Hope in the Midst of Heartache

The value of one’s life is not measured by weeks or years.

I wept when I learned that Eden Hope passed away last week. Born at 24 1/2 weeks gestation, she weighed 1 lb.13 oz. Eden steadily gained weight and lived in NICU until she drew her last breath eleven and a half weeks later.

Such a short life span, but the value of one’s life is not measured by weeks or years. Just ask the people whose lives were touched by Eden Hope’s life. I’m one of them.

I physically ached when I imagined being in her mama’s shoes, especially the last time they were together. Did Mama kiss her daughter’s pale rosebud lips? Did she softly caress her infant’s cool face, committing it to memory? Did she breathe in Eden’s scent before the nurse took her away?

I’ve never met Eden’s parents. A friend of mine asked me to pray for that family. The more I prayed and received updates, the more invested I became as though these strangers were my family. I couldn’t get them out of my mind—my heart.

“Eden going home to Jesus” isn’t what I’d prayed for when I heard she’d been scheduled for surgery last week.

I asked for a safe, successful procedure, protection and healing. I prayed that God’s peace and love would surround Eden so she wouldn’t be frightened as she lay (uncomprehending) on that operating table. I prayed that His Spirit would comfort the family while they waited for the outcome. I prayed God would use this agonizing chapter in their lives to draw them closer to Himself and impact people’s lives.

I also prayed, “Thy will be done.” 

But honestly, I didn’t want God’s will if it didn’t line up with mine. I wanted Eden to defy the odds, grow strong, and go home to play with her two sisters. 

Others prayed too for this precious soul who was wonderfully and fearfully made in the image of God. Imagine a band of prayer warriors who never gathered, but rejoiced each time Eden gained another ounce. We grew hopeful with each passing week. For every two steps forward, there was one step backwards. When her health finally took a turn for the worse, we pled for a miracle.

I can’t speak for others, but I wonder if part of me hoped for a life-giving miracle to counterbalance COVID19 and the debilitating bad blood that’s been flowing through our nation’s veins. I needed some good news. I needed some hope.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 NIV).

My longing wasn’t fulfilled. God’s will, not mine, prevailed.

This morning, tears came when I thought about Eden and how hard she fought to live. But she no longer needs my prayers. I don’t know what her new glorified body looks like, but I know in heaven there is no pain or sorrow. She is healed. She is whole. 

Eden struggled to breathe on earth, but now I picture her inhaling heaven’s pure air and singing at the top of her lungs, “Jesus loves me this I know!”

Yes, Jesus loves her. The same way He loves Eden’s mommy and daddy, her older sisters, you and me. This is lovenot that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

God’s vast and infinite love reminds me to trust His heart when I can’t comprehend His ways. God’s sovereignty assures me that His eternal purposes for Eden’s life were fulfilled. And in the process, He used that small, delicate infant to reveal His love and grace to a hopeless world.

I consider that a miracle. Don’t you?

And a reason to trust God’s heart—even in this heartache.

Photo by: Jennifer Wrede

Three Things Helped My Quiet Time

I wake up with a mental to-do list, but the first thing I always need to do is be still.

Photo Credit by: Maranatha Devotionals

This means having my quiet time…reading my Bible and praying. This might sound boring to some folks. Or, like a chore to others. And I agree that doing something every day can be cumbersome even when I know it’s beneficial. However, stick with me here and I’ll show you how I turned my quiet time—or morning devotions—into something I treasure.

First, I change my attitude. Instead of saying, “I have to read my Bible” or “I should pray,” I remind myself that “I get to meet with God.

Meeting with God is a privilege. Christ paid for that privilege with His own blood. Our time with Him isn’t some “thing” that must be accomplished so I can check it off my laundry list and get on with my day. Or feel good about myself because I made God a priority. God loves us and invites us to meet with Him so we can speak with Him. Cry. Confess. Implore. Rejoice. Listen.

Which brings me to my second point. Notice I said, speak with God. I used to pray nonstop as though I were dictating a letter. Meet my needs. Fix that person. Change my circumstances. Remove that thorn. Resolve that dilemma . . . Can I hear an amen?

I’m learning to cultivate silence to get the most from our meeting time. I ask God to…

Open my eyes and speak to me through His Word.
Open my ears so I can hear His voice.
Show me how to apply what He’s teaching me.

Then, I close my mouth and meditate on a Bible verse or a short passage of scripture. My calendar might be full. My life might feel like it’s on fire. However, when I make the time to be still and listen, I’m able to hear God’s voice more clearly. And doesn’t everyone need/want direction and peace in life?

