God’s Photo Album

Strength – physical strength as in people or animals; superhuman strength – strength above human capacity; a common character attribute in role-playing games, physical power and energy (Wikipedia)

Strength – the state, quality or property of being strong; the power to resist attack; the power to resist strain or stress; the ability to maintain a moral or intellectual position firmly (thefreedictionary.com)

What do you think of when you hear the word strength?  Do you think of physical strength, exercise, lifting weights at the gym?  Do you think of enduring your long, difficult day?  Or maybe you think of overcoming a terminal illness or the effects of losing someone to a terminal illness.  How can all of these situations use the same word?

STRENGTH

If God kept a photo album of His children exhibiting strength and giving Him glory through it, would that picture look different from what you envisioned a moment ago?  Would you find yourself in God’s photo album?

Tracie Miles, author of Stressed Less Living, used this description to describe God’s strength and how we are to apply it to our lives.  This depiction really gave me a clear picture of what “STRONG” looks like in our lives through God’s eyes.

Exhibiting strength through God’s eyes might be standing up for someone on the playground who is getting picked on.  It might be reciting the Lord’s Prayer as your valedictorian speech as one student did this week in response the school banning prayer.  It might be working 2 or 3 jobs to provide for your family and doing so happily and without resentment.  It might be counting your blessings in the midst of the storm and remembering that God is with you through it.

I’d like to think I am in God’s photo album of strength.  I’d like to think that through the loss of my son, I exhibit faith and strength each day.  I am not perfect and I make mistakes, however, I try to continue to move forward.  I am so thankful for the 17 months I had knowing the beautiful boy who is my son.  I cannot imagine who I would be right now if I had not had those months with him.  I am not the person I was before he was born and I am not the person I was before he died.  I am trying to be a better person in God’s eyes.  I am no longer concerned with the world and what they think I should be.  I have decided to devote my life to serving God and for that I am blessed.

Strength appears and shows up in many forms.  It is often the person who appears weak, forgotten or lost; this is the person who has the most strength in God’s eyes.  Strength to stay the course, to not give up and to keep God in their life and in their reach.  God is the only one to pull us through our difficult trials.  It is His strength that we possess, not of our own accord.

Reflection Challenge – Do you see yourself in God’s photo album?  Do you glorify Him is all areas of your life and do you reach out to Him when you are stressed, disappointed, having trouble in your life?  Do you reflect Him in yourself?

My prayer for all of you is that you will find God’s strength today and will harness it and use is daily to make a more peaceful and fulfilling life that will glorify Him.

 

God’s Strength

Have you ever thought of God’s strength as medication?  Something you can take to ease the pain?  Something you can take to push through until the end of the day?  Instead of popping a pill because of  the next stress headache, maybe try opening the bible and digesting a few verses.  The bible is filled with God’s Word, the Word that relieves all pain, physical and emotional.  The Word that releases all stress, if we allow it.  The Word that transforms us from crazy busy to peaceful.

Matthew 11:28-29 states, “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Jesus wants us to lay our burdens on Him.  He does not want us to manage all alone.  Once we release our burdens to Christ and walk beside Him, we will find a peace that will begin to transform our lives.  Tracie Miles shares in the book, Stressed-Less Living, “His desire is that we come to understand the importance of walking with him everyday, because that is where we gain our strength.”

We are begging for strength to get through the day, week, month.  I know, I have been there.  But, instead of begging and pleading, why are we not releasing to God?  Why are we not letting go of our troubles and praying over them?  Why are we not stepping back to take a look at how we allowed ourselves to become this stressed out to begin with?

I understand that some situations just put us into immediate stress without any warning.  For example, when my son was diagnosed with brain cancer, our entire world just turned on us.  We were put into high stress mode from nothing just the day before.  He died one month later and again, stress just increased immediately. However, we grasped on for God.  He sent us a life line and we held on as tightly as we could.  We let go of EVERYTHING else around us: friends, obligations, parties, social gatherings, extra work, etc.  Totally and completely let go of all of it.  We clung to the one who we knew could pull us through.  And He did.

