The Advent of Hope

Walking through a dark and evil world can leave us with deep pain and an abundance of tears.  We lose, and we grieve.  We wander, and we mourn.  We look down, and then we look in.  We forget about the light.  We find ourselves in a state of hopelessness.

But Isaiah 50:10 says, “Who walks in darkness and has no light?  Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.”*  So, if we look up to see the Light of the World, Jesus Christ, shining all around us, that hope will raise us up.  The truth of His hope will enable us to keep moving forward.  His power will enable us to walk and love again.  Joy will flood the empty spaces of our beings.  The pain will be touched by supernatural comfort. The mourning heart will sing again.

Just as the sun always shines even though we can’t see it, God’s hands and heart are outstretched for us to see by faith.  God is good, sovereign, and omnipotent.  He makes a way out of no way. He provides for every need.  He keeps every promise. 

The first week of the Advent season, we celebrate hope.  Many waited for hope to come to the world, and it finally came.  Its name was Jesus. 

Jesus gave His life on the cross to give eternal hope through salvation.  What a precious gift!  And then, He left for a while to prepare a place for those who would believe in Him.  And one day, Hope will return to the world.  He will come again.  He will take all who believe to their eternal home.  Have you accepted His gift of hope?  Are you ready for His second advent? 

This is the truth of hope.  Hope has come.  And Hope is coming back.

~~~~~

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 NKJV

~~~~~

*Taken from Isaiah 50:10 NKJV

©Text and photo Francee Strain, November 29, 2020

Gratitude vs. Grumblitude

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(Originally posted November 28, 2019)

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_____.”

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 in turn can pour them out.

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

What can I see, touch, hear, feel, taste, and do? Perhaps some of my limbs and senses do not function, but I still have some amount.

Have I eaten? Slept under a roof, even if it belonged to a shelter? Worn clothes? Experienced warmth? Had joy at some point in my life? Yes. Yes, I have.

So, the fact that my car is fifteen years old, dented (that pole in the parking garage should not have been in my way), and 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 is seventeen years old, worn, sagging, has shot springs, and has a piece of wood frame jutting out should not be a source of grumbling.

The fact that I am living in a manufactured 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 a concert grand from the music store (which would have cost more than I paid for 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 tummy 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 of the love that Jesus has for him, that had searched him out even in this lowest of places. It was a holy moment as God drew near. He wept with me and this man. And He rejoiced with me and this man. And 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.

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13:5-6 NKJV)

©Text and photo by Francee Strain, November 28, 2019. Reposted November 20, 2020.

THANKFUL THOUGHTS

The following passage is taken from my book, which was published in 2017. I think the “someday” has arrived—I hope you are able to fill it with thankful thoughts. Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone.

~~~~~

We have most likely learned that although it may not be raining now, one day it will be. Even though we may be living in relative ease right now, we know to anticipate the “rain” of struggles. Part of being human is facing the difficult times that will be forthcoming someday. On the other hand, we may already be living in the “someday” and be in the midst of those struggles right now. Our lives may be in states of chaos, with one crisis after another, and we can barely think straight. How can we rest amid our suffering? How can we praise God anyway? One place to find answers is to look at the life of Job.

There was a way that Job was able to find peace and rest. He said, “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. … With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding” (Job 12:10, 13). Job’s burdens were lightened because he placed his trust in God’s character. When we meditate on who God is in relation to who we are, our thoughts will become peaceful as we recognize His sovereignty and omnipotence. When we read these verses and see that He has understanding, it can bring relief to our minds to know that at least He has things figured out even if we do not. God is wise and strong, and He has been around so much longer than we have. He knows how things work–He made them! If He created the earth and He created us, then He definitely knows what to do with our lives. Our minds can be calmed by understanding that He holds our lives in His hands and gives us every breath. So when the rains of life come, we can rest safely in His shelter, knowing He is going to bring growth from this downpour.

~~~~~

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 193.

©Photo Francee Strain, November 20, 2020

To Know and Remember

…because sometimes we don’t know, and sometimes, we forget.

See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

(1 Thessalonians 5:15-24)

~~~~~

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

(Psalm 13:5-6)

~~~~~

©Original text and photo Francee Strain, November 7, 2020

Quotations taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1994.

Losing and Winning

We have lost so much this year—and are concerned we will lose even more.  We are worried about losing via the elections, losing our jobs, losing our health, and losing our freedoms.  The reality is, pandemic or not, we lose all sorts of things in life.  At any time, we can lose money, homes, jobs, loved ones, health, quality of life, and sometimes even life itself.   Life can be very scary and very sad.  It can be so difficult to get through each day and to keep on keeping on.  How can we?  Why would we want to? 

