When Mountains Stand Strong—2021 Edition

Dear Readers,

Some of you have seen the following post before, while to others of you, it is new.  This article just kept coming back to my mind and heart this week, and I felt it timely to post it again.  Although life looks completely different for me than when I originally wrote the article in 2018, the truths of it have not changed.  And now, as I look around at family, friends, and strangers, I keep seeing and hearing a common theme: people are struggling, people are hurting, people are despairing.  More mountains of hardship have arrived.  Pre-existing ones seem to have grown taller.  But I want to encourage you to hold on to hope.  Don’t look at the size of the mountains; look at the One who can move them.

~~~

Original Post:

I am on the mountain of heartbreak, and I don’t want to climb it anymore. Every muscle in my aching body screams for me to stop, to give up, to turn around and get off this mountain—to run and hide rather than face what looms before me, to maybe wander off into a green pasture, to lie down beside a calm stream, to spend hours listening to the symphony of birds in the trees and crickets in the grass—anything but put one foot in front of the other on these craggy ledges and dangling precipices. I am tired from this journey that presents nothing to me but pain and arduous struggle.

The problems that loom in front of me are mountains of immense proportion. Their enormity is overwhelming. Just one look at them can cause my heart to sink into the lowest valley. Their height seems to reach to the heavens, and the length of the mountain chain seems to go on for miles with no end in sight. Whatever can my human heart do when this is what stands in front of me, staring me in the face with its cold, hard reality? These mountains are formidable opponents. Some people don’t survive the battle against these giants. Sometimes, I wonder if I will.

Why can’t I have it the easy way? Why can’t I have the things that look so much more desirable, and that appear as though they will bring me so much more peace? Why do I have to labor and exert myself for hours on end to head to a destination that I can’t even see, that seems so far beyond my reach? Why do I have to do it? Because this is what He has called me to. Because this is His perfect plan for my life. He knows something that I do not know. He sees something that I do not see. He knows what I will find when I get to the end. He goes before me, He goes beside me, He holds me up from behind, and when the finish line is finally in sight, He will be there with arms outstretched and waiting to enfold me—to tell me well done, to tell me that I have gained the prize. It is His wisdom that outweighs mine. It is His sovereignty, His omnipotence, His love that will spur me on. I have to choose. I get to choose. Will I be spurred on? Or will I turn and walk back down the mountain to a destination where He is not? To a place where He is not walking beside me, or upholding me, or spurring me on to finish. Which will I choose? Which direction will I go? I choose Him. In all things, I choose Him. No matter what lies ahead, what difficulties I must face, what trials I must surmount, I choose Him. I would rather have Him than anything. This is what I do when mountains stand strong: I stand stronger because of His strength in me.

So although I am enveloped in a thick, confusing fog, with winds howling all around me; although the storm clouds rage and break upon my face, their roaring thunder striking fear into my heart; although there are sudden avalanches that make the situation even more unstable than I thought it already was, and torrents wash away what I thought I knew, I can look up. Yes, at these times, I can look up. My fear and unbelief will then be washed away by grace, because when I lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help, these heavy things have to flee and give place to hope, peace, and eternal love.

In my newly-washed perspective, I see God—the source of hope, peace, and eternal love. I see His goodness. His power. His strength and majesty. My heart can hope, and it can rejoice. Yes, although my feet are in the valley, my soul can soar above the mountaintops. I can stand strong because my Maker causes me to stand strong. Nothing compares to the awesomeness that He is. Nothing can lift my head like He can. Nothing can lift my soul like He can. Nothing can move my heart like He can. And nothing can move mountains like He can. He can give me the mustard seed of faith that can say to these formidable mountains, “Be moved into the sea!” When my Mountain, my Rock, battles against these mountains, they are no match, because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world. There is power in the name of this great God. There is none else like Him. When mountains stand strong, He stands stronger.

“You are my rock…
Into Your hand I commit my spirit…
You have known my soul in adversities.”
