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Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13 (NIV)

It took a 40-years-in-the-armpit-of-the-desert sort of situation, a little like my buddy Moses, for me to get a few things straight about myself and my relationship with God. One of those things was God’s view on forgiveness. I often joke that I have a PhD in Learning Stuff the Hard Way, but the truth is, spiritual growth for me has been quite a journey. It took a while to grasp that I have a 100% right standing with God because of Christ, period, and that I can’t add to or take away from that. I confess it’s still a bit mind boggling.

Complete forgiveness is an amazing, mind-blowing thing. A priceless, undeserved gift.

And yet . . . I still struggle with letting go of the hurtful or offensive things that others do. Offensive people are everywhere, aren’t they? (Or is it just me?) We live in a world of broken, rude, imperfect people who take cuts and accuse and backstab and offend. And some of us are gifted at keeping track of offense while conveniently forgetting our own flaws. But we are all guilty. ALL of us. NO one is perfect (nor should we expect anyone to be).

Colossians 3:13 in the NLT says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”

So even though hurt happens regularly, the Christian is told repeatedly in scripture to forgive. And it’s a command, not a suggestion, and not open to interpretation. Not only are we commanded to forgive, but we are to forgive as God forgave us. How does God forgive? Completely. Without hesitation, condition, or holding it over us. He not only forgives our sins and offenses, he also forgets them. File deleted, forever.

Jesus knows how warped our perspectives are and has a LOT to say about it, like the parable of the servant who was forgiven an astronomical debt and then beat up a guy who owed him 5 bucks (Matt 18). Or about how we’re quick to point out the speck in our brother’s eye and ignore the log sticking out of ours (Matt 7). I don’t think his use of hyperbole there was a coincidence. I think that was to help point out how phenomenally flawed and ridiculous our hypocrisy is.

Jesus knows us all too well.

So where does that leave us? Doomed to disobedience, bitterness, and conflict, thanks to our human reflexes, unless we make some choices. We have a choice to keep stumbling over the wounds and offenses of others and deal with the fallout, or we can choose to change the way we respond to offense.

This isn’t rocket science, but there are 3 simple things I’m challenging myself to do daily:

1. REMEMBER daily (hourly?) that I’ve been fully forgiven and to likewise fully forgive, a paradigm shift that will likely take some proactive discipline. Maybe add Colossians 3:13 as an hourly alert on your phone. Maybe hang The Lord’s Prayer on your bathroom wall where you’ll see it each morning (and at other necessary moments throughout the day…). Maybe post a sticky note on the dashboard of your Ford Escape if you’re in the habit of verbally assessing the IQ of drivers making less than ideal choices. Ahem.

2. PRAY. Both for the offender (forgivee?) and for God’s help to forgive them. He gladly enables and empowers us to do what we cannot do on our own, especially when it’s a matter of obedience, which forgiveness clearly is. A prayer (or 70×7 prayers) asking the Holy Spirit for the power to forgive someone is a prayer he is happy to answer. I can testify to that.

3. FORGET. I may forget a lot of things, but sadly, I can remember all the times I’ve been hurt. Forgiving others as God has forgiven us means we must choose to both fully forgive AND fully forget. And like forgiveness, forgetting is not easy, but Jesus will be faithful to help.

According to 1 Corinthians 13:5, love keeps no record of wrongs, and I believe that love is the real goal here.

Because when we 1. remember that we ALL need forgiveness, 2. pray for help forgiving, and 3. choose to forget others’ sins, we are letting another imperfect soul off the hook, we’re obeying the Lord, and best of all, we’re promoting the kind of love that John talks about, the kind that shows the world that we truly are Christ’s disciples. We are helping to pave the way for an amazing kind of supernatural unity, by the power and grace of God, that the world doesn’t recognize and the enemy can’t stand. And not only are we acting in obedience, love, and unity, we are also putting ourselves in a position to grow a little bit more every day.

Or so I’ve heard. 😉

Love & Peace,

~Camille

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Josie, the main character in The Secret Place, often wishes for a “do-over.”

