Each story is sacred and beautiful and composed of both broken and glorious moments. We carry these stories like artwork scrawled into our souls: a vast array of imprints and scars, beauty and brokenness. Like fingerprints—like us—no two stories are the same.
Stories are made to be told. To be heard. To be understood.
Yesterday, I had a book signing in our local mall. My favourite part about book signings is the people and the stories they share. At signings, or other times when I explain the theme of my devotional (Soul Focus: Trials), I’ve had the privilege of hearing various stories from other’s lives—precious and profound stories. Continue reading “Story Tellers”
Maybe you’ve made a few mistakes in your time. Maybe your past has moved in like an unwelcome guest. Perhaps there’s condemnation running through your thoughts—a steady stream of fault-finding reminders. Maybe you’re living under critical words spoken to you in your youth, and, whether they were true or not, you still drag the weight of them along on your journey. If you find yourself living on the outskirts of joy, or even faith, here’s some encouragement.
We all endure trials. Some so intense, lengthy, or heartwrenching we fear we won’t make it out alive. We cannot live very long without facing hardship, such is the nature of life on earth.
This past week, my new devotional, Soul Focus, on the theme of trials was released. It’s close to my heart because this book was birthed out of my own period of pain, and is the fruit of over ten years of devotional writing, blogging, and prayer journaling.
It’s an offering of comfort whether you find yourself in the midst of a trial or are facing the mourning process that comes after. Inside, I offer personal examples as a reminder that you’re not alone.
It was written with the intention to kindle hope during times when it seems your prayers are unanswered, when you wonder if God has stopped listening to you, or when you fear he has forgotten you. I have included journaling pages throughout for personal reflections as you journey through this month of daily encouragements.
Tonight, I’m hosting an event at my church for Soul Focus entitled, An Evening of Hopeful Stories. Three others and I—in an act of vulnerability and sacred solidarity—will share our stories of struggle. I’m hopeful that all who come will feel greatly encouraged and leave with renewed hope.
If you’re nearby, the doors are open! If far, I hope you will be reminded that God hasn’t left you to navigate this trial alone. He is with you. He has never left you.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
An Evening of Hopeful Stories:
November 18th at 6:45PM, Knox Galt, 2 Grand Ave S, Cambridge, ON
This morning, I gathered at the cenotaph in our downtown alongside citizens and school children, teachers and politicians, veterans and cadets.
We stood on frozen ground, snow swirling and settling on and around us as we paid tribute to those who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy.
We stood to remember soldiers who
Marched through frozen fields, Trudged through mud and mire, Sloshed through putrid puddles, Slept terrified in trenches Some to awake no more.
We stood to remember those who
Stood on porches, at railway stations, and airports to say good-bye. Stood forlorn in the battlefields amid the devastation. Stood broken over dying comrades. Stood in sorrow over unmarked graves upon their return.
We stood to show our gratitude to those who still withstand the aftershocks of war—those who returned and live with its endless echo.
We stood solemn remembering the price paid to purchase the peace we enjoy in Canada as a result of their sacrifice—the cost inconceivable.
The mothers whose sons never returned, the widow and her children, are well-acquainted with its cost.
May we never forget nor take this blood-bought freedom for granted.
From the few memories of my early childhood in England, I recall we had a hedge framing our front garden. My father meticulously maintained that hedge with handheld trimmers. I recall him being rather dismayed about a hole in the hedge that neighbouring children used to climb through. As long as kids made a habit of playing in this leafless passage, the hole would be perpetually maintained.
What about our lives? Where is the hole in our hedge? An area where we’ve repeatedly let in such things as bitterness, fearfulness, or anger? Maybe that area is so frequented by unchecked thinking that a gaping hole has formed. Anything that becomes a habit treads a well-worn path. In the case of negative or destructive thought patterns, the habitual cycle can be detrimental to both ourselves and others.
Unlike my father’s hedge, we can choose that which we allow passage through the perimeters of our lives. We can cut off fruitless patterns of thinking and deny them entry into our thought life. However, with our jam-packed lives, we’re often distracted. We leave little space for reflective contemplation and instead snatch fleeting fast-food bites on the fly. The quality and quantity of the life-giving morsels we consume are often not enough to fully nourish or protect us.
If we fail to examine those thoughtless meanderings before we let them in, they lead to well-worn openings of fruitless behaviour and thought patterns. If we don’t set aside time to examine our thinking and replace toxic thoughts with “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8), we leave our lives wide open to hedge-holes.
Holes in hedges can develop anytime we let in bitterness and refuse to forgive. They take shape when we allow impatience and anger to proliferate. They evolve when we compare and grow dissatisfied opening the door to envy and jealousy. They become firmly formed when we repeatedly choose fear over faith. They grow distinctly larger when we settle into sin.
Ignoring hedge holes won’t make them disappear. Managing them takes a concerted effort and proper maintenance requires taking a firm grip on our thought life and conforming it to God’s. 2 Corinthians 10:5 encourages us to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Make no mistake, we have a choice regarding our thought permeations.
We prevent holes by cutting off the flow of thoughts at the gate, discerning whether they deserve to pass through, and aligning our thinking to God’s. We combat hedge holes by setting aside time, disciplining ourselves to reflect and be renewed in God’s presence. When we spend time soaking in God’s word, he fills the holes, packing them with his peace. His Spirit quickens us and helps us to grow in discernment regarding that which we allow to enter through the perimeter of our lives. Soon, where once there were holes, we see new growth and lush foliage—composed of God’s love—encircling us.
