A Grateful Heart

by Rhonda, March 29, 2022

I was riding in the back of an Uber, traveling towards the airport for my flight home.  I'd never been to Maryland, so I was looking out the window, enjoying the sights.  The scenery was fascinating to me, and I enjoyed the views even when we weren't in the greatest of neighborhoods.  

We were driving along our route, nothing out of the ordinary, when something caught my eye.  Near the highway, someone had put a small shed-looking structure in their front yard.  It had the words "Prayer Stop" painted on the front, with two lawn chairs sitting in front of it.  I looked again at the two worn chairs, facing each other, sitting in front of what resembled a children's playhouse.

I smiled.  I couldn't help it.  Who would put a Prayer Stop next to a busy highway, in their front yard? I wondered why it was there.  I wondered if anyone had ever stopped at the Prayer Stop.  I wondered what happened when you stopped at the Prayer Stop.  There were two chairs, clearly set aside with purpose, to allow someone to pray with you.

I knew I was already late to the airport, and I figured my Uber driver would think I was completely crazy if I asked him to pull over.  So, as I watched the Prayer Stop fade into the distance, I wondered about the stories it held.  I bet God had used the Prayer Stop, and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to see his work.  

I came home, googled The Prayer Stop, and found the history behind this structure:

This tiny prayer stop was allegedly built by a man who's life was ruined by alcohol. Once he hit rock bottom, he felt that God had saved him. Showing how grateful he was, he decided to create a tiny prayer stop on the side of a busy street so any motorist could stop and pray.  "There's no condemnation in the Prayer Stop. I committed most every sin myself before the Lord delivered me, and now I know true joy."

Who would put a Prayer Stop in their front yard?  Someone radically transformed by Christ.  Someone with a grateful heart.  

I wonder if my heart is so obviously grateful.  

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

In the craziness, the busyness, of this life, do we live as if we truly know Jesus paid an enormous price so we could be set free?  No matter the depth of our sin, God is always finding ways to pull us back into relationship with Him.  He never gives up on us.  God's very nature is to heal, restore, and forgive, even when it requires the utmost sacrifice. 

The more we truly believe the truths in the Bible, the truths that actually set us free, the more grateful we will be in this world.  Remember, its not the voice you hear that determines the type of life you have, its the voice you believe.  Let us truly believe God's promises to us.  Let us truly understand He is our Savior today, tomorrow, and forevermore.  Let us be continually reminded that His purpose is to show up when we need Him most.

Then, let us be grateful.

Choosing Kindness

by Rhonda, March 27, 2022

I stepped out of the bathroom stall in the women's bathroom of the airport.  She had her stuff sprawled all over the counter.  Her hair straightener was plugged in and various components of her make-up were strewn across the counter.  Her hair was dyed bleach blonde, her face smeared with lipstick that wasn't applied quite right.  She wore a short miniskirt and when she looked at me, the hard life showed in the lines across her face.

I was returning from a week of working offsite.  Tired and hungry, I just wanted to get home, have dinner, and see my kids.  I hesitated to choose which sink to use to wash my hands, since her stuff was everywhere.  I stepped forward and turned on the water to the sink furthest from her. 

She stopped and looked at me.  "Excuse me," she said.  "Do you know how far...."

She trailed off, so I didn't answer her.  She tried again.  "Excuse me.  Do you live here?"

"No, I don't.  I'm sorry." I responded.  I reached around her charging cellphone to grab paper towels.  Our eyes met, and I looked straight into the face of addiction.  I wasn't positive, but it seemed as if her eyes filled with tears for a short second, before shaking her head and turning away.

"Well nevermind, then.  Thanks." she returned to applying her make-up in the mirror.

I opened my mouth to say something to her, but at that moment, my cellphone buzzed in my back pocket.  What time will you be home?.  I stepped out of the bathroom and texted my kids back.  I hurried over to baggage claim, looking for my bag that would surely be rotating on the carousel.  After waiting a while, I retrieved my bag and I began to follow the exit signs to leave the airport.

As I walked away, I looked over at the women's restroom.  I should have asked her if she was okay.  Pulling my roller bag behind me, I walked back to the women's restroom.  I looked around, but she was gone. There was no straightener, no cellphone, and no makeup on the counter.  

A cleaning lady looked up at me as she emptied the trash can. "Looking for something?"

"No," I answered.  "Thank you."