I want to encourage you that life can also be good.  We might find all sorts of good things: happiness, the loves of our lives, the perfect jobs, and sometimes even our car keys.  And think of all the blessings we still have!  But there is something even greater than these available for us to find, the thing that matters most of all: the salvation of our eternal souls.  Jesus gave the treasure of His life, poured out on the cross, to provide that salvation for all who would believe.  Have you ever gathered that treasure to yourself?  He offers it freely to you. 

And when you have secured your eternal life, your earthly life can be filled with the treasures of peace, joy, hope, and love.  And no matter what you lose on earth, these treasures will always remain.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5b NKJV

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 31, 2020

Some text adapted from Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 63-4.

When Winter Comes Early

Well, it seems winter came early for our region.  Approximately eight inches of snow arrived on October 23rd.  We typically expect a bit of snow in November, with our majority coming in December and January, so, snow in October found us surprised, shocked, caught off guard, and not mentally ready.  Our flowers were still blooming.  Our lawns were still green.  Leaves were just beginning to turn to their autumn colors.  And then came the snow.  Relentless.  Almost all day and into the night it fell.  Piling on, inch after inch.  Branches broke.  Possessions were buried.  Roads were obscured and treacherous for drivers.  And then came the cold the following day.  Winds whipped the snow into drifts across the ground and rooftops.  Gusts blasted trees and drifts, sending swirls of snow into the air.  And the temperature dropped, and dropped, and dropped, all the way down into the teens.  Surprised comments, sighs, and groans escaped the lips of many.  A few may have even shed some tears.

Sometimes, life is like an early heavy snowfall.  Blizzards of problems fall down on us unexpectedly and relentlessly.  One day, our lives are sunny, and the next, we need to break out the winter gear.  Our health gets buried in doctor’s appointments and medical bills, we face the sharp winds of grief when we lose a loved one, we watch irreparable damage come when our retirement savings disappear as our company folds and puts our pink slip in the mail.  Now what will we do?  How can we go on when we can’t even see which way is up, or forward, or through?

When dreams die, and our plans don’t go as planned, our life landscapes look bleak, barren, and hopeless.  Depression colors our skies gray.  Our hearts become cold and joyless.  Our thoughts become dark and desolate.  We feel forlorn, forgotten, and forsaken.

This happens to all of us at one time or another, in different forms and fashions.  The account of Job as told in the Bible shows us that sometimes every aspect of who we are gets hit, all at the same time, before we are even finished processing the reality of the first thing that happened.  Job lost his ten children, his livelihood, his wealth, his health, the support of his wife and friends, his reputation, and any comfort he had.  He was alone.  Alone with his thoughts, with his overwhelming grief, with a crowd of unsupportive people.  But then, things changed.  He had a talk with God.

God’s perspective got Job through the blinding, swirling cloud of questions and doubts.  Truth pervaded his darkness.  The immensity and majesty of God’s power broke through and changed everything.

Job got up out of the dirt, realizing that God had a plan, and God could do anything.

And then, Job continued to live.  A new depth of relationship with God remade him from the inside out.  Hope and joy came again.  New blessings arrived.  New purpose set him on a new path. 

So, if you have gone into the wintry ditch, look up.  There are still sunrises and sunsets.  Look at the beauty that is still there.  Look at the silvery-blue skies crafted by the hand of the Almighty God.  Look at the glimmer in the sparkles of snow. 

While things sleep, waiting for the next phase of God’s plan, progress is underway.  Moisture is being put into the earth, and plants are resting in preparation for the work of spring.  They are awaiting their cue from their Maker, and then the wonder of spring will unfold.  We, too, can anticipate the bloom that is coming and prepare for it now.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”*  Because He lives, we can live also.  Faith, hope, love, and resurrection power will cause us to bloom when the timing is just right. 

So, have a conversation with God, and hold on for spring.  He is doing something in you even now, and you are going to be a new and beautiful creation.

~~~~~

Isaiah 55:6–13 (NKJV)

Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

12 “For you shall go out with joy,
And be led out with peace;
The mountains and the hills
Shall break forth into singing before you,
And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree,
And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree;
And it shall be to the Lord for a name,
For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

~~~~~

*Matthew 11:28 (NKJV)

©Text and photos Francee Strain, October 24, 2020

What’s in a Name?

