The Shirt

by Rhonda, June 09, 2024

I opened the bag with the gift she gave me.  It was a shirt, from Ukraine, and it had been embroidered up and down the sleeves.  The shirt was a beautiful shade of hunter green (my favorite) and the embroidery was done in gold thread.  It was, well, perfect for me.  She knows me well.

Yet, we still don't speak the same language. 

Crazy how that doesn't matter.

Sometimes it feels as if I've awaken from the nightmare of my divorce to this beautiful new life God created for me.  I am so grateful.  I love Him so much.  He cares so much about me, enough to craft a new life for me that I am in love with.  How can God love me so much?  How can he be so good to me, in spite of all my faults?

Funny how the story unfolded, now that I'm looking back on it.  I'm sure my family thought I was losing my mind when I was fresh off of a divorce, and God asked me to sponsor a family from Ukraine (then another one).  I brought a family into my house that I'd never met in person.  But, here we all are, united as family in a way only God could have created.  They're living in their own places now, but we are as close as ever.

I was thinking back to nearly a year and a half ago, when we picked up this sweet, exhausted family from the airport.  They had been held in customs for hours.  We loaded them into our church van and drove them to our home in the middle of the night.  How terrifying it must have been for them, as they had their two young sons with them.  How crazy it was for all of us.

Now, the bombings and attacks on Ukraine continue.  I am not the greatest at always knowing what to say.  Sometimes I just ask God to help me push through it.  A few months ago, one of their family members died in the attacks.  How are there words for this, especially when you don't speak the same language?  There's not, so I just show up with flowers in-hand and try to convey they are loved.

Life goes on, the news continues to roll in, the politicians argue, and all I can think about is how much the world needs Jesus.  There are real people on the other side of these tragedies, and God asks us to see them.  To love them.  To do what we can, given our abilities.  Sadly, so often, love gets lost in opinions.

A few weeks ago, my sponsored family gave me a pin with an American flag and a Ukrainian flag intertwined.  It was a heartfelt gesture depicting their journey.  I was so humbled by it.  They have no idea they helped me as much as I helped them.

But, isn't that how God works?  He brings two families together from across the globe who need each other.  He creates victory out of the impossible, and in the midst of it, we have the privilege of watching Him work.

How great is our God.

The Moment

by Rhonda, June 02, 2024

I've been reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis and I came across something that really hit home with me this week.  I'm adjusting the wording a bit from his letters (written from the POV of our enemy), but here's the gist of the idea pulled from several different paragraphs:

The Present is the point at which time touches the present is the voice of the conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.  The business of our enemy is to get us away from the Present.  Even the Past is of limited value, because we can be grateful for the past.  The best place for our enemy to keep our minds is the Future, because here he can keep us in fear.  Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.

Isn't it true that anytime we're in fear, we're thinking of the future?  Perhaps one of our greatest weapons against fear is to remain in the present moment.  In today's world that seems more difficult than ever to do.  But, God already tells us what's going to happen in the future.  He says our bodies will be transformed from perishable to imperishable, we will go from dishonor to glory, from weakness to power, and from natural to spiritual.  (1 Corinthians 15)

Knowing this, we can tell ourselves confidently we have nothing to fear or worry about.   Everything else really is small stuff, even though it doesn't seem like it.  We can live in the moment, enjoying God's current mercies that are bestowed upon us lavishly. 

This concept is hard to live out, but it is possible.  Divorce is such a trigger for fear, because it creates uncertainty about the future.  I couldn't believe the depth of fear that came upon me immediately after my divorce.  If you struggle in this space like me, here are a few things from my journal regarding fear and the need to live in the present moment:

  • If the devil cannot get to you with fear, he will come after you with temptation.  Some of the biggest areas of temptation are anger and the need to take control.  Both of these are reactions to living in the past or in the future.

The Gratitude

by Rhonda, May 27, 2024

He walked across the stage in his graduation gown.  Watching him from the audience was a surreal experience.  I think anytime you watch your child graduate from high school, it is momentous.  But, I have to say it is especially momentous when you weren't sure if he would live long enough to graduate.  Cancer has a way of putting things into perspective.

He didn't want a party.  He simply wanted his closest family members to join him for a nice dinner.  So, that's what we did.  I told him he could order whatever he wanted, and he ordered everything from appetizer to dessert.  He enjoyed himself immensely (he always does when he gets to go out for a meal) and we left the restaurant three hours later.

The same week he graduated, my daughter moved into her own place for the first time.  I just hung up from a FaceTime call with her, because she wanted to show me how she organized her new kitchen.  I'm happy for her, but can't help but notice her empty bedroom every time I walk past it.