I left the airport, walked to my car and began the long drive home.  I wondered what would have happened if I had just been a little more kind.  Sure, I don't live in the city, but I could have helped her.  I thought about Jesus on the drive home.  I thought about how He was often seen with the most scandalous people, much to the disgust of the Pharisees.  I thought about how He would have treated the woman in the bathroom.  My mind recalled the parable in Luke Chapter 15:

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent

There's no question about how He would have treated the woman I encountered.  I can't help but to want a heart like His.  Jesus' passion is seen in the Bible when the lost are found (and aren't we all lost?) and He never loses sight of his passion.  He gives significance to the lost because of His love for them.  Even when bringing them back requires sacrifice, He is willing to stop at nothing to pursue every last one of his sheep.  If we need any further confirmation about his passion, we can simply read Luke 19:10:

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

 Jesus didn't miss an opportunity to be kind, especially to the lost.  We should be so intently focused on God and his calling for our life, that when distractions come, we are not moved.  God calls us to kindness, self-control, a spirit of generosity, and a commitment to humble service.  Do we really want to be interrupted in the middle of our crazy schedules and meticulous plans to serve God?  Did I need to return a text instead of showing kindness to someone in front of me?

This world has so much brokenness.  In particular, the women of this world seem to have so much pain, and so often their cries are not heard by other women of faith.  They walk alone, going through the trails of life without someone walking beside them.  God calls us to notice the people around us, and we are to introduce hope into dark lives. We are to reach out to those around us, and light the way to the only One who can provide healing for life's trauma.

I  have a goal to stop allowing my daily responsibilities to get in the way of pursuing the calling that God puts on my heart.  Distractions should never drown out a calling.  Responsibilities, while important, should not replace Jesus' passion for my life.  

Joy and peace are found in pursuing His will for our lives anyway.  The one who missed out due to distractions in the airport restroom likely wasn't the woman battling addiction, with her makeup strewn all over the counter.  Its very possible the next woman entering the restroom helped her.

No, the person who missed out was the one who was busy answering the text on her phone and hurrying to the baggage claim. 

It was me. 

The Emtpy Flask

by Rhonda, March 23, 2022

My children are adopted from an orphanage.  We live a blessed life here in America and we don't struggle with scarcity of food.  But, my kiddos knew what it was like to go hungry before they came home with us.

I remember the first time I gave them a banana, and I was so surprised by their squeals of delight.  They asked me several times to make sure.  Mama, can we have the whole thing?  In the orphanage, when they got a banana, it was sliced into tiny pieces and split between at least ten children.  They'd never eaten an entire banana by themselves.

One of the biggest struggles we had around food was with my son.  When he would eat, he would pack his cheeks full.  He looked like a little chipmunk every time he was finished eating.  He would stuff as much as he could into his cheeks, and he didn't care if it took him an hour to chew all of it.  He wanted to make sure he got to the food before everyone else did.  It took us years to stop him from stuffing his cheeks every time he ate.

When we live in a world of limited resources, it is difficult to image a Savior who has unlimited resources.  If someone at the table eats a lot of food, it means we might not have enough.  If someone else does well, we may not advance.  If someone is good, we cannot be as good.  

But, God is a God of unlimited means.  Our joy is deeply intertwined with fully understanding who Jesus is and what he's done for us, not what we can grasp for ourselves in this world.  Jesus has unlimited love and unlimited forgiveness.  He can provide everything we're looking for in abundance.  Sometimes I wonder why am I looking around, grasping for what I can get in this world, seeking empty flasks?  I have direct access to a flowing well in Jesus who provides everything I need.

Jesus did not grasp for the power of the world.  Instead, He emptied Himself.  He let go of his right - yes, it was His right - to exert His power.  In fact, when He was tempted with all of the fame, all of the wealth, and all of the glory of the world, do you know what He did?  

He chose you.

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew Ch. 4)

The world steps on others to elevate themselves.  But, we are called to imitate our Savior.  The highest of high became the lowest of low to elevate you.  Our salvation is by faith, by grace.  Thank goodness it isn't by works, because I'd be in so much trouble.  

Since God is so graceful, we can live as though we're a people marked by the gospel.  Jesus has unlimited resources, so we can live generously, love lavishly, and extend forgiveness to those who don't deserve it.  We can give these things to others without running empty.  But, to accomplish this, we need to stay close to God.  Our focus must be on keeping our hearts facing Him, and not allowing ourselves to be overshadowed by the world.

When loving is hard, when forgiveness doesn't come easy, just remember.  We find our joy by going low like Jesus.  That's how we become higher than we could ever dream.

Pick Up The Mat

by Rhonda, March 20, 2022

Over the past week, I've found myself entering into some thoughts that are not serving me well right now.  I find myself thinking about ways to reconstruct my old life.  For whatever reason, I thought about some of the better times, before everything fell apart.  Then, I thought about how to manipulate my situation to reconstruct my old life.  Unfortunately, every scenario I entertained required taking my current situation into my own hands instead of trusting God and listening to his instruction.

Sometimes, the urge to return to familiar is overwhelming.  But, familiar isn't always better.  

After all of this work around healing after divorce, after all of my conversations with Christ over moving forward, I was pretty disappointed with myself.  I could feel myself sliding backwards, and my anger and despair were returning.  I wanted my old life back, even though I knew it is not possible, nor is it God's will for my life.  I was trying to live in the past, instead of seeing what God has for me in the present.

