The Dream

by Rhonda, June 07, 2023

I had a dream last night.  

I dreamed I was sitting on a trailer with both of my kids.  It was a small, flat wooden trailer pulled behind a tractor.  The kids and I were riding on this trailer down a worn dirt road.  The trailer hit many bumps as the tractor pulled us along.  I was frustrated because the bumps were large and it felt like all of us were going to fall off.  There were no side rails and nothing to hang onto.  My ex-husband was driving the tractor.

Every time we hit a bump, I became more and more angry.  I could feel my anger welling up inside, and I was criticizing him from the trailer, telling him he needed to be more careful.  I was sure we were all going to fall off.  At the end of the dream, he walked back to the trailer where the three of us were sitting.  He disconnected the tractor from the tractor, and he drove away, saying nothing.  I watched the back of him fade away as the three of us remained on the trailer.  The tractor was gone.  There was no one to lead the way, no one to pull us along, and we were on our own.  

Even though I was in a deep sleep, I felt an immense amount of pain as he faded away.  I guess it could only be described as sorrow, because it was overwhelming distress.  I felt it deep within my chest, threatening to drown me with hopelessness.  I awoke and laid in bed for a while, just processing the incredible amount of sadness I felt.

I don't know why a dream like that would come along four years after we've parted ways.  Grief is a strange thing, isn't it?  After laying in bed for a while, I took my sadness, anger and hopelessness to God.  I probably should have been more reverent with my approach, but I wasn't in the mood for proper manners.  Lord, what do you want me to do with this?  You say to trust you through all of this, but trust is really difficult when all of this pain is present.

I reflected more on the dream.  I tried to find something positive or perhaps a hidden message.  Possibly it was my mind's way of processing some pain, and maybe there was benefit there.  But, no wisdom came from it.  In fact, it simply tempted me to fall into loneliness, anger and depression.  I tried to step back from the emotion of it.  The dream wasn't God trying to tell me something, or trying to get my attention.  It was, in fact, just a dream that wasn't real.  

The problem is the pain was real.  As I sat on my bed, thinking about how detached I felt just like the trailer, I felt God say to me I never waste my children's pain.  Trust me through this.  

I sighed.  

To be honest, I would rather have a divine task list or perhaps an instruction booklet with steps I could take to get rid of all of this sadness.  I like those kinds of things, because it puts me back in control.  I suppose that's the biggest challenge with grief.  I have no control over it.  It comes and goes, and I feel helpless to fix it.   I mean, surely there's a book I can read or steps I can follow.

But, I've walked with God long enough to know He was probably going to tell me to trust Him.  This whole terrible experience has been a gigantic lesson in trust.  No, I wasn't surprised to hear there were no steps for me to take, no message to decode.  He simply acknowledged that yes, I was in pain, He has a handle on it, and I just need to trust Him.

I wonder if He remembers that I am a Type A personality with trust issues?  

Sometimes waking up in the mornings with pain or anger is so difficult.  Turning the attitude around when you’re already neck-deep in sorrow before your feet hit the ground can feel nearly impossible.  But, God is always faithful.

As I continued to think about the detached trailer and the symbolism in my life, I made my way to the cellphone store.  I had an appointment there with a technician to deal with an issue on my phone.  As I walked into the store, I saw the long line of people waiting, and I had a seat.  Next to me was an elderly man, and not long after I entered the store, an elderly woman sat beside him on the soft chair.

“I’m worried if I sit in this chair, I won’t be able to get up,” she said to him.  Then she looked over at me and winked.  “Getting older is no fun.”

“I know what you mean,” he replied.  “I’m 82 years old and every day I wake up and I say ‘thank you Lord, I get to have another day’.”

She nodded.  “Yes, I have you beat by two years.  I am 85 and I am just thankful to God every day that I’m still here and I’m still kicking.”

So I sat there, next to two octogenarians, feeling quite guilty about how they wake up every day thanking God they have another day.  I, on the other hand, woke up with quite a different attitude because I had a dream about a tractor.  Sometimes God can be quite obvious when he’s making a point.  But, I can tell you with certainty that I left the cellphone store with a much different attitude then when I entered.  The message was received.

If we really think about it, trusting God is everything.  It isn’t just the difficulty of my divorce that is a lesson in trusting God.  The same lesson has been taught throughout my entire life, up until this point. For someone like me who battles fear and struggles with trust, I have to remind myself  that I can look back and see how faithful He’s been through the thick and the thin.  There's years of evidence that He's trustworthy, if I will just look at it.

As much as I struggle with these lessons, I am so glad that He calls me to trust Him.  What is my alternative?  To trust myself?  That isn’t going to go well. I can speak confidently on that from experience.  

I have no idea why I had a dream about a tractor down a dirt road.  But, it really doesn't matter.  Part of living in faith is trusting God in the good and the bad, in the happiness and the pain.  These emotions will pass, but my God stays faithful forever.

I can't imagine a better savior.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.


The Change

by Rhonda, May 31, 2023

I don’t know where I begin.

The family from Ukraine arrived in the middle of December.  I wish I could tell you their entire story.  I really do.  But they are a private family, and their story is theirs to tell, not mine.

But here’s what I can tell you.  I love them with all of my heart.  I love all four of them.  They lived here for a while and now they’re working and have moved out into their own place.  But, our bond with them is forever.  We text daily, see each other often, and we share life together.  We love them as if they were our blood.  