God will give us strength when we need it.  “Strength to walk in his joy when we cannot find any reason to be joyful.  Strength to stand firm in our faith when things seem hopeless.  And strength to be strong when the painful things of life are taking their toll on our hearts.”  (Stressed-Less Living, Tracie Miles)

 

That situation is not typical.  Most everyday stress comes from over-booking yourself for various things.  Could be work, social, volunteering, play dates for kids, sports, pressures of keeping house, etc.  I could go on and on.   When normal, everyday life stresses creep into your life, you need to step back and say to yourself, “What can I get rid of?  What is it God is telling me?  What is God’s will for me today?”  Maybe God doesn’t need you to be at both soccer practice and PTA.  Maybe He needs you to be in His Word.

I have made a habit of praying each morning and listening to some worship music as well to start off my day.  It has really made an impact on how the rest of my day unfolds.  I challenge you to do something similar.  Find a few moments before your day begins to say hello to God and to ask Him what He has planned for you today.  Then, make sure you do that and not too much else!  At the end of the day, be sure to thank Him also.

 

 

 

Exodus 33:14

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

How does this make you feel when you read these words from Exodus?  It brings a sense of calm and peace to me.  I need to know that I am not alone in this difficult, stressful, crazy life that we live in.  The thing is, God has told us this from the beginning.  We are not alone.  He is always with us and always walks with us.

There have been many stressful situations in my life.  Some of them I struggled through without relying on God and others I had no choice but to surrender to God to carry me.  I remember the teenage years.  Oh how I wish I had turned to God then and asked him to guide me through the difficulties of growing, friends, boys, dating, independence and more. But I knew better.  I knew better than my parents, I knew better than everyone.  So, I made many mistakes.  I suffered and wondered why these years were so tough for me.

It wasn’t that I was totally apart from God, but I was not working on my relationship with him actively.  I was not listening to him or looking for him.  I was not studying his word or seeking his guidance.  Looking back, I now know he was with me all the time, but I was not acknowledging his presence.

Early in my marriage, I opened my heart a sliver to let God through.  We struggled through infertility, financial woes, work stress, and many other obstacles that newly married couples face.  Yes, I was beginning to scratch the surface of building my relationship with God.  And mostly because of how empty I felt not being able to conceive.  Like Hannah in Samuel, I cried out to God to give me a child.  God answered my prayers.  He blessed us over several years with 3 babies.  My relationship was growing stronger and I was witnessing miracles in my own life daily.  Miracles that were always there, but I was now more aware of them around me.

My 2nd child had a brain tumor, diagnosed at the young age of 16 months and died at 17 months. For those of you who have read my other blogs, you already know this story.  This was a turning point in my life.  This was the crossroad where I surrendered completely or turned and left God.  However, God had been preparing me.  He had planted seeds of faith from the day I was born and he knew that I would not turn my back on him.

How could I?  He had my baby now and would one day have me too.  Why would I want to turn my back on him?

So, desperate, aching, grieving,  and lost – I surrendered.  I let go of everything tangible in this world, I fell to my knees and pleaded with God to help me breath again, help me move again and help me live again.

I have felt his presence in my life every day since then.  If I feel stressed or strangled by circumstance, I just close my eyes and whisper a prayer and I feel him again.  I listen to worship music on the way to work and reflect on how God is working my life today before I even start my day.

God never left me, even in my most difficult days.  He lifted me up and made sure I could put one foot in front of the other.  And when I couldn’t physically put one foot in front of the other, he sat with me until I could.

The more I study God’s Word, the more I realize I don’t know!  And I am invigorated inside.  I want to learn more.  I want to experience more.  I want to be more, for God.

And, knowing that his presence is with me wherever I go, how can I fail?  I just need to listen to him!

Blessed

I am blessed.  I am blessed every single day!  Despite the stress I put on myself, there are so many blessings each and everyday that I overlook.  I need to stop doing that!  I need to embrace these blessings and thank God for them every day.  As I thought about this topic for my blog, I thought of Matthew 5, The Beatitudes.  How absolutely appropriate for our study on stress and how God can bless us through our trials!

