Comfort Zone

I’ve cried so many tears this month they have likely comprised a measurable amount. There is so much pain and sorrow in my life, my family’s life, my friends’ lives, and the world around us.  I find I am in a zone where I need some comfort.

What do we consider to be comforting within our zones?  Our homes?  Being surrounded by family?  Having a cuddly blanket?  Experiencing some peace and quiet?  Eating chocolate?  These might be our default settings for times of difficulty, but what about the comfort zones we erect during days that are not filled with grief—a comfy couch, our favorite shows, a good book, good friends, our hobbies?  Whatever the comforts are, and in whatever seasons of life we seek them, there is a commonality—they are mostly all about ourselves.  But God did not design us to remain focused on ourselves. We are supposed to live to bring Him glory through our love and service to Him and others. 

It can be a scary prospect, or an inconvenient one, to step outside our comfort zones, but the truth of the matter is, life is not designed to be stationary.  We are to move forward in the purpose for which God created us.1  We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.2 And in order to do that, we have to enter their zones.  We have to be aware of others and be involved with them.  

There are an untold number of people who need us to enter their zones and bring them comfort.  How do we accomplish this? If we know the God of all comfort, then we are capable of bringing comfort to others.  He will comfort us in all our difficult times, and later, we will be able to use that to comfort others.  God can bring comfort to our minds, knowing we will spend eternity with Him after these difficult days are over.  He can bring comfort to our hearts, knowing He is sovereign.  In the midst of the bewilderment and grief, the comfort of His presence can be known, but how many people remain unaware of this fact?  Unless we move out of our comfort zones, they may never know.

We have the good news of the gospel, and people could really use some good news right now.  But in order to deliver the news, we need to shift the focus from ourselves onto others.  In order to love God and love others, we have to take action.  We have to move past ourselves, let go of our selfishness, forego our self-interest, shift our self-focus, and surrender our self-preservation. Our purpose here is not to “get all we can and can all we get,” making ourselves rich, pretty, and famous.  God placed us here to serve Him and serve others.  Our treasures are not to be in earthly things but in things of eternal purpose.

At times, we will need to linger in our comfort zones while God is ministering to our hurts and our needs, equipping and preparing us for what’s next, but then comes the time to step out, to cross the line and enter the zones of others—showing them the way of hope and peace, showing them Christ, showing them the God of all comfort.


Let all that you do be done with love. 3

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.  For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 4

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.5


NOTES

1 See Philippians 3:12.  

2 See Romans 12:15.

3 1 Corinthians 16:14

4 2 Corinthians 2:14–15

5 2 Corinthians 1:3–4

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

©Text and photo Francee Strain, August 29, 2021

On My Side

IMG_5193 (3)

God is for me, not against me.

It seems I have heard that phrase frequently as of late. As a matter of fact, I encountered the phrase three times in two days. I believe God wanted to draw my attention to this fact, to examine the reality of this statement and remind me of its truth. What was my conclusion in thinking about this phrase for a while? I concluded without a doubt that He is on my side. Why would I draw such a conclusion? Because the proof is there—the foremost being the proof in His side, where He was pierced after being crucified for my sins—and I trust in His goodness.

It seems so many people are questioning God and whether He is truly on their side. Many blame Him when bad things happen, even when the consequences result from their own choices. He gets blamed when people don’t get their own ways, when things don’t turn out like they want them to or think they should. He gets blamed when life is unfair, when there’s loss, when things are hard, and when He allows tests and trials. He gets blamed for sin and the choices resulting from free will. That is a lot of blame, and it covers everything from A to Z. But the reality is, we live in a broken world with broken people. We also have enemies of our souls—Satan and ourselves. What do we do about the brokenness? How do we see and find the good? How do we get the help of almighty God on our side, to push through these things and make it to the other side? We take a step and move to His side.