Its been a big week and my emotions are all over the place.  I am not sure if any of them are even remotely accurate, so I am letting them do their thing, run their course, and hopefully I will stabilize soon.  A mother's heart is a complex thing, after all.

The events have happened so quickly that I haven't had time to reflect, or more importantly, be grateful.  God has worked within my children's lives so profoundly, and I want to be sure I stop to share these moments with Him.  Both of my children are, after all, miracles.  

My daughter, adopted after years of abuse, was so violent and self-destructive as a child that I can remember praying someday she would just be functional.  She's finishing her Bachelor's degree in a few years, and will start her Master's program after that.  My son, who drives all over the big city, was supposed to be blind after the last brain surgery.  But, he sees fine.

How easily I forget God's miracles.  These are big miracles, so I can't help but wonder how often I miss the small ones.  Is He not incredible?  Is He not so good to us when we don't deserve it?  No wonder David wrote Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! (Psalm 107)

Today is Memorial Day, so I'm also grateful for the sacrifices of our soldiers today.  There's so much to thank God for at this point in my life.  At the same time, I flip on the news and watch the destruction in Ukraine.  Every attack breaks the heart of the refugee families I am sponsoring, as they watch their city systematically destroyed, praying for the family members left behind.  As my kids are growing more independent, God brought others into my life who need me. 

I've learned so much about sponsoring refugees.  Its about so much more than providing for their needs - although that is critical.  They need to be accepted by Americans, and they need our time.  They are trying to adjust to a new culture and a radically different way of life.  They need someone to practice English and to stay engaged, no matter how hard it becomes.  They need us to show up and have dinner, and to check in with them to see how they're doing.  

Again, I'm grateful to have the opportunity.  

Life is changing, but God remains constant.  He is working so many things in my life right now.  His plans are so much more fulfilling than anything I could have dreamed up for myself.

Happy Memorial Day.  Don't forget to thank the One who makes all things possible today.  He loves you so very much.

The Mothers

by Rhonda, May 13, 2024

Today is Mother's Day.  So, in honor of Mother's Day, I'll share one of my finest motherhood moments.  

When my son was three years old, he somehow got a cut near his eyebrow.  I didn't think it was deep enough to require stitches, but I did have some "liquid stitches" in my medicine cabinet.  If you've never used liquid stitches before, it is basically super glue for your skin.  Instead of a bandage, you can use liquid stitches to close a wound.  I felt like a genius for thinking of this idea, not to mention it was going to save me a trip to the emergency room. 

My son was very upset over his cut and he'd been crying.  I laid him down in my lap and tried to get him to hold still so I could super glue his wound shut.  I applied the glue to the wound, and as it was drying, he decided to wipe his tears.  

Unfortunately, this is where things went south.  He drug his hand across the cut above his eyebrow...and then continued to drag it across his eye.  Before I had a chance to react, the damage was done.  He had drug the glue across his upper and lower lashes as he closed his eye.  His eye was glued shut.

This is an important part of the story, because when we argue about this story 16 years later, he likes to say that I glued his eye shut.  But, the fact remains that he actually glued his own eye shut.  I simply witnessed it.  I'd also like to point out that not all of his eye was glued shut, but approximately 75% of it was.  He had a small opening that he could still peer through.  

Anyway, at the time, I was freaking out because I didn't know if it would damage his eye.  His upper and lower lashes were glued shut and no amount of tugging on my part would open them.  Not to mention, I was quickly losing the cooperation of a very mad three-year old.

I called the doctor.

"Is he in pain?" the doctor asked.  

I looked down at him.  He had calmed down and began playing with his toy truck on the floor (although he had to look at it with one eye).

"I don't think so," I said.

"Is the glue all on just the lashes?" he asked.

"Yes, it appears so."

"This will dissolve itself in a few days," the doctor said.  "As long as he's not in pain, I'd just let it wear off naturally."

So, for three days, my son walked around looking at everything with one eye.  Let me tell you, the Mom guilt was pretty terrible. Every time he played with a block and had to turn his head to see it out of one eye, I died a little inside.  I refused to take him to day care, because I did not want to have to explain the situation.  We stayed home for those three days together until he could resume normal functioning again.

But, my son being the comedian that he is, never lets me forget this story.  Every time we get into an argument and he's losing, his last act of desperation is to say to me, "Well, you glued my eye shut."

And when he says this, I usually respond with a lot of compassion and empathy.  "Is your eye glued shut now?  No.  You're welcome."  I'm afraid when I die, he's going to have She glued my eye shut engraved on my tombstone (which as we've already established is historically inaccurate).