I always thought I would be helping them.  But, God is showing me the bigger picture once again. He gave me new family and blessed me to the hilt with the most precious people.  It shouldn’t work out this way, I know.  We don’t even fully speak the same language (thank you, Google Translate).  But, God doesn’t follow the rules.  He doesn’t live by logic.  

Following Him on this adventure is one of the best things I’ve ever done.  It has been a blast and some of the biggest joys of my life have involved getting this family here and settled.  Now they are a part of our everyday life, and we are part of theirs.  Getting to see our country through their eyes has been such a fascinating journey for me.  We are blessed here in America, friends.  

I don’t know how He does it.  He worked out every little challenging detail for them to arrive here safely and begin a new life.  He absolutely showed off throughout this entire process, and He delighted me to no end.  

I see Him so differently now.  I don’t know why, but He’s even more personal to me than before.  He partnered with me on this.  He cleared every obstacle for me.  He assimilated an army of friends and neighbors to help.  He used me, but He did all of the hard work.

Picking them up in the airport was surreal.

Having Christmas with them brought me to tears.

Now, His miracles continue, day after day.

And after all of this, I’ve realized something.  I am miserable without generosity.  I am built to help other people.  It brings my soul and my spirit so much joy.  I want to continue to live my life this way.  I have no desire to continue along the selfish path I used to live.

I want to be generous with my time, with my complements, as well as my money.  I want to embark on new adventures with God.  He is the biggest blast!  

And this time, I want to take you with me.  I want to write about it.  In fact, God has told me to write about it.  So, I’ve been spending some time just thinking about my life, and what that means for me.  I suppose in many ways, nothing changes.  I still have my same job.  I have my same obligations.  There’s no overwhelming changes.  

But, what if instead of focusing on the job as a means to get ahead, I look at it as a money-making tool enabling me to lead a more generous life?  What if I changed my outlook on my life completely?

Being a part of this story has changed me forever.  I’m hooked now on God’s adventures and what He might have planned for me next.

The Countdown

by Rhonda, October 30, 2022

I've watched the video over and over.  It is a video of a missile hitting the business owned by the refugee family that we will be hosting.  It is loud, violent, and incredibly sad.  In an instant, their lifelong work evaporated into smoke, and now they start over with nothing.  I cannot imagine the loss they feel.  I cannot imagine the insecurity all of this uncertainty has created within them.  

They have booked their flights into the United States and they will be here shortly before Christmas. We've begun the countdown. The past two weeks have been an absolute blur of activity while we prepare for their arrival.  I've prayed for God to please show me this is His will, that He's in this, and I've reminded Him that I need his help to do something so bold.  It is difficult to live with those you love, let alone a family you don't know and don't speak the same language.

But God.  He never disappoints me.  Every day there's been a miracle.  I have been so tickled by both his faithfulness and his creativity. 

Every day, something new shows up.  We've had clothes donated and furniture given to us for free.  We've got beds for the children.  We've even had a family volunteer to "adopt" the Ukraine family for Christmas and buy all of their Christmas presents.  I'm blown away.  I wish the Ukrainian family could  see all of the activity happening here while things fall into place for their arrival, but I do give them daily updates.

I've gotten bolder with God.  I have asked him to make bigger things happen and now I am just trusting that He will.  We need to figure out a car situation for them, or some sort of transportation.  I am watching to see what He is going to do.  He's been absolutely showing off these past few weeks, and I wake up every day delighted with what must be coming next.

For example, yesterday, I awoke to a neighbor calling on my cellphone.  She had some old cabinetry in her shed, so she wondered if I might want it for the family.  The crazy thing is that I wanted to put some cabinets in my basement where the family is going to be staying.  I wanted them to be able to snore snacks or perhaps get something to eat in the middle of the night without having to trek up the stairs.  

I immediately woke my daughter up to go with me to look at the new (old) cabinets.  We knew right way it was going to work perfectly for the space we had available.  But, I didn't have a way to move them to my house.  We don't own a truck.  I called my father on his cell to tell him about it, and he said, "I'm ten minutes away with a friend in a truck.  Want us to pick them up for you?"

"Yes!" I said.

And that's how everything has happened since I decided to be bold and follow God's prodding to open my home.  I've only seen God do things like this one other time in my life, and that's when we adopted our children.

Last night, my daughter said to me, "I'm going to bed, but I'm sure you'll wake me up early tomorrow for some other new crazy adventure."

I laughed.  But, her words rang true.  I have no idea what God has in store for us right now.  Every day is a delightful adventure.  I only know it has been a long time since all of us have been this joyful.  I've gotten to know co-workers better as they've reached out.  I've gotten to know my neighbors better.  I had no idea what this would lead to.

Yesterday, I received a message from the father of the Ukraine family.  "My English is not good enough to tell you how I feel," he said, "So I will just say thank you."

I can't wait until they get here.  We've talked about how our two families may not be related but we'll always be family.  God is so good, so faithful, to me.  What a privilege for me to get to help this family.  What a privilege to watch Him work wonderous miracles to make all of this happen.  His love still shocks me.  It is never-ending, and his grace and generosity are unlike anything on this Earth.

What a blast it is to follow Jesus. 

1 Peter 1:8-9  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

The Gap

by Rhonda, October 16, 2022

A family from our community donated an old, beaten up dresser for the children of the Ukranian family we're going to be hosting.  While we were greatly appreciative, we didn't love how the old dresser looked, even though it worked fine. It had scratches in the paint and the top of it had something sticky that had been spilled on it. So, over the past few days, my father and my kids have been sanding down the old dresser and repainting it.  With a fresh coat of paint and some new knobs, the dresser looks as good as new and will fit perfectly into the bedroom for the children.

