriorates?” We opted to wait on testing for a bit and see what would happen with some therapy. And people prayed.

“Mrs. Strain, your son is late in reaching physical milestones.” (He had sat up late, didn’t crawl other than army crawl, and he wasn’t standing or trying to walk yet.) “If we have some custom braces made for his feet and ankles, that may help him.” And so, off to the orthopedist we went, and then back to therapy, and all the while, people prayed. The therapist said most children with my son’s condition do not progress—they give up and sit there. Well, this is when things got good. My son walked, threw balls, and climbed on things. 

“Mrs. Strain, your son will lag behind other children physically, but it looks like he will be able to do things okay as long as he keeps building muscle strength. Eventually, that strength will offset the disease, and people may not even know he has it. He will have to wear the braces until early elementary school when he’ll eventually have enough muscle strength to compensate for the disease. After that, he will always need something in his shoes for shaping and support.” Eventually, we did not have to go to neurology appointments or physical therapy anymore, just the orthopedist and podiatrist.

And then, my son ran. And he has not stopped running since. And people prayed, and have not stopped praying since. My son ran around the house with his sister and out in the yard with the dogs. He is the one who led the way in new physical endeavors. And in second grade, he began his athletic career (after he’d had some piano lessons, of course!). 

In second grade, he completed a 5K and got 2nd place. He competed in other races while in elementary school and even placed first. He built a collection of ribbons, medals, race tags, and participation t-shirts. In 7th grade, he played football in the fall and ran track in the spring.

And then in 8th grade, my son, whom we were told might never walk, became a long-distance runner on the cross country team. In high school, he trained by running over ten miles at a time. Who can do stuff like this except God?!

As the years have passed, difficult seasons have come for my son, as they do for us all. He went through years of bullying which included physical injuries. Challenges came in school and college and the workplace. But, he got up every morning, and he pushed through. While our hearts ached along with his, he continued to do the hard things, the right things. We undergirded his life with our persevering prayers and supported him with hearts full of persevering love. And we all persevered in keeping our eyes on God.

Yes, hearts that have persevered in prayer and petitioned God have seen God in His great mercy and grace give our son a persevering heart.

Every day we have to get up and do the hard things, the right things. But we remember, whether the valleys are dry or they are flooded, whether the sun beats down on our heads relentlessly or we never see it, we can persevere. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us who believe in Him, and we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.1 Because our hearts belong to Him, we can persevere.


I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.2


NOTES

1 See Romans 8:11, 35, 37–39.

2 Philippians 3:14 is taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, public domain.

Author’s note: the above conversations with the medical professionals are not direct quotes but rather paraphrased summaries. And just a fun thing to note: in addition to becoming an athlete, our son also became a musician on several instruments. He is now married and doing very well in life. We are very proud of him, our daughter, and now our daughter-in-law. Our cup overflows, and so do our hearts! Give thanks to the LORD for He is good; His mercy endures forever (see Psalm 107:1)!

©Revised and updated text Francee Strain, November 8, 2022. Original post February 28, 2021.

Photo credit goes to my aunt Cheri. She took this photo of my son while visiting us in April 2014, fifteen years after that first phone call regarding the ultrasound findings.

The Weary Heart

(Part 2 of 3 in “The Runner” series)

“Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. … I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.”1 Have you ever said these words, or perhaps something similar, something with the intent of expressing your arrival at the end of your limits with a situation? These words were spoken by King David millennia ago. He was fleeing for his life, and he had to do so for quite some time. And this was not the first time he had had to do such a thing. Living under the constant threat of dealing with traitors and the constant fatigue of a broken heart became a bit too much to deal with. Sometimes, the things we face in life become a bit too much to deal with. We long for things to be different, but our longing does nothing to change our reality. We pine for the days of old. We fear what our new futures may look like. Our thinking grows muddled. Our tears grow plentiful. And eventually, our hearts grow weary.


(Repost)

The following excerpts are taken from my book, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose. 

THE CALL TO THE WEARY

“Have you found yourself nearing the end of your energy supply? Are you past that point and already running on empty? Forget the running; are you dragging yourself through, day after day after day? Do you want the world to stop so you can get off it for a while? Do you wish it would all just end? Are you consumed by bitterness? Are you tottering on the edge of a nervous breakdown? Are you feeling joyless and unfulfilled and wondering if there is something wrong with you? Are you wanting to go away somewhere where no one knows who you are? Are you wishing to go to a different church where you can sit and be fed and truly worship rather than run helter-skelter, taking care of everyone else’s needs but your own? Are you wishing you could just start over? Are you wishing you could reinvent yourself? Are you regretting that you ever said yes to this or that? I have had every single one of these thoughts and many more.