You know, every time I read Luke Chapter 2 of the Bible where Mary and Joseph lost a twelve-year old Jesus for three days, I think to myself, Well, there you go.  Parenthood isn't easy, even when you're raising the Messiah!

We're not perfect parents, but God uses us in spite of our imperfections.  He sees our hearts, and He knows how difficult the struggles can be.  I always think of the single Moms on Mother's Day, especially those with young kids.  Those first few years can feel like survival and doing it alone is an especially heavy burden.  Single Moms are truly heroes.

My first few years of raising my kids, I felt like I was failing all of the time.  But, at the end of the day, what my kids needed was a Mom who loved them.  I could give them that much, even if I missed the mark on a lot of other things.  

So, this Mother's Day, I just encourage you to see your accomplishments.  Your mistakes will fade into time, but your kids will always remember how much you loved them.  

Happy Mother's Day.

1 Peter 3:4: "You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

The Drive

by Rhonda, May 04, 2024

Last night I decided to ride along with my son, who works for a delivery service (delivering food and groceries) as a full-time gig.  It works well for him, because if he has a day he's not feeling well, he doesn't have to work.  Being a two-time cancer survivor at age nineteen takes a toll on the body, and some days he's not able to work a job like most.  He has a weekly earnings goal, and he was short on deliveries this week, so I told him I'd drive if he would deliver.  

I am so glad I did.

Because of his struggles, he's not a typical nineteen year old.  He may be unable to follow conversation for a long period of time.  Everything he does is at half the speed of a normal person.  Radiation does that to a brain.  But, he is the kindest soul you'll ever meet.  His faith is rock solid, and his heart is one of love for everyone around him.  He literally drives around town with the heater on when he's delivering food to keep the food from getting cold.  He's that thoughtful.

As we began to get food and grocery orders, I had a quick realization that, in our particular area, those who were placing orders weren't necessarily the wealthy.  Quite the opposite.  Orders were coming from those who were struggling, for whatever reason.  Perhaps they couldn't leave their house and they depended upon delivery.  Maybe they didn't have a car (which on our particular location, means you are unable to do much since nothing is within walking distance).  Whatever the reason, I quickly realized his job was more than food and grocery delivery.

One of our orders was at a grocery store in a rough area of town.  My son can often miss items on a shelf, so it takes a long time to do the grocery orders.  For this order, he was trying to find cough drops and I was getting ready to walk over to help him.  Instead, I watched a young man walk over to my son and help him find the cough drops.  He wasn't an employee, just a customer.  

After we were done shopping, we pulled up to a house that was a wreck.  The lawn wasn't mowed and the neighborhood wasn't great.  An old man waited for us on the porch.  My son brought his groceries and talked with him for a little while.  I watched the interaction between the two and as my son was leaving, the old man pulled $5 out of his pocket and gave it to him.  

We went to pick up the next order, which was a pizza place.  My son went inside and they clearly knew him and smiled when he walked in.  He had to get three Sprites and two pizzas.  His mind can hang up on certain things, and being able to carry three Sprites and two pizzas was going to be difficult for him to figure out.  I began to get out of the car to help him.  But, before I did, the man in the back of the pizza place came to the front register.  He brought a bag for the Sprites and put the pizzas into my son's pizza bag for him. Then he opened the door for him.

I asked him if every day is like this for him.  

"Yeah, pretty much." he said.  "There's an older grandmother on the other side of town that I love talking to.  She always orders strawberry yogurt and cat food.  She has a bad hip.  One time she tipped me $25.  I also really love delivering to the juvenile prison.  They're all so nice there."

After our delivery was complete, we got another order from the same pizza place.  My son went inside, and I heard them say, "Welcome back!" and watched the same routine.  They helped him pack his pizzas and opened the door and off we went.

It hit me that my son doesn't just deliver food and groceries, he has somehow created a ministry.  He works in areas where people seem to need him, yet those same people also help him.  Nearly everyone we delivered to was waiting for him on their front porch.  

Isn't it interesting how God uses everyone for his glory in unique ways?  The pace of my son's life allows him to slow down and pay attention to those who need him.  He is not worried about rushing off to the next order, he's completely in the moment, making sure everyone in his life feels valued.    

The amazing part is God doesn't use our perfection.  He uses our weaknesses for His glory.  Life wouldn't have slowed down for my son if it wasn't for the cancer.  The Ukrainian families would not be my neighbors if it wasn't for my divorce.  Our worst moments become a launchpad for His greatness.  

He turns our messes into miracles.

Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

The Journal #3

by Rhonda, April 27, 2024

Few things are as disorienting as in-between times - between jobs, between relationships or between a rock and a hard place.  But nothing rattles the cage like a bad diagnosis, a pink slip, or divorce papers.  They cause the compass needle to spin.  And we feel lost because our plans and our lives fall apart.  But the upside is that it causes us to seek God with a raw intensity that cannot be manufactured any other way.  Disorientation has a way of driving us to our knees.  And that is one reason why the bad things that happen to us can actually turn into the best things that happen to us.
  (Mark Batterson, Wild Goose Chase)

I came across these words this week while reading.  I'm always so torn over how to discuss my divorce.  I never want to glorify divorce, but at the same time, I can't deny that it has caused me to seek God in ways I never would have before.  God pulled me out of the deepest trench I've even been in, so how can I not tell my story?  I've learned so much about God's unconditional love through my divorce.  He has shocked me with his gentleness towards me during some of my worst moments.  

As I make my way through re-reading a few items from my journals, I thought I'd share a few insights that God gave me in my lowest moments.  Sometimes I gather these things from reading, some from the Bible, and some from prayer.  I always bounce it off of the Bible to ensure authenticity, and I always write my realizations in God's voice, because I believe these realizations come from Him.  I hope they bless you as they have me.

  • Don't let fear rule you.  Your decisions change not only your life, but others as well.  Take a look at your decisions and look at the impacts on you as well as others around you.  Are they fear-based or faith-based?  Keep loving.  Keep leading in the direction I am taking you.
  • I can free you from your trauma, my child.  A life of faith is a life of freedom.  I earned your freedom through death on a cross.  Take the gift I have given to you.  I have given you My heart and My life.  My love for you knows no bounds, and there is power in this kind of love. 
  • I am going to give you a real family.  I had real family on earth.  Some were blood relation like My mother, and some were My disciples.  It didn't look like a storybook.  Nothing in my life did.  Yours doesn't have to, either.  Don't spend too much time grieving a fairy tale you've created in your mind that isn't real.  Simply move forward with your purpose.
  • You are faithful in your pain, and I see it.  I love you.  You've been through a lot of rejection, but you cannot change who you are because others reject you.  It is toxic and it will destroy you.  I will always restore you to your authentic self.  I want nothing to do with fake masks or images.  I created you, not some cheap imitation.  I never reject you.  I love you, the real, authentic you.  The world will reject you, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
  • Your body needs sleep when you are tired.  In a similar way, your mind needs rest, not manipulation.  I love you, and you are My daughter.  Stay strong in Me.  Keep close to Me and stay in My ways.  I will see you through this.  
  • Do not fear.  Fear is nothing but a mirage that disappears when confronted.  I am working in all of your situations.  Simply do as I ask of you and do not worry about the world's opinions.  No one else has solutions for you because no one else understands you like I do.  No one else loves you like I do.  My child, you must follow Me so all of these problems don't take you under.  Be kind, but follow Me. 
  • Only I can heal your wounds.  You must let go of the expectation that others will do it.  They cannot and they will not.  Take your pain to Me and don't let your anger well up.  Bring it all to Me.  
I have piles of journals with these messages over and over, because messages of love must be heard multiple times.  God knows this, and He never stops telling us how much He loves us.  

Divorce is hard, but God is greater than divorce.  His love can overcome anything.  Aren't we so incredibly blessed to have such a Savior and Creator?  

I couldn't survive without Him.

The Fence

by Rhonda, April 20, 2024

We have a sweet, cuddly, fat, spoiled dog that my daughter loves with her whole heart.  But, he's got a personality problem.  He likes to break out of our back yard.  No matter how many times we find a way to block the holes he digs under the fence, he seems to always find another weakness in the perimeter and gives himself a self-guided tour of the neighborhood.  This wouldn't be so bad if he would behave.  But, we weren't blessed with a dog that behaves. 

When he breaks out of the yard, he likes to go through the neighborhood trash, or anything else he can get his nose into.  Trash day is his favorite day because all of the trash cans are near the curb.  He can knock them over and sniff through the contents.  Let me tell you, the neighborhood loves him when he does this, and I have spent too many evenings picking up our neighbor's trash.  

About a year ago, our next door neighbor knocked on the front door with his teenage son.

"I know this is a weird question," he said, "but you haven't seen my son's shoes, have you?"

I looked at his son, standing in his work uniform and his socks.  I immediately chuckled and said no.  But then, I remembered seeing a shoe in the back yard and at the time, I thought it was my son's shoe and he probably left it lying around.  However, when I really thought about it, I realized it was an unfamiliar shoe.

"Wait," I said.  "I think they could could be in the back yard."