We couldn't help but stand back and admire it.  "It looks like new," my son said.  I agreed and couldn't help but think about how God makes things new, too.

My daughter said, "Too bad we don't have two dressers.  Then, when they move out and and each kid has their own room, they would each be able to take their own dresser."

I reminded her they're only coming with what they can fit into a suitcase, so she didn't need to worry.  I was sure the kids can share a dresser.

But, God heard her sweet concerns.  

Today, at work, I got a text from her with another picture of an old dresser.  

"Guess what me and Grandpa found for free!" she texted.  

Sure enough, they found a free dresser sitting by the curb.  She is so excited, and she began sanding the second dresser down today to get it ready for a new coat of paint.  I can't help but be thankful to God for hearing her request.  I can honestly say I've never driven around town and seen a free dresser by the curb.  What are the chances?

Sometimes I'm blown away by how much He cares about the littlest things.  With God, there is always a testimony in everything we go through, even the small stuff.    He can turn the most ordinary things into something extraordinary, even a dresser on the side of the road.

He's always faithful to fill in the gaps. He simply asks us to take what we have to work with and do the best we can with it.  The gaps are His responsibility.  In the midst of any of our circumstances, God is faithful to His promises.  He really wants us to love Him and out of that love do the best we can to serve and obey.  He provides the rest.  

I believe those old dressers becoming new again are just as exciting to God as they are to us. Those old dressers were destined for the dumpster, but now they are being sanded down, painted, and have a purpose of serving a family in need.  Sometimes we need to be sanded and given a fresh coat of paint and a new purpose!    We show up with a willing spirit, and it is amazing to see what God will do.  

The only way we can accomplish what God has called us to do is to lean on Him.  He is our ability.  He wants us to lean on Him for everything, even the ability to do the things that He commands us to do.  He doesn't expect us to do these things on our own strength.  No, he provides us the strength to enable us to run the race He's set before us.  

But, so often we (myself included) underestimate God.  We underestimate our value to Him, and how much He loves us.  We don't always see how much He takes care of us.  We do not realize the power He is willing to exert on our behalf, but when we get our heads around that, we will be blown away by the magnitude of love He has for us.  We serve an almighty, powerful God who is willing to use His power to fill our gaps.  

Ask for a dresser, it will be sitting on the side of the road.  Ask for help, He will show up.  Even in the smallest things, He delivers.  His love is faithful.  Our needs matter to Him.  Our suffering matters to Him.  He delights in being our comforter, our provider.  

We were meant to run our race with Him, not with Him cheering on the sidelines or watching from afar.  

The Adventure

by Rhonda, October 04, 2022

Do you remember when I told you that I felt God stirring in my heart for a new adventure? 

I just haven't been able to shake it.  I want to be used by God in new ways, I long for a break from the routine.  I need something that takes the focus off of me, and onto others.  I want to be less, well, selfish and self-focused.

I've been absorbed by the war in Ukraine since it started.  I'm closely tied to that part of the world. My kids were born in Russia, and I've spent a considerable amount of time there.  When the war began, I couldn't stop watching the news.  I would stay up all night, obsessing over the latest developments.  After a while, I had to force myself to stop.  I was becoming sleep-deprived and anxious, all over things that I could not control.

I may have turned off the television, but as we all know, the war has continued.  I'm not in a position to do much, but I do have a home that has extra bedrooms.  There are Ukranians without homes who need somewhere to go, and someone to care.  More than that, they need someone to help.

So, in a step of total bravery (and probably unlike me, if I'm honest), I put myself out there to sponsor a family.  It wasn't easy.  I was afraid of bringing someone in my home that may harm us, or more likely, may simply not align with our values.  I was fearful, so I prayed and asked God to stop any connection that wasn't His will.

It wasn't long before we were connected with a family.  We arranged for the first video call, and let me tell you, all of our fears are completely gone.  For the past week, we've consistently had video calls with the most lovely, sweet, and yes, heartbroken family.  They've lost it all in this war.  Their business was destroyed, their home was destroyed.  But they will tell you, "It is only money.  We are alive and we are together."

They don't speak the language here, and they are unfamiliar with the way of life here.  Yet, they are so excited to come.  They are excited because they need to safe as a family over the next few years, after experiencing nothing but devastation.  They need a place that feels peaceful, that allows them to heal from the trauma of bombs and missiles.  They are, after all, starting over.  

I know I don't have nearly the trauma this sweet family has experienced.  But, I'm starting over, too.  I have finally decided to let go of the past and see what God has ahead of me.  I've filed divorce papers after three years of separation.  I've asked God to help me move forward into what He has planned for me.  I've told him I want to walk along the path He's designed just for me.

Psalm 25:4 Make me know Your ways, O Lord; Teach me Your paths.

When I prayed this prayer, I thought perhaps He might lead me into another relationship.  I don't feel ready for it, and I really have no intention of getting remarried.  But, I decided to be open to whatever God brought into my life next.

I had no clue, and I mean no clue, it would involve a Ukranian family whose lives were destroyed by war.

I met them the same week I filed divorce papers. In fact, I was connected with them the next day.

God wasn't kidding when He told me He had a full life ahead of me if I would stop living in the past.  I know it sounds crazy, but I am so excited.  I wake up thinking about them.  I go to sleep thinking about them.

Ever since meeting this family, our home has changed.  My kids are as excited as I am.  Now, our evenings are filled with plans for making their living space as nice as possible.  Neighbors have donated beds.  Friends have offered clothes.  Co-workers have even offered to help pay for an apartment.  I had no idea our little community would show so much support.  