God draws near to us when we draw near to Him. And actually, He already stepped near to us about 2000 years ago. He came to our side when Jesus was born and then gave His life for us on the cross. Jesus, God’s own son, stood in the gap between sin and holiness and provided us with a rescue, a way of escape from ever having to be apart from His side. When we choose to do life with Him and for Him, He will never leave us nor forsake us. Choosing to stand on God’s side by choosing His son as our Savior will keep us from ever being plucked from His hand. We will never again walk alone. He will walk beside us as a traveling companion in this life. He will be our provider, source of strength, listening ear, supporter, and encourager. And when this life ends, we will forever be in His presence.

So, before that final day, we all have a choice to make. Will we choose to have God at our sides? As for me, I choose Him. I can confidently say, “God is for me, not against me; He is on my side.” He is always watching over me, and thus, I can walk in peace, knowing all things are working for my good. I need not be anxious about anything, because regardless of the situation, I can still commune with Him and be blessed. I can rest in the knowledge that His will, not mine, is being done. Worry is unnecessary because He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Even when all the world is crumbling or is against me–when the enemy surrounds me, when I falter and fail, when everyone forsakes me–He will keep His promise to never leave me nor forsake me. He will be at my right hand, and I will not be moved. He will fight for me, and I will hold my peace. He will be an ever-present help in time of need.

Yes, I choose to move to God’s side, and thus, have Him on my side.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, August 24, 2019. Reposted August 8, 2021.

The Cares of This World

Sometimes, the cares of this world are just too much—too much to think about, too much to handle, too much to bear.  Their heaviness can weigh on our hearts and minds until our spirits are downcast and we can barely lift our heads. 

I found myself this week sighing in my spirit.  The grief was palpable.  I was distracted from my tasks of the day as my mind started listing the burdens one by one—mine, his, hers, theirs, ours.  The tears welled up and spilled over.  “God, please help us; We need your help,” I pleaded.  And instantly, He was there, speaking comfort to my soul, reminding me that His shoulders are here to carry the loads, His strong arms are here to lift me up, and His hands are here to hold me close. 

We do not need to be anxious about anything.1  God cares about every detail of our lives.  We were not made to carry this weight, and definitely not made to carry it alone.  If we are focusing on our burdens, it will keep us from focusing on our Source of help, whereas trusting in Him will render perfect peace. 

Scripture tells us to cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares for us.2  We cannot change the past, but He can heal us from it.  The present may be completely out of our control, but He is present.  And instead of worrying about and dreading the future, thinking “What if ___________happens,” we can replace those thoughts with ones about His character and presence, ones like “He is loving.  He is good.  He is sovereign.  He is all-powerful.  He is.” 

Remembering the truth lifted the weight from me.  The problems and pains remained, but healing and strength had come to my heart.  A lilt of joy entered in, and I continued the tasks of the day, going in the strength of the LORD God, the One who cares for this world. 


Carry Me

When the road is long, carry me.

When I’m not strong, carry me.

When all is wrong, carry me.

Carry me on the road that is short to You.

Carry me in strong arms that will pull me through.

Carry me in the way that is right and true.

Carry me straight to You.3


NOTES

1 See Philippians 4:6.

2 See 1 Peter 5:7.

3 ©Francee Strain, August 2017

©Text and photo Francee Strain, July 25, 2021

Hold My Hand

“Hold my hand.  I’m scared.”  These were the words of the seven-year-old boy I was babysitting.  I was tasked to take him to a movie which portrayed good animals and bad animals.  We were sitting on the front row of the theater with our necks craned, looking up at the very large villain. This little boy was a tough guy.  He had a life-threatening disease that eventually took his life a few years later.  He was very mature and well-spoken, as he spent quite a bit of his life around doctors and other health care professionals, but he also had the heart of a seven-year-old little boy, full of silliness and spunk.  So, when it came time for this intense scene in the movie, he needed some reassurance.  My presence was comforting to him as my fingers closed around his. 

How many of us are walking through life beside people who are afraid and needing us to reach out and hold their hands?  How many of us are these people, afraid and needing someone to hold our hands?

