Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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Our immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and strangers we meet on the street are going through trials right now. Times of great difficulty are not just on the horizon, they are now; they were yesterday; they will be tomorrow. We are in the thick of it, and we are wearing thin. We face things that make us want to quit, things that overwhelm us, things that cut deep, things that we cannot even fathom with our human minds. What recourse do we have? How can we cope? How can we continue to put one foot in front of the other? We give up. We surrender. We put ourselves between a rock and a hard place. But not just any rock—the Rock.

• We let God be at our backs. We let Him be the one we fall back on. So, no matter which direction we turn, there He is, supporting us on all sides.

Then they remembered that God was their rock,
And the Most High God their Redeemer. (Psalm 78:35)

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

• We let Him lead us. We let Him be the one that goes before us, preparing the way and meeting us when we get there.

And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you.
He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake
you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

• We let Him carry us. At our lowest, even in the low valley of the shadow of death, it is His everlasting arms that are beneath us.

The eternal God is your refuge,
And underneath are the everlasting arms; (Deuteronomy 33:27a)

• We let His love cover us and His presence overshadow us.

By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He
has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the
Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses
that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And
we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love,
and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:13-16)

This is the rock and the hard place between which I want to find myself firmly planted. Like a rock, immovable, because my God is immovable. He is stronger than anything that comes against me.  Yes, the LORD will preserve our going out and our coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore, if we entrust ourselves to His hand. (see Psalm 121:8)

The Lord is my rock and my fortress
and my deliverer;

As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.

For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?

God is my strength and power,
And He makes my way perfect.
(2 Samuel 22:2b, 31-33)

 

Francee Strain, August 10, 2019

Scriptures taken from New King James Version

When Mountains Stand Strong

For those who are facing mountains right now, I have been there.  I originally wrote this post from a different place than I am writing today.  Some mountains have fallen into the sea; some have yet to fall.  New ones have risen–sometimes multiplying faster than I can count.  To you, I say: Hold fast.  Keep on keeping on.  Grab hold of the One who will never let you go.  With Him by your side, you can face any mountain.

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Repost:

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)

 

Original text by Francee Strain, March 2, 2018

Revised introduction and photo by Francee Strain July 27, 2019

Reset

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It seems we do two major resets per year: January 1st and the week after Labor Day. But let’s be real here. We need to reset more than twice per year. It is so easy to get off-track and off-kilter in life. When the power goes out, and the clocks are blinking, we need a reset.

Things can kick our feet out from under us. We can get sucked in, pulled this way, shoved that way. At times we get dragged in, kicking and screaming. Sometimes we dive in headlong, willingly. We miscalculate. We set it and forget it. But, regardless of how we get here, we can hit burnout; we can hit depression; we can hit a season of prodigal living; and we can be laying in a rut deeper than we can dig ourselves out of.

I have just passed the nineteenth anniversary of the beginning of my chronic illnesses, as year after year, more chronic illnesses have been added to the initial one. There are days when I can barely get out of bed, much less leave the house. Travel is not in my vocabulary. Common tasks like moving, thinking, eating, and communicating all become difficult or impossible. For a moment, I celebrated this nineteenth anniversary. I was excited to think how far God had brought me, because when things first began, I honestly thought I was going to die. But then my mind shifted—my focus shifted—and I watched what everyone else around me was doing: gearing up for vacations, packing up picnic baskets, dusting off suitcases, and stocking up on suntan lotion. And my heart hurt. The celebration came to a halt as reality crowded its way into my mind.

If I go out in public, people think I must be better. They have no idea of the battle that ensued to put me in their presence. And unless there is divine intervention, I will never be better; I will actually grow worse. My mind slips into thinking how unfair this is. Another anniversary of my high school and college graduations has come and gone, and I am not where I imagined I would be at this point in life. Life rolls on without me. The party continues without me. The friends go on their shopping and luncheon dates without me. The family reunions happen without me. The weddings, baby showers, and even funerals don’t require a seat for me. In my humanness, it is quite discouraging. My heart breaks. My heart cries out—not questioning God, but in frustration. “God, if I was just healthy, I could do a, b, and c. I could do this for You. I could go there for You. I could reach them, touch them, help them in Your name. I could do that God. I could.”