We spent this evening repainting a dresser someone donated.  "I wonder what the children's favorite colors are," we mused.  We wondered what kind of movies they like, what kind of games they play.  We are learning more about them daily, and we enjoy planning for their arrival tremendously.

My stress levels have gone down dramatically.  What seemed important in the past has faded into the background.  Now, my focus is on the Ukranian family, and ensuring they have what they need in a horrible time of loss.  Somehow, this giving away of myself and my home, has led to a joyful home of my own.

I wonder if this is what God means when he says His path leads to joy in His presence.

Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

I can't wait to be used by God.  Our adventures are only beginning, I know this now.  As his plan unfolds for our lives, it will be anything but boring.  But, if I'm honest, I think all of us in this house are ready for it.  We're ready to help others and live for something besides ourselves.

Let's do it.

The Divorce

by Rhonda, September 24, 2022

This week is the week of filing paperwork around my divorce.  We've been separated for three years, so I guess you could say this is a long time coming.  I have decided not to disclose all of the details around the reasons for our divorce.  We have kids, and they love their Dad, so no amount of ranting will ever excuse hurting my kids.  But, like any divorce, it has been tremendously painful.

Even though I won't disclose all of the details, I absolutely will tell my story and what God has done for me through it.  I have been married for over twenty years.  I met my ex-husband when I was nineteen years old.  There's times I really don't recall much of my life before I got married.  And, I was okay with that. 

I had my life planned out from a young age, and my plans came together pretty nicely.  I had the husband.  After a lot of struggle, we ended up adopting two wonderful children.  I had a good job, a retirement plan, and a map of the traveling I wanted to accomplish over the next twenty years.  I was proud of our life, and I was excited for the future.

I did not plan to be a divorced Mom of two teenagers.  It wasn't on the map.

But, I can tell you with all of my heart, I have never known my savior like I did when I was in the darkest moments of realizing my dreams were shattering into a million pieces.  The first nights we slept in this house, just the three of us, I honestly didn't know if my physical body could handle the pain.  I felt like such a failure.  I felt like such a disappointment to God, and I could not see how He could ever be proud of a daughter like me, who couldn't even keep her marriage together.

I worried about my kids until I was sick.  The pain was unreal for them, too, and honestly I think more of my pain was for them rather than myself.  I worried we had ruined them for the rest of their lives.  I worried they would never get past this.  I worried they would be angry with me, and I would lose them forever.  I was in a state of so much pain and so much worry, I felt at times as if I were losing my mind.

Two months after my ex-husband moved out, my 16-tear old son was on an operating table having a brain tumor removed.  I have never been so turned upside down.  All of a sudden, the divorce seemed like small potatoes.

So, this useless, worthless feeling daughter got on her knees like never before. Never had I needed Jesus so much on a day to day basis.  Never had I needed Him to give me enough strength just to get out of bed, just to keep going.  I felt so worthless, and since I was such a failure, I felt like I deserved all of the misery brought onto our family.  The pain and anxiety were what I deserved for being such an embarrassment.  My son's cancer was further proof of our lives falling apart, and this Mom failed not just her family, but even worse, her son who now had a recurrence of cancer.  

I asked Jesus, do you see anything in me at all anymore?  I have failed a child with cancer and caused him even more pain.  I have failed You.  I can't see anything good anymore.   How could you ever love me?  I will never be the person I used to be when I was married.  How will I ever glorify you again?  Do you even think I'm worth this life anymore?  

To my absolute shock, He whispered to my heart that He was proud of me.

I didn't believe Him.  So, I asked him again.  Over and over.

The answer was always the same.  I am proud of you.  You are my daughter.  I don't love you because of your marital status.  I love you because you are mine. You can rely on my strength to get you through this. 

I couldn't fathom or understand a savior who was so gentle.  After being in such a tumultuous situation for so long with horrible things said to me, why would Jesus be so kind?  I was waiting for the condemnation, the correction, and the reminders of what I did wrong.  But, it never came.  

I remember when my son came out of his brain surgery, which lasted hours and hours.  As he was in recovery, before he even opened his eyes, he whispered through his dry lips, "Mom," and he raised his hand up.  Let me tell you, this Mama has never run across a room so fast to hold her baby's hand.  I laced my fingers through his, avoiding all of the IV lines, and he squeezed my hand.  

It was then, and only then, that I realized I didn't truly know the heart of my savior.  I didn't know Him like I thought I did.  All of my Bible studies hadn't prepared me for the absolute love and kindness He showed me in my worst moments.  The son I felt like I'd failed still wanted me, even when he didn't fully know where he was or what was happening.  

I couldn't hear God's encouragement enough.  I asked Him to tell me He loved me again and again, because I just couldn't get it to sink in.  Every time He whispered how much He loved me to my heart, I cried so hard that I didn't think I had any tears left.  I had never been loved like this in my entire life.  Never.  In the midst of so much strife, Jesus showed me what it felt like to be loved instead of condemned.  He showed me that my identity wasn't in my marriage, my ability to provide for my family, or even in my ability to be a good Mom.  My identity was that I was His daughter, a prized possession of the one true King.

The weeks after surgery were so challenging but God's words got me through it.  My son's pain was intense and I am still haunted by the night I was so exhausted from being up with him that I fell asleep and awoke to him crawling on the floor, vomiting, because I missed the window for giving him his pain medication.  I slept through the alarm that I had set and we were up for hours getting the pain under control again.

