To Love with All My Heart

As I was jotting notes of what God was laying on my heart this week, I was reminded that we are to love one another. We cannot say we love God Whom we have not seen if we are unable to love people whom we have seen. Love is of God, and those who are born of Him love others. Our display to a watching world is to be one of love. And we are to love others from a pure heart, fervently.* But much can happen in the course of a week to cause our hearts to want to be unloving. We can be cut off in traffic, encounter a grouchy cashier, sit beside a coarse coworker, not be attended to by an attendant, be disrespected by a child, be neglected by a friend, be disregarded by a spouse, and be badmouthed by a neighbor, just to name a few encounters. Every realm of our relationships, both public and private, is an arena for negative interactions, an opportunity for unforgiveness to begin. The level of severity in the circumstance frequently impacts how quickly our negative response arises, but an accumulation of offenses can finally bring us to a breaking point, too.

Two years ago, I shared about circumstances such as these. I am reposting the article today because it is just as applicable now as it was then, and God’s Word never changes. We are called to be like Jesus—and He gave His all in love, even for those who gave Him nothing but trouble, heartache, discouragement, disrespect, unkindness, rejection, and death. He is our example, and He is our strength to do the impossible. He can help us to love and to do it with all our hearts.


With All My Heart

I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.
1

Recently, someone deeply wounded me emotionally. I then got to the point where I cycled through a host of negative emotions that seemed to keep coming around to anger. The offense ate at me for days. My brain was imagining the next conversation I would have with this person and what I would say. I was going to give this person a piece of my mind. But then, God stepped in and reminded me I was not behaving appropriately. Vengeance is His, not mine. He sees every tear I cry. He knows my pain. He endured the deepest pain of all—separation from His Son because of the sin of humankind being placed upon Him at the cross—and yet He loved with all His heart. So, I agreed with God and changed my thoughts. But then later on in the course of the day, my anger and hurt resurfaced. I battled back and forth, day after day, not being able to release the hurt. I was losing peace, productivity, and even sleep. And then one day, I cried out with all my heart and said, “God, what do I do about this? Please, help me.” God subsequently spoke to my heart and said, “Love this person well.” I agreed. I needed to love this person well. I needed to do what God wanted me to do. I needed to do the right thing regardless of what the other person had done. So, I began to think and speak different thoughts. “I will love you. I forgive you.” But I had to go a step further, I had to move this from a matter of the mind and tongue to a matter of the heart. I had to allow God to help me love this person with all my heart.

And then came the face-to-face meeting with this person, our first encounter since the painful situation had unfolded. I held my tongue and showed love and kindness. Victory! God had brought healing to my heart! And because my heart was right with God, healing entered this particular relationship, whereas the opening of my mouth with my previous thought pattern would have utterly destroyed it.

I am trying to live as God would have me to live. He is love, and He offers forgiveness. I have asked Him to teach me His ways and unite my heart to reverence Him.2 When I go off and start living for myself, caught up in my ways and my sins, my heart is divided. And, I cannot serve two masters. I am either serving God, or I am serving myself. Thus, when I recently allowed these negative thoughts and emotions to take over my life, I was not following God; I was following myself. I was not exhibiting love, and I was not exhibiting forgiveness. I was not loving God with my whole heart; yet, this is something I always need to be doing. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, this was His response: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”Jesus also spoke about forgiving others, and at one point He answered a question to say that it should be done 490 times—for the same person!4

So, onward and forward I go, seeking to love God with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind. And when I am wholeheartedly doing this, I will be able to love my neighbor as myself. 


For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.

Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer;
And attend to the voice of my supplications.

In the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.

Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.

All nations whom You have made
Shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And shall glorify Your name.

For You are great, and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.

Teach me Your way, O LORD;
I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.

I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forevermore.5


NOTES

* These reminders can be found in John 13:35, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 4:7–16, 20–21.

1 Psalm 86:12

2 See Psalm 86:11.

3 Taken from Matthew 22:37–40.

4 See Matthew 18:22.

Psalm 86:5–12

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

©Text and photo Francee Strain, February 4, 2023. “With All My Heart” article originally posted April 18, 2021.

Eyes Looking Forward

What are you looking forward to in life? A celebration? A promotion? A reunion? Rest?