They followed me to the back yard, and much to my embarrassment, they were indeed my neighbor's shoes.  The teenage owner of these shoes worked at a fast food restaurant, and my dog loved the smell of those shoes, so he brought them home with him.

That is one of just many terrible experiences with our dog.  There was another instance where he took off, and my daughter and I followed him onto our neighbor's acreage to catch him.  Our neighbor didn't recognize us and called the police.  By the time we got it explained to our neighbor and I gave my name and contact information to the nice police officer, our dog had already come home and was sitting on the front porch when we pulled into the driveway.  I told him I was turning him into a floor rug, but he just wagged his tail at me.

We have a busy road near our home, so it isn't just annoying when he gets out of the yard.  It could be dangerous.  He's not smart enough to look out for ongoing traffic, so he's nearly been hit several times. Given no other choice, he is now under lockdown due to his terrible behavior. We supervise him every time he goes outside, since he poses a threat to the motorists on the road as well as the neighborhood shoes.  He views the fence as his prison, but it is actually there for his protection, since he is unable to navigate the dangers.  If only he understood we are protecting him.  But, he is stupid.

My annoying canine situation got me thinking about what it means to leave the protection of someone who loves you.  As much as I would hate to admit it (and I do hate to admit it), I probably share some spiritual traits with our dog.  I bolt from the safety of God's protection when I think I have a better idea.

Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

We can make decisions in our lives that bring us peace.  We can also make decisions that bolt through our protective "fence" and throw us into chaos.  Danger abounds when we make these types of decisions, and we feel the impact of it immediately.

I have a terrible temper.  I blame my red hair, but the truth is my rebellious spirit is really to blame.  I know better than to get worked up over things, rolling them over in my mind, until I'm ready to tell someone off.  Disrespect-fully (is that a word?).

Every time I do this, I'm bolting through my fence.  One would think I would have figured this out before my mid-forties, but I honestly used to think these types of confrontations were necessary to be sure people respected you.  But, this type of behavior doesn't garner respect, and it certainly doesn't display the heart of Christ.

Yet, my temper likes to make an appearance anytime I feel threatened or rejected.  When I fall back into this behavior, I'm dealing with all kinds of fallout.  There's drama in my life, chaos, and resentment.  I have to work at healing relationships.  Let me tell you, life outside of the fence isn't all its cracked up to be.  The grass is not greener and I've found I prefer the still waters the Bible talks about.

Psalms 23:1-4  The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Another way I like to run straight through my fence is by refusing to rest.  God has been very clear with me that I need to take breaks and recognize a sabbath.  My introvert personality requires it.  I was designed for it.  My job requires a lot of hours, so I need to rest and take care of myself.

But, every so often, I decide I know better.  I will have a good time with my friends and my (albeit small) extrovert side decides to plan every weekend from here until eternity.  I need to take the families from Ukraine to a football game (they wouldn't be properly indoctrinated to America if I didn't).  Lionel Richie is on tour and I need to see him sing "Hello" in a stadium full of people.  I need to go to baseball games this summer, and don't forget, I also want to volunteer to help fix up our schools on the weekends.

Let me tell you how this plays out.  I become overwhelmed, overscheduled, and interestingly enough, my temper likes to make an appearance because I haven't had any downtime.  I also end up lying on the couch with a bag of Cheetos wondering why I can't find any peace.  God knew better, but I  blew through the fence and did things my own way.  It results in me getting run over on the highway of life, every time.

Isaiah 55:8-9 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I'm not sure God can say it anymore clearly than he does in Isaiah.  His ideas are better than ours.  He knows what we need, even when we don't know.  He sees the bigger picture when we're distracted by small things.  But, we have to choose His ways over our desires.  That's where we always get tripped up.

If you're struggling with chaos in your life and looking for peace, it is worth examining whether you're running through a fence and doing things your own way.  I can tell you from experience, this ends up being true in my life more often than not.  Sometimes I run through the fence and don't realize it until I am dealing with the consequences.  

The amazing thing about our God is that He never closes the gate.  We're always welcome back, and we can always come home.  His love is unconditional and ever-faithful.  He's waiting for us with open arms every time.

That's our God.

The Tools

by Rhonda, April 15, 2024

There are days I get buried in it all.  Divorce often (not always) takes two people to contribute, and sometimes I look back at the last twenty years and wish I'd done things differently.  But, my marriage had been difficult for a long time, and near the end I felt like I was losing my mind in the craziness of it all.  He would say the same.  My life now is much more peaceful, I know that, but you also don't just forget twenty years.

