Bloom Where You Are Planted

IMG_2532

Bloom where you are planted…

–in the middle of wonderful circumstances
–in the middle of difficult circumstances
–in the middle of impossible circumstances

How? Lean on the expertise of God, the Master Gardener, to help you bloom.

God can supply everything we need, and He possesses a perspective we do not. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. He knows and understands our environments and appointed the bounds of where we would live and when. He knows how to nourish us in such a time as this, in such an environment as this. He possesses all wisdom and all knowledge.

He can bring water to a dry situation, remove thorns, pour in His light, revive us with the breath of His Spirit, encourage us when we are downtrodden, and bring beauty from our lives. He is able to cultivate any circumstance and bring forth a fruitful harvest.

He daily loads us with benefits and sets His eyes upon us for our good. Will we set our eyes upon Him so we can grow, and not just grow but bloom?

When we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. And He will help us bloom where we are planted.

©Text and photo Francee Strain, April 26, 2020

The Opportunity We Have Been Given

 

IMG_0700

Coronavirus has given us an opportunity.

You might question why I would say such a thing since it seems like coronavirus is taking things away from us. But when putting some thought into it, I can come up with a very lengthy list of things we have been given.  Here are a few:

Coronavirus has given us the opportunity to confront and remember our mortality. We often live day-to-day taking so much for granted, including the very breath we breathe. We now have an opportunity to take stock of what would happen if coronavirus was to come for us. Is each of us ready to stand before God? Have we accepted the atonement and forgiveness offered to us by Jesus’ death on the cross? This is an issue we need to settle now and not just wait until coronavirus comes to our community. Our lives can be over in an instant, this very day, for any reason. We need to be ready.

But there are other opportunities coronavirus has given us:

It has given us the opportunity to be grateful for the things we have—from basic essentials we can pick up at the store, to the freedoms we have to move around from place to place, to the relationships we have with one another.

It has given us the opportunity to pray: to pray for those who are sick and suffering with the virus even now; to pray for the families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones; to pray for the medical community, the scientific community, and those in leadership who have to make some difficult decisions.

And if we have been (or will be) put into quarantine with our families, we have the opportunity to savor this time with our loved ones—who will not always be within arm’s reach.

Coronavirus has given us an opportunity to think outside of ourselves: to remember that there are many who cannot even get to the store to pick up toilet paper—because they struggle with health issues every day, because they do not have the finances to do so, because they do not have the freedom to do so, because such a luxury does not exist in their world.

Coronavirus has given us an opportunity to take care of others: perhaps we can assist financially for those who are being impacted economically, perhaps we can make a run to the store for those who cannot, perhaps we can help with childcare for those impacted by school shutdowns. What is it that each of us can do? Because there is something we can do.

I hope we take advantage of this opportunity we have been given: to care for our eternal souls, our bodies, our perspectives, and the communities with which we are surrounded. May this opportunity not be wasted.

 

©Text and photo Francee Strain, March 12, 2020

The Heart (3-part series)

Part 1:
IMG_1976 (9)
Hearts of Stone

Have you ever had a heart of stone? I have. There was a point in life when I was burned out. I had more to do than I could do. More places to go than I could go. More people to see than I could see. Too many irons in the fire and too much on my plate. I had no feelings. No joy. Seemingly nothing to look forward to. Nothing that is except work…and more work.

Those were difficult days. How did I wind up in such a circumstance? How did I get so lost? What became of the me that used to be? What became of the relationship with God that I had enjoyed? Frankly, I left it behind in pursuit of other things. I let Him hang by a thread while I grasped on tightly to the hands of everything else besides Him. I let go of His heart. And I let go of my heart.

I knew that I needed to come out of this type of life. I wanted to come out of this type of life. But how could I do it? The answer came when I read the words of Ezekiel 36:26 which say, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”*

The summation of the answer was that I needed a heart replacement. Who could perform such a surgery? I certainly could not do it–I was stuck. Stuck in a rut, stuck in a pattern of living that was not pleasant and that was not true living. Only God could perform such a surgery, so I asked Him for it. I began to pray.