The Secret Place was originally set to take place in the fall of 2020, along Oregon’s majestic McKenzie River. Then in came 2020 like Freddy Krueger. If ever a year needed a do-over, that was the one. Covid-19 changed life as we knew it. And to compound things for my little book, a state-wide outbreak of wildfires destroyed numerous parts of Oregon, including communities along the McKenzie river valley—on the exact same date and at the same place where my story was supposed to happen.

So as the time to publish the book approached, my choices were to either edit the story to include all the harsh realities of 2020—which would have made for a horrific tale. I couldn’t do it, and nobody I knew wanted to read that.

Or I could have left the story as originally written without the harsh realities actually taking place on the dates noted in the book, which would have meant skipping along through 2020 pretending as if a pandemic, riots, and devastating fires never happened. Which would have been a heartless display of indifference to all the people who suffered so much.

I couldn’t do that, either. So as the book was preparing to go to press, I bumped the story year back to 2019 (pre-covid & pre-fires), and adjusted all the dated backstory to match. And because of Libby’s journals, there was a LOT of dated backstory to edit.

If only we could do that in real life. Just edit the date and go back to a kinder time, back to the way things were before the world drastically changed. I wonder if people who lived through world wars longed for such a do-over? Why can’t we go back to the way life was before all this devastation? Why do we have to know firsthand about pain and hate and grief and PTSD and carry around permanent physical and emotional scars? Why do we have to find new ways to explain to our little ones about grief and anger and sickness and dangers in the world?

Those who have lived through world wars must have come through changed, they’d have had no choice. Likewise, we can’t come through trials unchanged. We usually have no control over difficult or trying circumstances. But we can control the way we respond to them. We can always choose anger and put up resistance, or we can let trials make us stronger. We can allow God to purify our hearts, our goals, and our values. We can choose to let pointless, temporal stuff to burn off and leave us packing light, determined, ready to follow him unhindered by useless weight and needless baggage from stuff in life that won’t be going into eternity with us. We can choose to focus on what matters in the bigger picture of God’s master plan. We can choose to let go of anything we worship or cling to that isn’t God.

This is an excerpt of a text exchange from The Secret Place, when Will was on a break from battling a forest fire:

Will – 10:45 p.m. I saw a beautiful creature in the middle of all this destruction. I held my breath, not wanting to scare it away, wondering how she could be there after fire has ravaged the land, and it hit me … Even though forest fire destroys so much, it can’t destroy the beauty and the power of life that God set in motion when he created all this … It’ll take time, but the forest will heal. The trees and the wild huckleberry will grow back, and the deer and beaver and bear will return, and the damage that was done will become nothing more than a distant memory.

Josie – 10:46 p.m. WOW. So beautiful. That you can see the potential for new life and beauty and goodness in spite of the devastation and the danger you’re dealing with right now.

Will – 10:46 p.m. What I see is YOU. You chose to pick up the pieces and make something good from your life. You remind me that beauty can come from ashes.

The Secret Place, ch 28

How you achieve strength from trial is up to you. I am only as strong as my weakest moment, so the only hope for me is in knowing that I have been promised an eternal future free of pain, suffering, and strife, and that promise comes from the One who is faithful without fail, who by his mercy lives inside me, who kindly picks me up when I fall and who carries me when I am weak. One who is undaunted by evil and unshaken by destruction. One who sees and cares.

One who has a plan. A good, perfect, forever plan. And he is determined to see it through.

My hope is entirely in Christ, not in me, no way. I am weak, but his word says that when I am weak, he is strong.

…But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:8-9

His strength shows up in my weakness. When I am broken, when I am scared, when I am sick or faithless or shaken, he is steadfast, faithful, and strong.

This broken world is not going to last forever, and it is not our forever home. A glorious new earth is part of his master plan, and it’s coming soon. All sorrow and darkness will be no more. My hope is on the horizon. My job, my response to storms and trials is to keep my eyes on Jesus and point him out to those who can’t see beyond the haze rising from the rubble.

Q: How are you holding up on the backside of 2020? Where do you place your hope?