I was thinking about when the kids were young the other day.  He and I had taken them camping, and there was a creek (nearly a river) we needed to cross by using stepping stones.  The water was rushing,  and I was ready to turn back towards the safety of the campsite.  My son was probably three years old, my daughter five.  There was no way they could jump between the stones to cross the river, and I just knew they would be swept away by the water if we attempted it.  But, he wanted to keep going.

So, he scooped both kids up, and he jumped across the stones in the river holding both of them like a sack of rocks under each arm.  They were laughing loudly, safe in their Dad's arms while he carried them to the other side.  They got to the other side of the river and then yelled for me to follow, which of course I did, because I couldn't be outdone.  I snapped a picture of it, and I am sure it is floating around in my storage room somewhere in the box of memories that I won't open.  I doubt the kids even remember it.

Life never takes us in the direction we anticipate.  I was at a business conference a few days ago and one of the speakers said, "The most difficult changes in my life have always resulted in my life being better, even though at the time it feels like everything is falling apart."  I've been pondering on that statement, wondering if it is indeed true for me.  I think the answer is yes and no.  God uses all things for good, for those who believe in Him.  But, I could have certainly lived without my son's cancer diagnosis, and a few other events in my life.

There's a new level of healing that occurs when I can look back at the past and be grateful for the experiences, but not feel buried under guilt, shame, or regret.  Its also a new level of spiritual maturity, and if I think about it, spiritual maturity seems to fast-track healing.  When I think about the past and begin to feel buried, the best counter-attack is to pursue my Savior.

I like to pursue Him in a variety of ways, but these are my top 3 ways in a situation like this:

1.  Prayer Journaling:  I spend five minutes writing down my prayers to Him.  I thank Him for things.  I ask Him for things.  I write down realizations I've had and ask Him if I'm on the right track.  I ask for help with my problems.  I set a timer on my phone and when it goes off after five minutes, I put my pen down.  

After five minutes, I set my timer for ten minutes and I write down everything I believe God is saying to me.  I try to always listen to God for twice as long as I talk.  I write down His truths about me, I write down Bible verses that come to mind, and I write down how much He loves me.  Over and over, I write down how much He loves me.

The interesting thing about this exercise is that if I go back through my piles of journals, God seems to tell me the same things over and over (and over) again.  I forget easily and so often, yet when I look back at the pages of my writings, I can see how He reminds me of the same things again and again.  His truths don't change.  He simply has to tell me a lot of times so I will remember.

2.  Exercise:  Even though I complain about it incessantly, I actually do enjoy exercising.  In particular, I enjoy running and listening to worship music.  There's something about pushing your body to do difficult things while listening to praise music that lifts your mind from a state of chaos to a state of praise.  I don't do this one often enough, because the hardest part of exercise is convincing yourself to start.  But, when I do, I never once regret doing it.

3.  Devotions, Podcasts, or Reading:  I am an avid Youtube watcher, and my subscription list is filled with live-streamed church services and devotion channels.  I like these types of study that help me read my Bible, and also understand my Bible.  There's been a lot of situations where I've struggled and I click on a podcast that directly addresses my particular dilemma.  

If my mind is exhausted, I won't watch devotions or podcasts on television.  I'll pick up my Bible or a Christian book instead.  I still love old-school reading where we get to flip the pages and make notes in the margins.  Sometimes I need to turn off all distractions and just curl up with a book that tells me biblical truths.

These are some of my tools to stop my mind from taking me to the bottom of my grief.  I think it is important for everyone to have their own spiritual tools, and it is important to know yourself well enough to know your favorite ways of working on your personal relationship with God.  Your tools may be unique, because our God made you unique.  

If you find yourself recovering from a very difficult event in your past, it might be worthwhile to write down your list.  I called them tools, but in reality, they're weapons.  They're tools for you to connect with God, but they're also weapons to be used against your enemy.  I love the image of a tool being used to help you connect with God as one function, but the same tool becomes a defense weapon.

So, fill your toolbox and stock your arsenal.  

You aren't meant to be overrun with the past.  You're meant to be powerful in the future.

The Mold

by Rhonda, April 02, 2024

Are you a morning person?  

I've tried to become a morning person, but it has never worked out for me.  I've tried to exercise in the mornings.  It lasts for about three days.  I've tried to wake up early in the mornings, study my Bible, and spend time in prayer.  I always fall asleep in the prayer time of that particular plan.  I've tried to wake up early to meal prep for my day.  It always ends up with lunch purchased somewhere nearby by yours truly.

I felt vindicated when my DNA genetic testing said I typically like to wake up around 7:40 in the morning.  I now have scientific, indisputable proof that I'm not a morning person.  It feels good, not gonna lie.  I am backed up by science when I hit the snooze button at 6 a.m.