I prayed that He would take my heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh. And that is exactly what He did. I went from being a rock in the dirt to a living, breathing, fire of spirit. Before I knew it, I went from wanting nothing to wanting everything. I was filled with zeal, passion, hope, and overflowing love. I wanted to do. I wanted to live.

Yes, He took my heart of stone and made it beat again, feel again, live again. And He can do the same for you.

And now my heart of stone is external, a heart-shaped stone that lies in the field in front of my house. When I walk past it, instead of seeing a heart of stone, I see a heart of love. My mind’s eye sees a memory of what once was and is filled with gratitude for what now is. That heart of stone reminds me of the love of a Great Surgeon who can make all things new, including hearts of stone.

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, August 2017
(Ezekiel 36:26 KJV, emphasis mine)

******************
Part 2:
******************IMG_8908
Your Heart Can Rest

“Since before time began, a call went out to you. Even in the midst of a crowd, God has been seeking your heart as an individual. An invitation was developed with you in mind. From the time that the foundation of the world was laid, Jesus prepared to die for you and for each soul that would ever live. His sacrifice was arranged before you were ever a thought—before a single soul had ever lived. He did this so that you might have eternal life. Have you responded to His invitation?

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.” *

The words of Hebrews 13:5 are personal for us who call Him “Savior.” These precious words of God are: “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Did you read that? He will never leave us. Never. In the midst of this process of life, through all of the struggles we are currently immersed in and the ones yet to come, as we sleep through the night and toil through the day, He will never leave us. His presence will go with us, and it will be He who give us rest.

Yes, our hearts can rest. Your heart can rest…if you will let it rest in God.

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, February 8, 2020
*Paragraphs one and two are taken from my book, rom my book, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 4, 116.

******************
Part 3:
******************IMG_4425 (2)
The Victorious Heart

Life is a struggle. A battle. An uphill climb.

They say it takes heart, but my heart is weary. It is overloaded with pain and the cares of the world. It strives. It aches. It weeps. I feel like I am losing the battle and losing heart.

What can turn this around? Is there anything that can be done?

YES!

• I can offer my heart to the Healer of brokenness.
• I can offer the heart of this warrior to the one who leads the host of heaven.
• I can place this lost, wandering, confused, and lonely heart into the hands of the One who knows every trail and trial, every battlefield and tear.

Every step of my journey is already seen and known before I have even stepped. Every battle has Someone to come alongside me. Every hopeless moment is waiting to be filled with the God of all hope. And every desolate battle cry (that sounds more like a whisper) can find its voice in I AM–the One who spoke the world into existence.

No longer will my heart lie downtrodden and defeated. No longer will it fold inward in silence. It will rise up in the power of God’s Spirit, and I will press on. For it is not by my might or power, but by His Spirit. He will lead me to victory. I will see it. I will taste it. I will know it. My heart will know it—because my heart knows Him.

This is the heart of victory.

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, February 13, 2020

Bitterness on Fire

Smoky Sunset posted on Facebook Aug 27, 2018

He’s at it again. There she goes again. They’ve added more infractions to their already tall stacks. On, and on, and on they go, hurting me repeatedly. And while their lists of wrongdoings grow longer, my root goes deeper–my root of bitterness.

Every time pain is inflicted, I add another layer to my root. It is somewhat like the rings inside a tree trunk, growing more with an abundance of water. In this case, it is my root of bitterness, growing more with each drop of someone else’s behavior that I let seep into my heart. While their stacks of offenses mount, my root digs deeper. I am building something, just as they are, but instead of stacking things upward as they do, I am spiraling down, digging a deep, dark hole in the soil of my heart. And as I do this, I am going against God’s building plan. We are to be rooted and built up in Him, not torn down by our death grip on sin. We are to grow up into Him in all things, not let ourselves or others send us into a downward spin.*

God designed the soil of our hearts to be seeded with good things. It is to be plowed up and ready to hold things that will nurture us and nourish the lives with which we share the harvest. The rocks and the old roots, and any other debris, need to be removed for the best and most fertile conditions.