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A regal Orchid, sent by church friends, arrived for my Dad’s memorial service in January 2021 and then somehow wound up in my “care.” If you can call it that. The fact that it didn’t immediately die on my watch has me quite honestly in awe of this creature. I can keep only one type of plant alive—the kind that thrive on abuse and neglect.

Orchid was in bloom when she first arrived, her dainty blossoms crisp and magnificent in contrasting pale pink and veins of bold magenta. It sat by a window my office at the church for a while, then I brought it home with little hope it would survive. It was such an exotic thing for a clod like me. The blooms were so fragile, yet strong. My granddaughter said she learned that orchids live in tropical rainforests and often grow on trees, sort of like a parasite. That is simultaneously weird and cool. I’ve watched how it grows, its aerial roots groping like bony, green fingers. Orchids are difficult to start, but once they germinate and become established, they’re like a beautiful free-loader too lovely to disturb.

A few months after bringing Orchy home, I was horrified to find the blossoms wilting, then they all dropped like dainty little paratroopers. Noooo!!! Surely I’d cursed the exotic flower by bringing it home to my ordinariness. But the leaves remained sleek and sturdy, so at least I knew I hadn’t killed it. I let the thing be, hoping she would live out the rest of her days as a plain spinster, like poor little Anne Elliot, whom Austen wrote had “lost her bloom.” At the ripe old age of 27.

But to my surprise, after being left in a corner to knit and play solitaire, Orchy suddenly sprouted little buds and then exploded in magnificent color once again. Exotic was apparently undaunted by ordinary!

Sadly, the second bloom didn’t last long. The blossoms quickly fell and my exotic little friend went dormant again. And this time, she stayed that way. I eventually moved the old girl to another room where she could wait out her days near a north-facing window, where a little more light could warm her old bones, where she could watch the cars and joggers and dog-walkers pass by.

Months have passed. She sits between the piles of books I’m studying, in spindly silence, her rubbery leaves still spry, valiant, but past her bloom, barren.

Or so I thought.

Today, I turned her pot see if she might like a little sun on her backside . . . and spotted a new bud sprouting on the stalk. Then I looked closer at both stalks and saw a few more tiny nubs.

Yay!

And I’m not sure what to make of this. That I accept disappointment prematurely, maybe? That I write off hope too soon? That we humans are quick to dismiss/shelve/cancel anything (or anyone) that doesn’t give immediate gratification? That just when we think our season of being fruitful has come to an end a new season begins, or that miraculous things are happening though we don’t see them, before anything is apparent to the naked human eye?

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

It reminds me of how often we forget that God hears our prayers because we don’t see anything happening. We forget that not everything He’s doing is visible, and just because we don’t see what we want, it doesn’t mean He’s not at work.

It reminds me that that dormancy is not death, and that a breathtaking eternity is just around the corner.

And that sometimes, El Shaddai delights in showing you that your ordinary is actually extraordinary. Exotic, in fact.

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And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God …

For a long time as a believer, I wondered what “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” meant. Somehow, I had missed the fact that this phrase was tucked in between the exhortations to build up others, to steer clear of bitterness and slander, and to be kind and forgiving.

Fact: Unkindness causes God grief.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:29-32

It’s pretty clear that bitterness, anger, slander, criticism, and all such forms of negativity break God’s heart. They don’t belong in the spirit-filled believer. At all. Paul tells us that kindness, compassion, and grace are to be our response to the offenses and imperfections of others.

Before I came to faith in Christ, bitter words spewed easily from me (see THIS post). But even long after I became a believer, I didn’t hesitate to be critical, freely listing others’ faults and flaws to myself and sometimes to others. And then about 15 years ago, I was blessed to work with an exceptional pastor, a man who consistently modeled grace and compassion day after day. Not only did he exemplify positive attributes, he also didn’t engage in negative, critical conversations. I instantly took note. His lack of engagement combined with his unwavering bent toward grace and compassion began to influence my thinking and actions.

After a while, I grew to sense a check in my spirit whenever criticism or negativity spilled out of my mouth. Sometimes the check was heeded. Other times, it was noted and promptly ignored.

