Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

IMG_0800

Reading, writing, and arithmetic. In the summer?! Yes, the summer. In the midst of all your busyness, your coming and going, your vacations, camping, and barbecues, remember God.

Remember to spend some time reading His Word.

Remember to spend some time formulating words of praise.

Remember to spend some time counting your blessings and the many ways He shows His love to you.

Commit these things to memory. Don’t forget God like your algebra facts, because the fact is: He loves you and wants to spend some time with you.

“How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!
If  I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand.”
(Psalm 139:17-18a NKJV)

Have a joyous summer!

 

Text and photo ©Francee Strain, June 28, 2019

Beyond the Now

IMG_6650 (2)Eyes on the goal. Eyes on the prize. What you do today impacts your future, and that of others.

There is more to this life and more beyond this life. We must plan and be intentional. We must count the cost when we are laying the foundation. We need to be rooted and built up in Jesus and let Him become our life.

We need to move in God’s direction—staying on course, getting directions from His Word, and letting Him be our motivation. And we need to come back after we fail.

We need diligence, perseverance, and endurance. Just like the slogan for graduates that says “The tassel was worth the hassle,” this hard journey pays off. You are impacted by the path you choose, and you impact others by the path you choose. Choose wisely. Do not give up. Do not quit. Keep pushing. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Be encouraged by those cheering you on, and in quiet stretches, remember those whose voices you cannot physically hear. I think of my grandma; you can think of me; we can both think of the cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1) …and remember that God is on our side.

We need to saddle up, buckle up, buckle down, hunker down, and batten down. We need to keep calm and carry on. We are not to worry or be anxious. We need to trust in where our help comes from (It comes from the Lord—the Maker of heaven and earth!). We need to look up, but also ponder the path of our feet. We need to hydrate with the Living Water and keep moving, all the while being still and knowing He is God. We need to shake off the pain and take on the peace. There can be joy in this journey. We will never be alone; He is there beside us—hearing us when we call and drawing near to us as we draw near to Him.

We need to reset our focus to the season ahead and move with eternal purpose. What’s done is done, and we need to move forward. Time does not stop, and we do not get to go back. So, now is important, and so is prepping for the future. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus endured the cross. He finished the race that was set before Him to fulfill the reason for which He was born; and He is our example. The “now” for Him was to give His life for us so in the future we had a Savior. Now is our time to call on Him so we can be with Him in the future.

Finish the course. Keep the faith. You can do this. You can get beyond the now. All things are possible with God. And when you cross the finish line, you will lay your eyes on the prize—your eyes will be on Him. He is the joy, and He is the prize that is set before us.

Eyes on the prize. Eyes on the goal. Eyes beyond the now.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12–14 NKJV).

©Text and photo Francee Strain, June 15, 2019

Miracles of Motherhood

IMG_6240

 

Dear moms—of all types—biological moms, stepmoms, single moms, adoptive moms, adopted moms, foster moms, fostered moms, spiritual moms, and honorary moms; and to any woman:

Miracles can and do happen.  “Really?” you might ask.  “I’d like to see one.”  Maybe you have never seen one…or maybe you just didn’t recognize it.  Maybe you’ve actually seen many.

Here are a few:

After the life of one son was taken by another, a third son was born.  Eve experienced a miracle.

One woman, along with her husband, three sons, and three daughters-in-law were all spared from a worldwide flood.  Noah’s wife experienced a miracle.

One woman, banished with a child who approached the brink of death, was seen by God, directed to water, and promised that her child would become a great nation.  Hagar had her miracle.

A widow woman’s sons were going to be taken away by creditors to pay off her debt.  A jar of oil became bottomless, and she had her miracle.

A woman became a widow, then she became childless.  But she remained a spiritual mom to her two daughters-in-law.  These daughters were foreigners and not of the people of God, but one eventually became so and became part of the lineage of Jesus. Naomi had her miracle, and so did Ruth.

Her son was ordained from the womb to be a prophet to the nations.  And even though he ran from his calling for a time, he returned.  He shared God’s messages with the people.  Jeremiah’s mom had her miracle as her son became what God called him to be.

A widow in Nain experienced the death of her only son.  As she walked along in the funeral procession, Jesus raised him back to life.  She had her miracle.

Peter’s mother-in-law lay very sick from a fever.  Jesus came in and brought her healing.  She was able to get up and serve those around her.  She had her miracle, and it overflowed to others.

She carried the Son of God within her womb and then watched the Son of God die before her very eyes to become her Savior.  Within a few breaths of His last, He turned her over to the care of John the disciple.  Mary had her miracles.  And we all had a Savior now waiting to care for us, too.

A poor young boy did not have a formal education, but he became the president of the United States and helped save his country.  Although Mrs. Lincoln did not live to see her miracle, it came.

A rebellious young man who ran far from God turned his life back toward Him.  He now travels the world, preaching and doing disaster relief for millions of people.  Ruth Bell Graham had her miracle.

A woman with a barren womb, eyes full of tears, ears full of unhelpful statements from others, poured out her heart to the Lord.  She enlisted prayer from others.  Hannah received her miracle, and then some.  So did I.