(from Psalm 31:3, 5, 7 NKJV)

©Photo and text by Francee Strain, January 16, 2021.  Original post from March 2, 2018.

The Star-Namer

While many people are celebrating the Day of Epiphany this January 6th and remembering the wise men following the star which led to the Savior of the World, I am thinking back on a time when I had an epiphany surrounding the stars. 

One night not long ago, I looked out the window before heading to bed and found I was looking at a sky full of stars, a sky packed with stars—stars as far as the eye could see. It was a cloudless night, and no one had their porch lights on.  I stepped out onto the back lawn, overcome with awe and wonder.  My heart leapt in worship.  And then, God spoke to my heart from the vast, cool expanse.  He was reaching out to talk with me, and my heart reached back. He reminded me that He has named every star and knows my name, too.

How blessed I am that the God of all the universe has created such beauty for me to behold.  How wonderful it is that I can know the stars were all named and put into place with His perfect knowledge and plan.  But if I stopped here—at this head knowledge—my heart would miss out on something: this God of everything wants me to know His name. He wants me to understand He has made and placed me here and wants to have a relationship with me.  He shows me who He is. Will I recognize who He is?  Will I search out the path that leads me to Him rather than wandering down another which leads to a fruitless end?  There is joy, life, and peace in knowing this God, the star-creator and the star-namer.  And after this life on earth ends, I will be able to know Him in eternity, in all His fulness. I will be in the presence of the creator of all, the Name above all names.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament
shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19:1–4 (NKJV)

©Text and photo Francee Strain, January 6, 2021

Happy New Day!

Happy New Day!

What?! 

You were expecting me to say Happy New Year, weren’t you?  But really, we can have a new year every day that we have a new day.  We do not need our lives to match the calendar’s transition from December 31st to January 1st to experience joy and good plans.  We can turn the page on our old lives and let God make them new this very day.  His mercies are new every morning, but we do not even need to wait for the morning to dawn; He covers the entire day.  So, anytime we are ready to have a happy new year, we can begin it with our present day, our present moment.  His presence is available now.  And His power is forever.

People usually spend the month of December talking about the upcoming new year, but this year, people have been talking about it for months, and some people for much of the year’s entirety.  People have been saying they want 2020 to be over and that they can’t wait for 2021 to arrive.  But flipping a page on a calendar to read January 1, 2021 is not going to change the reality of what we are facing today.  A new page on the calendar does not equal a new day.  A new day equals a new day.

How we live today is what changes the calendar for tomorrow, which eventually changes the calendar for the year. Who and what we prioritize is what fills the squares and fuels our goals.  Well, that’s how things typically work, right?  But what about in a year when things seem to be out of control and we do not get to make the decisions or resolutions we typically make?  Looking beyond the now will help us. 

It is true we cannot control or change a good portion of what is happening, but we can control and change ourselves and the type of legacy we leave behind.  We can take our focus off the temporary and put it on the eternal.  We can put Christ first in our lives, and thus, our days, and live for something beyond ourselves and the trials of this life.  Christ is not just for Christmas and not just for our new year’s resolutions for better living.  Christ is for every day, holiday or not, and for every day beyond the resolutions we do not keep.  He will never abandon us, and it would be excellent if we would never abandon Him.  We can allow Him to make our days eternally significant—every single one of them. 

How do we accomplish this?  By entering into every day with Him—by being deliberate in our steps to follow Him, by being thankful to Him and blessing His name, by seeking His truth and gaining knowledge of Him, by heeding His voice and exercising discernment.  We can fill each day’s page with Him—with His eternal salvation, comprehensive forgiveness, incomprehensible joy, unconditional love, and all-encompassing peace.  We can allow Him to remake us into new and beautiful creations. 

Let’s let the old be gone and the new come.  There is no need to wait for 2021 (or any other new year).  We can see the Light and Joy now.  His presence is here now.  And His power is forever.

Have a happy new year full of happy new days! *