I wanted to fall apart when that happened.  The next day, my father announced to me that he was going to be sleeping at my house until my son was better.  At the time, I felt like a failure again because I couldn't even take care of my own kids.  But, once again, God remained faithful and at my worst moments, he sent my Dad to help shoulder the load.  God gave me the strength to keep going, to nurse my son back to health, and bit by bit, as he healed my son He also healed my heart.  

Over the next few years, He continued to whisper his same message to my heart.  I love you.  I am proud of you.  I will take care of you.  I love your children.  Your confidence can come from Me.  I will pick you up, I will restore you.

It has taken all of this time for me to have the strength to file paperwork, even though my ex-husband hasn't lived here for three years.  It has taken three years of Jesus putting me back together, of rebuilding me from the ground up, and teaching me His heart is a heart of love and devotion to his daughter.

I don't deserve such a wonderful savior.

But, I don't know what I would do without Him.  He pulled me out of the biggest wreck I could imagine.  My worst nightmares came true, and I lived to tell about it.  I am living proof that our God is bigger than our circumstances, bigger than any pit life throws us into.  He can pull us out of the worst situation, dust us off, and rebuild us!  He will heal us!  He makes all things new, and that includes our broken hearts that are shattered into a million pieces.

He is my redeemer, my deliverer.  I will never be able to praise His name enough, because I know what I was, and I know what He has done for me.  His love has transformed me. 

And to top it off, my son has been cancer free for nearly three years. 

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The Butterfly

by Rhonda, September 22, 2022

We've begun pulling up the plants in the garden that are dying.  We've started bringing potted plants off of the porches, since most of them are done for the year.  We will attempt to keep the strawberry plants in containers alive over the winter, so we'll store them in the garage near the house, hoping there's enough heat in the garage to allow them to live another year.

It is time to bring the sewing projects out from storage.  My daughter and I like to work on our quilts throughout the winter, and we have several projects we didn't finish last year.  This weekend, we will put away the garden supplies and begin to pull out the quilting supplies.  Soon, our extra room will be covered with fabrics and sewing notions.

The hummingbirds are crowding the feeders while they build up enough strength to make their annual journey south.  The birds' nests around the property are empty and quiet.  Our dogs have even started to grow their heavier undercoats, preparing for what lies ahead.  In a few months, we'll have ice on the ground.  

Change is in the air, and it isn't just the weather.  I spent an evening this week reviewing the first page of my journal that I wrote on January 1st, and I was reminded of God's challenge to me this year.  The question is scrawled in pink ink.  Are you aligning your decisions with your beliefs?

If you want to know what to change in your life, all you have to do is take a few minutes to honestly answer that question.  No doubt I believe in God.  No doubt I love God.  But, do my decisions, behavior, and actions show it?  Do I live my life aligned to my beliefs?  I don't always love the answers to those questions.

No one lives life perfectly, I know that much.  But, it is a question I ponder as I watch the seasons change outside of my window.    I am a follower of Christ.  I am a daughter of the King.  What are the behaviors that don't reflect my true identity?  These are the things that need to change, much like the seasons.  Their time is coming to an end.

Today, I was in the city, walking into work from the parking garage.  I stopped on my way in when I saw a Monarch butterfly lying on the cement, slowly moving its wings.  I bent down to look at it, and when it didn't fly away, I reached my hand out to touch its wings.  As I touched its wings, it kept moving them, ever so slowly, while it laid on the ground.  Something was wrong.  The butterfly was dying.    

Did you know butterflies only live for about a month, and some only live for two weeks?  During their lifespan, they color the sky with their bright wings.  But, their vibrant wings only flutter for a short amount of time.  Then, as the season changes, they are gone.  Today, for some reason, it was incredibly sad to me to watch the vibrant butterfly dying on the gray concrete.  We may live longer than the butterfly, but our time on this earth is also very short.  I want my time to count, and I want to live as my authentic identity, a daughter of the King.  I want to be vibrant during my short lifetime, coloring the world around me.

A child of God is prepared to alter their way of life as a result of their beliefs.  As we grow spiritually, God brings more and more of our conduct under His standard.  Changing always starts with choosing.  Our choices shape our lives far more than our circumstances.  In fact, often God uses our circumstances to allow us to "practice" making good choices.  Will we choose temptation, or will we choose God?

When Satan suggests an idea into your mind, it is called temptation.  When God puts an idea into your mind, it is called inspiration.  You choose which you accept or which you reject.  One choice is in line with your beliefs, the other is in opposition.  One leads to life, vibrancy.  The other leads to bondage.

We will struggle with sin in this lifetime.  As human beings, sin is going to be present in our lives.  However, because of what Jesus has done for us, we no longer have to be slaves to sin.  God allows us to change anytime we want to, and as a result, we will see good results in our lives.  God will change our lives if we let Him!  The season of change can begin today, at this very moment.  

Our thoughts direct our lives.  Our struggles happen in our minds.  Temptation happens when we are conscious of it, and sometimes it also happens when we are unaware.  Satan cannot control your mind, but he can make suggestions.  But, remember, your mind is where God's spirit works within you.  So, we must choose to feed our minds with the best thoughts.  We need to monitor and limit our intake of unhealthy "trash" entering into our minds.  Is your mental diet of what you allow in your mind poisonous?

Proverbs 15:14 A wise person is hungry for truth, while a fool feeds on trash.

I don't want to be a trash monger.  