A few weeks ago, I got up early to eat some breakfast cereal before I went to work.  I got halfway through my bowl of cereal (which yes, was likely expired) when I realized, much to my horror, there were little things floating around my cereal bowl that appeared to have wings.  I hadn't noticed them because I hadn't fully opened my eyes yet and I wasn't fully aware of my surroundings at that time of the morning.

I was unhappy, to say the least.  

I threw my cereal into the trash and fumed, "God, I'm not sure but I think I just ate a bunch of bugs."  Then I waited for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit to comfort me.

At last the voice came.  "John The Baptist ate bugs."

"John the Baptist ate bugs on purpose," I argued with the creator of the universe.  "ON PURPOSE."

I stomped off to my bathroom to get ready for work.  I can only imagine in the heavenly realm, an angel approaching the Lord and asking, "What's wrong with Rhonda today?" and God answering, "She's upset because she just ate a bowl of bugs."

It was true, I was very upset that I ate a bowl of bugs and I was in a bad mood for the rest of the day.  I'm really not sure why I'm telling you this story, or what it has to do with anything, but I'm still upset about it and feel the need to unburden myself.  

Check your cereal boxes, people.

Anyways, as I was saying, I'm not a morning person.  I had a great uncle who was a farmer.  Every morning he would get up at the crack of dawn and read his Bible in the kitchen.  I can still see him, in his overalls, hunched over the wooden table in the kitchen.  But, if someone walked into the room, he always put away his Bible and greeted you with the warmest welcome.  He was a wonderful person, and I miss him.  

I've often felt really guilty that I can't seem to wake up early and get in a serious devotional time before I start my day.   But, over and over, I come back to my study time (and writing time) in the evenings.  My evenings with God are awesome.  I can talk to him about my day, I can thank him for paving the way before me.  I can calm my mind down before I sleep.

I think sometimes we get into this trap of what a Christian needs to look like.  I don't fit the mold.  A houseful of Ukraine refugees.  Mom of two kids. Divorced.  Eating a bowl of bugs (it happens to the best of us).  Cannot get up early to read the Bible for the life of me.  House is often a mess.  Even the dog doesn't listen and continually breaks out and roams the neighborhood.

But, we only need to read a few stories in the Bible to realize the most devoted Christians probably didn't fit the mold either.

Moses was a murderer.  David was too, along with a whole lot of other crazy stuff fit for a reality TV show.  Solomon seemed to have to try every sinful thing in life to determine whether it had meaning.  (Spoiler alert, he said it was all a chasing of the wind.  Over and over.)      

Whenever I get into this rut of feeling less than the ideal Christian, I remember that Christ Himself didn't fit the mold either.  I'm certainly not suggesting he was a sinner like the others listed here.  But, I love knowing that He didn't lead a solemn, boring life.  If any of us had written His story, it wouldn't have been written the way it happened.  

His life was adventurous, compassionate, and I can't help but think He and the disciples had fun from time to time.  Who puts a coin in the mouth of a fish and doesn't have a sense of humor (Matthew 17:24)?  And did Peter roll his eyes when it happened?  Did he laugh?  Surely he did.  No one saw that one coming from the Savior.

So, if you are like me and did not plan on being divorced and leading a life that seems less than a picture-perfect Christian, you might find some solace in knowing the most important Son in history was rejected, too, because He didn't quite fit in.  Its okay.  

All you really have to do is love Jesus and do your best to pattern your life after His.  

He loves you exactly the way you are.

The Good

by Rhonda, March 25, 2024

Yesterday I ate a lot, and I do mean a lot, of potato chips. I paired them with a soda, a cookie, and a brownie.  Sometimes when I get very stressed out, I tend to eat junk food and I've been working on a very stressful project at work.  I loved every minute of my junk food buffet, but there's always a side effect (at least there is when you get older).  Now I don't feel the greatest after downing a truckload of kettle chips.  And I will refuse to get on the scale until I feel better about myself (don't deny it, you do it too.)

I suppose I should go to God with more important things, but today I'm asking him to help me stop my potato chip eating extravaganza.  I'm stressed and I'm tired and I want to eat terrible things and lay on the couch and watch YouTube.  Please don't bother me while I watch my favorite podcasts.  

Any extreme in our lives, except worship of God, is not going to be good.  I struggle with this because I am an all-or-nothing kind of person.  I'm running a marathon or I'm on the couch.  I'm engrossed in a hobby or I want nothing to do with it.  I'm reading ten books or I'm reading no books.  Its difficult for me to find moderation, simply due to the way I'm wired.  I always have to look to Jesus to lead me out of my extremes.