But I can’t. Not in that way. Not yet. There has to be another way. There has to be something else for me right now. What is it? What is it, God?

As my heart breaks, so do the sobs. But then I think about the words “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2 NKJV). There is an eternal purpose. There is an eternal plan unfolding in my life right now. Everything is filtered through His hand. Everything can be viewed as a good and perfect gift. Everything is a good and perfect gift. I just need a reset: To reset my mind on things above. To reset my heart in the direction from whence comes my help. To reset my focus to still serve God no matter what I can or cannot do. To reset my course to serve God in this current state. I will do things in a new and different way, or I will do something new and different altogether. I will reset my purpose from temporal to eternal. I will reset my goal—not to be chasing after the things other people are chasing after, nor even chasing after the things I want to or think I should be chasing after, but to instead be chasing after the things God wants for me. This is my goal. This is my purpose. Your will be done, not mine.

I will reset my gaze from what I see now to what is beyond the now. He is good, and He does what is good. I will reset my heart to bow to His will. And I will reset the words running around in my mind and spilling off my tongue to be words of gratitude, praise, and worship. Yes, I am going to reset my mind on things above and not on things of this earth. And in another nineteen years, I am going to be celebrating again. But I am also going to be doing it all along the way until I arrive there.

Resets can be difficult, but the payoff is worth it. Refreshment will come. Peace will come. Joy, hope, and a powerful witness will come. The new day will bring new mercies. The new eyes will bring new hope. The new direction will leave a new legacy.

The new year, the new season, can start on any day of the calendar year. Reset your mind on Christ.

 

Text and photography ©Francee Strain, June 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

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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 2 of 3

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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

Resolved to Trust

“Resolve to come when you hear Him call. Trust Him with your life, with all that you are.”

… We can come, resolving to trust. There will always be areas where our resolve will be strong and other areas where it will be weak, but this should make no difference or cause any delay in coming to God. We need Him in all areas, and thus, we should make our coming soon, and make it quick. Acting will strengthen our trust, while inaction will weaken it. We can ask Him to increase our faith and to help us with any unbelief that we have. We should be resolved to come to Him for His strength–strength to add to our weakness and more strength to add to our existing strength. We can come even if we are a solitary number. We can stand even if we stand alone. We should be willing to pay the ultimate price for Him because He paid the ultimate price for us. We should come like sheep to the shepherd; they come because they are called by a voice that they know and trust. Resolve to come when you hear Him call. Trust Him with your life, with all that you are.

… It is wise to have a heart that listens for God’s voice so that even during times when life seems dead and dark, it will still be able to hear Him. It is also wise to have a responsive heart that is quick to come when God calls it. We need to have the understanding that a delayed response can fill the void with excuses, and before we know it, we might find ourselves disobedient and ignoring His calls. Life and light are there within our grasp; we just need to come forth to receive them. This is wisdom.

We can come to Him whether we know much about Him or little. We can come with whatever amount of spiritual understanding we have. We can come with our searching and ask Him to reveal Himself to us. We can ask Him to make His will known to us. We can come with our confusion and questioning, our bewilderment and asking “Why me?” He gives wisdom liberally to all who ask for it (James 1:5).

God is a big God who allows us to come to Him no matter what our statuses are. We do not have to be a king to gain the attention of the King. We do not have to be perfect to approach the perfect God. We do not have to be a giant of the faith to approach the One who is the source of all faith. We can come no matter the amount of our faith, even if it is as small as a mustard seed. He wants us to be seekers who find Him for the first time. Thereafter, He wants us to be people who continually seek His face. He is there to be found.

When God invited David to seek His face, David decided that his heart would do so (see Ps. 27:8). We do not need to know everything today; we just have to trust that He has our best in mind. We can find a resting place for our bodies, minds, souls, and faith in the safety of His hands. We can place the details of our lives in His capable hands. We can place the recesses of our vulnerable hearts in His loving hands. We can place our trust in Him because of His unfailing hands. He never fails, never breaks His promises, and will never let go of us.

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 115-116.