Who would have thought a miracle could come after tragedy, abandonment, desperation, and death?  Who would have thought it?  Well, miracles could come, and did come, because God saw, and God had a plan.  A plan of comfort, provision, restoration, and salvation.  Continuation, protection, legacy, and calling.  Healing, position, vision, and abundance.  The same things are available today because He does not change.  He is the God of the impossible.  He is the God of miracles.

Be open to receive what God has for you.  Good things come from His hand in myriad forms and ways, and they may look nothing like you expect.

God is still at work in and around us, doing things both seen and unseen, doing things on a timeline we sometimes understand and sometimes do not.  He is sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  Don’t give up hope.  He is the God of miracles.  He is beyond good.  And He deserves thanks and praise.  Even now.

 

©Text and photography by Francee Strain, May 16, 2019

Unbound–Part 3 of 3

IMG_2749

Pain and suffering in life can wrap us and trap us.  It can keep us bound.  It can make us feel so numb we wonder if we are even still alive.  It can make us want to give up on searching for life.  But I want to encourage you: there is life to be found in the midst of suffering and pain.  You can be unbound and set free.  I have living proof.  I am living proof.  Seek God’s power, and you will find your proof, too.

“After Jesus’s death, people continued to seek Him. When Peter and John heard that Jesus was resurrected, they went to the tomb seeking proof. They found their proof in an empty tomb. They went away believing, with an amazing story to share with others (see John 20). Afterward, they went to find Jesus in Galilee where He had said He would meet them following His resurrection (Matt. 28:16). They were able to see the living proof they sought!” They saw Jesus unbound,  fully alive after a time of intense pain and suffering.  God’s power overcame the horrible circumstances, and that same power had been working in the midst of the horrible circumstances, even though it was not evident.

“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. There is new breath breathed into us when we allow the breath of God’s Holy Spirit to fill our spirits. His light illumines our paths. The wonderful music of His voice joins us and guides us on our journeys. There are beautiful things to open our eyes to in this world: His creation, His people, and His purposes. The newness He brings is like the fragrance after the rain, fresh and clean. Our hearts can begin to beat again and be filled with passion for the lives He has called us to live. Instead of tasting the bitterness of life, which to us seems like death, we can “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps. 34:8). Our vision will become clear when we see with His eyes. We will see that life is not over just because we are suffering and feel dead; we will see that we have not yet begun to live.” 2

 

1 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 56-7.

 Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 31-2.

Photography by Francee Strain, ©April 2019

Sincerely Yours

Sincerely YoursApril 23, 2019

“Sincerely yours.” That is how I would close this letter. I think Jesus would close it with “Love you always.”

Words matter. My words matter. Your words matter. His words matter.

The words of a letter inform, create a mood, give details, share life, show happenings, and show the direction of progress.

A letter has a date, a greeting, a body, a closing, and a signature.

This letter was dated almost 2,000 years ago, yet its application is timeless and eternal. *

It is addressed to whosoever. It informs all people that love and eternal life are available, and it gives instructions on how to grab hold of them.

It recounts that almost 2,000 years ago, the purest, most intense act of love there ever was—or ever will be—was evidenced for the world to see. And the evidence remains—to be seen in this letter of love, straight to you from God Himself.

This is not a bill; this is a letter, communicating the greatest expression of love. If anything, this letter tells you that your bill has been paid in full. Not written in ink, but penned with love.

Your direction of progress can be decided and settled because His direction took Him to the cross to be a perfect sacrifice for you.

Will you stuff this letter back into the envelope and toss it from you? Or will you open it and reread it, committing it to memory? Will you hold it dear to your heart and treasure it always? Will you grab hold of the body of the letter and claim the closing as your own?

This letter is sincerely yours. And Jesus loves YOU, always.

Sincerely yours,

Francee Strain

*see John 3:16

Unbound–Part 2 of 3

img_0140-2.jpg

A glorious day came and went long ago. We were not there to witness it with our own eyes, but we can witness it with our hearts. Our eyes of faith can be opened. Our eyes can be unbound from disbelief, disillusionment, and distraction. A direct and intentional focus on an event that changed history will result in a direct and intentional focus on an event that will change the future.

Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified on a cross to pay the price of each and every sin that would ever be committed by all of humankind. He took the penalty that was ours. His back received the stripes of a beating. His head wore a crown of thorns. He was separated from God the Father while the work of redemption was being done. And finally, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” The debt we owed but could never pay was paid. The forgiveness we could never earn was freely poured out. This day changed history. But then…

There came another day. The third day. “The Bible tells us about some women who were grieving because Jesus had just been crucified on the cross. They were headed to His grave to prepare His body for burial, but instead they encountered an angel who invited them to “Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matt. 28:6). This was an invitation to a past tense event, to see the place where His body had been. Jesus was no longer there because He had risen—He is risen! Talk about a cure for their grief! Talk about a cure for ours!” 1

Jesus was unbound from the graveclothes. He was unbound from the sting of death. He was unbound from the tomb. Do our eyes of faith behold Him? Do our hearts hear His voice calling out to us in love? Do we let this day change our future? Do we accept what He did for us, and do we accept that He lives, ready to prepare a place for those who will believe? His resurrection day was a glorious day, and ours can be, too. Choosing Jesus as our Savior will unbind us from our sin and shame. We will no longer have to bear these burdens because He bore them for us and purchased our redemption. The yoke of bondage was broken when He burst forth from the tomb!