I am looking forward to all of the above. I have set my gaze forward, and I await the day when I will be promoted from this earthly life to my heavenly one, my labors finished, celebrating my reunion with the Savior of my soul for all eternity. 

Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples that He would see them again and their hearts would rejoice.1 He also told them He was going to prepare a place for those who would believe in Him and that someday He would return to take them there to be with Him.2 But what would they do while they awaited His return? What will we do? I am looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith.3

With the eyes of faith, I have seen Him for the first time, and when He returns, I will see Him again, face to face, and my heart will rejoice. Until that day, my eyes need to continue looking forward to the eternal, undistracted from the cares of this world and the sin which so easily besets me. He has given me an eternal purpose, and for this reason, I press on toward the goal.

Will you join me in looking forward?

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

“This call has gone out directly to you. It does not involve living vicariously through someone else; it involves you living directly. The rewards of answering this invitation are beyond anything you could ever imagine. God is offering you a most amazing prize: the gift of eternal life. This gift was given in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 NKJV).”4

If we come forward to receive this gift, we can look forward to eternal life.5

Faith in His salvation will be our salvation. Jesus conquered the power of sin and death to save our souls, and if we accept His gift of eternal life, the things of this temporal life grow dim. Eyes that look beyond the now to the eternal purposes of God find life, and hope, and peace.6

“Eyes that look forward see life is not just about waking up, eating three meals a day, going to work for a shift, and filling the evenings with family and recreation. These eyes don’t focus on the mundane or the chaotic. They don’t look inside themselves for answers. They don’t focus on the pain, the past, the addiction, the fear, the comparison, the discontent, the regret. They look forward. They look to God. He created us for a purpose. He gave His Son to save us. He has a plan for our lives and a desire to commune with us. He will do amazing things in us and through us, if we look to Him. He will watch over and care for His own. His eyes and heart will be with them. And beyond the now, those who have placed their faith in Jesus will see more than what their hearts know; they will see Him, face to face. We have this to look forward to.”7


NOTES

See John 16:22.

See John 14:1–6.

See Hebrews 12:1–2.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 4. Scripture quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

5 Paragraphs one through eight are taken from my blog article “Looking Forward,” August 1, 2021, https://wordpress.com/posts/franceestrain.com?s=looking+forward.

6 Adapted from Francee Strain, “Eyes Forward,” June 13, 2021, https://wordpress.com/posts/franceestrain.com?s=eyes+forward.

7 Francee Strain, “Eyes Forward,” June 13, 2021, https://wordpress.com/posts/franceestrain.com?s=eyes+forward.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, January 21, 2023.

A Joyous New Year

A joyous new year to you!

Do those words make you joyous, or do they make you bristle? Is your year off to a great start or a terrible one?

Honestly, mine has been a bit rough. And I know I am not the only one. Some friends and family are going through many difficulties as well. 

My mind could easily run off on a tangent thinking of all the stressors and pains because there are plenty of them to think about: poor health, financial obligations, bad weather, broken relationships, missed appointments, housing issues, heavy disappointments, and dismal failures, just to name a few. But instead of letting my thoughts run roughshod over my brain, I have decided to rein in my thoughts and let Jesus reign in them.

When the tears course down my cheeks, I remember He is with me in the course of this life. 

When my heart and body ache and break, I remember He is the Great Physician and the Great Healer. He will strengthen me and help me.

When the anxiety and fears rise up to overtake me, I remember that my Savior has conquered the grave, and His power lives in me.

The knowledge and understanding of Him brings knowledge and understanding to my world. Pain and problems are no match for the One who holds the universe in His hands. He has defeated hell and death and the enemy of my soul.

When the wind-tossed waves of life threaten to pull me under, He will carry me through the floodwaters, and they will not overwhelm me.

When the storms pound relentlessly at my door, He will speak peace into my heart because I have allowed Him to enter there.

When my problems are perplexing and paralyzing, I can hold on to His faithful hand, and He will guide me through.

I can rejoice, and I can do it always, because the Source of all joy dwells within me; and He will be with me as I traverse every day of the new year, even if it is the most painful day I have ever faced. His presence will go with me, and He Himself will be my joy in the new year.