Where do you notice hedge holes in your life?
How can you adjust your thinking to align with Christ’s?
This weekend, my husband and I attended the 30th-anniversary celebration for China Partner, an organization that trains and equips pastors in China. Erik, the president, has carried on this ministry from his father, Werner, who was born in China and whose parents were missionaries in a place called Jiangxi province before China closed its doors to missionaries.
Erik’s grandfather’s journal records that he led ten people to the Lord during the twenty-five years they ministered in China. This weekend we heard from Chinese pastors from Jiangxi that in the same place today there are 530 000 followers of Christ.
Ten people may not seem notable to our western way of thinking, their ministry may even have appeared a failure. But not in God’s economy. God will leave the ninety-nine to look for the one. That is how precious each of us is to him.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.” (Matthew 18:12-13)
Erik’s grandparents left Germany—left the ninety-nine—to go to China. The ten cherished souls who found Jesus in Jiangxi were forever changed, and so were their families. You see, in God’s economy, it doesn’t matter if the returns seem small, or if the work takes years and years. God sees the whole timeline, and eternity too—the forever place he made possible for us through Jesus’ death on the cross.
This is the Good News Erik’s grandparents went to China to share. It’s the same Good News their son carried back to China years later, the same gospel that Erik continues to minister in China and that these Chinese pastors also teach to this day.
Can’t you see it? The impact of one faithful couple—their hopes and dreams coming to fruition long after they entered eternity?
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
There will be times when it appears that the work of our hands is fruitless. In our present circumstances, position, or place we find ourselves, it may not appear that we are making a difference at all and that our efforts are wasted. But you can be sure that anything done in God’s name and strength will bear fruit. Whether we see it or not, we can trust God for the outcome.
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” (Isaiah 54:4)
Like Erik’s grandparents, you may never see the fullness of your labor. You may never know the outcome of your faithfulness this side of heaven, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t bear an impact. How amazed do you think Erik’s grandparents would be to hear about the 530 000 souls who know Jesus today in the province they ministered in 94 years prior? So it is with us. Make no mistake, your life’s choices, work, and faithfulness matter and multiply far beyond what you can see.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:11)
The next time you are tempted to give up on something or someone—or even give up on yourself—remember that this is never God’s posture toward us. He never turns his back on people. He never gives up. He never lets us go. His love offer is always available. The invitation to come to Jesus is for everyone and is only a prayer away.
You may feel weary in your work or relationships right now. You may feel like giving up. If you are discouraged, remember this truth: you are precious to God. Everyone and everything matters to Him. He sees it all—the past, present, and future all at once—and is in control. He made a way for you through His Son. Entrust your life and your troubles to Jesus and let Him be Lord of your life.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
In what area(s) do you feel discouraged?
Hand it over to God trusting him for both strength and the outcome.
Recently, my sister and I enjoyed dinner at a local Thai restaurant. While waiting for her to arrive, a woman, quite advanced in years, entered the restaurant. We smiled and exchanged a polite hello as she found her way to a table behind me. My sister arrived and soon we were caught up in conversation while consuming our curry. After some time, I noticed the woman saying her goodbyes to the staff.
She passed by the restaurant window just below us, a frail form bend over her cane. Minutes later, she was back again, and the staff spoke kindly with her. This coming and going happened three or four times in the course of our dinner. From what I deduced; the dear lady had forgotten she had come just moments before.
I was struck by the kindness and patience the owner and staff repeatedly extended toward this woman. I’m not sure if she remembered to pay for her drink, or how often they receive her throughout each day, but the dignity they offered to this woman warmed my heart.
I thought about all the unseen acts of kindness people, like this restaurant owner exhibit, who—in great and small ways—make a choice or a habit to care for others, freely and unselfishly honouring them and offering a safe, welcoming place to land. Their kindness may never be seen or repaid, but they do it, nonetheless. In this moment, I was blessed to glimpse the beauty of humanity helping another along in her journey.
What about the many ways this has played out in the past? Those who risked their lives during war to hide sacred souls within their own homes to save their lives. The soldiers, battle-weary and broken, who set one boot in front of the other and their gaze upon the horizon to secure the future we presently enjoy. Those voices of one who spoke into injustice declaring a better way than the status quo of greed, power, and control for which society has so often settled. Countless courageous and kind actions multiplied over centuries—over individual lives.
I think of the billions of people around the world, and how many beautiful, glorious, random, and unseen acts of kindness occur every day never to be seen or celebrated. What would happen if each of us took hidden or found invitations and chose to help, took time to hear, or to lighten a burden? What if we stepped out of our comfort zones and mindsets to answer a need?
What would it look like if compassion outweighed our comfort?
It could be as simple as a smile to a passing stranger, a coffee prepaid for the next person in line, finances offered to a cause, hands to serve the needy, or a proffered seat in our restaurant for a lonely or forgotten soul. It could be looking out for—or creating—opportunities to serve out of the little or abundance we’ve been given. Whether seen or unseen, our actions may soften a stranger’s journey or even save someone’s life.
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” Hebrews 6:10
Look for an opportunity this week to show kindness outside of your comfort zone.