Thirdly, I ask God to increase my desire for Him instead of striving to be self-disciplined.

Discipline trains me to behave a certain way. The word is often associated with a task I dread doing, but need to do for my own good. Like exercising and eating right, or maybe, having morning devotions.

Desire is a strong longing for something to happen, or wanting someone. When I desire God, I’m eager to read my Bible and pray because I know God will meet me there, speak to me, and satisfy my heart’s desire.

How do you keep morning devotions fresh and something you desire to do?

Emptiness Allows Room for God

My mentor, Loretta, texted. “God has this. It’s not all on you.”

I tossed a package of decongestant pills and cough drops into my suitcase. “I hope so because I’m empty.”

I’d been ill for two weeks. My friends prayed I’d be well enough to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. My health improved in the nick of time. Whether I could endure the nonstop, four-day conference remained a mystery.

The first afternoon, I sat outside on a bench with a plate of meatballs and diced cheese. Writers, editors, and agents mingled beneath the budding trees. I scanned the smiling faces. There were people I knew. Others I wanted to meet. However, the thought of small talk exhausted me. I leaned back and stared at a tree adorned with pink blossoms.

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“Lord, I can’t do this.”

And a small voice whispered. “I got this. Go rest.”

If I’d been less empty, I might have argued. “God, I payed a lot of money to come here. I need to get the most from this conference. I have to talk to….”

An empty person doesn’t get far on their own strength. I went to my room and napped.

emptywwordsAt dinner, I went through the buffet line and searched for a place to sit. I had no agenda. My energy remained low. That’s when I saw an editor I wanted to meet. He sat at a table in the corner of the room. I asked to join him. We talked for an hour and he prayed for me.

I went to sleep that night, assured God had my back. It wasn’t all on me.

That’s how the weekend unfolded. I never plotted or panicked. I’d walk into the crowded dining room and notice an empty chair and clean placemat at one of the tables as if the Lord had reserved that one spot for me.

During coffee break, I’d turn around and find someone I wanted to meet or thank.

It’s difficult for a control freak to stay empty. However, emptiness kept me from being full of myself. Oh, that I’d be empty more often!

Emptiness allowed room for God to fill me and lead the way. I experienced…

“God’s grace that is sufficient when we’re weak.”
“The joy of the Lord is my strength” when someone prayed for my renewed energy.

Then God surprised me beyond my imagination. I met Francine Rivers.

She’s written many books including one of my favorite, Redeeming Love. Her book made a huge impact on me. And I’ve given Redeeming Love to many women especially when I served as a jail chaplain for female prisoners.

Meeting Francine Rivers blessed me. She’s a genuine lady. But the opportunity to talk with her felt like another God moment. My empty jar overflowed with love for Him. I wanted to stand on my chair and sing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Lord knows that would have emptied the room!

 

http://francinerivers.com/books/redeeming-love/

http://writers.mounthermon.org

Jar photograph: http://jennywredephotography.com

 

God Ain’t a Genie in a Bottle

My college son texted: Have question. What’s good time to call?

My heart soared. Yeah, I get to talk to my son. Or should I say, listen.

Although we’ve had lengthy, meaningful phone calls, I knew this wasn’t one of those moments. He had an agenda.

When my son called, I listened. Answered his question. Sprinkled a word here or there to help him process his thoughts so he could make a sound decision. And then our final words before goodbye…

Mom: “Nice hearing from you. Everything’s fine here. Love you”

Son: “Great. Love you too!”

I’m not trying to pick on my son because if I’m pointing my finger, there’s three fingers pointing back at me.

Yesterday, I poured my tea and went to my quiet space, prepared to talk to  the Lord.

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I got straight to the point.

“God, I have a question. Should I do this? If so, how? What’s Your will? Because I really want to see this happen. Maybe you could give me a sign?”

I stopped short. I imagined God rolling his fatherly eyes at me. Waiting for me to pause for breath. What about my attitude going into prayer? No worship. No confession. No thanks.

Heaven forbid I treat my Lord like a…

  • Ouija board as I search for answers.
  • Genie in a bottle, there to grant my wishes.
  • Cosmic Vending Machine

God didn’t tell us not to ask for things.

Philippines 4:6 says, “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.”

However, I don’t want my quiet time with the Lord to be all about me. Spouting everything that’s brewing inside of me.

Never asking what He desires to see changed in  me. Where He wants to lead me. What He wants to teach me.

Never listening.

God is Spirit and He’s patient, but I wouldn’t blame Him for sighing after I’ve hurried through my prayers and said, “Amen.”