(The following is from an article I wrote in January 2022)


Joy to the World

Just over 2,000 years ago, the angels brought good news of great joy which was for all people. The Savior of the world had been born!

Jesus, the bundle of joy, was born to bring us a bundle of joy: joy resulting from us having a savior, from having a way to have our sins forgiven, from being gifted eternal life, from having the help of His Spirit, from having the constancy of His presence, from having the provision of our needs.

Jesus brought joy as He grew up. He was bringing love, help, hope, and healing to an untold number of people.

Jesus then brought joy in His resurrection from the dead, offering eternal life to all who would receive it. 

Jesus brings joy now to all who give their hearts to Him.  He walks with them and talks with them and tells them they are His own.

And Jesus will bring joy again when He returns to the earth to gather His own. In His presence there will be fullness of joy, and at His right hand there will be pleasures forevermore.1

Joy to the world!  Jesus came for us and He is coming again!


[W]hom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. 2

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


NOTES

1 See Psalm 16:11.

2 1 Peter 1:8–9

3 John 3:16

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

© Text and photo Francee Strain, January 15, 2023.

The Difference a Day Makes

What difference does a day make? Is it important in the grand scheme of things? Of course, it is. We all know that things can turn from bad to good in the course of a day, or from good to bad. We can find ourselves with more. We can find ourselves with less. We can gain it all or lose it all. We can be on top of the world or at our lowest point. A day can be an utter tragedy or a total victory.

A day can be something we want to remember forever, or something we want to forget forever. We can experience our greatest pride or our deepest shame, our highest joy or our deepest sorrow. We can have it all together, or we can have zero control. A day can be full of extremes and polar opposites, or it can be completely mundane. But each day is important. Each moment of each day is important because every decision we make determines who we are and the course of the rest of the day. We have choices to make about our time: whether we will squander it, save it, spend it, share it, savor it, or separate ourselves from it.

We talk about doing things tomorrow: I will start my diet tomorrow. I will talk to my child in a better way tomorrow. I will start that project tomorrow. I will begin my new year’s resolutions in the new year. But there is no need to wait until tomorrow to change. The change can begin now. Even if we are at the mercy of the clock or the calendar, change can begin in our minds, our attitudes, our hearts.

In a moment, life can change. Can we resolve to use our moments rather than waste them? We can take this moment to change, to become more like Christ—to grow, love, serve, and change the world for Him. What we do today can truly make a difference. This difference can make the day.

So, if we have failed and things look hopeless, we need to remember God’s mercies are new every morning.1 We don’t have to wait until tomorrow to get those mercies because He gave us new ones today. Today, we can show integrity, love, compassion, forgiveness, and repentance. We can do the right thing. We can turn away from the wrong. And tomorrow can find us in a new place, if not physically, then spiritually. We can grow. And the shape we become will be because of the choices we made today, at this moment.

Sometimes we mark the day as significant such as when there is a holiday or special occasion. Other times, the day is viewed as ordinary and just a typical passage of time—an old day ends and a new one begins. And now here we are changing from 2022 to 2023 and marking it as significant, but every day after January 1st can be just as significant. We can choose the brightest tomorrow by choosing the Savior today. Our souls can be saved, and our lives can be changed forever. We can turn our faces fully to Christ rather than living with our backs to Him. We can leave behind the old and step into the new. Our days can be different, if we will fill them with Him. We can give Him our grief and pain and take on His strength and power. We can walk the road He has intended for us rather than go our own way. We can say “This is the day the Lord has made” and ask ourselves what we will make of it.2 What will we do with what He gives us? Will we make the day about Him or about ourselves? Will we enter His presence, enjoy His blessings, and bask in His love? Will we shine for Him and show His glory?

This is the difference a day makes. How will our day make a difference?


“For ‘whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”3

***

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”4


NOTES

1 See Lamentations 3:22–23.

2 See Psalm 118:24a.

3 Romans 10:13

4 Philippians 3:13–14

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

©Text and photo Francee Strain, January 1, 2023.

IMMANUEL, EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR

(This is a revised version of a 2019 article)

Here we are in December, counting down the days until Christmas when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. What a wonderful celebration it will be! But there is much more to it than that—Jesus is for 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑑𝑎𝑦 of the year, not just December 25th. He is for the good days and bad, the joys and sorrows, the mountaintops and valleys. No matter the circumstances, there is cause to celebrate, if we are celebrating Him. He is Immanuel, every day of the year.

