The Sparrow Keeper

IMG_2037

I am a birdwatcher. I peek out the windows to check on the happenings in my yard. Certain birdcalls send me running outdoors to catch the action. At times, you will find me with my mouth agape as I observe the spectacular scenes unfolding before me.

Several of my hobbies revolve around wild birds. Some days, I get a finger cramp pressing the shutter button on my camera. I use my photographs in a multitude of ways. I have a feather collection. Bird figurines adorn my tabletops, shelves, fireplace mantel, and piano. There are framed bird prints hanging in various rooms of the house. I have bird identification books and recently had a magazine subscription where I could gaze at other people’s bird photographs and further my bird education. I am not sure where my fascination came from. I remember checking out bird guide books from the elementary school library and sitting at my bedroom desk tracing over the photos. Birds of paradise were my favorites. But after that, I do not remember too much of anything else related to birds—until five years ago, when I acquired a birdbath. At that point, I moved beyond being a bird watcher—I became a bird keeper.

A keeper is one who has the job not only to watch but also to protect and maintain what or whom is being cared for. Daily, I have taken to caring for the birds. I water them, fill up feeders with birdseed, and cook up batches of hummingbird nectar. I chase away cats looking for a feathery meal and shoo away deer who believe the bird feeders exist for their benefit. Thus, I have become a sparrow keeper, along with being a keeper to more than thirty-five other types. It brings great joy to my heart to be able to share in the lives of these beautiful creatures.

When we look at sparrows, beautiful may not be the first word that comes to mind.  We probably are not impressed by their appearance or wowed by their size. We might think they are a dime a dozen and are nothing in comparison to the showy peacocks or powerful birds of prey. But the Bible says not one sparrow is forgotten by God or falls to the ground without His knowledge. And we humans are told not to fear because we are of more value than many sparrows.* Think of it!  If God cares for each one of these little creatures, how much more must He care for us?

But, how do we understand this when life seems to be flying out of control in many directions at once, like a flock of birds flushing out of the field? Right now, there is noise, confusion, scrambling, blurring, fleeing, crying out, and fear. Things are startling us out of our peace and rest, interrupting us as we try to go about our normal lives, causing us to question what is happening and what to do next. We don’t understand the outside forces that are bearing down on us and making our anxious hearts pound. But I want to encourage us not to fear. God’s eyes are on the sparrows, and He is watching over us, too.

Recently, I was thinking of two songs which talk about God being a sparrow watcher. But the more I thought about this concept, I realized He is not just a sparrow watcher, He is a sparrow keeper. He is not simply an observer of what’s taking place in our lives, He is involved in our care. He fulfills the definition of a keeper as He guards and cares for, protects and maintains. As we live our lives in the midst of a difficult and fallen world, He abides, faithful.

Indeed, we are told the very hairs of our heads are numbered.** God is aware of each of us and is paying attention to the details. From our safe little perches and our huge falls to the ground in this big overwhelming world fraught with danger, He remains vigilant. When gale force winds, seasons of drought, firestorms, and famine come, He speaks peace. When we are separated from the flock, lost, or abandoned, He is omnipresent. When our feathers get ruffled, when we smack into the window while looking at the reflection of something we think we want, or when we get blown off course in the high winds, He sees. He knows. He remains steadfast. And He is available to help us recover. No one else can meet each need or save our very souls except Him. He has provided Himself, the living water and the bread of life. He guards souls from eternal death and is capable of keeping them in life. He is omnipotent and everlasting.

Yes, God is the world maker, star namer, and soul saver. He is the sparrow watcher and the sparrow keeper. From everlasting to everlasting, He is God.

IMG_8166

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.

I will cry out to God Most High,
To God who performs all things for me.

He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up. Selah
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
(Psalm 57:1-3 NKJV)

*See Luke 12:6
**See Luke 12:7

©Text and photos Francee Strain, August 16, 2020

He Comes in the Storm

IMG_4718 (2)

He comes in the storm with power and authority.
Creator of all.
Ruler of all.
Sustainer of all.

With a word, He can cause the storm to cease. With a word, He can bring great calm. With a word, He can speak peace. In His presence, there is peace.

