“To Look Upon Beauty”

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They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I would say that beauty is in the eye of the Creator.

God has an eye for beauty, and He knows how to put it on display! His works within the beauty of the natural world are astounding. Who could even begin to imagine such majesty but Him?

Who could fathom the depths of the sea and the height of the heavens? The force of a gale and the gentleness of a baby’s breath? The speed of sound and the slow calculated movements of a sleepy sloth? The bright flash of summer lightning and the cool vastness of moonless winter nights? Beauty. Look upon it.

Has He ever stolen your breath? Has your heart leapt in your chest at the beauty that lay before you? At the magnitude of the size, shape, color, and texture? At the sound that soothes your soul? At the smell that makes you sigh in contentment? Oh, what an amazing God! And to think, we have barely even seen or experienced a portion of all that He has made.

What words come to your mind…stunning, amazing, incredible, miraculous? Do words escape you? They escape me.

Yes, not only has He stolen my breath, He has stolen my vocabulary!

But there is one thing He has not stolen…my heart. I most gladly, freely, and eternally give it to Him. And because of this, one day I will get to look upon ultimate beauty: God Himself.

Francee Strain, revised October 16, 2018

“Overwhelmed”

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?  Too much to do? Too many places to go?  Too many people to see?  Too much laundry?  Too many dishes?  Too many pieces of paperwork to read?  Too much pain–inside and out?

Whew.  Sometimes life is just too much.  Overwhelmed is a state of being, and it is a state of emotion.  We can take the circumstances that surround us and internalize them. The “stuff” of life becomes the emotion of life.  And sometimes it is just too much.

Overwhelmed sums up my status.  It is my circumstances.  It is my emotions.  It is my reality.  But why?  What made it so?

Does it have to be this way?  Does it have to stay this way?

My answer is an overwhelming NO!!!

My being overwhelmed can be overwhelmed by God!  His greatness and His power, His majesty and His authority,  His presence and His involvement can change all that I am and all that I am in the midst of.

Have you ever been overwhelmed by God?  By His goodness, His love, His mercy?

You have…you just may not have known it.

Did you wake up this morning?  Did you see and hear and feel and taste?  Did you see the beauty of His creation all around you?  Did you lay your head on a pillow last night and sleep beneath a blanket of stars?  You have been overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

Did you awaken this morning with an opportunity to know God? To know He loves you?  To know that you have the capability to be forgiven for every wrong thing you have ever done?  You have been overwhelmed by His goodness, AND His love, AND His mercy.

God has been good to us in body and in soul.  Do our minds understand this?

What an overwhelming thought: to think that the God of the universe loves us, wants to be with us, and cares about every detail of our lives.

Overwhelmed.  A state of being and a state of emotion.

My heart is overwhelmed with awe and gratitude.

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

Psalm 107:1(NKJV)

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Revised version, September 29, 2018 by Francee Strain

Unwrap Life

    Book Excerpt

CHAPTER 4 Elemental Invitations

Jesus had been preaching in another town when word arrived that His good friend Lazarus was ill. Jesus did not immediately depart for the city of Bethany in order to heal Lazarus; instead, He remained where He was for two more days, finishing up what He was there to do. When it was in God’s timing, and after the work had been completed in the place where Jesus was, He then traveled to see Lazarus.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, He was greeted with criticism and the accusation that He was arriving too late because Lazarus had already been dead for four days! Count them—four. Four days of being dead. Four days that passed while Jesus worked and traveled somewhere else. But Jesus did not allow this unwelcoming reception to stop Him from delivering His invitation to Lazarus. He went to the tomb where Lazarus was buried, told people to move the stone away from the mouth of the tomb, and then proceeded with His commanding voice to issue an invitation for Lazarus to live again. Jesus cried out, “Lazarus, come forth” (v. 43), and Lazarus came out of the tomb. Here we get a really good look at what Lazarus was doing in life. He was dead in a tomb, sealed behind a stone, and bound in graveclothes. But extraordinary things happened when Jesus showed up on the scene. First of all, an invitation was given to a dead person. Second, God’s resurrection power was seen. Third, a dead man got back to living his life. If this does not prompt us to come when God calls, I do not know what will!