~~~~~

*Author’s note: In this article, my focus was on the word “new” rather than “happy,” but what about the “happy” part of the new day and the new year?  What if our circumstances are terrible, miserable, depressing, or desperate?  We want to be happy, but the reality is we cannot always be.  Things devastate us and break our hearts.  Misery and despair come knocking on our doors and minds.  This truth is the reason I actually prefer to say “Joyous New Year” rather than “Happy New Year.”  Joy is different than happiness.  Happiness is circumstantial, but joy is definitive.  I am not talking about living in denial of reality, I am talking about knowing something deeper than what is happening in our current situations.  I am talking about a knowing in the depths of our souls.  We can always keep the seed of joy planted firmly in our hearts.  We can take joy in the fact that Jesus loves us and will forgive every sin, that He will never leave us nor forsake us, and that He is coming back to get His own.  These truths do not change based on the circumstances of our lives.  This is why joy can remain when happiness flees.

We can take heart because one day, our calendar pages will not contain scribbles and overbookings, stress loads and tear stains.  We will not have to worry about changing pages, because time will be no more.  One day, a new page will turn; eternity will begin.  We are approaching that day, are you ready?  There will come a time when Jesus will make all things new for those who have placed their trust in Him.  For now, He can make us new–new creations in Christ, where the old has passed away and the new has come.  Let us press on toward the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus, press on for the joy set before us, press on for the new day.

~~~~~

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

Revelation 21:4-5 (NKJV)

~~~~~

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 31, 2020

That’s a Wrap

We have just wrapped up Christmas. The big day has come and gone. But let’s allow the beauty of the gift to remain. The Heart of Christmas was here, and the gifts He brought to us can remain in our hearts all year. The hope, love, joy, and peace that graced the world when Jesus entered it do not need to be packed up with the Christmas decorations. The Savior did not just come for one day of the year, He came for every day of the year. Take the Heart of Christmas into your heart and find life abundant—a life that is filled with love, joy, hope, and peace, even in the most difficult of times. As we come to the end of 2020, let’s wrap things up with beauty. Let’s wrap our hands around the hand that will never let us go.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 27, 2020

Advent Series, Parts 1-5

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

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐀𝐝𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐞–𝐑𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝟏

Do you have peace? Do you want peace? Do you believe peace is possible, especially in the day and age in which we live? I fully believe it is possible. I have experienced it for myself.

Peace can come to us the moment we open our eyes and take in the light of day. We can breathe in the peace of God because He has come to dwell with us. Just over 2000 years ago, God sent His only son, Jesus, to be the Savior of the World. And one of the names and characteristics Jesus has is that He is the Prince of Peace. He rules it. He is the source of it. It is His to give.

I have asked Jesus to be a part of my life, and His presence results in peace. He calms storms of all kinds. He removes the sting of death. He does miracles. He cleanses me from every sin. He has restored my soul and made it acceptable in the sight of God. I never have to worry about walking alone because He has said He will never leave me nor forsake me. I don’t have to worry about what will happen when I die because He has already assured me that since I gave myself to Him, I can never be plucked from His hand. I do not have to worry about decision making because He gives wisdom to those who ask for it. I do not have to worry about my needs being met because He is the provider and sustainer. I do not have to toss and turn at night but instead can sleep in peace because He is omnipotent and will care for those who are His own.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding. If we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He is going to direct our paths. I could go on and on with example after example of the things I can know for certain and how this knowledge brings peace. You can know these things, too. It simply starts with you coming to the Savior of the World, the Prince of Peace, and giving your life to Him.

This is how peace comes.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 6, 2020

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𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐀𝐝𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐨𝐟 𝐏𝐞𝐚𝐜𝐞–𝐑𝐞𝐚𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝟮

We need peace. Peace in our world. Peace in our homes. Peace in our own hearts. We long for peace. We yearn for peace.

When troubles mount, we can feel overwhelmed. Helpless. Hopeless. Sometimes, we want to bury our heads under the covers. Other times, we want to run away. But these actions are not what will solve the problems. These things are not what will fill us with lasting peace. Lasting peace can only be found in the Prince of Peace, the One who is Everlasting: Jesus. His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace (see Isaiah 9:6). Inviting Him into the situation is what will bring peace. Holding Him in our hearts will find Him holding us.(1)

He comes in the storm with power and authority. Creator of all. Ruler of all. Sustainer of all. With a word, He can cause the storm to cease. With a word, He can bring great calm. With a word, He can speak peace. In His presence, there is peace. As the winds of life howl and the storms rage, He holds us–safely and securely in His almighty hands. As the winds drive the pounding rain, and our hearts pound in fear, He comes. Listen to the power of His words, “Peace. Be still” (Mark 4:39 KJV).

Over and encircling, through and beneath, His presence pervades; and there is peace. This is our God. The God above all gods. Let us never be shaken. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7 NKJV).

