The Persevering Heart (Part 3 of 3 in “The Runner” Series)

“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.”  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 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!). 

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 come now at his workplace.  But he gets up every morning, and he pushes through.  While our hearts ache along with his, he continues to do the hard things, the right things.  We undergird his life with our persevering prayers and support him with hearts full of persevering love.  And we all persevere 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 my 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, and we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.*  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.

(Philippians 3:14 KJV)


*See Romans 8:11, 35, 37–39.

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. Our cup overflows, and so do our hearts!

©Francee Strain, 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

The following is excerpted 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.4

“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



Book cover photo WestBow Press, ©2017

Notes

1 Psalm 55:6–8 taken from the King James Version of The Holy Bible, public domain. © Photo Francee Strain, May 2020.

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

3 Ibid., 41.

4 Ibid., 48.

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

The Runner’s Heart (Part 1 of 3 in “The Runner Series”)

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 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 in apparently. 

Anyway…there is something else I remember which brings me to this particular article you are presently 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 want to just 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. (1Corinthians 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)


©Original text and photo Francee Strain, February 14, 2021

Scripture verses taken from the New King James Version, © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

The Victorious Heart

IMG_4425 (2)

(Repost)

Life is a struggle. A battle. An uphill climb.

They say it takes heart, but my heart is weary. It is overloaded with pain and the cares of the world. It strives. It aches. It weeps. I feel like I am losing the battle and losing heart.

What can turn this around? Is there anything that can be done?

YES!

  • I can offer my heart to the Healer of brokenness.
  • I can offer the heart of this warrior to the one who leads the host of heaven.
  • I can place this lost, wandering, confused, and lonely heart into the hands of the One who knows every trail and trial, every battlefield and tear.

Every step of my journey is already seen and known before I have even stepped. Every battle has Someone to come alongside me. Every hopeless moment is waiting to be filled with the God of all hope. And every desolate battle cry (that sounds more like a whisper) can find its voice in I AM–the One who spoke the world into existence.

No longer will my heart lie downtrodden and defeated. No longer will it fold inward in silence. It will rise up in the power of God’s Spirit, and I will press on. For it is not by my might or power, but by His Spirit. He will lead me to victory. I will see it. I will taste it. I will know it. My heart will know it–because my heart knows Him.

This is the heart of victory.

 

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, February 13, 2020.  Reposted February 7, 2021.

Author’s note: This article is one of three featured in a post entitled “The Heart.”   You may access the other two articles individually by searching the archives for “Hearts of Stone” and “Your Heart Can Rest.”

Living in the Shadows

Many people feel like they are living in the shadows.  Many feel unseen, overlooked, and forgotten.  At this time in history, many feel as though they are living under a shadow of foreboding.  They are shadowed by fear, depression, anxiety, and comparison.  Some feel trapped in their homes due to lockdowns, age, poor health, and poverty.  Deadlines loom over some.  Financial crises over others.  Decisions hover that seem incorrect no matter which ones are chosen.  The sun seems long gone.

But the thought that keeps coming to me this week is a remembrance of the shadow of God’s wings.  Several verses in the Bible talk about the wings of the Almighty.  They bear us up, and they cover us.  They lift us to heights we could never reach on our own, and they shelter us from the storms that rage around us.

God holds close His own.  His children are under His watchful and loving gaze at all times.  We are seen.  We are known.  We are not forgotten.

He always offers a refuge, a place of quiet rest near to His heart.1   Will we allow Him to gather us close?  Will we enter the refuge beneath the shadow of His wings? 


Within thy circling power I stand,

On every side I find thy hand;

Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,

I am surrounded still with God.2


How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 36:7 NKJV)

Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 17:8 NKJV)

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by. (Psalm 57:1 NKJV)

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”

He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

(Psalm 91: 1–2, 4 NKJV)


Notes

1 See the song “Near to the Heart of God” by Cleland Boyd McAfee

2 Words from “Psalm 139 Part 1,” a poem by Isaac Watts

Photo 1: a young Say’s phoebe waiting on its parent for a meal while sheltered in a ponderosa pine

Photo 2: Canada goose and goslings

©Original text and photos Francee Strain, January 30, 2021

Victory in the Valleys

So many people are walking through the valley, crawling through the valley, languishing in the valley, and sadly, there are some who are even dying in the valley.Have you taken the time to look around and see where it is you are and where you are heading? 