So many of my friends and family members are walking through great trials of uncertainty and loss right now. Many of them do not live near me, however, and my health prevents me from traveling to be by their sides. Thus, I cannot physically hold their hands, but I am able to hold their hands in spirit. I can send a message, send a card, or call and pray with them.  A gesture of love and encouragement can become a comfort across the miles. 

And what if we are the ones who need our hands held?  We can speak up and reach out for the comfort we need. But what if there is no one to answer?  At times, we cannot find comfort because others do not truly understand our need, or perhaps they do not have the time or energy to give us.  When we find ourselves in situations like these, we do not have to remain comfortless.  We can always reach our hands up to the Savior of the world.  He tells His own He will be with them to the end of the world.  He gives them His spirit so they are not left comfortless.  His hand is mighty to save.  He upholds, guides, sustains, and shelters.  Fear not.  Reach out for His nail-scarred hand.  He conquered death and is Lord of all.   


Precious Lord, take my hand,

Lead me on, help me stand

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;

Thro’ the storm, thro’ the night,

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand, precious Lord,

Lead me home.

*

When my way grows drear,

Precious Lord, linger near

When my life is almost gone;

Hear my cry, hear my call,

Hold my hand lest I fall

Take my hand, precious Lord,

Lead me home.


NOTES

©Text and photo Francee Strain, July 18, 2021

Lyrics excerpted from the song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” by Thomas A. Dorsey.   

Steadfast

(Repost)

Are you weary?  Steady on.

Are you tired?  Don’t quit.

Are you faltering?  Don’t stop.

Are you losing touch?  Reach out.

Do you feel like giving up?  Look up.

Keep on Keeping on.  Steadfast.

Stand firm in the faith, and walk forward in it, too.  Have faith in the Only Begotten Son of God who loves you and gave His life for you.  His love is steadfast.  He spent a night with no sleep, being betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, mocked, and beaten.  And then, He made His way to the cross—for you.  He gave His very life so you would never have to journey on alone.

He holds the hands of those who hold Him in their hearts.  He never leaves His own.  He was faithful unto death, and now He is faithful unto life.  Eternal life awaits those who place their trust in Jesus, the Savior of the world.  There is hope for better days, days with no more pain, sorrow, or tears.

Life is hard.  And tiring.  And painful beyond belief.  But His presence will go with His children, and He will give them rest.  When the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, our quaking hearts can walk forward unafraid.  Do not fear.  He will hold us fast.  Having our foundation firm in Christ will give us a solid rock upon which to stand.  He never lets go of those who belong to Him.  He is the Creator of all.  He holds all power and knowledge in His hand.  He does not change, faint, grow weary, or close His eyes in sleep.  If you are on His side, He is on your side.

When we keep our eyes steadfast on Him, we will see His glory and His beauty.  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is steadfast and faithful.  His mercies are new every morning.  His love is unconditional.  His peace is beyond understanding.  His joy is indescribable.  His grace is freely given to us, undeserved. 

Do not look for other things to fill, comfort, and satisfy you.  Only He can save, and only He can perfectly help.  Set your heart on Him.

Keep your mind stayed on Him.  Do not let it be overtaken by doubt, impurity, lies, and deception.

Set your ears to listen for His voice.

Set your voice always determined to praise Him.

He is high and lifted up.  He is the King who sits enthroned forever.  And He has said that we can boldly approach His throne and find grace to help in our time of need.

So, for all of my days, I will be steadfast in Him.

I will endure and continue, unshaken.  I will be confident, strong, sure, and peaceful.  I will continue on course, on task, on focus, on point, onward.  Steady on. Steadfast.

My soul follows hard after You; Your right hand upholds me.*

*See Psalm 63:8 KJV.

For further reading: Psalm 40, Psalm 103, Romans 12:12

©Text and photo Francee Strain, September 20, 2020

Unexpected Gifts

Certain times of year lend themselves to the expectation that we will receive gifts: Christmas, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, graduation, and anniversaries, to name a few.  But sometimes, gifts come at unexpected times—gifts “just because.”  There is a special type of joy that arises with the receipt of gifts, but there is a whole different facet when they happen “just because.”