During this time of upheaval, I want to encourage you. You can find hope. You can know peace. Because…you are loved. God has loved you with an everlasting love, and with lovingkindness He is drawing you to Himself. Though the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, He is the Creator and Ruler of all.(2)

Place your hand in the hand of the One who can hold you securely. Place your heart in the hands of the One who gave His very life to save you. Look up to where there is help. Look up to where there is redemption. Look up into the very face of God.(3)

This is how peace comes.

_________________________________

(1) Excerpt from blog post “In the Name of Peace,” Francee Strain, May 30, 2020

(2) Excerpt from blog post “He Comes in the Storm,” Francee Strain, May 3, 2020

(3) Excerpt from blog post “Peace to You,” Francee Strain, March 21, 2020

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 10, 2020

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𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗔𝗱𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝗟𝗼𝘃𝗲

What is love?

We would likely define this word by mentioning many aspects, perhaps things like having close bonds with others, giving and receiving affection, being connected in a family, experiencing loyalty and faithfulness, hearing or speaking words of affirmation, giving and receiving gifts, serving others, or being the recipients of acts of kindness. Yet although we might have all these varied ideas in mind, there is a common thread—love is something demonstrated in deeds. Love is action.

Since before time began, love was active and awaiting us, and then love came near. Love took action. But where did love come from, and why did it come near?

Love came near because God came near. God is the source of love. He is love. He has given the very essence of Himself in an offering to us. This offering is actually what we are focusing on right now during this season of advent—He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life, and He did this because He loved the world (see John 3:16).

Since before time began, God had a plan to gift us with His love. And when the time was just right, the gift arrived: Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world to show us the love of God the Father. Jesus was a representation of the love and an act of that love. He gave up the position of honor He held as King of kings and humbled Himself to walk as a man. He gave up the riches of the entire universe to be laid in a manger and give everything to us. He gave up the comforts of having and doing anything He pleased, going anywhere He wanted at any time, to come to this earth and experience the life we experience, walking in obedience to God’s will and God’s timing. This is the gift of love we celebrate at Christmas.

But the love did not stop there. Jesus did not remain a baby in the manger. He grew into a man who continued to act in love. He travelled and spoke to thousands, sharing with them about the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life. He healed and fed. Taught and visited. Comforted the grieving and raised the dead. All this, He gave. And He gave even more, things that we find difficult to give: He loved His enemies. He prayed for those who despitefully used and persecuted Him. He gave His time and energy and service to those who gave nothing back. He loved the unlovely that others avoided and scorned. He sacrificed His very life for us. All so that we could know His love and know it forever.

This is how love comes. God took action. He has loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with loving kindness. He has given us the gifts of His Son, His Word, His promises, His salvation, and His very presence. Do we see it? Do we recognize it? Have we responded to it? Have we given Him our hearts and our love in return? Has there been an advent of love from us?

You can receive His gift today and return the gift of your heart to Him. This is how love comes.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 12, 2020

*****************

𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗔𝗱𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝗝𝗼𝘆

Joy. It is a word I am seeing in quite a few places right now. It is mentioned on Christmas shirts and socks, Christmas cards and photo frames, ornaments and wall hangings, figurines and mugs, wrapping paper and gift bags, among a host of other things. But what is joy? What is the meaning of the word featured on so much Christmas merchandise and other items all throughout the year? Is there joy in all this “stuff”? Is joy found in items? No, joy is not found in materialism. It is not found in a holiday, or a season, or a fashion, or a pretty thing. It is not even found in people—as we all know, they can cause us pain. Joy, true joy, comes from the source of all joy. Joy is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the giver of joy.

Joy is both a noun and a verb. Joy can abide in our hearts, but we can also take action with it. We can access it, share it, give it, receive it, and keep it. It can influence our perspectives and be the foundation of our actions. Think about when a baby is born—smiles and laughter abound. Babies are even called bundles of joy. They are all packaged up in sweetness and wonder. And we are changed by what we see before us. Well, one night, the bundle of all bundles of joy was born. Jesus made His advent into the world. The Savior was here! He fulfilled the joy of those who had long awaited His coming. He filled hearts, and He inspired actions. There was an advent of joy!