“Sometimes we find that we are about out of strength and energy and have nothing left in our reserves to fuel us. We feel trapped in never-ending marathons of trials and relationships and often find ourselves wishing to escape the course so we can rest. At times, these wishes are truly a need and not just a want. King David formulated some words thousands of years ago that seem to echo in our hearts and minds today. He said, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. … I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest”(Ps. 55:6–8). We all want to run away at times. And we are not the first ones to think like this—we are just the current generation who is doing so.”2

“We can become so tired that we feel we just cannot take it anymore. We wonder if there is anyone who will allow us to rest, if there is anyone who even calls us to rest. It is easy to feel like this because more often than not, we are told to “get to work” or to do something where work is implied. How many parents tell their children to go do their chores? And what about the honey-do list? Even being asked particular questions calls us to work and not to rest. “Did you get that report done?” “Did you do your homework?” “Did you drop off the dry cleaning?” Even the dentist tells us to do something: schedule our biannual appointments and remember to floss each day. Although these are the frequent words and cares of life, there are actually a few times when we are told to take a break.

“Sometimes, people recognize the need for rest and say or do something about it. When friends see our marriages headed for trouble, they might tell us to find babysitters and have date nights. When our health is in trouble, our doctors might tell us to slow down or lower our blood pressures so that we don’t have heart attacks. When we see loved ones headed for burnout, we may encourage them to take some time off. Sometimes, we might even talk to ourselves if we recognize that we have problems. We might tell ourselves that we need to take breathers or take some time to clear our heads. There are times when we are under great deals of pressure, self-inflicted or otherwise, and we know that we need to rest our minds. Some of the pressures imposed on us by ourselves or others are totally unnecessary. We are good at digging holes for ourselves and then making them deeper and wider until there seems to be no way out unless someone comes along to save the day. That someone who can save our days and save every aspect of our lives is Jesus. He tells us to come to Him and rest.”3

“His provision is great and His provision is all-encompassing. He is our sustenance for life. He is a place where we can rest as we journey. He is a place where we can linger when we are weary. We can draw deeply from the well of His salvation. In His presence, our souls can be rested and replenished, and then we will be able to rise up and go through all the days ahead of us. May coming to Him be elemental to our lives.”


He is inviting us. He has said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 5

Giving Him our weary hearts will enable us to stay in the race, to keep on running.


NOTES

Psalm 55:6–8 is taken from the King James Version of The Holy Bible, public domain.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 40.

Ibid., 41.

Ibid., 48.

Matthew 11:28–30 is taken from the New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, © 1982.

©Revised text and photo Francee Strain, November 1, 2022.  Original article posted February 21, 2021.

Warm Winter Wishes

It is October, and I am cold in my house. I find myself wishing that things won’t get any chillier and that the winter will be mild. And I am thinking this for more than just my sake. Some recent encounters while out doing errands are now pervading my thoughts.

Many of us are thinking ahead to the winter months. There are less than two months left until it begins, and for some of us, the winter weather hasn’t paid attention to the calendar, so our thinking got started early. Some of us are wishing for a warm winter because we don’t like the snow or the cold. We don’t like to drive on icy roads, shovel the porch, or snow blow the driveway, especially if we are someone like my husband who comes from the south and now lives in the north.

There are also less than two months until Christmas (in case you needed a reminder). Winter and Christmas merchandise has been on store shelves for months. There are already Christmas sales. The seasonal aisles are fully stocked, and extra shelf space from neighboring aisles has been borrowed in order to cram in more items. Holiday travel plans are being discussed. Christmas cards are being purchased. Lists of who to buy gifts for are being composed. Charities are making their needs known for their holiday events—they need donations early in order to be prepared for their upcoming Christmas programs. And we are thinking of our own wish lists in case someone asks us what we want for Christmas.

But, some other people have a very different type of wish list. They are not wishing for gifts to go in their Christmas stockings and under the tree—although that would be nice—they are wishing for a warm winter because they will be spending their season on the streets.