When we make a decision, we can ask ourselves a few questions to be sure we're living in line with our beliefs:

1.  Is this right?

2.  Is this good?

3.  Is this what's best for me? 

4.  What does God see in my situation?

As human beings, we are always in a state of change.  We can change for the better, or for the worse.  We can allow God to change us because we desire to be obedient to Him.  Or, we can allow the world to change us, and the end result will be struggle and strife.

Jesus is sitting at the fork in the road, pointing the way.  All we have to do is follow.

The Coffee

by Rhonda, September 18, 2022

In true fashion of what I've come to expect from the Holy Spirit, He's brought something to my attention today that needs work in my life.  I need so much work I might as well carry around a sign that says "Construction in Progress".  The issue He's highlighted for me today is that lately, I've been easily offended.  If I'm honest, I've probably always been easily offended, but He's polite enough to point out only recent events.

Earlier this week, my daughter went to Starbucks but she didn't bring me back anything.  I was only slightly annoyed, since I, her mother who would die for her, always bring her something back from Starbucks when I go.  But, it didn't become a bigger deal until she explained the reason she didn't bring anything back for me.  "All I had was my gift card, Mom." she said.

My daughter had received a $100 gift card to Starbucks for her birthday.  She's bought everyone coffee with her gift card.  She's bought her grandmother coffee.  She's bought her brother coffee.  She still has over $50 on her gift card.

Yes.  I was offended.

Yes.  It is stupid.

Yes.  I can easily drive to Starbucks and get my own coffee.  

I didn't say anything but I simmered.  

This weekend, my daughter left to go to the gym with a friend.  This particular friend happens to work at Starbucks.  My daughter called me while on the way to the gym to tell me that her friend gets free coffee during the hours that she works.  "I want to work at Starbucks," my daughter proclaims, while she has me on speakerphone in the car.

The trouble is, we've talked about her needing to stay at her current job for at least a year.  "What do you think, Mom?" she asked me.  She knew what I thought, and I was annoyed with being put on the spot, so I was getting ready to respond with "Perhaps if you get free coffee you'll bring one home for me," when the Holy Spirit zapped me.  Yes, I received a high priority e-mail straight from heaven telling me to stop being so easily offended.  

Thankfully, I listened and didn't say anything.  We'll have a discussion about the job, in private, when she gets home.  But, in the meantime, I am left simmering over something that should not deserve this much attention from me.  I know my daughter's heart, and I know she just got excited over the idea of free coffee at work and needs to be reminded of the value of commitment.  It isn't a big deal.  But, offense snuck in and began eroding my relationship with my daughter over a stupid cup of coffee earlier in the week.  

Isn't that the thing with being easily offended?  Something that isn't a big deal blows up into a problem that shouldn't have have existed.  In this life, we have to make a decision not to make small stuff into big stuff.  Big stuff steals our focus and keeps us from the things that are truly important.  Love and mercy should be our focus.  Everything else is really noise when viewed from this perspective.  In the end, the thing that truly matters in this life is how we've loved.

Remember, God isn't going to defend us from a battle He didn't call us to fight.  There was no way my conversation with my daughter was going to end well if I'd humiliated her with a snarky remark in front of her friend.

So, how do we handle when we're offended?

When we're offended, it is okay to allow the feelings to run through us.  But, we've got to move past the feelings.  Ask yourself, "How can I see things differently?" or "How can I work out a way forward?" or "How can I believe the best about this person?".    In the beginning offense has shallow roots.  If we can forgive it early, we don't have to deal with deeper hurt later on.  We must quickly forgive the other person before the roots of offense take hold. 

Our feelings may not change immediately, but they will eventually catch up to our decision.  We can tell our feelings and emotions, "Thank you for the reminder, but I've forgiven this, and I don't care anymore".  Eventually, they'll stop reminding us of these little, inconsequential offenses.

Hasn't the enemy taken enough ground without us handing him anymore?  We will get to choose daily whether or not we want to be offended, because there's never a shortage of opportunities.  But, we open the door for the enemy when we stay in offense, because it will eventually lead to strife.  An angry undercurrent is always dangerous and it destroys relationships.  

Instead, we want to ask ourselves "What does God see when he looks at my situation?".  After all, His eyes are what matters.  If we stay in offense, we will be reactive in anger.  When we're reactive in anger, we'll compromise grace and mercy.  When we live in anger, instead of grace and mercy, we'll live in revenge.  Revenge clouds out grace and makes us miserable.  

Forgiving quickly when we're offended may be difficult, but holding onto it is so much worse.  It doesn't make us stronger or better.  It doesn't "right" the wrong.  It simply makes us bitter and angry.  Forgiveness isn't just about giving mercy to others, it is critical for our spiritual journey.  

Tonight, my daughter sits next to me with her laptop and I'm helping her with her homework.  Every so often, the offense tries to rear its ugly head, but I am reminding it that I don't care.  I've forgiven it and I am moving on with my life.  I know my daughter's heart.  I'm relaxing and giving space for the Holy Spirit to work.  

Today, I choose peace.

The Pivot

by Rhonda, September 14, 2022

I had a day today where I simply had no strength.  I had gotten up early this morning, gone for a run, and perhaps I felt fatigued from the early morning.  All throughout the day, fear kept popping up for me.  Left and right, I found something else to worry about.  I couldn't focus on work, and all I wanted to do was climb into my bed and worry.

That's one of my favorite pastimes, typical of a person who struggles with anxiety.  We like to take to our beds and worry. 

Finally, around 2 p.m., I gave up and grabbed my journal.  I took a thirty minute break from work and began working through my five steps.  I badly needed to pivot my thinking away from my fears and onto something more heavenly.  