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Oh Lord, thank you!  Sometimes my spirit is not what it should be.  Sometimes I am far from you although you are right beside me.  Sometimes I forget to depend on you and that is when I feel the stress and the discouragement.  Thank you for the promise of heaven.

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” – This I know first hand to be true.  I mourn everyday for my son, who died of brain cancer almost 7 years ago.  The comfort that my husband and I have received from God through prayer, the Bible, and church is what has brought us to today.  Thank you Lord for your comfort in our times of grief and despair.

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” – Help me Lord to be meek.  This is an area I have been working on over the past few years.  Help me be submissive and obedient and respectful, even when it is difficult.  I have faults, but with your grace, I am thankful that I am forgiven.

“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” – Oh Lord, how I want to take the path of righteousness.  I try each day to do your will.  Sometimes I think I am successful and sometimes I fail.  I try to teach my children to take the path of righteousness.  I hope that they will embrace what I am teaching them and follow you as they grow.  Thank you Lord for your Word in the Bible to help us find our way.

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” – Help me God to be merciful to others and not cynical.  Help me to give without question.  Help me to not let the politics of our culture influence my heart in being merciful.  Thank you God for always showing mercy and forgiveness to me.  May I extend that to others that I meet.

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” – Oh Lord, to be like a child again.  To accept and have faith just because.  To pray with confidence and to believe in your heart without a doubt.  Help me to be like a child once again in my faith.  Take away the jaded thoughts and the discouraging words that creep into my mind.  Replace them with innocent prayer and a heart of love.  Thank you God for reminding me of a child’s faith through my own daughters.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” – Help me Lord to be a peacemaker wherever I go.  As a teacher in my classroom and as a mother and wife in my home.  Help me to teach others how to make good choices that reflect your love.  Thank you for guiding me in this role.  As a mother, wife and teacher, I encounter these opportunities daily.

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Help me God to not be afraid to speak of you.  Help me to share your Word with others so they too may know you.  Thank you for the opportunity to live in a country where I am not persecuted because of you.  Help me not to forget and to pray for those who are persecuted each day for speaking your Word.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” –  Lord, if I ever find myself in a situation where I am persecuted or falsely accused for knowing you, give me the strength I need to endure and carry on for you.  Again, thank you for the country I live in and I pray for those who live this persecution each day.

Wow!  Reading and reflecting on these Beatitudes really helped me get into the mind frame for this topic.  You see, being blessed does not mean you have everything you ever wanted.  It doesn’t even mean your life is good.  It means that even when life is difficult, even in times of despair, even when you hit rock bottom, you are blessed if you have God with you.  And, isn’t that what we are all striving for?  Isn’t that where we will find peace?  The only place to find peace is in Jesus, no matter our circumstances!

When I am feeling frustrated, which is my top feeling according to my Stress Evaluation Chart, I am going to come back to The Beatitudes and read them again.  I am blessed everyday.  I am blessed because I know Jesus and he has my back!

The Great I Am

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with My victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Wow!  Doesn’t that verse just make you feel so warm inside?  When I read Isaiah 41:10, my worries just melt away!  Those few words from God just wrap around me like a giant hug from a parent after you take a big fall!  There is no better feeling in the world!

Let’s break this verse down and really examine it.

“Don’t be afraid” – God is commanding us.  Don’t is a command.  He isn’t saying, try not to be afraid.  He is saying DON’T have fear!  Just don’t even go there!  Yet, so many times we find ourselves in worry, fear, anxiety, stress, etc.  Even though God has commanded us not to.  When we fear something, we are lacking in our faith.  God will take care of us and all situations.  The situation may not turn out the way we want, but He will and He does take care of us.  However, being human, we all feel this from time to time.  Grace from God is extended and we are forgiven!

“for I am with you.”  – God is with you.  God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He is with you, together.  You are not alone, ever!  You!  Every one of you!  Thank you God for this reminder!

“I will hold you up” – Again, God, three persons in one.  He WILL support, carry and comfort us.  Will – intention if we allow it.  God wants to hold us up.  We need to allow Him to do this. He will release our worries when He lifts us up!  Don’t you want someone to hold you?  carry you?  comfort you?  support you?  My heart is overflowing as I type these words!