Take a moment to think about your home. Your safe place. Your haven. Surrounded by your things, decorated by things that express your style. A warm bed. A comfy couch. A fuzzy blanket. Your favorite music on the radio. Your fully stocked refrigerator waiting to be opened, containing the flavored creamer for your steaming mug of coffee you will sip as you look out the window at the autumn scenery. Now, imagine it’s all gone. How would you feel? Some people don’t have to imagine this scenario; this is their reality. How they got to this point could be an assortment of reasons, but that doesn’t change the facts. The cause doesn’t matter now, as they have new concerns. How will they obtain their next meal? Where will they sleep tonight? And what will they do for the winter?

Recently, two of the homeless people I stopped to assist voiced their concern about the upcoming winter. One asked me to pray for a warm winter, and the other asked me to pray he’d get a meal that night and then informed me that he’d probably be heading south to another city where it’s warmer. This is their reality. I stepped into that reality momentarily and offered food, prayer, and the knowledge that they were loved by God. It was a blessing and a privilege to be there with them.

My reality is that I started using my furnace last week because I was cold—cold in my house, cold while wearing a sweatshirt and socks and wrapped in a blanket. What would I do if I was outdoors? What would I do if I was outdoors without that sweatshirt, warm socks, and a warm blanket? I think back to several ago when I sat on a curb with a homeless man in 32-degree weather. He had no hat, no gloves, no blanket, and he was hungry. Sitting there for just a few minutes was bone chilling. I could feel the cold seeping through my clothing and the numbness coming on. I gave the man a warm sandwich I had purchased and gave him some warm mittens I had in my car. We chatted for a few minutes while he ate, sharing a bit about ourselves. I then shared Christ with him, and he accepted the good news of salvation. I prayed for him, and then surprisingly, he prayed for me. It still warms my heart all these years later.

Another time, I stopped to help a homeless man who was asking a cashier for a trash bag to carry his things in. The cashier could not give him one, but I happened to have one in my car and offered it to the man. While talking with him and his friend, I learned they had little with which to keep warm for the night in the 30-degree temperatures. The calendar said it was spring, but the weather felt like it was winter. I had a few things I kept in my car for winter driving emergencies and offered those things. They hesitated as they did not want to leave me without my emergency items. And I confess, I was concerned about giving those things up, but I was headed home for the night and knew I could obtain replacement items; and besides, being outside in 30-degree weather all night long is an emergency. A bath towel became a scarf for one man. My snow pants covered three fourths of the other man’s legs. A picnic quilt would be shared between the two of them. Some gloves were a bit small and tight but were better than nothing. A hat my son no longer needed was shared. The men were very grateful for everything I offered to keep them warm for the night. I shared that God loves them and then prayed with them. I hope their hearts were warmed as much as mine.

I could not fix all the problems these men had, but I could point them to the One who could, and I could be sure to meet some of their immediate needs. They were warmed and filled, seen and loved. And in addition to the physical gifts I gave, I offered spiritual gifts as well. I gave them hope, prayer, and the ultimate gift: the love of Christ. The Bible tells us to bear one another’s burdens and we’ll fulfill the law of Christ which is love.1   

I do not share these stories to call attention to myself but to point out that each of us is capable of doing something to help fulfill the warm winter wishes of those on the streets.  We can do practical things such as carrying items in our vehicles so that we are prepared at all times to assist those in need. Perhaps we can spare a few dollars in our budgets so we can run into the store and grab some food and a hat and gloves for those in need or maybe provide a bus pass to get them to the homeless shelter. If we do not have the means to share items, we can be prepared with information to direct these ones to places which can assist them. And being kind, not ignoring them, and not walking past in judgement are helpful things to do also. We may not be able to meet their needs, but acknowledging their existence and their importance to us and God will warm their hearts. Every bit helps, and every gesture matters.  

Jesus cares about all the details of our lives, large and small. And if He is our example, then we, too, should care about the details of the lives of others, both large and small. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and those neighbors do not have to have a home to qualify. In the sight of God, everyone is our neighbor. God showed us kindness by sending His son Jesus to meet our greatest need.2 And now, we have an opportunity to share the blessing of Christ with others, as well as share our time and material blessings. Let’s take the focus off ourselves and place it onto others. Our new view will be truly eye-opening. We have been blessed so that we can bless others. Even if we do not have much to give, there are others who have less than we do. Let’s open our hearts this season so that the wish for a warm winter can be fulfilled.