Stop. Don’t say it.

Okay, now you’ve let that ugly criticism out of your mouth. You’re slandering someone God loves. Time to stop. Don’t continue.

STOP TALKING NOW.

Paul says we are to get rid of all bitterness. All.

ALL.

Bitterness is a weed with roots that go a lot deeper than the critical, judgy words about to leave my tongue. If I have to slap my hand over my mouth in order to not grieve God’s Holy Spirit, then I have a lot of work to do. Critical words are a product of stinky attitudes which are products of thoughts. Thoughts I am prone to feed and entertain if allowed to sprout and flourish unchecked.

If slanderous words grieve my Lord, then slanderous thoughts are every bit as heartbreaking.

Get rid of all bitterness. Get rid of malice.

Get rid of things that break God’s heart.

Fact: If you are in Christ, then God has forgiven you for all the things other people could be critical about that you’re still working on.

Uh …

Just as God has forgiven you for not having it all together, forgive others the same way.

Be Compassionate. Don’t pick at others’ flaws, faults, weaknesses.

Have Mercy. Show grace.

Remember that we are all a work in progress and all need God’s cleansing, renewing, and empowering. Remember that we all struggle with unseen things, with pains and fears, with quirks and tendencies and bad habits we need God’s help to overcome.

According to Ephesians 4, our words have the power to build others up according to their needs—even when we don’t understand what those needs are. And our words have the power to tear people down. Our words have the power break God’s heart. This is some serious power.

But my negative words are not the real issue—they’re simply evidence of a deeper problem: a bitter attitude in my heart. And what goes on in my heart matters to God.

I pray that the Spirit of God would not only stop me before I speak an unwholesome word about someone, but to stop me even as the negative thought begins to germinate in my mind. I pray he gives me a repulsion for such ugliness. I pray he enables me to immediately recognize seedlings of negativity, pull them by the roots, and hand them over to him. I pray he makes me ultra-sensitive to resentful thoughts and critical attitudes that so deeply pain him. I pray he makes my heart grieve over the things his heart grieves over. I pray Ezekiel 36:26, that he transplant my bitter, stony heart with a heart like his—a heart overflowing with compassion and grace. Soft, not stony. Full of light, not darkness. Full of love, not malice.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you. -Hosea 10:12 (NKJV)

Oh, to have a heart like God. Make it so, Lord. Please make it so.

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Do either of these statements describe the way you see God’s love for you?

1. God loves me, but (or as long as) _______.

2. God loves me, period.

Is God’s love for us something we control by our actions or behavior? Is his love contingent on what we do or don’t do?

In the biblical parable of the Prodigal son, Jesus tells us the story of a young man who thoroughly insulted his father by asking for his inheritance or “death benefit” early and leaving home to do as he pleased—to go hog wild, so to speak. After he partied all of his inheritance away, he found himself destitute and starving. He came to his senses and realized he’d been a wretched fool and his only hope for survival was to return to his father and beg to be made a slave. But as he neared his father’s estate, his father saw him from a distance and ran to meet him, embraced and kissed him, overjoyed at his son’s return.

Was the father’s love for his son based on the condition that the son return to him? Or did he love him all along?

I wonder if some of us see God’s love as conditional, based our actions, strivings, and obedience to him. I wonder if some of us need to see that God’s love is not like human love; it is not capricious or waning like that of humans. He doesn’t give the silent treatment when insulted or hold an offense over our head. His love does not tire like a discontented mate and send him in search of someone new.

I have often despaired of ever being good or pleasing enough. I struggle with the constant challenge to do better, to be better, to try harder. Yet I fail. I am inherently flawed and prone to mistakes. I can only follow Christ and serve him with his help, and even then I fall short of my aims.