This past week, I was the recipient of several gifts of the latter kind:

  • Monday, it was evidence of the promise of spring—flower shoots poking through the soil earlier than expected. That evening, I received an unexpected call from a dear friend from church who prayed for me over the phone.
  • Tuesday, it was the arrival of the birds of spring, and to a birdwatcher/photographer, this is exciting.  And then the ears, shoulders, and prayers of a dear friend were made available to help bear my burdens. 
  • Wednesday, it was a follow-up text of encouragement from this same friend, as well as a text from someone I do not hear from very often to say I was being thought of.  
  • Thursday, it was a message in a devotional encouraging me to let God love me daily because, after all, Jesus died to bring love to me.  And as I was reading this, the mailman came to the door and delivered a box filled to the brim with handwritten notecards from a friend and her children, cookies, chocolates, and a bookmark. The day was sunny, and there were heart-shaped clouds above my front yard and some deer in my backyard.  Later that same day, I was given the gift of being employed in a career I love, and then was given the gift of someone’s time, friendship, and a book.  My husband took care of some things my chronic illnesses did not allow me to handle. 
  • Friday, I received a handwritten card tucked into an invoice because the financial secretary felt God wanted her to send me a card of encouragement.  A Bible verse she had written in the card was also in my devotional reading that night!*  My husband again took care of things my chronic illnesses did not allow me to handle. 
  • Saturday morning, I sat reflecting on the significance of what God had poured into my life for several days straight.  It was an overwhelming amount of proof that He loves me and cares about every detail of my life.  He was pouring into my life just out of the goodness and kindness of His heart.  And then the mail arrived.  A dear friend who faithfully encourages and prays for me felt God prompt her to send a card.  The card was filled with a gift of words to lift my heart in the midst of all my health challenges and to encourage me on my journey for Jesus.  And that evening a sweet young friend closed out our conversation by telling me she loved me.

Wow! No ribbons or wrapping paper, but I feel as if I have had day after day of Christmas morning.

Are all weeks like this?  My first tendency would be to say no.  It does not often happen that I am lavished with gifts—well, at least not gifts of this type in this amount.  But if I look deeper and think about what goes on behind the scenes from day to day, there are myriad ways God shows His love for me.  My answer to the question of whether or not all weeks are like this has to be yes.  Yes, even at the darkest of times and in the most difficult of circumstances, God is pouring out blessings into my life.  I may not see them at that particular time or be apt to classify them as blessings, but He is at work and is bringing something good out of my life.

When I think back to my growing-up years, there was quite a bit of pain and struggle.  But with time and maturity removing me from the situations, I see God’s hands all over the place.  For example, the pain of being a military child moving from place to place gave me opportunities I never would have had growing up in the small rural community where I was born.  As much as I disliked the uprooting and the subsequent “new kid” treatment, in each place I also encountered people who significantly touched my life and loved me dearly, although I did not realize it at the time.  One uprooting brought me to a place where the gospel was shared with me, and I gave my life to Jesus.  Another uprooting brought me to a rental home with a piano in it which I learned to play.  I subsequently became a piano teacher, a church pianist, and have played for schools, hospice, and other organizations.  Another uprooting brought me to a place where I developed multiple language skills which have assisted me in ministry and as an author and teacher.  Another uprooting, not due to the military but rather a devastating event in our community, led my family to a new community which is where I met my husband.  Adulthood has featured more pain and struggle: years of challenges, betrayals, disappointments, and emotional scars; years and money poured into an education that did not lead to a job in my field; years that found me in places I never thought I would be.  Yet, these years and experiences have been the very things that have found me in places where I was better able to carry on relationships, parent, teach, minister, and volunteer.  It is truly astounding to see how God has woven the threads into a beautiful gift, and for more than just my benefit. 

I want to encourage you that if your heart belongs to Jesus, you can trust Him with it.  Even though you may not see or understand what He is doing, He has a perfect plan for your life.  Evil will be turned to good, whether your eyes ever see it or not.  There is so much more happening of which we will never even be aware.  If you allow it, your relationship with Him can reach a place it never would without the difficulties. You can be made stronger.  Your testimony can touch the lives of others and encourage them.  These are some gifts you can expect.  God will complete the good work He has started in your life. 