And He will be called Immanuel, which means God with us.1

“Immanuel. God with us. This is one of His names, one of His amazing characteristics, and one of His precious promises. He has said that He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). When our hearts are heavy and our spirits are wounded, Immanuel. When our minds swirl and whirl in chaos and questions, Immanuel. When nothing makes sense and all hope seems lost, Immanuel. Storms rage. Dreams die. Immanuel. People leave. People die. Immanuel. Homes are lost. Possessions ravaged. Immanuel. Days are long. Nights are longer. Immanuel. Pits are deep. Scars are deeper. Immanuel. No one even understands our pain and the depths of it. Immanuel. In this name, there is hope and there is rest. Immanuel. Comfort can be found in knowing that we are not alone in what we are facing. We can rest, assured of His promise to always be with us. And because God always keeps His promises, we can cling to this name for all we are worth. Immanuel. When we are lost, we can find Him: Immanuel.”2


NOTES

1 See Matthew 1:23.

2 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 65-66.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 23, 2022.  This is a revised version of an article posted December 14, 2019. 

Gifts of the Season

Some seasons in life are really difficult. Our hearts get broken, and the days drag on and on, making the season seem endless and sometimes even hopeless. And during the holidays, this brokenness seems compounded. But if we open the eyes of our hearts, we will find we are surrounded by gifts.

God is a gift-giver in every season of life. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him.1 But will we be receivers of these gifts?

There are some gifts which have been given for each and every one of us, and some are gifted specifically and individually.

Available for all of us to receive are the gifts of His salvation, eternal life, grace, and love. And once we receive these gifts from Him, we will also know hope, comfort, and peace.2

There are gifts in the world around us: natural beauty, love and kindness from others, joy, laughter, music, art, words, our senses, and His provision.

There are gifts He has instilled within us, meant to be poured out for others. He created us and prepared us in advance for good works.3 These works are not to be left undone, with our gifts hidden away, hoarded, neglected, and uncultivated. No, they are meant to be stirred up and administered—things like mercy, compassion, kindness, and love.

The unique giftedness of each of us is to reflect His light and love to others. We are to shine as only we can—not for ourselves so that we will get the glory but for Him and so that He will.4

So, if in these seasons of difficulty, heartache, suffering, and grief we are wrapped up in ourselves and the pain of our circumstances, then God’s gifts are not being unwrapped for ourselves or presented for a waiting world to receive. As difficult as it is, we should not hide our light or stop living our purpose in the midst of our painful circumstances. We can hold on to the words of Hebrews 6:19 which tell us that hope is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” In the midst of these difficult times, we will find He is hope, balm, healing, and the God of all comfort. We have the privilege of entering His presence to find His help in our time of need.5 Consider the joy of His presence and the wonder that He would commune with us! And He has promised to never leave nor forsake His own.6 

May the gift of the Savior whom we celebrate this Christmas season be part of every season of our lives. May His light shine through us even in our darkest of nights. May our lives be a gift to Him and to the world on His behalf. Yes, may we show the world the greatest gift we have ever been given: Immanuel, God with us.


 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

2 Corinthians 9:15


NOTES

1 See James 1:17.

2 See John 3:16, John 14:27, Romans 10:13, 2 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 2:8, and 1 Peter 1:3.

3 See Ephesians 2:10.

4 See Matthew 5:16.

5 See Hebrews 4:16.

6 See Hebrews 13:5.

Hebrews 6:19 and 2 Corinthians 9:15 are taken from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 11, 2022

Gratitude vs. Grumblitude, 2022 edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to grace and gratitude.


NOTES

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

Take Heart (revised)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Take heart. His love will speak to your heart. 

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

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

His heart is for you. Take heart.


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


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

Remember, you are never alone. Take heart.


NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

All the Days Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

1 Psalm 23:1–6

2 Psalm 37:23

3 James 1:17

4 Psalm 118:28–29

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

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

The Persevering Heart

(Part 3 of 3 in “The Runner” series)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


NOTES

1 See Romans 8:11, 35, 37–39.

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

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

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

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