But . . . then I read the story of the prodigal son and am reminded this represents the Father heart of God. Jesus paints a very touching picture of a father’s love, and more importantly, our heavenly Father’s love. I am so moved by this story, straight from the mouth of Jesus himself, which describes the holy, righteous God of the universe as an incredibly loving father.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not moved by the fact that the son got away with reckless sin and was forgiven without question, as though I were looking for a way to justify or excuse sinfulness. I am just awed and touched by picture of the Father’s steadfast love. The father didn’t lift his chin and turn to his friends and say, “Well. At least he’s back where he belongs, that takes a load off my mind. Lucky for him he came to his senses. But he has proven himself a disappointment and won’t soon forget what he did, I can guarantee that.”

No. He celebrated his son’s return to him. Wholeheartedly, with exuberant joy. He was so moved to emotion that he ran, breaking cultural codes of propriety. He not only ran, he embraced his son and kissed him. Couldn’t contain his joy at his son’s return. Unreservedly expressed his love before his son had a chance to speak a word of remorse for his sin. Showed lavish grace and forgiveness without another word about what the son had done.

I wonder if those of us who grew up either fatherless or with dads who were unloving or abusive have a particular need to be reminded of the “Father heart” of God. I am not suggesting that we should ever forget that he is also God of the universe, the absolute holy, righteous judge. But those of us who have lived under the thumb of someone who rules by cruelty and intimidation may have a harder time understanding how so good and loving a father can be at the same time so exacting in his judgment and so thoroughly demanding of holiness. It’s simply who God is (and more than can be addressed in a blog post.)

We must do our best to keep in mind the big picture perspective of all that God is, and not pick and choose our favorite attributes. He is fierce both in his love and his holiness. His love is everlasting—to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:17) Not fear him in the same way I once feared a stepdad’s return home from work every day, but a reverence for him in all his righteousness and holiness. AND his love. Embrace the total truth of who God is and allow Him to embrace you in return.

And don’t forget: he is running to embrace you long before you’ve even arrived.

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“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” -Psalm 55:6-8

What do you think of when you read this passage from Psalms? Does the idea of escape tempt you? Have you ever cried out for relief from life’s storms?

In Wings Like a Dove, Anna faces growing difficulties in her life. Psalm 55:6 is brought to her attention and she ponders it more than once, especially as the difficulties in her life steadily increase.

As Polish Jews in the early 1900s, Anna’s family lived in constant upheaval, so fleeing danger is nothing new to her. The problem is that Anna craves connection and community. While she was often uprooted, at least Anna enjoyed the security of family—until now. As the story begins, she is turned out of her home and must journey across the country alone, a heartache that only intensifies the persecution she faces as a Jew, an immigrant, and an unwed woman with child.

But her journey is temporarily delayed out of necessity, and she quickly falls in love with those who have taken her in. The idea of leaving them is as painful a prospect as leaving her own family, but because of the troubles that follow her, it seems she has no choice.

Psalm 55:6 isn’t tempting Anna to leave her surroundings; it tempts her to escape the negativity that robs her joy.

For Anna, and for the rest of us, we can’t flee trouble any more than we can grow wings and fly. The desire for relief is understandable. But what if there is a purpose in the difficult situations we face? What if we are called to more than simply outlast life’s storms? What if our weakest moment is exactly what God wants to use to show his power, love, mercy, and grace?

What if God is waiting for us to stop fluttering our wings and find joy in knowing that we are in the very place we need to be, for a purpose, for such a time as this?

Quote from Anna: “If these past months have taught me nothing else, they have taught me that though I am only a seed blowing in the wind, I must still be fruitful wherever I land. I have learned that wherever we find ourselves, we must have the courage to stretch out roots and produce something useful, even in times of difficulty. We must bloom boldly in whatever field our seed has fallen.”

May you find the sweet spot of joy and purpose in the midst of your storm!

-Camille

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“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Psalm 55:6-8

I have heard people say, “If I could just get over this health issue,” or “If only I had more money.” If only I had less stress, more help, less pain, more support, etc, etc.

 

Have you ever been there?

If only . . .

If I could just . . .

 

Between these words, I hear a cry for relief. Not only relief from difficult circumstances, but also from hopelessness. What if I become so sick or anxious or overwhelmed or so deeply in debt that I can’t function? What if my circumstances never change? What if it gets worse?