As the winds of life howl and the storms rage, He holds us–safely and securely in His almighty hands. As the winds drive the pounding rain, and our hearts pound in fear, He comes. Listen to the power of His words, “Peace. Be still.”*

Over and encircling, through and beneath, His presence pervades; and there is peace.

This is our God. The God above all gods. Let us never be shaken.

~~~~~~

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” **

 

*Quotation taken from Mark 4:39, King James Version, public domain.

**Quotation taken from Philippians 4:6–7, New King James Version, ©1982, Thomas Nelson.

©Original text and photo by Francee Strain, May 3, 2020

Peace to You

IMG_5312 (2)

During this time of upheaval, I want to encourage you.

You can find hope.

You can know peace.

Because…you are loved.

God has loved you with an everlasting love, and with lovingkindness He is drawing you to Himself.  Though the earth shakes, and the mountains fall into the sea, He is the Creator and Ruler of all.

Place your hand in the hand of the One who can hold you securely.  Place your heart in the hands of the One who gave His very life to save you.  Look up to where there is help.  Look up to where there is redemption.  Look up into the very face of God.

 


Several articles regarding peace and comfort can be found on my site. A few you might want to access are: “The Victorious Heart,”  “Between Seasons,” and “Immanuel.”  You may access these from the search bar on the home page or by accessing the “articles” page from the site menu.  If you are in need of prayer, send me a comment through the contact page.

–Francee


Text and photo by Francee Strain, March 21, 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

When It Just Doesn’t Quit

IMG_8178

Sometimes, it just doesn’t quit. You know what I’m talking about. The stuff. It just keeps coming at you faster than you can swallow, or even blink. There you are, and there it is. And that, and that, and that too. Overwhelmed. Swamped. Buried. Defeated. Hopeless. Despairing.

The trials compound. The stack of bills mounts. The calendar is crammed to capacity. The seams are about to burst. And you are about to unravel.

The crises become commonplace. The hours fly and crawl at the same time. The supporters grow tired of supporting. And there you are, left all alone with a mess in your hands. And in front of you. And on all sides. Pressing in. Weighing down.

When is this going to stop? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve all of this? I am so ready to be done. I am past ready.

And then, guess what?  It rains some more.  The straw that broke the camel’s back is joined by more straws. You stare bewildered. You stare blankly. You are staring it in the face.

But then—if your heart belongs to Jesus–a still small voice will come. It will remind you of the words. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Be still, and know that I am God. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”* What precious words. And these words are truth, spoken straight to your heart from the source of all truth: God Himself, the One who holds the world in His hands, and the One who holds you in His hands.

A few blinks will clear away the haze, and the clarity will dawn. God Himself, the Maker of the universe, is right there beside you. He holds your hand, and He holds your heart. Strength will begin to infuse you. Joy will begin to rise up. Hope will be restored. And you can have a plan. He can be your plan.

The piles will still pile on. The stuff will still keep coming. The pain will still be real. But you will be different. With God on your side, the hopeless heart will become hope-filled.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NKJV)

*From Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 46:10, and Hebrews 13:5 NKJV

©Text and photo Francee Strain, February 14, 2019. Reposted March 7, 2020.

 

Between Seasons

Hope picture from cell phone Jan. 2020

There is hope of spring while winter still lingers, storms, and swirls.

Winter. Fear can strike the heart as the winds howl and the ground shakes. At times, there are blizzards and chaos. Things cannot be seen clearly, and sometimes they cannot be seen at all. Cold winds blow. Ice freezes in our veins. We don’t know which way to go and which way to turn. Our feet are frozen to the ground in fear.

But then, His voice speaks, and the storms cease.

Rays of light and hope burst in and pervade the heart. Our minds are suddenly at peace. Our heart rates calm. Our breathing slows.

The truth of the matter settles over our situations as His presence enters. He created the world from nothing. In Him all things exist and subsist. Why do we worry about what tomorrow holds? Why are we fretting today? His power is real. His plan is perfect. His peace is available.

So, while we are here between seasons, with difficult days both now and ahead, we can cling to the hope that the Son will break through, and we will pass through from winter into spring.

 

©Text and photo, Francee Strain, February 21, 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

Your Heart Can Rest

IMG_8908