“with my victorious right hand.” – God has overcome everything.  He has beaten sin.  He cannot be defeated by anyone or anything.  This is person I want next to me!  He is the one that can pull me through anything!

Stress takes on many different forms.  Work stress, parenting stress, illness, new house, new babies, new schools, new jobs, broken relationships, etc, etc.  The list can truly go on forever.  In every situation, you CAN rely on God to see you through.  Some of you reading may say, “She doesn’t know what she is talking about.  She hasn’t walked in my shoes.  She hasn’t felt my pain.”  You are right, I haven’t.  But, I have felt pain.  I have experienced the unthinkable.  And God walked beside me, carried me and brought me through to where I am today.

My family has experienced all of things mentioned above and then some.  However, we hit rock bottom when we lost our son.  Our baby boy was just 16 months old.  He was a handful of a kid.  Always getting into everything!  He was walking at 7 1/2 months and running by 10 months!  That should give you an indication that he had plans and was always on the move.  At 16 months, he came down with what we thought was stomach virus.  After a day of watching him lose his ability to walk, not eat and go into a seizure, we found out that he had brain cancer.  30 days later, at just 17 months old, my baby boy was gone.

My relationship with God at that time was superficial.  I believed in God.  I believed in Jesus.  I knew all the right answers.  But, I did not feel Him.  I did not try to feed this relationship or work at it.  I was so lost.

This loss took me and my husband on a spiritual journey.  We had no place to go but up.  We were literally drowning in grief.  We hung onto God’s outstretched hand with all the strength we had, and it wasn’t much!  We prayed together for the first time.  We questioned, we read the bible, we prayed more, we leaned on our pastor and our new church family.  We allowed God to walk beside us one step at a time.  We didn’t know where he was taking us.  We didn’t even wonder.  We just needed Him with us so that we could take our next breath, our next step, our next day.

Because of the faith we developed out of sheer desperation, we have come so far!  We have learned so much and we have started to look at life through Isaiah 41:10.  God is ALWAYS with us.  We can reach for Him anytime and He will pull us through whatever it is we are struggling with.

We have leaned on God many times since we lost our son.  And, of course, God has seen us through.  We have moved, changed jobs, had another baby, experienced illness and loss, and most recently, my husband lost part of his finger in an accident.  Through all of these struggles and stresses, we have found our blessings within them with God’s help.

We moved to a beautiful area in the valley.  Everyday, we see God in the mountains and we feel him in the breeze.  It is breathtaking!  We found a new church for our family that has welcomed us as part of the family.  We are blessed!

My youngest was born almost 5 years ago now.  There were so many emotions during my pregnancy and even the first 2 years of life.  I felt guilty having another baby after losing my son.  I felt worried if she was going to get sick also.  The feelings went on and on.  However, I turned them over to God and my almost 5 year old is a rambunctious delight!  What a blessing!

My husband’s sister experienced a life of eating disorders and many complications that went along with her condition.  She lost her battle with life last year.  Through this difficult loss and not understanding how it could all happen, I turned to God and the bible.  I may not have my answers now, but I have peace knowing that God does take care of our struggles and He supports the ones left behind while rejoicing with the ones who have gone before us.  We are blessed.

This past December, my husband lost part of his finger in a lawn mower accident.  I was terrified and he was devastated.  He is a piano player.  They were able to re-attach it and see how the healing process would work.  It has been 4 months.  It has healed well and he has had no infections at all, a miracle in itself!  However, he is not out of the woods.  He was just told that he should schedule a surgery to shorten the finger.  There is nerve damage and it did not heal aesthetically the way the doctor had hoped.  He can eliminate the pain, numbness and tingles and reshape the finger if my husband has the surgery. He is having a hard time coming to terms with this.  However, he is alive.  He has learned to play the piano with 9 fingers!  AMAZING!  And, he healed without infections.  We are truly blessed!

I guess what I am trying to say here is that regardless of your circumstance, God is with you.  He will see you through.  You just have to trust in Him and depend on Him.  Although our wishful outcomes might not be what God has planned, He is still in control and He is not letting go of us!

 

Here is how I diagram my weekly verses to help me break them down and apply them to my life.

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