What’s your name?  How many times do we hear that question asked over the course of a lifetime? 

Our names are composed of a word or words by which we are known, addressed, and referred to.  Those names indicate a mark in the world of who we are.  Our names identify us to set us apart from other people.  Signing an important document with our names testifies to who we are. With our own hand, we make a mark on paper to testify that the name placed there represents us as an individual.  But we are more than just names.  Things go deeper. 

My name is Francee.  My name is a combination of parts taken from the first names of my mother and father.  My first name is rare, and only once have I ever encountered someone by the same name and with the same spelling.   I saw a similar name on some merchandise as a few years before I was born there was a doll by the same name, albeit with a different spelling.  I moved on through childhood not thinking too much about my name other than feeling weird because no one else had my name.  

While a name testifies to the identity of who we are, there may be an attachment to the name to offer further details.  If we carry the same name as a parent, the name “Junior” or “The Second” may be added on.  There might be an indicator preceding our name to indicate marital status.  If we are certified with a degree or operate within a particular career, there may be an assortment of letters after our last name to signify this.  We may also possess various names which never get written onto paper.  We may be called mom, boss, brother, teacher, friend, or customer number 53.  But all of these particular names and titles only touch on part of who we are.  These names are about how we relate with other people.  But what about the deeper part of each of us?  What about our souls?

How we live testifies to who we are.  But what testifies to whose we are?  How are we known, and who knows us at the level of our souls? 

Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan for our lives.  Before we were in our mothers’ wombs, He knew us.  He knew the names by which we would be called, and He knew the people we would become.  And He loved us and reached out to have a relationship with each of us.  He sent His son Jesus to make His Name known.  Jesus took on the name of Savior of the World.  He became the Messiah.  The Redeemer.  The Atonement.  His is the Name above all names.  And there is a future of hope and promise in His Name.  He is the soon and coming King.  And He is everlasting. 

Yes, He knows our names.  Do we know His?  When we respond to His name with our souls, it will change our names—it will change our lives—both now and for all eternity.  If we choose to get to know Him, He will write our names in the Book of Life, and we will dwell with Him forever once our earthly lives end.  But until that day comes, we will also get to have a variety of new names and experience the identity that comes with each one.  We will be known as forgiven, redeemed, beloved, a child of the Most High God, an heir with Christ, and a member of the family of God.  We will be called His own, and nothing will ever pluck us from His hand.

What’s your name?

~~~~~

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11 NKJV)

~~~~~

©Text and photo Francee Strain, October 18, 2020

Languishing in Limbo or Living in Liberty?

Are you languishing in limbo or living in liberty?  I am seeing and hearing so much pain and anger in people’s lives and voices.  I see people bowed down, hunched over, listless, and joyless.  Disappointed, disillusioned, and distressed.  Clenched and cocked and flinging words and punches.  This is not how things are supposed to be.  Let’s do a heart check.

The Bible tells us that heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop, but a good word makes it glad (Proverbs 12:25 KJV).  This is so true.  So, here is a good word for you today: Jesus loves you! 

There is life, joy, hope, and peace available to all who ask Him for it.  In the midst of dark, dreary, and drudging days, there is light.  He is the Light of the World. 

Look up, my friends. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”* 

©Text and photo by Francee Strain, October 10, 2020

*Quotation taken from the song “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” by Helen Howarth Lemmel.

The Staredown

I wrote this as a guest post for a friend’s website.*

Invisible disabilities.  The world may not see them, but they stare us in the face every day.  And some days, they stare harder.  What will we do with our gaze?  Avert it and pretend this is not happening to us?  Look down at our feet in defeat?  Level the gaze and freeze our movements?   Or, stare down the disability and then look up and move forward? 

I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon: people with disabilities, myself included, sometimes add more disability to the original amount.  The mentality changes into one of “I can’t.”  The focus is on the freedoms lost, and then the heart gets lost, too.  And when the mind and heart give up, there is not too much the body can do; it is at the mercy of following where it is led.  But, if the pattern of thinking is changed, and the focus shifts to what is still possessed and what can still be done, hope will infuse the heart, and there will be an ability to move forward.

There are choices when it comes to invisible disabilities.  True, the choices may be limited, but they still remain.  While the reality exists that one cannot fully control what happens with the body, there is still some measure of control.  One can retreat or press on, wither or flourish, become a victim or a victor.  It is up to each one whether to take advantage of what is available, and thus, thrive in the midst of invisible disabilities.