Can you imagine the joy that resounded across the hillsides when the angel announced Jesus’ birth and was then joined by the heavenly host praising and glorifying God and proclaiming peace and goodwill on earth? Can you imagine the quick and excited steps of the shepherds as they went to see the good news for themselves? Can you imagine the joy and excitement that inspired the magi to travel long and far to the place where the star marked the joy of the whole earth? And then, this child grew into a man who continued to bring joy to those who were willing to receive it. He gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute, hearing to the deaf, food to the hungry, attention to the outcast, healing to the sick, and life to the dead. And then He gave forgiveness to the sinners so they could experience eternal life and eternal joy at His right hand.

Thinking on these things brings me great joy because I know this Savior. He has come to live in my heart. His Spirit fills me with an abundance of joy. Even in the midst of deep sorrow, great pain, searing loss, and overwhelming troubles, joy remains. How can this be? It is possible because the joy I have does not come from the things of the world; the joy comes from Him and cannot be taken away or overcome.

So, even though it is raining on us now, and the day looks as dark as the night, His light is there, shining all around us. Will we have eyes to see it? 𝘏𝘦 is the Light of the World. Will we have eyes to see 𝘏𝘪𝘮? He is the joy of every longing heart. He will never fail or disappoint us. He will never harm or abandon us. He will never move on to something else or somewhere else. Will we have hearts to experience Him? If we never take Him into our lives or walk in His ways, we will never experience true joy, only temporary happiness connected to the things of the world. The advent of true joy is connected to the advent of the hope, faith, peace, and love He gives through His very presence. And this true joy is deep and abiding. It gives us the ability to look beyond the now, to have strength, to be confident in the hope we have in Him and the love He has for us.

In His presence, there is fulness of joy.* This is how joy comes.

~~~~~

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.

The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.

Psalm 98:1–4 (NKJV)

♫ Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing. ♫

~~~~~

*See Psalm 16:11.

Song lyrics taken from “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 20, 2020

The Advent of Joy

Joy.  It is a word I am seeing in quite a few places right now.  It is mentioned on Christmas shirts and socks, Christmas cards and photo frames, ornaments and wall hangings, figurines and mugs, wrapping paper and gift bags, among a host of other things.  But what is joy?  What is the meaning of the word featured on so much Christmas merchandise and other items all throughout the year?  Is there joy in all this “stuff”?  Is joy found in items?  No, joy is not found in materialism. It is not found in a holiday, or a season, or a fashion, or a pretty thing. It is not even found in people—as we all know, they can cause us pain.  Joy, true joy, comes from the source of all joy.  Joy is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the giver of joy. 

Joy is both a noun and a verb.  Joy can abide in our hearts, but we can also take action with it.  We can access it, share it, give it, receive it, and keep it.  It can influence our perspectives and be the foundation of our actions. Think about when a baby is born—smiles and laughter abound.  Babies are even called bundles of joy.  They are all packaged up in sweetness and wonder.  And we are changed by what we see before us.  Well, one night, the bundle of all bundles of joy was born.  Jesus made His advent into the world.  The Savior was here!  He fulfilled the joy of those who had long awaited His coming.  He filled hearts, and He inspired actions.  There was an advent of joy!

Can you imagine the joy that resounded across the hillsides when the angel announced Jesus’ birth and was then joined by the heavenly host praising and glorifying God and proclaiming peace and goodwill on earth?  Can you imagine the quick and excited steps of the shepherds as they went to see the good news for themselves?  Can you imagine the joy and excitement that inspired the magi to travel long and far to the place where the star marked the joy of the whole earth?  And then, this child grew into a man who continued to bring joy to those who were willing to receive it.  He gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute, hearing to the deaf, food to the hungry, attention to the outcast, healing to the sick, and life to the dead.  And then He gave forgiveness to the sinners so they could experience eternal life and eternal joy at His right hand.

Thinking on these things brings me great joy because I know this Savior.  He has come to live in my heart.  His Spirit fills me with an abundance of joy.  Even in the midst of deep sorrow, great pain, searing loss, and overwhelming troubles, joy remains.  How can this be?  It is possible because the joy I have does not come from the things of the world; the joy comes from Him and cannot be taken away or overcome.