Finally, brothers, 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. (Phil 4:8-9)

I needed to think about things excellent or praiseworthy.  Dwelling on my problem was getting me nowhere, except to a town called Angry.  Angry is a trashy town, full of burnt buildings and loud people.  Angry smells bad, has darkened skies, and no one ever seems to progress anywhere.  I used to live in Angry, and even though I've moved away, sometimes I still like to make prolonged visits.

But, not today.  Today, I needed to pivot what I was feeding my mind.  I was focused on things that were triggering me today, reminding me of past failures and hurts.  Instead, I needed to move forward with work, I needed to stop being so afraid.  

On days like today, sometimes all God asks us to do is show up.  Days when we're saddened by events in our lives.  Days when we're in pain.  Days when we're afraid.  God says, let's do this day afraid together.  Days like today, God takes everything that is too much out of our hands and He handles it.  He is strong in our weakness.  He loves us so much that he uses His strength while we take the time to rebuild ours.  

Days like today require us to rely on His strength, not mine.  We just have to check the attendance box, and that may be all we can give.  His love for all of us is as deep and wide and as countless as the drops of the ocean.  His will for all of us is peace in our lives.  So, on days like today, it is okay to acknowledge the day is too hard and we need to rely on Him and fall into His arms.  

We can stop worrying.  We can stop focusing our minds on the things that are triggering fear and anger.  God's going to handle it, so we can be done with the sleepless nights and the restless thoughts.  He knows we've done all we can do.  We can stop trying to reason through the same problems, over and over.  Instead, we can rest in His presence.

We are, after all, only human.  Sometimes everything becomes too much for us.  But, the amazing thing is so often our fears are but a mirage and they disappear when we get close to them.  God allows us to use His strength to approach our fears, and then He shows us how powerless our fears truly are.  

Rely on His bravery today.  He went to the cross, so this problem is really nothing for Him.  You will be okay and God will protect you today.  He loves you.

The Steps

by Rhonda, September 12, 2022

I've talked before about one thing that has been life-changing for me when it comes to recovering from the trauma of my son's cancer, divorce, and really just the trauma of living everyday life.  I read a book by Dr. Caroline Leaf called Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.  I just can't recommend her enough if you're serious about needing to heal your mind using sound principles proven through research.

I try to do the five steps she teaches on a daily basis.  I have a journal that's completely dedicated to my five steps.  Once I started doing five steps, I've found a noticeable difference when I go several days without doing it.  It has been healing for me, and it has brought me closer to the Lord.  I've modified her five steps slightly to center it more around a conversation with the Lord and this method works wells for me.  Here's how it works:

1.  Set your timer for five minutes and write down "Step One" in your journal.  Use these five minutes to write down every wrong thought in your mind.  It might be a worry, a complaint, or a memory that's hurtful.  Whatever it is, write it down.  Get it all out, and let your mind just explode with all of the worries and fears that are causing you anxiety.  When the timer goes off, stop writing.  

2.  Write down "Step Two and Step Three" in your journal.  I've modified this one slightly from Dr. Leaf, but I approach both of these steps together.  Set your timer for ten minutes.  After re-reading your worries from Step One, write down God's answers to all of these worries.  You're afraid your boss will be mad at you?  Write down how God grants you favor and how your reputation is in His hands.  Angry over something someone said to you?  Write down God's perspective on the situation, and remind yourself not to be easily offended and to not let someone else steal your joy.  You see how this works, you continue to correct all of the wrong thoughts in your mind with God's truth.  If you're not sure what God thinks, take a moment to pray and ask Him.  You'll be surprised by how quickly the ten minutes flies by. 

3.  Write down "Step Four" in your journal.  Reread what you wrote down in Step Two and Step Three.  Are there still things that need correcting?  Are there more things you need to write down to remind you of God's truth?  Set your timer for five minutes, and re-read the truth from Step Two and Step Three and continue to write any further truths you need to clarify.  I've used this step to find applicable Bible verses as well.  This step is used to further cement the truths in Step Two and Step Three.

4.  Write down "Step Five" in your journal.  Re-read Step Two, Three, and Four again.  Set your timer for two minutes and write down your key learnings, and what you can do to stay on the right track.  What did you learn from your Five Step?  Dr. Leaf calls this "Active Reach".  What can I actively do?  My Active Reach today is to allow my mind to rest from worry by staying away from news, media, etc that might trigger anxiety and rest in God and His truth.  I've has past Active Reaches around watching my negative words, or about trying to compete other people, etc.  God's never shy about what we can do to improve our lives and our situation. 

The first few days you do five steps (mine are actually four), you won't notice much of a difference.  Dr. Leaf says it takes 63 days to get the full benefits from doing the five step neurocycle.  She also advises to focus it on one specific issue you need to work through.  I did that for my first few neurocycles, but now I use it simply to get through the difficulty of day to day life.  I can tell you that after 63 days of doing this, you will be amazed at the changes in your thinking.  It has truly been life-changing for me and it has allowed me to manage and deal with my life.  I still struggle with anxiety, but this is a critical tool for managing it.

Now, when something really difficult happens, I notice I find myself less reactive in the moment - particularly if something makes me really angry.  Instead, I'll think to myself I'm going to need to work this through five steps with God later.  I am going to need to know what He thinks about this.  I love that I can share even the dumbest of my hurt feelings with Him and work through them.  It releases me from ponding the same problems over and over, without any resolution.  