 

Thanks to our Adamic inheritance, we live in a fallen world, full of sin, disease, dysfunction, injustice, abuse, brokenness—the list is endless. You may be dealing with something that could wreak more damage than a hurricane. Whether from external circumstances or personal struggles within, the weight of constant suffering can be unbearable and make us hopeless for a way out, no end in sight. No hope for relief.

 

I am blown away by my pastor. For too many reasons to list here, but for one in particular: He suffers terrible migraines. These are horribly painful to the point of making him physically sick. He can’t think or do anything but lie still. With a family and a loaded plate of pastoral responsibilities, he doesn’t have time to be sick, and yet he somehow presses on, with the diligence of a faithful, caring shepherd. He asks God for healing and asks others to pray, and yet the headaches continue. When a migraine strikes on a Sunday, we’ve seen God answer prayer many times by giving Pastor enough strength and relief to deliver his sermon. What amazes me is that in spite of this suffering, this man is absolutely unwavering in his faith in Christ. His life is an inspiring example of steadfast confidence in and obedience to God. The fact that God has not yet healed him doesn’t stop him from serving the Lord with his whole heart, with truth and grace, every minute of every day.

 

He continues to ask God for healing. And we should keep asking God to relieve us and others of suffering. I know he can. And many times, he does. But what if immediate relief isn’t part of his plan for us right now? What if God is more interested in how we weather a storm (or an entire hurricane season) than he is in rescuing us from it?

 

The Apostle Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh.” I think Paul came to terms with the fact that relief for him would not be coming. I also think he became grateful for the thorn, because it drove him closer Jesus.

 

How does being closer to Jesus help when we face difficult circumstances?

 

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

So I’ll never fail to bear fruit. Awesome. But what good is fruit when I’m suffering?

When we turn our lives over to Christ, his Spirit moves in and begins the work of making us more like him. God’s word and presence feed, sustain, and transform us. This transforming work is evident by such “fruit” as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not a pretense pulled down over us like a goody-hoody, but a God-kind of gentleness and peace that springs from the place in our soul where Jesus lives and works on us. This fruit not only lets others see God in us, it reminds and assures us of his sanctifying power and love. This assurance comes from experiencing God in a way that teaches us we can trust in his goodness, his provision, and his constant faithfulness.

 

If storms feel endless and unbearable, maybe we need to stretch our roots deeper in God’s stream. When we make him our Source, nothing can destroy us. No drought, famine, wildfire, (debt, depression, cancer) can steal our love, joy and peace when we are nourished by The Stream. Yes, storms may shred our bark, and our fruit might be knocked off and crushed, but we will never wither. We will sprout new leaves and blossom again. What tremendous hope we have!

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Romans 8:35-39

We might be battered for a season, but God will be our strength and sustenance. If he is allowing us to go through difficulty, he will provide what we need. And he won’t let us weather a storm alone! He is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” and will stay beside us all the way to the other side, whatever that may be. He will never leave or forsake us!

 

Sometimes, the response we get to “If only” or “If I could just” isn’t the relief we desperately want. I know, not very comforting, I’m sorry. Relief from suffering may come soon, later on, or it may not come at all—in this life. But even if we suffer the sting of some particular thorn for the rest of our lives, we won’t suffer forever. An entire earthly lifetime doesn’t even compare to forever. It may feel like eternity, but no matter how long our suffering lasts, God promises us it will not last forever. He also promises to be with us, strengthening and providing. Let’s set our hope in him, and look forward to a joyful forever yet to come, where all difficulty, sorrow, and suffering will be forgotten.

 

Paul could say this with full assurance, thorn and all.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Are you in a season of suffering? Can you share a time when circumstances felt too unbearable? Have you “reached your roots” into the stream of God’s provision and strength?

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mister-rogers-television-persona

The film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” releases in theaters today. I haven’t seen it yet, but I think I already love this movie.

But let’s back the trolley up…

I have a confession: I grew up watching Mister Rogers, and I liked him fine, but I didn’t really appreciate him, not as a child. I remember being about 10 and not understanding the gentle guy with the soft voice and the puppet friends and the incessant drive to keep peace in the neighborhood. To always be neighborly, to point out how neighborly others were being.