He shows me that I live a life of extremes because I'm a perfectionist.  I'm too hard on myself and I'm unable to enjoy life if it doesn't feel perfect to me.  He is far gentler, far more forgiving of me than I am.  He knew I wasn't going to be perfect when He created me.  Somehow I haven't gotten the memo, though, and I still have some pretty high expectations.  When I fall short, out come the other extremes such as junk food or binge television watching.  Or late night QVC shopping.  OK, let's move on.

Life requires moderation, whether it pertains to eating, finances, hobbies, or basically anything outside of the worship of God Himself.  For some, it comes easy.  For others like myself, finding moderation and balance is a constant battle.

This is why I need Jesus every day.  I am unable to find balance without Him reminding me to see life for what it is, not what it isn't.  Perfection is always looking for flaws and ways to improve someone or something.  But, God doesn't look at life this way.  He sees good even in the imperfect.  His eyes are always looking for good in our hearts.  

2 Chronicles 16:9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

He's not looking for the bad.  He's looking for the good so He can give support to them.  Isn't that an amazing way to look at life?  His focus isn't on what's not there, His focus is on what is good, and how He can help those who have good in their hearts.

There's a lot of lessons in that verse for me.  If I looked at life this way more often, I would eat less potato chips.  If I looked at myself this way, and focused on finding ways to better support the good things within me, it would be life-changing.  Have you ever thought about what life would feel like if you looked for the good within you?  If, for just one day, you stopped thinking about the bad and only looked for the good and thought about how to support it?

Maybe we should all give it a try.  If God looks for good in us, He is the one to set the standard.  

We should follow His lead. 

The Simplicity

by Rhonda, March 14, 2024

When Jesus taught lessons in the Bible, He kept them simple.  When He taught principles, He didn't overcomplicate things or make a gigantic list of rules everyone had to follow.  The Bible mentions in several places His followers were amazed by His wisdom.  But, I also think part of the amazement was in the simplicity of His answers.

I'm currently making my way through Leviticus (painful), and the lists of rules and regulations are dizzying.  Everything was so complicated, and if you ask me, unattainable.  I try to skim through some of the chapters because they're repetitive and difficult.  I can't imagine actually living through it, because simply reading it is exhausting.  There's a lot of discussion around actions that make a person ceremonially unclean, and the amount of time one must remain in an "unclean" state.  If I were part of the Israelites at the time, I probably would have set up a tent in the unclean side of the village and parked there permanently with a pile of bacon (no pork allowed).  There ain't no way this girl was going to make it.  

But, then Jesus changed everything and made it all so much simpler.  He focused on love instead of ceremony.  He taught mercy.  He preached forgiveness.

The world is becoming more complicated.  Politics are complicated.  Relationships are complicated.  Going to the doctor is complicated.  Paying your taxes is complicated.  Figuring out your schedule is complicated.  We may not have all of the rules the Israelites followed in Leviticus, but our lives are no less complicated today.  

The simplicity of Jesus and His message of love is refreshing.  

"Love your neighbor as yourself." 

"You who have not sinned, throw the first stone." 

"The truth will set you free."  

"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"

He takes the chaos and confusion out of the most complex problems.  I can recall time and time again going to Him in prayer with a problem.  Countless times He simply tells me "Love".  I don't always want to hear that, but He's usually right (He is God, after all).   I am overcomplicating my life and need to love others.  That's His calling card, a simple solution for complicated problems.  But, it makes sense, doesn't it?  Truth is simple.  Lies and deception are what makes things complicated.

If you're struggling with a decision and aren't sure what to do, bring it to God.  He is going to give you an answer that makes sense in its simplicity.  

I can recall agonizing over whether to meet up with an old acquaintance from high school that I really didn't want to see.  I felt guilty for saying no to the invitation, yet I didn't want to say yes.  I took it to God and asked Him what to do?  I didn't want to be rude but I didn't want to be around someone who still wasn't a nice person and had long been out of my life.  

God's answer to me was simple.  Are there spiritual benefits to this meeting?  If there's something to this meeting that brings you closer to God, then attend.  But if there's not, then feel free to politely decline and move on with more important things.

His answer was simple.  I was spending far too much time concentrating on something that ultimately didn't have spiritual consequences.  I was free to move on with my life.  So, I politely declined.

Do you know how long I was embroiled in that crazy decision?   I really have to learn to take things to Him much more quickly.  I will save myself some serious time and suffering.  He untangles problems, and He makes life peaceful.

God is still guiding his children today, all we have to do is ask for His help and look for His answers that will simplify our lives.  He loves us so much.