“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, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 4, 116.
Continue reading

Immanuel, Every Day of the Year

For Facebook post Dec. 14, 2019

Here we are in December, counting down the days until Christmas when we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. What a wonderful celebration it will be! But there is much more to it than that–Jesus is for 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑑𝑎𝑦 of the year, not just December 25th. He is for the good days and bad, the joys and sorrows, the mountaintops and valleys. No matter the circumstances, there is cause to celebrate if we are celebrating Him. He is Immanuel, every day of the year.

Aɴᴅ Hᴇ ᴡɪʟʟ ʙᴇ ᴄᴀʟʟᴇᴅ Iᴍᴍᴀɴᴜᴇʟ, ᴡʜɪᴄʜ ᴍᴇᴀɴs Gᴏᴅ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴜs.
(See Mᴀᴛᴛʜᴇᴡ 1:23)

“Immanuel. God with us. This is one of His names, one of His amazing characteristics, and one of His precious promises. He has said that He will never leave us, nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). When our hearts are heavy and our spirits are wounded, Immanuel. When our minds swirl and whirl in chaos and questions, Immanuel. When nothing makes sense and all hope seems lost, Immanuel. Storms rage. Dreams die. Immanuel. People leave. People die. Immanuel. Homes are lost. Possessions ravaged. Immanuel. Days are long. Nights are longer. Immanuel. Pits are deep. Scars are deeper. Immanuel. No one even understands our pain and the depths of it. Immanuel. In this name, there is hope and there is rest. Immanuel. Comfort can be found in knowing that we are not alone in what we are facing. We can rest, assured of His promise to always be with us. And because God always keeps His promises, we can cling to this name for all we are worth. Immanuel. When we are lost, we can find Him: Immanuel.”

Text and photo by Francee Strain, December 14, 2019
Quoted material excerpted from Francee Strain, 𝑁𝑜 𝑂𝑟𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑟𝑦 𝐼𝑛𝑣𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛: 𝐶𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝐿𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑎 𝐿𝑖𝑓𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝐸𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑛𝑎𝑙 𝑃𝑢𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑒, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 65-66.

The Rainy Season

IMG_7245

‘Tis the season—the season for rain.  But it is also the season for thanksgiving.  Rain can be destructive, but it can also bring beauty.  Rain can wipe away our chalk drawings, but it can also grow our roses.  Take a second look at your rainy season and find a reason to give thanks.

Thankful Thoughts (book excerpt)
We have most likely learned that although it may not be raining now, one day it will be. Even though we may be living in relative ease right now, we know to anticipate the “rain” of struggles. Part of being human is facing the difficult times that will be forthcoming someday. On the other hand, we may already be living in the “someday” and be in the midst of those struggles right now. Our lives may be in states of chaos, with one crisis after another, and we can barely think straight. How can we rest amid our suffering? How can we praise God anyway? One place to find answers is to look at the life of Job.

There was a way that Job was able to find peace and rest. He said, “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind. … With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding” (Job 12:10, 13). Job’s burdens were lightened because he placed his trust in God’s character. When we meditate on who God is in relation to who we are, our thoughts will become peaceful as we recognize His sovereignty and omnipotence. When we read these verses and see that He has understanding, it can bring relief to our minds to know that at least He has things figured out even if we do not. God is wise and strong, and He has been around so much longer than we have. He knows how things work–He made them! If He created the earth and He created us, then He definitely knows what to do with our lives. Our minds can be calmed by understanding that He holds our lives in His hands and gives us every breath. So when the rains of life come, we can rest safely in His shelter, knowing He is going to bring growth from this downpour.

**********

Psalm 135:1-7 (NKJV)

1 Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord; Praise Him, O you servants of the Lord!
2 You who stand in the house of the Lord, In the courts of the house of our God,
3 Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; Sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant.
4 For the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure.
5 For I know that the Lord is great, And our Lord is above all gods.
6 Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.
7 He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He brings the wind out of His treasuries.

**********

Francee Strain, No Ordinary Invitation: Called to Live a Life of Eternal Purpose, (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2017), 193.

Photo Credit: Francee Strain