And I didn’t understand why he would look into the camera (at me) and say, “You’re special,” and, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” These platitudes (I thought, at all of age ten) were lost on this emotionally struggling kid, because life hadn’t been special, there hadn’t been kindness or a safe, gentle community in which to develop healthy self image and relationships. Moving multiple times combined with dysfunctional dynamics had left me feeling disconnected with no grasp or appreciation for community and no concept of kind, gentle fatherly figures.

So I appreciated the polite guy in the sweater and alternating loafers, but I really didn’t know what to make of him. I mean, there weren’t really men like that (in my worldview). I think I decided he was only a caricature, a fictional invention, like the Six Million Dollar Man. Although why anyone would go to such lengths to invent a character who talked to slightly creepy little puppets didn’t make sense… Life in the real world simply did not look the way it did in Mister Rogers’ polite neighborhood, so, as pleasant as it was, it was just TV, not real.

But deep down, I wanted Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood to be real.

Can such a kind, neighborly world exist? What would it take? An army of Fred Rogers? An increase in education? A decrease in guns? A change of neighborhood? Where can we go where everyone is just like us?

Who is my neighbor?

Someone asked Jesus this question once, and his answer was to tell a story (what a novel idea!). The story of the Good Samaritan tells us what God thinks about where we should draw the line at kindness.

The Bible has a lot more to say about how we respond to others.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12:17-18

If peace and harmony could actually be as simple as each person committing to live peaceably with all. If only we could actually resist the temptation to repay evil with evil, an eye for an eye, if we gave conscious thought to the way we respond instead of acting rash or retaliatory. If only Love was patient and kind. If only…

it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Cor. 13

Love takes the initiative, Love desires to have the last word, leave a lasting fragrance. Like Mister Rogers and his tireless devotion to kindness, peace, and treating each person as someone of special value—also known as Fruit of the Spirit.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” opens today, and I’m planning to see it tonight. I can only imagine how this story will impact me, now that I’m not that naive, jaded child, and now that I have a deepening and purposeful desire to see Love getting last word, and to see what impossible things God can do among us.

So I’ll be back… when the day is new… and I’ll have more ideas for you…

-Camille

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My friend lost her husband without warning. She kissed him goodnight, and in the morning, he was gone. Her single-parent (of 8) life quickly became an overwhelming nightmare, and anger became her solace.

broken

And so did alcohol.

Grief and anger sent her into a dark, vicious downward spiral of addiction. Though she loved Jesus and tried to put on a brave face and cope with every bit of strength she had, my friend was shattered beyond repair. She tried, but didn’t have the strength to give God all the pieces.

I think it was one of the hardest things she’s ever done, but my friend agreed to enter a Christ-focused residential rehab program. It took more than a year for her to crawl out of the bottle and into the light of day, the kind of day that dawns one at a time, wrapped in God’s fresh, new mercy. The kind of day that slowly, carefully, and sometimes painfully, restores the broken shards of hopes and dreams that at first seemed utterly impossible to put back together.

God has been restoring my friend’s heart and life one jagged piece at a time, and the new woman emerging radiates grace, humility, precious surrender, and most beautiful of all, hope. Some people might call her a recovering alcoholic.

I call her incredibly brave.

I have seen broken. I have been broken. And maybe you’ve been broken at some time or another. Maybe you’re broken now.

Maybe you’ve looked at a person failing to hold it together and wondered why they can’t just dust off, grow up, and fly straight. But my friend’s experience reminds me that everyone’s brokenness doesn’t look the same, and we should avoid passing judgment on what we think we see. We should remember there is much we can’t see, whether it’s well-hidden, or a matter of our own short-sightedness.

My friend’s experience also reminds me that I need to extend the same grace and understanding to someone else’s brokenness that I would want shown to me.