I also do five steps with my kids.  They became curious about what I was doing with my timer and when I told them, they asked if they could join as well.  Now, we all do it together, and particularly for the first few neurocycles, I found it helpful to have your family join with you if possible.  We all just worked quietly writing things down in our own journals. Having someone else starting it with you keeps you on track and forces you to make the time to do it daily, and before you know it, it will become a habit.  When we find that we're really getting off track as a family, one of the first questions we ask is when's the last time we've done five step?  Then, we grab our journals.

Best of luck on your journey, and I hope this is helpful for you.  Healing from trauma is quite the difficult process, and having some Christ-centered tools is critical for progress.  

The Locust

by Rhonda, September 08, 2022

My daughter and I parked the car near a rusty gate at our county lake.  It isn't far from where we live, and we like to go to this particular lake because it is so peaceful.  But, today we were here for a different reason.  We've been training up for a 5K, and we decided to try a new running route to add some variety to our training program this week.  It isn't that we don't love running around our little neighborhood multiple times, over and over, but everyone needs some new scenery once in a while.

We planned to get up at 6:30 am and begin our run.  However, the problem was it was now 4 p.m.  The 6:30 plans went by the wayside when both of us hit snooze too many times on the alarm clock.  We were going to pay the price for it, though.  It was ninety degrees, muggy, and the sun was in full force.

"Maybe we'll pick up a breeze across the lake," I said.

"I'm already hot," she responded, "and I haven't gotten out of the car."

We took one last drink from our water bottles and exited the vehicle.  We'd never run the route at the lake before, and to be honest, I wasn't sure if there was even a proper trail around the lake.  As we began to walk through a narrow trail, I was surprised by the sheer amount of bugs that jumped out as we walked by.  Grasshoppers, moths, you name it.  There were bugs everywhere.

As we began to run, it seemed the bugs jumped out of the tall grass near the trails even faster.  Grasshoppers bounced off of me.  Other bugs did, too, but I don't know what kind they were.  Then, a very large bug bounced off of my forehead.  I actually stopped for a moment because I was a little surprised.  It was huge and I rubbed my forehead to see if there was a large dent that remained.  I was pretty certain it was a locust.

I can see why John the Baptist ate those, I thought to myself, they would be quite filling, given their size.  

After we finished through the Terror Trail of Bugs, we rounded the first corner and stood face to face with a steep hill.  

"You've got to be kidding me," my daughter said.

I didn't say anything, because I was still recovering from nearly being flattened by a locust that John The Baptist would have eaten.

As we started up the hill, I couldn't help but think about how life can be this way sometimes.  Since I've been struggling with approval addiction lately, I could see a parallel.  It can feel like you're being attacked left and right by annoying bugs, and constantly struggling uphill to gain (and keep) the world's approval.  Isn't that how the world works?  We are always on an up-cycle of approval or a down-cycle.  We never stay static.  

Jesus invites us to get off of the roller coaster of approval.  We are allowed to stay at the top of the hill with Him, because he always approves of us.  He died on the cross as an ultimate act of mercy for us, and as a direct consequence of His mercy, He supplies us with never-ending approval.  No roller coaster.  No uphill, no downhill.  Only peace.

Romans 3:22 (GW Translation) Everyone who believes has God's approval through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no difference between people.

I wanted peace.

My calves ached as we ran to the top of the hill.  The top, oh the beautiful top of the hill, was finally upon us.  I enjoyed it for about two seconds before we began the descent down.  The jog down was much easier than the jog up, but as soon as we were to the bottom, we looked up at another gigantic hill.

"Worst run ever," my daughter said.

I didn't say anything because I couldn't think of anything positive to say.  We'd both already forgotten how easy the downhill was, and all we could see was the hill ahead.  When we finally began the arduous task of jogging up the next hill, I was sure I was going to die.  I'd rather take a locust to the forehead.

Isn't that the problem with the roller coaster of approval?  To stay on top, you have to make your way back to the "top of the hill" position the same way you obtained it.  If you obtain approval by letting others control you, you'll have to continue this same pattern to stay on top.  If you obtain approval by stepping on others, you'll have to continue this destructive pattern.  No, thanks.  The roller coaster gives the devil access to our lives.  The enemy has taken enough ground, no need to give him anymore.  I'm taking the chicken exit.

I made my way to the top of the second hill, and much to my surprise, I did not die.  I kept jogging with my daughter beside me.  We still had to go back through the Terror Trail of Bugs (TTOB) to get to the car.  I took a deep breath and closed my mouth so no grasshoppers would jump in.  I began jogging and the TTOB did not disappoint.  

A plethora of bugs bounced off of me.  A few landed on my shirt, and if I hadn't been so freaked out, I would have been fascinated by how odd they looked.  I'd never seen such strange looking bugs, but since they were on my shirt, I didn't take much time to inspect them.  I flung them off, kept my mouth closed, and kept running.  I flung bugs to the left, I flung bugs to the right, and I have to admit my average page picked up substantially.  Bugs are quite the motivator.

Before we knew it, we were back to the car.  I turned on the air conditioner.  My daughter grabbed her water bottle.  "That was not fun," she said.

I was still checking my clothing for bugs.  "Which part?  The bugs, the steep hills, or the sun beating down on us like the Sahara?"

We drove home, swearing we would never again decide to run around the lake during the hottest part of the day.  But, the lesson of how hard it was to stay at the top of the hill was not lost on me.  There's always a testimony in everything we go through.  

It takes too much energy to stay at the top of the hill. I think I'd rather just follow Jesus.