I know the Lord desires our fellowship. Loves hearing our prayers. The same way I love listening to my son’s voice. However,I need to remember…

God speaks to us through His Word. Are we willing to listen?

Here’s what I did when I felt my quiet time was too one-sided:

  • Stopped talking.
  • Read a small portion of scripture.
  • Focused on God’s character in that passage.
  • Praised Him for those attributes.
  • Asked for ears to hear His Word
  • Allowed enough time to welcome and receive whatever God, the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal through scripture.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.…” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV)

After everything is said, what a blessing to know God loves us even when we talk His ear off. 

Photo: JennyWredePhotography

 

 

 

When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

 

I begged God to come to the rescue.

My prayers weren’t for me, but someone else who needed to know that God is real. He cares about every detail of our lives.

Please God! Show Yourself in a mighty way that will remove all doubt; strengthen faith.

I stopped praying when a wail rose deep within that person and hit the room like a Tsunami.

God didn’t step in to save the day.

So it was left to me—or so it seemed—to make My presence known and comfort a crushed spirit.

Although God’s purposes (Romans 8:28,29) are certain, I knew these words would fall on deaf ears. For even I struggled to make sense of the situation.

When the person’s pain morphed into anger…
I made excuses for God; explained why He might have allowed this “unfair thing” to happen.

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Have you ever had to defend God?

Or fortify someone’s faith instead of allowing God to do the work—how ever slowly?

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

I know this to be true. Multiple miscarriages once left me flailing like a fish out of water.

My faith remained intact, but anger and bitterness enslaved me. I kept God at a distance because my unmet expectations had led to disappointment with Him.

However, that season of pain showed me that God remains faithful even when I am faithless.

The Lord also used my miscarriages to eradicate my misperceptions of His character, and the false beliefs that I was….

–Entitled to get what I want, when I want, because I’m a Christian.
–Able to manipulate God with my “good deeds.”

Years of trying to earn God’s love and approval had also led to the assumption—God doesn’t love me when bad things happen or He appears silent.

Finally, sick of my own belly aching and missing the Lord, I confessed my anger and false accusations.

I asked God for His peace and claimed Psalm 27:13,14

“I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

Those faith lessons came to mind as my friend clenched fists and spewed venomous words. But my own experience told me, “This wasn’t the right time.”

Besides, spoon-fed faith won’t result in spiritual maturity. Eventually, folks have to learn for themselves that…

  • God is near,
  • He’s able to save
  • He uses all things to teach and mold us

Until we come to a place we can submit to God’s sovereignty. And trust Him even in the senseless, worst of times.

 

Are You Unraveling?

A single piece of thread dangles from my scarf. I tuck the lonely strand back into place. Try to hide it.

For I know if I yank the thread too hard, the scarf will bunch up. Keep pulling it and the scarf might unravel.

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Ever feel that way?

Like you’re composed of multiple strings of yarn and everyone is tugging on you? 

And each time those strings are pulled, you feel as though you’re unraveling. Bit by bit.

Until there’s nothing left of you, but a heap of yarn on the floor.

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Unless, of course, you’ve learned to hide the loose, frayed strands from other folks.

Maybe—instead of a frayed scarf—you feel more like a string puppet. Just going through the motions with each tug. Nod, smile, wave, bend, move….

Too much jerking and we lose the elasticity of our stringy nerves. Or they get tangled from hurrying in too many directions.

So how do we avoid unraveling? Untie the knots?

How do we REST in the middle of wrestling life?

Return to the Lord and let your soul find rest (Psalm 116:7).

Exalt the Lord. Praise His name and thank Him for Who He is and the great things He has done in your life (Psalm 69:30).

Submit to the circumstances in your life in which you have no control. If we can’t change our circumstances, we can change our attitude.  (Philippians 4:8)

Trust God’s promises. Knowing He use the events and people in our life for His purposes which includes molding us into the image of Christ. (Romans 8:28,29)

Even when King David’s personal sin crushed him, he returned to the Lord. For he knew his redemption and delivery had nothing to do with his own character or actions.

It had everything to do with God’s lovingkindness and compassion.

Maybe you’re on the endangered list as your inner being unravels. Desperate for God’s compassion.

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Turn off the news; the cell phone.

Go to your hiding place and show your Abba Father the knarled knots and loose strings.

Then R.E.S.T.

And like a child who waits while a parent untangles his shoestrings…

Allow the Lord to clip and mend your frayed, loose strings until you’re new again and ready to rumble.