And there will be one more day that is glorious. This will be the day when all who have chosen Jesus as their Savior experience His resurrection power for themselves.  He will gather all His own to be with Him forever.  No longer will death have dominion, for eternal life will triumph. Jesus’s payment nearly 2,000 years ago will be valid on that day for all those who asked God to accept the payment on their behalf. 

So, what about the now while we await that glorious day? We can choose to open wide our eyes of faith and see the Deliverer who unbinds hearts. This faith brings freedom. This faith leaves us unbound. We can be free indeed because He is risen indeed!

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36 NKJV).

 

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

Photography,  ©Francee Strain

Three Crosses

img_2667-e1555705640839.jpg

There were three crosses, and upon each one an important decision was made. On the cross in the middle, hung Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He willingly chose to offer up his life as a sacrifice to pay for our sins and give us an opportunity to spend eternity with Him. On either side of Him hung a man who was facing the end of his life and was about to pass into eternity. They each had time to make a choice. One chose at that moment to reject who Jesus was and what was being offered to him—salvation and eternal life. The other chose to believe and asked Jesus to save him. To this man Jesus said, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”* On which side of the cross will you stand? What choice will you make while you have this moment of time?

*Luke 23:43 (NKJV)
Francee Strain, April 19, 2019

Easter Preparations

IMG_2440

Dress.  Check.  Shoes.  Check.  Basket.  Check.  Candy.  Check.  It is all there, and I am ready to shop for dinner rolls.  Easter preparations are well underway.  Why do I do these things?  It’s Easter!  It’s tradition.  I like candy.  And bread.  But what about my heart?  Have I prepared it for Easter?  Why would I?

Why do we take the time to prepare our hearts for Easter?  Think of the gravity of the situation.  Think of the weight of our sins.  Think of that weight being placed upon the sinless shoulders of Jesus Christ.  Think of the things Jesus gave up for us.  He left His throne room to hang on a cross.  He set aside His crown as King of all the universe to wear a crown of thorns.  He set aside His vestments as Lord of all Lords to be stripped and beaten, mocked and humiliated, tortured and killed.  As He labored for His very breath, He labored for our very souls.  He gave up the company of His Father so He could die alone, covered in our sins that the Father could not look upon.  Yes, Jesus gave up much so that we could have much.  He gave up His very life so we could have life.  And not just any life.  Life abundant and life eternal.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10b NKJV)

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)

Unbound–Part 1 of 3

IMG_9371

Six days before the Passover Feast—the last meal Jesus would have before His crucifixion—He paid a visit to his friend Lazarus and sat down to have supper with him. This was not the first time Jesus had come to visit Lazarus. As a matter of fact, they shared quite a history together. At one point, Jesus had offered Lazarus a most extraordinary invitation…

“Lazarus was not doing anything when his invitation arrived. He was getting nowhere in life. Actually, He was dead! But despite that he no longer lived and breathed, he received an invitation. This was a most extraordinary invitation, and it did not come in the mail! It was personally delivered by Jesus Himself.

John 11:1–44 gives the account. 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? Do we have people in our lives who are like Mary and Martha, who accuse God of letting us suffer? Do they believe that if He was truly in our lives, things like this would not be happening to us? At one point, my son questioned why he should continue to pray for me when God was not giving me physical healing. Several people who are saddened by my chronic illnesses tell me that these illnesses should not be a part of my life. What do all of us honestly think and feel?

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.”1

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 28-30.

Photography by Francee Strain, ©2018

Treasure Seekers

063

It is March. People are talking about shamrocks and spring, rainbows and pots of gold found at the end of them. The seeking begins—for a new season, state titles for sports teams, glittery prom dresses, graduation invitations, and destinations for summer vacations. We are looking ahead to the future, searching and searching for something to fill our needs and satisfy us. Someone else is seeking, too—God. He is seeking to know us and love us. He has just what we need and what would satisfy us. And wonderfully, He is not elusive like a pot of gold or some other treasure. He is right there to be found, if only we look.

The Call to the Seekers (book excerpt)
He is seeking our hearts and relationships with us. He knows what we need and is able to do miracles to meet our individual needs. Many examples of His individualized care have been recorded throughout history—in the pages of journals, newspapers, biographies, history books, and the Bible. Sometimes, the care has come in the forms of jobs, material goods, miracles of healing, or someone’s arrival at just the right moment. I have seen provision for my family that has ranged from things as large as a house and land to as small as a pair of toddler’s socks, some contact lenses, and a few words on a page. I am quite sure, too, that there are other larger and smaller things of which I may never be made aware. May we be seekers of God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and He in His divine wisdom will provide what we need (Matt. 6:33). May we come to Him as a new pursuit or as the culmination of what we have been searching for all along. Let us not hide from His light and His love. “Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near” (Isa. 55:6 NKJV).

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 57-8.

Photo by Francee Strain