In these days of fear, confusion, and disillusionment, it may feel like there is no way to know what is ahead of us and how things are going to turn out.  While it is true that we cannot know what the exact details will look like, the end result is sure, and having this knowledge can give us rest, hope, joy, and peace.

How can we rest in all of life’s circumstances: the normal, the busy, and the difficult? We do it by realizing that the rest is not dependent on us—it is dependent on God. We do not have to succumb to the ba­ttle that is life. We can have true joy in Him even though the things around us bring no cause for happiness. We can also have true rest by having faith in Him and placing our trust in Him. He will allow us to endure and allow us to rest. Faith places our good times and bad times in His hands and invites Him to work in the midst of them. He can miraculously reverse our circumstances, but even if that is not His plan, He can miraculously reverse us—from a state of unrest to a state of rest, from the valley floor to the mountaintop. His Spirit will do the work if we invite Him to do the work.2

We should each take a moment to look at where we are right now and where we are heading. We can come to Him whether we are on the mountaintop or in the valley. We can come whether we have it all together or it is falling all apart. We can come whether we are experiencing great joy or deep sorrow. We can come whether we have traveling companions or are all alone. Whatever the circumstances, we can come to Him and rest during our journeys, and then continue on, with Him by our sides. Will it be worth it to respond favorably to God’s invitations? Yes! Most definitely, yes! We will not even need to exercise a trial period to find out if it will be worth it because we can know beforehand that it is going to be. He is trustworthy, and His love does not disappoint. This world and this current life are not all there is; there is more to come. There is eternity to come. We need an eternal focus, eyes that see past the reality of now. Jesus offers us an invitation to eternal life so that we may benefit in having a relationship with Him in heaven. There is no pressure or obligation to accept His invitation—all that He does is make the offer. The choice is completely up to us. He will come into our lives if we answer yes when He knocks (Rev. 3:20), and then His answer to us will be admi­ttance into heaven.3

Regardless of the states of our circumstances, it is here that we can seek out God’s joy, peace, and strength—even when we struggle, even when there is loss, even when we are overwhelmed. No ma­tter what happens and no ma­tter the trials and sorrows that we find ourselves involved in, our minds can be at ease and our hearts can be at rest. Even when we are rendered nearly helpless, we are never truly helpless, because we have the Helper. We can rest contentedly, knowing that we rest in His hands.4

We should not allow our difficulties to destroy us; instead, we should let them define us as people of strong faith. We need to wear the hope of God and allow its weight to affect our hearts so that we can be joyous in our life’s journeys despite their realities. We can break the bondage of suffering, and bear the love and hope of Jesus to those around us, even in our darkest days. We will be able to press on through life with strength and resolve when we are sensitive to His words and His leading and when we exhibit trust, patience, and a­ttentiveness. We will see amazing things when we look up from the loads, and we will be able to accomplish things that we never could on our own. And although we are under these loads, we can feel as if we are on top of them and that they are bearing us upward to God. He knows the times and the seasons, and we can know that He loves us through all of those times and seasons. Let’s bear hope in our hearts! May the loads not break us, may they instead yoke us to Jesus. May we not let our trials have the mastery over us, but instead let them be mastered by Jesus. May we allow Him to set us free.5

There are multiple cares we have, and there are multiple loads we carry, but we can bear these loads and rest in Him simultaneously. Our burdens do not have to overpower us, and they will not, if we take the time to be led by God in the midst of them. These are not platitudes but truths. I have seen proof in countless lives, including my own. We do not have to wait until we get to the end of the tunnels to see the light; we can see it now, even though it is dark all around us. We can see the light of God’s glory shining through the darkest of clouds and the darkest of nights, radiating brightly through the darkness of hopelessness and the darkness of despair. God gives strength beyond strength and peace beyond peace. He is there with us through His Spirit, and He is there with us in love. He does all things well and will be there with us every moment of every day. He is for us, and He has eternal purpose in each day. He is the fountain of life, and in His light we will see light (Ps. 36:9).6

And in these valleys, we will have victory.


Notes

©Original text and photo Francee Strain, January 24, 2021.

1 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 184.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 254.

4 Ibid., 199.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 181–182.

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