 

Photos by Jennifer Wrede Photography

How a Blue Jay Convicted Me

They come. The Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Finches.

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In a drought-ridden land where the color brown defines much of the landscape, birds flock to my man-made waterfall and birdbaths.

Desperate for water but wary of me, they keep their distance. They don’t know my intentions are good.

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Meanwhile, I recline in my patio chair, praying to the God who weaved me in my mother’s womb.

I know His intentions are good. However, without a healthy “fear of the Lord,” I’m prone to act cavalier. Other times demanding.

Lord, could you, would you? And while you’re at it, why don’t you….help, fix, cure, resolve….this and that!

I assume God is listening; that He wants to meet my needs and more.

The same way I enjoy providing Premium Sunflower Seeds for my feathered friends. To my delight, they keep returning even if it’s not for me. No ruffled feathers here.

But I wonder how the Lord feels when my prayer life resembles a Toby Keith song, “I wanna talk about me, wanna talk about I, wanna talk about number one.”

woman-825154__180Would anyone watching me from a bird’s eye view find me…..

  • Returning to God because I need something.
  • My prayers filled with petitions instead of praise.
  • My intentions purely self-seeking rather than pure.

I cringe to think audacity trumps humility when it comes to my attitude towards……

~A holy God whose grace prevents me from receving what I really deserve.

~A faithful God who loves me even when I keep my distance.

~A patient God who longs for me to return and spend time with Him.

Even in this moment, a Blue Jay perches on the edge of my waterfall. He bends down and fills his beak with the cool water rushing over the moss-covered stones. His head tilts backward as he swallows.

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Satisfied, he flies away.

I reach for my water bottle to quench my own thirst because I love the Lord, but I see myself….

Swooping in and out of prayer when I see fit.

And I’m convicted.

Would I pray as often if I could only praise God instead of dictating what I think He needs to do?

How would you answer that question?

Photos: Pixabay

Why the Hesitation?

How’s your heart? Are you overwhelmed? Dismayed?

That’s how King David described himself in Psalm 143.  And that’s how I felt when I woke up.

Though the winter sky was baby blue, and the sun’s rays shimmied between the bare tree limbs.

I blamed my mood on a head cold. And yet, sometimes, it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason I’m anxious or depressed.

Thankfully, God knows the human propensity to allow circumstances and emotions to overwhelm us. That’s why He used King David to pen Psalm 143.

Words written centuries ago, but relevant today—in this exact moment—because God’s Word is able to clear the negative voices in a congested head. And point us to a better way of living.

My feral cat was also in a mood.

Stuck outside overnight, she sat on our front porch rail, waiting. Watching me through the kitchen window while I brewed a cup of tea.

When our eyes met, my cat arched her back and meowed. I opened the door, stumbled towards my desk as she weaved in and out between my feet.

Unlike most mornings, my feral cat wanted more than warmth and food. She paced back and forth, rolled on the wood floor. Then she sat by my desk chair, staring at my lap. It’s rare for this independent feline to cuddle, but I saw the debate within her eyes.

Meanwhile, I just “happened” to open my Bible to Psalm 143. It’s the same passage I underlined fourteen years ago when I dealt with anxiety and winter blues. Only this time, I paused at verse 5.

“I remember the days of old. I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of Your hands.”

Remember. Meditate. Muse.

On what?

  • My circumstances?
  • My emotions?
  • My thoughts?

No, we’re told to…

Remember God’s Work.  Meditate on the great things the Lord has done. Not only for mankind, but in people’s lives…in my life.

“Dwell much on what I did, as well as what I said. Remember, ‘I touched her hand, and the fever left her.’ Not many words, just a moment’s contact, and all fever left her.” (God Calling)

Lord, please touch my heart so my mood melts into nothingness.

I glanced down at my cat who watched me with the same hesitation that I came before the God. Afraid to ask, as if I was unworthy, or He had greater things to tend to than “my mood.”

I tapped my robe. “Come here.”

Cat ears flinched.

“What? You don’t trust me after all these years?”

My audible words convicted me. Wasn’t this God’s attitude towards me when I hesitate to come to Him? Hesitate to ask?

What keeps folks from wanting more of God, or receiving all He wants to give?

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Before I could answer my question, the cat jumped on the desk and settled beside my Bible. Soon, she curled on my lap, purring.

Content; unafraid.

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Not unlike her mistress, now resting in God’s capable Hands.

Let me hear Thy loving kindness in the morning; for I trust in Thee...” (vs.8)

Unexpected Gifts

I was 13-years-old and horse-crazy.