So, even though it is raining on us now, and the day looks as dark as the night, His light is there, shining all around us.  Will we have eyes to see it?  He is the Light of the World.  Will we have eyes to see Him?  He is the joy of every longing heart.  He will never fail or disappoint us.  He will never harm or abandon us.  He will never move on to something else or somewhere else.  Will we have hearts to experience Him?  If we never take Him into our lives or walk in His ways, we will never experience true joy, only temporary happiness connected to the things of the world.  The advent of true joy is connected to the advent of the hope, faith, peace, and love He gives through His very presence.  And this true joy is deep and abiding.  It gives us the ability to look beyond the now, to have strength, to be confident in the hope we have in Him and the love He has for us. 

In His presence, there is fulness of joy.*  This is how joy comes.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.

The Lord has made known His salvation;
His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.

Psalm 98:1–4 (NKJV)

♫ Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her king; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven, and heaven and nature sing. ♫

***

*See Psalm 16:11. 

Song lyrics taken from “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 20, 2020

The Advent of Love

What is love? 

We would likely define this word by mentioning many aspects, perhaps things like having close bonds with others, giving and receiving affection, being connected in a family, experiencing loyalty and faithfulness, hearing or speaking words of affirmation, giving and receiving gifts, serving others, or being the recipients of acts of kindness.  Yet although we might have all these varied ideas in mind, there is a common thread—love is something demonstrated in deeds.  Love is action.

Since before time began, love was active and awaiting us, and then love came near.  Love took action.  But where did love come from, and why did it come near?

Love came near because God came near.  God is the source of love.  He is love.  He has given the very essence of Himself in an offering to us.  This offering is actually what we are focusing on right now during this season of advent—He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life, and He did this because He loved the world (see John 3:16).

Since before time began, God had a plan to gift us with His love.  And when the time was just right, the gift arrived: Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world to show us the love of God the Father.  Jesus was a representation of the love and an act of that love.  He gave up the position of honor He held as King of kings and humbled Himself to walk as a man.  He gave up the riches of the entire universe to be laid in a manger and give everything to us.  He gave up the comforts of having and doing anything He pleased, going anywhere He wanted at any time, to come to this earth and experience the life we experience, walking in obedience to God’s will and God’s timing.  This is the gift of love we celebrate at Christmas.

But the love did not stop there.  Jesus did not remain a baby in the manger.  He grew into a man who continued to act in love.  He travelled and spoke to thousands, sharing with them about the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life.  He healed and fed.  Taught and visited.  Comforted the grieving and raised the dead.  All this, He gave.  And He gave even more, things that we find difficult to give: He loved His enemies.  He prayed for those who despitefully used and persecuted Him.  He gave His time and energy and service to those who gave nothing back.  He loved the unlovely that others avoided and scorned.  He sacrificed His very life for us.  All so that we could know His love and know it forever.

This is how love comes.  God took action.  He has loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with loving kindness.  He has given us the gifts of His Son, His Word, His promises, His salvation, and His very presence.  Do we see it?  Do we recognize it?  Have we responded to it?  Have we given Him our hearts and our love in return? Has there been an advent of love from us?

You can receive His gift today and return the gift of your heart to Him. This is how love comes.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 12, 2020

The Advent of Peace—Reading #2

We need peace. Peace in our world. Peace in our homes. Peace in our own hearts. We long for peace. We yearn for peace.

When troubles mount, we can feel overwhelmed. Helpless. Hopeless. Sometimes, we want to bury our heads under the covers. Other times, we want to run away. But these actions are not what will solve the problems. These things are not what will fill us with lasting peace.  Lasting peace can only be found in the Prince of Peace, the One who is Everlasting: Jesus. His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace (see Isaiah 9:6).  Inviting Him into the situation is what will bring peace. Holding Him in our hearts will find Him holding us.1

He comes in the storm with power and authority.  Creator of all.  Ruler of all.  Sustainer of all.  With a word, He can cause the storm to cease. With a word, He can bring great calm. With a word, He can speak peace. In His presence, there is peace.  As the winds of life howl and the storms rage, He holds us–safely and securely in His almighty hands. As the winds drive the pounding rain, and our hearts pound in fear, He comes. Listen to the power of His words, “Peace. Be still” (Mark 4:39 KJV).