If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?3


NOTES

1 See Galatians 6:2.

2 See John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:4–10.

3 James 2:15–16 taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 30, 2022.

The Runner’s Heart

(Part 1 of 3 in “The Runner” series)

(This is a revised version of a February 2021 post)

I well remember the burn. I remember the shin splints. And I remember the moment I said, “I hate running.” 

It was track season, my junior year of high school. The coach was making us run long distances, and to a sprinter, that was awful. I had been a speedy little kid. I had won some races and some ribbons and even a fifty-cent piece. I had done well in some other races although I did not win. And then there were some races where I wondered if I should have just stayed home that day. Yes, my relay teammates may still be upset at me (thirty-some years later) for accidentally disqualifying us at the district meet, all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You win some, you lose some. And some you don’t even qualify for, apparently. 

Anyway…there is something else I remember, which brings me to this particular article you are reading.

I remember the heart that was needed for running. Not just a strong heart muscle that could propel a body to the finish line, but the inner heart—the passion, the drive, the mental fortitude, the competitive spirit. You train, you prepare, and you enter the race. And then, you run for the prize. You run in such a way that you may win. 

When you run a race, you know there is an end to it, a finish line; but that end may not be in sight. There may be twists and turns in the racecourse. There may be falls and injuries to your body. There may be high hills and low valleys. And sometimes, the pain is too much. Every ounce of your body screams for you to stop, to quit, to give in, to give up. But it is then that the runner’s heart needs to kick in. The faith needs to be rekindled. The mind needs to remember the hope of the finish line. And then you dig in. And you dig deeper. And sometimes you cry tears. And sometimes you cry words. And you keep on keeping on. And suddenly, you crest the hill, round the bend, or enter the last lap, and there it is: what you have been striving for is now within reach. And then your heart pulls ahead of your body. You push through to the end, and you hear the words “You did it! Well done!” For the joy that was set before you, you finished the race.

My brothers and sisters, the Christian race is like this. Sometimes, we just want to sprint on through to the finish line and cross over into heaven. We want to avoid the burn and the shin splints, the hills and the tears. But the reality of life is that it is not a sprint, it is a marathon. And the course is sometimes filled with difficulties. Sometimes, we need to dig in for more faith and cry out for more help. We might want to quit, to give in, to give up. But remember our example—Jesus. He did not quit, give in, or give up. He dug in deep, surrendering His will to the will of the Father. He pushed through the trials and walked up the hill of Golgotha. For the joy that was set before Him (eternity with those who would believe in Him), He endured the cross. He completed the course that was laid out before Him. He crossed the finish line. His race was well done. His heart for us won the prize of atonement unto eternal life.

And now, He waits to welcome His own into their eternal home, awarding their faith in Him with eternal life. Press on my brothers and sisters. We can do this. Let’s not grow weary. Have faith. Long to hear the words “Well done.” Trust what you cannot see but know in your heart. Cry out when it hurts. Cry out for help. Remember your training. Hydrate with the Living Water. Nourish yourself with the Bread of Life. Be energized by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember the joy that is set before you. Keep the faith. Stay the course. Finish the course.

I am cheering you on and praying you through. See you at the finish line!


Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)


NOTES

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Revised text and photo Francee Strain, October 25, 2022. Original article posted February 14, 2021.

Do You Trust God?

If you follow my podcast or my blog posts, sometime you may notice I miss a week or two before posting a new episode or a new article. Sometimes, it’s because of my health issues. Sometimes, it’s because life happens. And sometimes, it’s because I seem to get a little bit of writer’s block or writer’s interruption. At times, I might think about writing on a particular topic, but then as the week goes along, God redirects my thoughts to something completely different. And sometimes, I just sit there wondering what to write. Should I finish what I started working on last week? That doesn’t always feel right. And then I sit and wait for inspiration, but sometimes nothing is downloaded into me. Sometimes, possible topics flit across my mind, but again, no, that’s not the right thing to write about either. So then I wonder, should I just repost something or record something from years ago that I have in my files. Well, that isn’t it either. So, I pray, and I ask God what I should write about, what I should speak about. Well, one particular time when I was going through this whole scenario, His answer to me was a question: “Do you trust me?”  I ended up writing a blog post about it. Well, He is asking me that question again in this season I’m going through. I’m facing some difficulties that are not being resolved. 