God extends the same invitation to us that He extended to Lazarus. God is calling us to come out from death unto life—from spiritual death unto spiritual life. This is eternal life: to know Jesus Christ (John 17:3). No matter what stones are trapping us in life, no matter what we are wrapped up in and tied up in, no matter what stench we are covered with, no matter what cold darkness we are surrounded by, no matter how alone and laid out flat we are, no matter what others say about us, no matter how hopeless things look—even if it appears that our best days are behind us—He wants to free us from spiritual bondage and restore us to life and relationships. He wants us to be healthy and vibrant again, breathing and glowing, being and doing, loving and being loved. He wants us to live! He has placed the breath of physical life into us, but He also calls us to live with the breath of the Holy Spirit.

But does it ever seem to us, instead, like God is far away—in some other city or some other universe? Does it seem that He is ignoring both our pleas and the pleas of those who are telling Him we need help? Are we surrounded by people who are lamenting our situations?

Does it seem like God is taking His time in getting to where we are and responding to our needs? Has it been more than four days—a lot more? Are we wondering whether He will ever come? Do we fear that He is too busy taking care of other things in other places to have any time for us? Do we think it is already too late and that the situation has passed beyond His power to help? Have we resigned ourselves to permanently live in our current states? Have we given up the fight? Have we stopped asking for help? Have we almost ceased to breathe? I have news for us—good news. We can change, although our circumstances remain the same. We can have a full and joyfully abundant life now—despite the pain—because Jesus came to give us that abundant life. It seems improbable, impractical, and impossible, yet it is true. But we have to make the choice to come out of the tomb and get out of those graveclothes. We have to come forth from the unpleasantness. We have to respond to His call to leave behind the things He wants us to leave behind, and live.

God is at work in the lives and circumstances of His children even when we do not see it, even when the darkness of the tomb envelops us. Even when we do not see His handiwork or feel His presence, He is there. Nothing is too difficult for Him. Nothing is impossible for Him. He can breathe new life into us and into our circumstances. We need to take some time to look around and see what God is doing in our areas of difficulty. Psalm 66:9 tells us that God holds our souls in life and does not suffer our feet to be moved. We do not have to be removed from the circumstances in order to endure or have hope; He will be our anchor right where we are. We are told to cast all of our cares upon Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He hears, He sees, and His divine purposes are continuing to be worked even as these circumstances swirl and linger around us. Psalm 69:15–18 says, “Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O LORD; for thy loving-kindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies. And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily. Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies.” God will give us the strength to live and also endure whatever we encounter while we do. Nothing is dead when God gives it life.

There is freedom when we are unbound from the graveclothes.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 29-32.

The Ups and Downs of Life

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Life has ups and downs like a roller coaster.  We experience highs and lows.  Emotions can ramp up and wind down.  Weight can fluctuate like a yo-yo.  Blood pressure can rise and fall.  We can feel on top of the world at times and at other times be laid out flat on the valley floor.  Yes, it’s true, there are definitely some ups and downs in life.  But a life with God can hold steadily and peacefully in the middle, simultaneously incorporating the ups and downs.

What do I mean?  Here, let me show you.

 

Up

Look up, God is enthroned in the heavens.  He has all the power.

He is a sun and a shield.  He gives light and covering. He will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly.

We can rest under the shadow of the Almighty.  He is over all.  The sun will not smite us by day, nor the moon by night.  He is our protector.

We can come under the cover of His wings.  He will shelter us near to His heart.

Look up at the birds of the air.  He feeds and cares for them, and He will do the same for us.  There is no need for worry.

Lift up your eyes unto the hills from whence comes your help.  Your help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

If we hope in God, we can mount up with wings like eagles, run and not grow weary, walk and not faint.  He is our strength and power.

Prayers rise up to Him into His holy temple and come into His ears.

Can you number the stars above you in the heavens?  He created them and knows each one by name.  And He knows your name.

Jesus was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to Himself.  He loved you so much He died for you.

He gathers up His lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.

 

Down

Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus.  Recognize His majesty and authority.

He descended into the lower parts of the earth and was raised to life again.  He laid down His physical life so He could raise us up to spiritual life.

Our sins are buried in the depths of the sea.

He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, and we are worth more than many sparrows.

Why are you downcast, o, my soul?  Put your trust in God.

I will lay me down and sleep, for He alone makes me to dwell in safety.

 

This, then, is what I say to you: when life gets you down, you need only look up!  Look up and live.  And walk steadily on, filled with the peace that passes all understanding.  Know deep down in your soul that you are wrapped up in the love that will never let you go.