We have a tendency to see through the filter of our own experience, the grid of what’s familiar. But this limits our ability to understand when it comes to the struggles, challenges, and pain others face. What wouldn’t phase me might give you PTSD, and vice versa. We may judge someone whose brokenness drives them to drink. Or to walk away from their spouse. Or into deep despair. Or debt. Depression. Anxiety. Food. Rage.

We are all breakable. Fragile. To be handled with care.  And none of us can fix our own brokenness any more than a cracked pot can fix itself.

But there is Someone who can.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

shattered-cambion-artAuthor Roseanna White posted about Broken Vessels on her blog today, and I found myself nodding as I read it. She said, “…our Lord is described as a potter. He knows all about these fragile vessels He’s made. He knows how easily we break. Shatter. Fall to pieces. And He knows how to fix us. More, He knows how to take the pieces and make something new. Lord, use us in your mosaic. Fix us where you can, filling our cracks and holes and empty places with you.” [Read the rest of her post HERE.]

This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 

Isaiah 43:16-19

Maybe in your life, you’ve faced overwhelming struggles or unspeakable horrors. Or painfully unmet expectations. Whatever brokenness you’ve suffered—or are suffering, I hope you have someone caring and strong to turn to. If you haven’t yet, cry out to Jesus. He cares more than you know. And he can make you whole.

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p-rugrats-christine-cavanaugh-chuckie-finsterWhen my kids were little, they watched Rugrats on Nickelodeon. Not a fan? That’s ok. I didn’t care if they watched it, as long as they didn’t pick up Angelica’s bratty behavior and attitude. But while I folded laundry or cooked dinner and listened to the show, I found myself rooting for timid little Chuckie, the one who was always afraid. Because somehow, Chuckie often summoned the courage to be brave and face his fears. I think Chuckie was the character written with the five year old in mind, the one kids could identify with.

I marvel at those who seem fearless. Do you know anyone like that? Aren’t they amazing? But what amazes me even more are those who are terrified and somehow summon courage even when they’re scared spitless.

I don’t know what Chuckie based his courage on. But as I thought about this character (yes, I like to analyze characters and I love to learn from them), what really struck me was the fact that Chuckie’s courage wasn’t based on an absence of fear. The poor kid was always afraid. There are those who just don’t get scared—like Navy Seals, maybe, and they’re awesome, of course, but they’re not much help to me, you know? So maybe you’re a Navy Seal who is totally in your Zen zone hanging out underwater in a 300lb diving suit with oxygen being pumped down to you by some guy topside who might sneeze and trip over your air hose and accidentally rip it loose, or fall asleep or get distracted by puppies on facebook. And I’m glad you’re at peace with that guy in charge of your oxygen. But for the rest of us who are petrified of drowning or suffocating, the idea of mustering the courage to do something like that, for me, is huge.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faced a frightening situation when he and his people were surrounded by an enemy too numerous and powerful to withstand. I love that he didn’t posture bravado. He was Freaked. Out. And was not afraid to admit it. In unabashed humility, he uttered this prayer to the Lord:

“For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Which was great, but even better, the Lord answered and said,

“Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.”

The battle belongs to God! That’s so cool! And, somehow, so easy to forget.

One of my earlier novels gives a nod to the Old Testament story of Daniel’s young friends as they face the fiery furnace, and the main character (Emily) is reminded that if she has to face a fiery trial, the Lord will be right there with her, standing with her through it all. A wise book reviewer (Carrie of Reading Is My Superpower) made this lovely meme quoting a line (inscribed in a fictional children’s book) from the story.

like-theres-no-tomorrow-quote

Courage is not an absence of fear, or enemies surrounding our camp, or trials, or taxes, or fiery furnaces. Courage is stepping out in faith in spite of fear. It may help to remember that the battle is not ours, and is already won (YES!!) and that the Lord stands with us, right beside us, and will never leave us. Or accidentally trip over our air hose.

Personally, I admire the timid soul who summons the courage to trust God when afraid. I think taking a step of faith and trusting God in spite of fear is incredibly brave—maybe even more brave than a Navy Seal in the 300lb diving suit.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. -Psalm 27:14

Question: Care to share a moment when you were afraid and had to summon the courage to jump or step out in faith?

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