Off and on throughout life, we are going to have to grapple with whether we truly trust God. Are we fair-weather Christians, or will we trust in Him at all times, in all circumstances? Will we trust Him in the little things as well as the monumental? Will we trust Him through all of life and even to the death? Will we remain faithful, steadfast, and unmoved? Do we actually trust Him like we think we do?

Fear sometimes seems to be a factor. We want to say we trust Him. We’ve demonstrated in the past that we did. But do we now? Will we always? Why would we not? Whose vision are we going to trust? Our shortsighted vision, which is limited to what is right in front of us, or the vision of the One who sees the end from the beginning and everything in between, the One whose vision is eternal?

There is no need to fear trusting in Him. On the contrary, trusting in Him will remove a huge load from us. When we commit our lives to Him, He will take care of us. Just as the Bible tells us Abraham trusted God and went forward despite being unaware of where he was ultimately going, so we, too, should trust in God’s plans and promises to get us where we need to go.1 God created the world, and He created us. He has things well in hand.

He will guide our steps even when there are obstacles in our paths. We can trust Him step by step, day by day. He is working all around us, sometimes seen, and sometimes unseen. He works on a future timeline beyond our scope, with a path laid out for us which we cannot even begin to conceive. Psalm 27:23–24 tells us the steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and God delights in his way. Though this one falls, he won’t be u­tterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand. So, we can step out in faith, knowing He is holding us securely in the palm of His hand. He will lead us safely home. 

“We do not need to know everything today; we just have to trust that He has our best in mind. We can find a resting place for our bodies, minds, souls, and faith in the safety of His hands. We can place the details of our lives in His capable hands. We can place the recesses of our vulnerable hearts in His loving hands. We can place our trust in Him because of His unfailing hands. He never fails, never breaks His promises, and will never let go of us.”2

So, are we going to place our trust in people, or in our own limited skills, intellect, ingenuity, strength, and resources; or are we going to place our trust in the One who has proven Himself trustworthy? God fights for His people. He provides for every need. He does not fail nor forsake His own. He has all power and authority, and by Him all things subsist. His wisdom is infinite. He is a God of purpose. He is working for the good of those who follow Him and for His glory. The bad and the ugly from this world of sin? It can be transformed into something beautiful by His hand. He triumphs over evil. He is good, and He does what is good.

Such great knowledge of this great God can give us the ability to trust, and trusting Him will bring peace. There is no need to fret; He can handle the details. He will handle the details. We don’t need to force our hand; we can just place it in His. He is God.

I know what I will answer Him now. What will your answer be? Do you trust God?


Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.3


NOTES

See Hebrews 11:8.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 116.

Proverbs 3:5–6 taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 11, 2022. This article is adapted from an article I wrote in October 2021 entitled “Do You Trust Me?”

The Comeback Call

When I look into the mirror, or into the lives of friends and family, or into the lives of people I don’t know, sometimes it makes my heart heavy and sad. I’m looking into the eyes of those who have walked away, or are progressively walking away, from the ways of God. This is nothing new, people have been doing it since the garden of Eden, but just because it is tradition does not mean it should continue to be done.

Throughout biblical history, we have been given examples of the walk away, but there’s also always the comeback call to answer it. And here we are in our generation, taking our turn at walking away, and God’s voice ever remains and calls us back to His heart. And now, we have the choice: whether to follow our own prideful hearts, with our prideful thoughts, thinking we know better than God, or humbly repent and confess and get back on the path that is best for us, the one that leads to life. Will we heed the comeback call?

If I asked you if I could speak to your heart today, what would you say? What would you say if God asked you that question? My voice is in these written words, gently speaking to your heart. God is also gently speaking to your heart with His written Word, the Holy Bible. Time after time, His voice calls out to His people to return to Him and to walk in the paths He has designed. They are laid out on paper, accessible to us, where we don’t have to question His plans.

“Have we really left Him?” you may ask. Yes. Some of us are just beginning the departure, others have gone far, far away, but no matter where we are in the process, two truths remain: we are not walking with God, and He is rich in mercy and is calling us back. None of us are too far gone; if we confess, He is faithful and just to forgive.

How are we leaving Him? We leave Him in different ways. We listen to any voice but His. We are prone to wander from Him and take up following after the crowd instead. We try to convince ourselves that what we are doing is right. We try to rationalize and justify behavior that deviates from His way. We might honor Him with our lips but keep our hearts far from Him. We might follow Him for a while and then veer off in another direction. Sometimes, we try to add more words to His words so we can keep a foot in both worlds, but He tells us we cannot be following both; it is one or the other, Him or not Him. We tempt Him, limit Him, and forget Him. We are not steadfast in keeping His ways. We lay up treasure for ourselves and follow after our own hearts instead of laying up spiritual treasure and following after His heart.