What will be pulled from the soil of our hearts at harvest time? Ugly, twisted roots that we neglected to tend to or beautiful grain and luscious fruit? What will the harvest of our souls provide to the souls of others?

Don’t do unto others the awful things they’ve done unto you; instead, do unto others as Jesus has done. Give lovingly, sacrificially, with a beautiful heart and a grand purpose. Follow His example. If anyone ever had a right to be bitter, it would be Him. But instead of allowing bitterness to consume Him, He served the world around Him, bringing hope, joy, peace, and healing. He replaced ugly debris in the world around Him with the beautiful gift of His love and salvation. He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

We are to abide in Him. He is the vine, and we are the branches. We are not to abide in ourselves, trying to be the vine, making bitterness our root and using our branches to hit back at others. Jesus is the Master Gardener, and His forgiveness quenches every sin. He is the source of strength to help us defeat this obstinate and seemingly unconquerable problem of bitterness. He can miraculously uproot things from our hearts that ought not be there, if we will allow Him to tend the soil of our hearts. We can grow upward into beautiful trees of righteousness, plantings of the Lord, that He might be glorified.**

Let the root of bitterness be burned up in the fire of forgiveness.  And when the smoke clears, the beauty of grace will remain.

*See Colossians 2:6-7
**See what God can do for His people John 15:1-17, Isaiah 61:3, 10-11

 

©Text and photos, Francee Strain, October 26, 2019

 

Strong to the Core 2

It is a new year. New resolutions. New realizations: some of the same old same old found its way into my new year last year, and I expect the same will happen again this year—unless I go on the offense.

I find myself with this priority at the top of my resolution list: I am going to work on strengthening my core. Those flabby parts and over-sized sections that ought not to be there—the ones from the distant past that keep showing up, along with the new ones I tacked on in 2018—those are my focus. The weakness that resides within me—I am going to replace it with strength. I have a great personal trainer lined up for the task, and I have a willing spirit. Ready. Set. Go to Jesus.

Yes, I am going to be trained by Jesus. I need to work on the core of my spirit. The neglect of the previous years has caused me to grow flabby. Unwanted things like frustration, disappointment, prayerlessness, despair, and fear have grown in size. As I have neglected to deal with these problems, not removing them and replacing them with better things like love, forgiveness, hope, patience, joy, and boldness, I have grown weak.

I am my own worst enemy. If I do not wake up early enough to go to the gym before heading out the door to work, the slippery slope of neglect begins, because often by the end of the workday and the home tasks, I am too tired. I tell myself I will try and do better tomorrow, but tomorrow usually never finds me doing so. Change takes desire and commitment, time and attention, a want-to and a know-how. I want to. He knows how. So, let’s do this!

I look to my trainer, and I ask Him what I need to do. He tells me to approach Him and watch what He does, and then follow His example. I come to Him, trusting in His perfect knowledge and unfailing skill. He is kind, loving, and patient. He forgives me when I fail. He walks right along beside me, offering encouragement and further instructions. I take a step forward, and then another, and then another. And before I know it, I realize this is what I was made to do, and I am becoming who I was made to be.

My focus changes. My tone changes. My ability changes. I mature as I remain teachable. Soon, I have a passion for rising up to begin my day by being infused with strength. When my day comes to an end, I look forward to more of His presence beside me tomorrow. I close my eyes in sleep, and I know in my core that I am strong because of the strength that has been placed within me by the hand of God.

“[T]hat He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:16-21 (NKJV)

© Francee Strain, January 2, 2019