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 Advent of Love

What is love? 

We would likely define this word by mentioning many aspects, perhaps things like having close bonds with others, giving and receiving affection, being connected in a family, experiencing loyalty and faithfulness, hearing or speaking words of affirmation, giving and receiving gifts, serving others, or being the recipients of acts of kindness.  Yet although we might have all these varied ideas in mind, there is a common thread—love is something demonstrated in deeds.  Love is action.

Since before time began, love was active and awaiting us, and then love came near.  Love took action.  But where did love come from, and why did it come near?

Love came near because God came near.  God is the source of love.  He is love.  He has given the very essence of Himself in an offering to us.  This offering is actually what we are focusing on right now during this season of advent—He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life, and He did this because He loved the world (see John 3:16).

Since before time began, God had a plan to gift us with His love.  And when the time was just right, the gift arrived: Jesus was born to be the Savior of the world to show us the love of God the Father.  Jesus was a representation of the love and an act of that love.  He gave up the position of honor He held as King of kings and humbled Himself to walk as a man.  He gave up the riches of the entire universe to be laid in a manger and give everything to us.  He gave up the comforts of having and doing anything He pleased, going anywhere He wanted at any time, to come to this earth and experience the life we experience, walking in obedience to God’s will and God’s timing.  This is the gift of love we celebrate at Christmas.

But the love did not stop there.  Jesus did not remain a baby in the manger.  He grew into a man who continued to act in love.  He travelled and spoke to thousands, sharing with them about the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life.  He healed and fed.  Taught and visited.  Comforted the grieving and raised the dead.  All this, He gave.  And He gave even more, things that we find difficult to give: He loved His enemies.  He prayed for those who despitefully used and persecuted Him.  He gave His time and energy and service to those who gave nothing back.  He loved the unlovely that others avoided and scorned.  He sacrificed His very life for us.  All so that we could know His love and know it forever.

This is how love comes.  God took action.  He has loved us with an everlasting love and drawn us with loving kindness.  He has given us the gifts of His Son, His Word, His promises, His salvation, and His very presence.  Do we see it?  Do we recognize it?  Have we responded to it?  Have we given Him our hearts and our love in return? Has there been an advent of love from us?

You can receive His gift today and return the gift of your heart to Him. This is how love comes.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, December 12, 2020

Gratitude vs. Grumblitude

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(Originally posted November 28, 2019)

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

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

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

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

What can I see, touch, hear, feel, taste, and do? Perhaps some of my limbs and senses do not function, but I still have some amount.

Have I eaten? Slept under a roof, even if it belonged to a shelter? Worn clothes? Experienced warmth? Had joy at some point in my life? Yes. Yes, I have.

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

The fact that my couch is seventeen years old, worn, sagging, has shot springs, and has a piece of wood frame jutting out should not be a source of grumbling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to grace and gratitude.

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13:5-6 NKJV)

©Text and photo by Francee Strain, November 28, 2019. Reposted November 20, 2020.

Gratitude vs. Grumblitude

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

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

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

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

What can I see, touch, hear, feel, taste, and do? Perhaps some of my limbs and senses do not function, but I still have some amount.

Have I eaten? Slept under a roof, even if it belonged to a shelter? Worn clothes? Experienced warmth? Had joy at some point in my life? Yes. Yes, I have.

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

The fact that my couch is seventeen years old, worn, sagging, has shot springs, and has a piece of wood frame jutting out should not be a source of grumbling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to grace and gratitude.

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13:5-6 NKJV)

Text and photo by Francee Strain, November 28, 2019

Consider the Present

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God has invited us in our lifetimes to receive the gift of His salvation, love, and presence. He draws us to Himself through multitudes of ways. He may draw us with words through things such as the Bible, a pastor’s sermon, a song, or a conversation with a believer. He may draw us through the supernatural with things such as miracles, visions, dreams, and signs. He may draw us through creation with beauty so stunning that we are awestruck and our hearts have to worship. He may draw us through the actions of others. He may draw us through gifts or talents that He has given to us or someone else. But no matter which methods He uses to draw us, He draws us with loving-kindness because He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). His most amazing and sacrificial representation of this love was expressed when Jesus was crucified on the cross. Before Jesus died in such a horrible way He said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32 NKJV). His very death draws us to life. This was His purpose for coming to us: so we could come to Him.

Today is a gift of opportunity to come and speak with God in prayer. We are able to pray at any point in the day to accept the gift that God offers us, but since we do not know what will happen in the next moments of our lives, we should not delay something as important as coming to God. There are no guarantees that we will make it past the morning, until our lunch hours, or through the night. We need to act now, while we still can. We can pray right now to accept His invitation. There is no better time than the present. Today is the day. Will today be your day?

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 86.

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

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

 

Someone Sent You Flowers

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It was me! But only after God sent them to you first!!!

He created them.

Crafting each petal.

Painting each color.

Misting each fragrance.

Placing it upon a stem:

To decorate the fields and hills,

Mountains and plains,

From sea to shining sea,

Atop the ponds and the forest floors,

Just waiting to be lifted to savor,

A glorious display of beauty…

And of love.

YOU are loved.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; … Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (from Matthew 6:28-29 KJV)

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Francee Strain, January 22, 2018