We tune Him out, drown Him out, shut Him out, and cut Him out. We close our eyes, plug our ears, stiffen our necks, harden our hearts, and turn our backs on Him. And after we turn our backs on Him, we defiantly walk away, and maybe even run. Despite all these methodologies we might employ, however, His love calls out to us again and again. He wants to have a relationship with each of us that is the best for us, but when our feet are on the wrong paths, they take our ears and hearts with them. We decide not to listen, we decide not to follow His ways, and we decide not to come close to His heart. 

He is a balm for our soul, a healer for our deepest wounds, a help in troubled times, and the hope for always, but we refuse Him. We go instead to the next relationship, self-help book, party, container, store, and screen, trying to fill the void, ease the pain, bury the trauma, and advance our own cause.

What starts this process, and how do we turn it around? We need to know what God’s voice says, and we need to know there is competition for our hearing. Who we allow to speak the loudest into our lives matters. There are voices coming to us from sources such as culture, lust, Satan, false teachers, addiction, friends, family, newscasters, the stage, and our own hearts. Will we listen to and be influenced by these, or will we listen to the One who created us, God Himself? Anyone and anything can compete with His voice—our own hearts can deceive us. And making up our own plans and neglecting or changing His plans will not be what fulfills us or gives us peace. It will ultimately leave us empty, wanting, and restless; and we will start the vicious cycle of trying to fill the void all over again. If we are listening to the voices of the world, we are not listening to the voice of God. We cannot do both. Either we are hearing Him, or we’re not, and we subsequently act on what we hear.

Where are our hearts going? To whom do they belong? We always have a choice. We can always turn away from the dead-end roads and come back to Him. We can make God’s voice the priority. We can leave our contrary behavior behind and be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Our behavior no longer needs to alienate us from Him. The hope of the gospel can connect us firmly to Him, and we can continue from this day forward to live our lives in Him—rooted, built up, and strengthened in our faith.1

Is it easy? Not always. People do not want to be told what to do. But there are some things which God says to do, and there are some things which He says to avoid doing. There is right, and there is wrong. God makes a distinction. He has set the standard, and we should not be modifying His design. There is a prescribed order to His world, yet we are often busy trying to unmake it and remake it; and we have created chaos in the process. Some people will try to excuse their behavior by claiming freedom in Christ, but freedom in Christ does not mean the freedom to sin and abuse His grace.2 Some will try to twist His words and take them out of context to make them fit their own desired circumstances. We need to remain aware and vigilant as the words on social media screens, in the newspapers, books, training sessions, and the talk on the street—or even from the pulpit—are more and more often contradicting the ways of God. God told us this would happen, that the days will become more evil as His return for His own draws closer. What do we do about this?

We should seek the things above, putting off our old man and putting on the new one made in the image of Christ.3 Everything we say and do should be done in His name. If we say we are following Him, we need to make sure our actions are not saying otherwise. If our hearts are not right with Him, we are not living in congruence with His teaching; and incongruency is not a good thing—it’s not a good thing for us, and it is not a good thing for the world. How will they see Jesus when we look nothing like Him, when we misrepresent Him, and when we bring shame to His name? We need to do more than hear the words of God, we need to live them. We need to do more than remember who He is with our brains, we need to let Him flow through our hearts and lives.

I’m going to invite us to come back, to listen to the longing of His heart for us. Do we know the urgency of the time? Let’s not be prodigals headed for a far land void of God’s presence. We have a message to share and a short time to do so. We have a finite number of days to hear and heed the word which the Lord has spoken, and we should not spend that precious time following the ways of those who do not believe. We sometimes exchange the truth for a lie, but right now we have the opportunity to exchange the lies for the truth. “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but He who does the will of God abides forever.”4 God’s voice is the voice of truth. Will we heed the comeback call?


Listen to counsel and receive instruction,

That you may be wise in your latter days.