How does one press on while unable to function “normally?”  Well, the days of disability do not have to be random, purposeless, and inconsequential; on the contrary, they can be extraordinary by simply choosing to make them so.  A life is not only full when it consists of good health and time spent “out amongst the real world;” it can be full while being stuck at home dealing with disabilities and chronic illnesses.  When thoughts, actions, and attitudes are adjusted, things can change.  Lives can become purposeful and impactful.  Instead of pessimistically hanging onto glasses that are half empty, intentional actions can be taken to make them overflow.  These actions involve being conscientious, creative, and conquering.

Be conscientious.  Life is to live, not shrivel up and die.  Disability does not have to become our winter.  We can forget what is behind and press forward.  Being deliberate and taking decisive action can keep us from becoming stuck in our limitations.  Having a hidden disability doesn’t mean we have to remain a hidden figure.  We can make a difference and devote ourselves to doing so.  By taking the focus off ourselves and redirecting it, we can make the lives of others better.

Be creative.  We do not have to be passive and let disability “happen” to us.  We don’t have to get stuck in the mindset of “what used to be” or “what can never be.”  Instead, we can be inspired and get creative.  God designed us to impact lives and make a difference in this world.  We can examine the resources we have and move to do something with them.  We can do a new thing—or do an old thing in a new or modified way.  And with our new skills and knowledge, we can reach out to touch the lives of others.

Be conquering.  We can push ourselves to improve and become stronger people.  Taking good care of our bodies and mastering life hacks, such as using assistive devices or modifying our space to accommodate our disabilities, can help us move forward.  We can hold on to hope and vigilantly battle the enemies of despair, discouragement, and depression.  Processing what is happening and realizing that today is a new day gives us new opportunity to bloom.  We can use the worst circumstances to become our best.

The staredown can come to an end each day as we stop staring at our disabilities and our four walls and get busy instead looking at how we can bloom in the field in which we have been planted.  Look up and move forward.  Win the staredown.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, September 30, 2020

*Visit https://www.navigatingthestorms.com/ to find resources to help you as you live with invisible disabilities or care for someone who does.

Steadfast

Are you weary?  Steady on.

Are you tired?  Don’t quit.

Are you faltering?  Don’t stop.

Are you losing touch?  Reach out.

Do you feel like giving up?  Look up.

Keep on Keeping on.  Steadfast.

Stand firm in the faith, and walk forward in it, too.  Have faith in the Only Begotten Son of God who loves you and gave His life for you.  His love is steadfast.  He spent a night with no sleep, being betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, mocked, and beaten.  And then, He made His way to the cross—for you.  He gave His very life so you would never have to journey on alone.

He holds the hands of those who hold Him in their hearts.  He never leaves His own.  He was faithful unto death, and now He is faithful unto life.  Eternal life awaits those who place their trust in Jesus, the Savior of the world.  There is hope for better days, days with no more pain, sorrow, or tears.

Life is hard.  And tiring.  And painful beyond belief.  But His presence will go with His children, and He will give them rest.  When the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, our quaking hearts can walk forward unafraid.  Do not fear.  He will hold us fast.  Having our foundation firm in Christ will give us a solid rock upon which to stand.  He never lets go of those who belong to Him.  He is the Creator of all.  He holds all power and knowledge in His hand.  He does not change, faint, grow weary, or close His eyes in sleep.  If you are on His side, He is on your side.

When we keep our eyes steadfast on Him, we will see His glory and His beauty.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is steadfast and faithful.  His mercies are new every morning.  His love is unconditional.  His peace is beyond understanding.  His joy is indescribable.  His grace is freely given to us, undeserved. 

Do not look for other things to fill, comfort, and satisfy you.  Only He can save, and only He can perfectly help.  Set your heart on Him.

Keep your mind stayed on Him.  Do not let it be overtaken by doubt, impurity, lies, and deception.

Set your ears to listen for His voice.

Set your voice always determined to praise Him.

He is high and lifted up.  He is the King who sits enthroned forever.  And He has said that we can boldly approach His throne and find grace to help in our time of need.

So, for all of my days, I will be steadfast in Him.

I will endure and continue, unshaken.  I will be confident, strong, sure, and peaceful.  I will continue on course, on task, on focus, on point, onward.  Steady on.  Steadfast.

My soul follows hard after You; Your right hand upholds me.*

*See Psalm 63:8 KJV.

For further reading: Psalm 40, Psalm 103, Romans 12:12

©Text and photo Francee Strain, September 20, 2020