“I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”  (Psalm 16:8 NKJV)

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[Scripture references: 2 Samuel 22:7, 33; Psalm 4:8, 17:8, 36:7, 42:11, 84:11, 91:1, 121:1, 121:6, 147:4; Isaiah 40:11, 31; Micah 7:19; Matthew 6:26-27, 10:31; John 3:16, 12:32; Romans 8:11; Ephesians 4:9; Philippians 2:10, 4:7; Hebrews 13:5; Revelation 4:2]

 

Copyright of text and photos Francee Strain, August 20, 2018

 

“I Forgot”

I forgot. There are seasons in life when we hear these words uttered frequently. Childhood chores, anyone? Isn’t it funny how they are conveniently forgotten.

There are circumstances in life when we hear these words time and again. Dementia and some other chronic conditions cause memory loss.

It is always those people who forget and inconvenience us in the process, until it’s not. Yes, there are days in life when the words “I forgot” are uttered by the rest of us, even the perfectionists.

We do not tend to think of the phrase “I forgot” as a good thing, unless it benefits us somehow—like when we want people to forget our offenses against them, our mistakes, our failures, or that time we fell off the stage during the performance…or tripped up the steps before the performance even began.

There are times when this phrase, used in this way, is spoken through God’s actions: when He buries our sins in the deepest sea and remembers them no more, when He gives us mercies that are new every morning, when He gives us what we do not deserve. Yes, He continues to forget the things that could most definitely be held against us, even the infraction of forgetting Him.  When we are exercising spiritual amnesia, He continues to offer us grace.

There are other times that He does not forget. He does not follow the slogan of “set it and forget it.” He is constantly aware of what is happening in our world, down to the minutest detail. Even though a nursing mother may forget her child, we are told that He will not forget His people.* He is involved in the affairs of this life, and what is more, He cares about them. He never forgets to remember you. He loves you, whether you ever remember it or not.

I forgot the appointment, meeting, birthday, medication dosing time, that person’s name I met five seconds ago, and where I put my glasses and keys. I forgot to take meat out of the freezer, to reply to that email, and to RSVP to the invitation. In the state of my frazzled and harried brain, my jam-packed calendar, and my endless to-do lists, let it never be said that I forgot God. In spite of old age, busy schedules, too many irons in the fire, distractions galore, a preoccupation with worry, sleep-deprivation, my needs and wants, and simply being human, may I never forget the eternal, all-powerful, ever-present God. He is the reason I exist. In Him I can live and move and have my very being. He loves me and has a purpose for my life. May I never forget. May I always remember that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.**

 

* “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15 NKJV)

** See John 3:16

©Francee Strain, July 8, 2018

No Ordinary Invitation

Chapter 1  No Ordinary Invitation

 

THE HOST IS CALLING YOUR NAME

“I hope that you will search out what it is that He has invited you to
do. May you be inspired by these things, but more than just be inspired,
may you act upon the invitations and be blessed.  May you RSVP with a yes to God’s invitations to you.”

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 7.

“The Heart of Wholeness”

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My heart can be whole even when it is broken.

There is a supernatural thread to hold it together. An unbreakable thread to bind it.

Anything that tries to get through to me has to get through Him first.

 

When life tries to break me, I remain whole.

Whole is healthy, not unhurt.

Whole is strong, not untrembling.

Whole is real, not the absence of reality.

The impossibility becomes possible.

 

God knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thus, even when I am stretched to the breaking point, I won’t break. He is the Master weaver.

The things that try to chain me, break me, burn me, trample me, shake me, prevent me, and destroy me are nothing compared to the skill with which He has formed me.

Even the well-intentioned, uninformed, uninterested, self-serving, bitter, mean, and evil people that surround me most closely and directly cannot cut the ties that bind my heart to His.

He is the Master of my destiny, of my heart, of my very soul.

 

Even when I fall down flat, I can lean on Him.

Even when I am at the bottom, I can rise to the top.

Even when I am heavy with pain, my burden can be lightened.

 

In danger, I am sheltered.

In damage, I am restored.

In dire consequences, I am relieved.

In my sin-sick state, I am redeemed.

Even when things do not or cannot change, I can.

The heart of wholeness comes in giving Him my whole heart, even when it is not whole.

 

Though this it is, through this it is.

True it is.

He is.

And I am truly His.

This is the heart of wholeness.

 

 

Francee Strain, June 1, 2018

“Waiting for the Words”

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Have you heard of writer’s block? I have. I have lived it! It is a waiting for words.

Yes, when we have writer’s block, we are waiting for the words to come. We try, and we try. We think. We chew on our pencils. We gaze out the window. We refill the coffee cup, again. And still…nothing.