There are many plans in a man’s heart,

Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand.5


NOTES

1 See Colossians 1:21–23 and 2:7.

2 See Galatians 5:13 and 1 Peter 2:16.

3 See Ephesians 4:17–32.

4 First John 2:17

5 Proverbs 19:20–21

Scriptures taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 10, 2022

A Moment of Weakness

Do you ever have a moment of weakness? I sure do. All day. Every day.

Journeying through this life is challenging. Moment by moment, decisions have to be made about what we will do or not do in the next moment. And our choices have consequences, some more significant than others, but consequences nonetheless. And bit by bit, these decisions shape who we become. And if we fail to think before we act, develop poor habits, sink into old addictions, and mindlessly while away the hours, we will soon find ourselves in a season of weakness.

We’ve all done it, and we all continue to do it. We experience moments of weakness and do what shouldn’t be done, or don’t do what should be. Our moments of weakness may occur because we make excuses, are afraid, hold stereotypes, and worry about what will happen next. Our moments of weakness may cause us to second-guess what we are supposed to do in a given situation, and then we miss the opportunity to do anything at all. At times, we walk in the flesh and not the Spirit. We rationalize, justify, and excuse our behavior. We hold on to selfishness, pride, and our own comfort. And our actions cannot be undone. What we have seen cannot be unseen, what we have heard cannot be unheard, what we have said cannot be unsaid, and the fact that we went somewhere cannot be erased. But, there’s hope because this is a new moment, and we can choose differently for our next actions.

For example, a few days ago (okay, even a few hours ago), I had an inappropriate thought. It seemed minor, inconsequential. I didn’t act on it, I just thought it. No one besides me knew I had thought it, no one that is except for God. But that is what really matters. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.1 It was wrong in His eyes, and so, it was wrong. I was shocked. I gave myself a talking to. But then in the next moment, I was right back where I started. Once again, I realized this thought process was not pleasing to God. I confessed. I repented. I asked for His help with this situation. And the next moment, my thoughts changed to something pleasing to Him. I did not do this in my own strength and power. If it was up to me, my thoughts and I would have continued on down this negative path, adding to the collection as we went along. It was when I called out for help and strength to redirect my thoughts that the next moment became a beautiful one.

As we journey through life, we need to remain aware and present in the moment. A moment becomes a season when we allow it to go past the next moment. And if we are not vigilant, a beautiful season can disappear, and we can be left standing in an ugly one. When we let our guard down or look the other way, we neglect the Spirit. And if we are out of step with God, our steps are going to be out of step. The strength that could be ours will go untapped. But things do not have to be this way. We can allow Him to reorder our steps and set us back on track. His power knows no limits, so whether it is a small thought or a huge, terrible deed, there is help and hope. We will continually have moments of weakness, but God has strength that will never go away. He never grows weary. He will always give power to the faint, and for those who have no might, He will increase their strength. Those who trust in the LORD will mount up with wings like strong eagles. They will run the race like strong athletes. They will walk through life without being done in by it. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, and will also be the author and finisher of our strength. 2

We may have acquired undesirable names and may have developed negative reputations due to our actions, or lack thereof, but our names and our reputations can change to the opposite now because God can change our lives now. We can be made into new creations. We can be forgiven for the things committed and omitted. And there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Today is a new day. This is a new moment. This is a new moment for grace.3

A moment of weakness need only last for a moment because in the next moment we can call out for God’s strength, and He will give it to us. If we are facing something we ought not be doing, in a moment we can receive His help to turn away and do something else. If our moment has become a season of moments, He can remake our lives, and in a moment, bring us into a new season. His help is available to us before we even ask for it, and while we are yet speaking, He will hear us. Before a word has been formed on our tongues, He knows it altogether.4 His power is exceedingly great toward those who believe. God resurrected Jesus and set Him at His right hand in heaven. He is far above all principality, power, might, and dominion, so we can come to the logical conclusion that He is able to give us strength.5

Walking with God is a moment-by-moment endeavor. Every moment, we have a choice: to continue walking with Him or go our own way. Every moment, we need His strength. Every moment, we need His sustaining power. And when we are weak, we can be strong, if we will allow His strength to pervade us and our situations. His power is incomparable, and it is available at this very moment.


NOTES

1 See 1 Samuel 16:7.

2 See Isaiah 40:28–31 and Hebrews 12:2.

3 See Romans 8:1–14 and 2 Corinthians 5:17.

4 See Psalm 139:4, Isaiah 65:24, and 1 Corinthians 10:13.

5 See Ephesians 1:19–21.

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, September 27, 2022.