The fact that we lived in a suburban house with a small backyard didn’t dissuade me from asking my dad if we could buy a horse.

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because you just don’t buy a horse. You also have to find a place to board the horse. Not to mention food and veterinary costs.”

End of subject.

Decades later, two horses graze on my rural property. I stand beside the black horse…my arm extended, hand open with an orange peace offering.

His nostrils flare when he sees the carrot. He brushes the palm of my hand with his moist, soft lips. My skin tickles; stirring memories of a young girl’s dream.

I don’t own these horses. They’re temporary guests, lodging here at the request of our neighbor. It’s a win-win. My neighbor won’t have to purchase hay. We don’t have to mow the field grass.

This gentleman’s agreement isn’t what I had in mind when I asked my father for a horse. But while I rinse dishes and watch these ambling horses from my kitchen window, I realize this is answered prayer from way back when.

Even though the answer looks different than I imagined.

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen God answer prayers as though He were thinking outside the box.

When I was a teenager, I wanted to become a schoolteacher. Who knew I’d homeschool my children? Homeschool was a foreign concept when I was young.

I also dreamt of being a writer. Who knew my words would appear on a website Blog and online magazines? There was no internet back in the day.

The Lord knew. He had a plan.

Silly me when I think a subject is closed just because it doesn’t happen according to my time table and expectations.  

My desire for a horse waned like many youthful dreams. However, the Lord has gone above and beyond to give me the desires of my heart. Mostly, He’s shown me that desiring Him above all things meets my deepest need, satisfies my greatest longing.  

Even in this moment…

When my hands are buried in warm dishwater and I’m grinning because the Red horse is rubbing his neck against the Oak tree like it was a scratch post,

I’m reminded of God’s goodness. And I praise Him for unexpected gifts which sweeten mortal days.

 

 

Share a time the Lord answered your prayer in a surprising way.

Photo by: Jonathan Foster

 

What Do You Hope For?

My youngest child left for college a month ago. With the exception of some furniture, his bedroom is empty as a conch shell lying on a beach.

The occupant left. There’s nothing but a hollow space where there once was life.

View bigger - Conch Shell FREE for Android screenshotGone are most of my son’s clothes, his laptop computer, his Bible, the scent of his cologne. Even his lava lamp traveled East to get plugged into a college dorm.

So I decided to renovate the room. I stripped posters off the wall, and removed the camouflage curtains that I hand sewed.

Then I patched the holes in the wall with caulk…as if keeping myself busy with a room makeover could fill the empty spaces of my heart.

 If only moving into the next season of my life was as simple as replacing the fan blades in the ceiling fan.

Years ago, when our two older children left home at the same time, our nuclear family of five was subdivided. The sensation was like ripping a plant out of the earth, and then tearing the entwined roots apart to create three separate, smaller plants.

Transplanting my last child across the country feels like an amputation.

I’m still a mother, but there are no longer any children beneath our roof. I’ve severed my apron strings that held them within reach.

Those thoughts hovered in my head while the ceiling fan stirred the air which brushed my cheek like a child’s butterfly kisses.

This room never looked so good. But new paint won’t bring this room to life.

People make a house a home.

What happens when they’re missing?

I tell myself, come Christmas vacation, my son will return and this room will look lived in again—an unmade bed, socks scattered on the floor, the closet door ajar, a cup of water by the bed.

Family reunions, that’s something to hope for, right?

Isn’t hope hinged to every goodbye? If not this world, then the next….we’ll be together again one day!

“Faith is.the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

I pull the brass chain hanging from the light fixture as the fan blades spin round the globe like planets revolving round the sun.

Who’s the center of my universe? The light of my life?

Have my children and house become the center of my attention…my affection?

If faith is the assurance of things hoped for….what am I hoping for?

Am I hoping my children will move closer? Visit more often? Stay safe? Be happy? Grow strong in the Lord?

“God Himself must be the one object of our hope and trust in our work, our needs, and our desires.

“Just as God is the center of the universe, the one guide that orders and controls its movements, so God must have the same place in the life of a believer.

“With every new day, our first thought should be: Only God can enable me this day to live as He would have me live.” ~~Andrew Murray

When will I learn, its indispensable to meet with God every day in prayer, and allow Him to renovate me.

I can long for the past or fret about the future, but my time is best spent praying for those I love.

So I pray for my children. I pray for my husband of 35 years who walked beside me during the child-rearing years.

And “I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in our hearts as we trust in Him.” (Ephesians 3:17)

Even in this…..season of life.