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. 

James 1:17


*My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

©Original text and photo Francee Strain, March 7, 2021

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

Author’s note: All of the gifts I received this past week, and the very meeting of the people who gave them, came after I passed through trials.  I did not know any of these gifts would be given, but God did.  And He knew just when my heart would need them.

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

I well remember the burn.  I remember the shin splints.  And I remember the moment I said, “I hate running.” 

It was track season, my junior year of high school.  The coach was making us run long distances, and to a sprinter, that was awful.  I had been a speedy little kid.  I had won some races and some ribbons (and even a fifty-cent piece).  I had done well in some other races although I did not win.  And then there were some races where I wondered if I should have just stayed home that day.  Yes, my relay teammates may still be upset at me (thirty years later) for accidentally disqualifying us at the district meet (all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time).  You win some, you lose some.  And some you don’t even qualify in apparently. 

Anyway…there is something else I remember which brings me to this particular article you are presently reading. 

I remember the heart that was needed for running.  Not just a strong heart muscle that could propel a body to the finish line, but the inner heart—the passion, the drive, the mental fortitude, the competitive spirit.  You train, you prepare, and you enter the race.  And then, you run for the prize.  You run in such a way that you may win. 

When you run a race, you know there is an end to it, a finish line; but that end may not be in sight.  There may be twists and turns in the racecourse.  There may be falls and injuries to your body.  There may be high hills and low valleys.  And sometimes, the pain is too much.  Every ounce of your body screams for you to stop, to quit, to give in, to give up.  But it is then that the runner’s heart needs to kick in.  The faith needs to be rekindled.  The mind needs to remember the hope of the finish line.  And then you dig in.  And you dig deeper.  And sometimes you cry tears.  And sometimes you cry words.  And you keep on keeping on.  And suddenly, you crest the hill, round the bend, or enter the last lap, and there it is: what you have been striving for is now within reach.  And then your heart pulls ahead of your body.  You push through to the end, and you hear the words “You did it. Well done.”  For the joy that was set before you, you finished the race.

My brothers and sisters, the Christian race is like this.  Sometimes, we want to just sprint on through to the finish line and cross over into heaven.  We want to avoid the burn and the shin splints, the hills and the tears.  But the reality of life is that it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  And the course is sometimes filled with difficulties.  Sometimes, we need to dig in for more faith and cry out for more help.  We might want to quit, to give in, to give up.  But remember our example—Jesus.  He did not quit, give in, or give up.  He dug in deep, surrendering His will to the will of the Father.  He pushed through the trials and walked up the hill of Golgotha.  For the joy that was set before Him (eternity with those who would believe in Him), He endured the cross.  He completed the course that was laid out before Him. He crossed the finish line. His race was well done.  His heart for us won the prize of atonement unto eternal life.

And now, He waits to welcome His own into their eternal home, awarding their faith in Him with eternal life.  Press on my brothers and sisters.  We can do this.  Let’s not grow weary.  Have faith.  Long to hear the words “Well done.”  Trust what you cannot see but know in your heart.  Cry out when it hurts.  Cry out for help.  Remember your training.  Hydrate with the Living Water.  Nourish yourself with the Bread of Life.  Be energized by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Remember the joy that is set before you.  Keep the faith.  Stay the course.  Finish the course.

I am cheering you on and praying you through.  See you at the finish line!


Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (1Corinthians 9:24)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)


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

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

Living in the Shadows

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

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

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

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


Within thy circling power I stand,

On every side I find thy hand;

Awake, asleep, at home, abroad,

I am surrounded still with God.2


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

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

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

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

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

(Psalm 91: 1–2, 4 NKJV)


Notes

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

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

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

Photo 2: Canada goose and goslings

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

When Mountains Stand Strong—2021 Edition

Dear Readers,

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

~~~

Original Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthdays and Legacies

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(Written in 2019 and updated for 2020)

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

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

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

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

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