Over and encircling, through and beneath, His presence pervades; and there is peace.  This is our God. The God above all gods. Let us never be shaken.  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7 NKJV).

During this time of upheaval, I want to encourage you.  You can find hope. You can know peace.  Because…you are loved.  God has loved you with an everlasting love, and with lovingkindness He is drawing you to Himself.  Though the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, He is the Creator and Ruler of all.2 

Place your hand in the hand of the One who can hold you securely.  Place your heart in the hands of the One who gave His very life to save you.  Look up to where there is help.  Look up to where there is redemption.  Look up into the very face of God.3

This is how peace comes.

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1 Excerpt from blog post “In the Name of Peace,” Francee Strain, May 30, 2020

2Excerpt from blog post “He Comes in the Storm,” Francee Strain, May 3, 2020

3Excerpt from blog post “Peace to You,” Francee Strain, March 21, 2020

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 10, 2020


Several articles regarding peace and comfort can be found on my website. A few you might want to access are: “The Victorious Heart,” “Between Seasons,” and “Immanuel.”  You may access these from the search bar on the home page or by accessing the “articles” page from the site menu.  If you are in need of prayer, send me a comment through the contact page.

~Francee


Birthdays and Legacies

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(Written in 2019 and updated for 2020)

Today, my grandma would have been 89 years old. When I was thirteen and wrote my first poem while at her home, I received encouragement from her to keep writing. One day, she presented me with a blank journal and told me that someday she wanted a book completed and signed by me. I did not finish it before her death, nor was it ever submitted for publication, but when I did finish it, I signed it and dedicated it to her anyway.

Fifteen years passed while I did this and that in life. The only writing I did was for lesson plans and speaking engagements, but then God called me to write a book. Eighteen months later, it was published, dedicated to Him, and signed for many. Although my grandma never lived to see this day either, she walked with me through it, and I could imagine what she would say and do. You see, she had prayed over me every day, for each specific day and for future days. She loved me. She spoke words of life and encouragement into me. She left me with an example of following Jesus. Her legacy left a mark on me.

What you do and say now matters. The words you speak into the lives of loved ones and even strangers matter. The prayers you pray matter. The choice to follow in the footsteps of Jesus matters. Someday, somewhere down the road, someone is going to need what you can give today. They will have to dig deep and do something harder than they have ever done before, and your encouragement–inspired by the hand of God–will lift them when they are weary, help them keep their eyes on the goal, and help them hear truth amidst the lies and discouragement that will try to thwart them.

Make a difference today. Leave an eternal legacy. Let these dear ones emulate you as you emulate Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1).

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Original text and photos by Francee Strain, December 9, 2019. Updated December 9, 2020.
No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose by Francee Strain, published by WestBow Press, 2017.
Ornament inherited from my grandma.

The Advent of Peace

Do you have peace?  Do you want peace?  Do you believe peace is possible, especially in the day and age in which we live?  I fully believe it is possible.  I have experienced it for myself. 

Peace can come to us the moment we open our eyes and take in the light of day.  We can breathe in the peace of God because He has come to dwell with us.  Just over 2000 years ago, God sent His only son, Jesus, to be the Savior of the World.  And one of the names and characteristics Jesus has is that He is the Prince of Peace.  He rules it.  He is the source of it.  It is His to give. 

I have asked Jesus to be a part of my life, and His presence results in peace.  He calms storms of all kinds.  He removes the sting of death.  He does miracles.  He cleanses me from every sin.  He has restored my soul and made it acceptable in the sight of God.  I never have to worry about walking alone because He has said He will never leave me nor forsake me.  I don’t have to worry about what will happen when I die because He has already assured me that since I gave myself to Him, I can never be plucked from His hand.  I do not have to worry about decision making because He gives wisdom to those who ask for it.  I do not have to worry about my needs being met because He is the provider and sustainer.  I do not have to toss and turn at night but instead can sleep in peace because He is omnipotent and will care for those who are His own. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and not lean on our own understanding.  If we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He is going to direct our paths.  I could go on and on with example after example of the things I can know for certain and how this knowledge brings peace.  You can know these things, too.  It simply starts with you coming to the Savior of the World, the Prince of Peace, and giving your life to Him.

This is how peace comes.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 6, 2020