Sometimes we live life like that, too. We are blocked—waiting and waiting for the words to come.

When we get a new haircut, we are waiting for the compliments to flow. Instead, we hear this: “Oh, did you get a haircut?”

When we look ravishing in our new outfit, we do not hear that we look so. Instead, we are asked if we got new clothes and what the outfit cost. And then what is even more consternating is when we wear a ten-year-old outfit from the back of the closet and people rave over it and give us a plethora of compliments.

When we give of our time and effort, especially when there is sacrifice involved, we wait to hear someone say “thank you.” Instead, we find there is no acknowledgement, or worse, there is criticism.

Puzzling? Yes. Why won’t the words for which I am waiting come?

A cause for impatience? Yes. When are the words going to come? I am waiting for the words.

I want to hear that you are proud of me, or that I did a good job, or that I “rock.” Instead, I hear deafening silence.

I want to hear you tell me that you love me, that I mean more to you than anything, and that you can’t live your life without me. Instead, I hear the newscasters’ voices filling the room.

I want to hear “How’d your day go?”, but you never even ask. I wonder if you know that I even had a day that went.

When I know I have done something amazing and skillful, I do not hear the words that proclaim you would like to be able to do that or be able to be like me.

There is no effort to know me, to love me unconditionally, to forgive me, to encourage me. I am waiting for the words. But the words do not come.

No. These words do not come.

I am still waiting for the words.

And then, the words come—from God’s lips to my ears, from God’s heart to mine. “Peace, be still. I know you. You are loved unconditionally. You are forgiven. I think you are beautiful. You did a fabulous job. You are so artistic, creative, and talented, just like I made you to be.”

You see, I had been waiting for words to come that I thought would bring life to me, but instead, I found THE WORD (Jesus), who brings life itself. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1 KJV)

Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63 NKJV)

He tells me to listen to His voice, to know it, to come forth to receive all He has for me.

My whole thought process has changed. My perspective has changed. My purpose has changed. I am not here to receive the applause of men, I am here to know and serve the living God. It is His voice I need to have in my ear, His impressions that need to be made upon my heart and mind.

What peace floods my soul now. My satisfaction is in Him.

But you know, I have to be honest—there are still some words I am waiting to hear, words of His. I am waiting for the words: “Well done.” So, while I wait for those words to come—when my days upon this earth have ended and my days in His eternal presence have begun—I am going to move the blocks out of the way as I write the story of my life. I am going to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares me and run the race with patience, looking unto the author and finisher of my faith. I am waiting on THE WORD.

Francee Strain, ©May 18, 2018

“Moment by Moment”

Life is made up of moments, a whole compilation of them—moment after moment after moment. And suddenly, they have made a lifetime, and a life has been made, whether it is long or short. A personality has been formed, a character developed, a reputation established.

Although each moment is different, something happens within each one that is the same: life happens, and choices are made. Will we choose to love, forgive, serve, and heal; or will we choose to hate, grow embittered, act selfishly, and wound? Will we choose self, or will we choose God? Will we live each moment in the flesh, or will we live in the Spirit? Will we walk independently, or will we cling to His hand? This is the time to decide, in this moment—once it passes, it cannot be changed; and we do not know how many moments will comprise our lifetimes.

Moments are gone in an instant, and so, too, can be our testimonies, reputations, credibility, and opportunities. Life itself can be gone in a moment, before we have a chance to change, improve, or make amends. Don’t wait another moment. Turn your moments into a beautiful legacy.

Choose this moment for Jesus.

Choose this moment for love.

Choose this moment for life.

This is your moment.

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Francee Strain, April 23, 2018

“So We May Know”

“The greatest evidence of God’s desire for us to know Him and be in relationship with Him was the sending of His Son.” *

Jesus came so we may know life: life eternal and life abundant.

He came so that we may know forgiveness: absolute and complete, with sins buried in the depths of the sea, spread as far as the east is from the west, and remembered no more.

He came so that we may know God firsthand: He is the mediator between us, through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection.

We have an opportunity to know the extraordinary–the true and living God–but we have to take action.  We need to walk forward in faith and accept the opportunity to know Him firsthand.  We receive His forgiveness and receive eternal life by confessing our sins and accepting Jesus’s atonement for them through His death on the cross.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV).

This is a season of resurrection.  Will you allow Him to resurrect your soul and give you a new and living hope?  Will you come to know Him?

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3 NKJV).

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I know whom I have believed.

                      ~ Francee

 

Francee Strain, March 27, 2018

*Quotation taken from Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 72.