Sometimes the best thing we can do is change how we think about our circumstances.  What if, during this season, God simply wants us to get well?  My story is beautiful, but my story has hard things in it.  God doesn't write boring stories.  But, maybe that's the point.

Our life is called to a journey - a transformation.  God is not really interested in rebuilding my old life.  He's much more interested in the transformation in me during this journey.  Actually, I believe he's more interested in the transformation along the journey than the destination.  Manipulating my circumstances, as well as other people in my life, to try to recreate what I had does not lead me along a path of transformation. 

It isn't God's will.

This weekend, I read the story of the man by the pool in Bethesda in John 5:

4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

8 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” 9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

I'm pretty familiar with this story, but I noticed a new detail when I read it this time.  Jesus told the man to leave.  He told him to pack his things, get up, and walk.  Why was it important to Jesus that the man left?  He'd been there for thirty-eight years.  Where was he supposed to go?  Why couldn't he continue to hang out by the pool?

The man was an invalid, and the place he had lain for thirty-eight years was for invalids.  But, Jesus healed him.  He'd been transformed.  He didn't belong by the pool anymore.  He was being called to a new life, and a new place.

When I came across this truth, I had to ask myself an honest question.  Do I want to get well?  If so, I've got to get out of this place, because I don't belong there anymore.  I am not supposed to stay in the same place, acting like God hasn't healed me.  

God is writing a beautiful story in me (and you).  When I try to live in the past, I'm trying to trade my story and my journey and return to a place that I no longer belong.  I could spend my time reconstructing my old life, but here's one thing I know.  I can have everything I think makes me happy, but without Jesus I have nothing.  Spending time trying to pursue things outside of God's calling is pointless.  Only in His presence is fullness of joy.  

Jesus had the invalid leave the place he was in because he was no longer an invalid.  I am no longer a broken, shattered woman trying to pick up the pieces.  God continues to heal my heart, and he continues to give me strength. Do I want to get well?  Am I willing to pick up my mat and walk?

Yes, Lord, I am.

To Be Well

by Rhonda, March 18, 2022

I wanted to be well.  

I remember a few months after we'd separated, I begged God on the floor of my bedroom.  I want to be well.  Teach me.  Show me.  I can't live like this anymore.  

Months of pain, grief, anxiety, and fear were taking their toll.  The sleepless nights wouldn't let up.  The pain felt as fresh as the first day.  Nothing was getting better.  Nothing was helping.  Simply getting out of bed, showering, and eating were all I could accomplish.

Help me, I prayed over and over.  I'll do anything.

During this terrible time, I kept wondering how a normal, regular sinner like me could be transformed by Jesus Christ.  I needed victory in my life.  I needed strength beyond me.   While some of the events leading up to my divorce were beyond my control, some of my pain was also self-inflicted.  Being well meant that I had to pursue change. Change was what I desperately wanted, but how on earth could it happen?  

These were the right questions for me to be asking, even though I didn't realize it at the time.    God was using this experience, painful as it was, to grow me.  He was calling me to leave my old ways behind and explore what a deeper relationship with Him really looked like.  

If you are in this situation, first and foremost let me tell you the good news about bad seasons is they always end.  Your situation will do whatever it can to shame you into thinking you're too weak to move forward.  This is not true, and it is not the will of God.  He has plans for your life.  He wants to use you, not for who you used to be, but for who you are becoming.  If you allow Christ to use this situation to change you, it will open the doors to a whole new world.

If you will grant me the privilege to speak a few words over your future, I'd like to share a few things I'm believing for you (and me!):

You are called.  There's no question about it.  Just as the apostles were called to leave everything to follow Jesus, you are also called away from your old life (your old ways) into a new life with Him.  God is using this situation to call you into something new.  Plan B isn't meant to end your life.  Its meant to reroute it into something new with Him.  Now is the time for a fresh start!  Wouldn't it be tragic if you moved from one bad situation to another, never learning from God?  Don't fight Plan B, instead trust God with it.  Turn it into a training ground for the future, allowing it to change you for the better.  

You are convinced.  Jesus is who He says He is.  He loves you.  He died and on the third day He was resurrected.  It really happened.  The more you are convinced of His love for you, the more the Holy Spirit will make your faith bolder and bolder.  Every time you worship God, something happens to break the power of evil.  Every time you become consciously aware of God's love for you, you become a bit more secure.  Watch for God's love for you.  Look for the little things.  You'll be blown away by how He shows up in your life.  Remember, you are on the right path.  Listen more to God and less to your doubts.  

You are committed.  The disciples (except one) were committed.  They were all-in, and they didn't turn back.  This was an incredible, generous generation who took God at His word and took the gospel to the ends of the earth.  You're committed, too.  You're going to take God at His word and stop believing the lies the devil is telling you.  You're going to believe you are blessed.  You're going to be brave and do what God has called you to do.  When you decided to follow God, you began to view yourself differently.  You are not your job, your income, your relationship, or your house.  Don't believe for a second you're behind everyone else.  Your path is just different.  Today marks a new road for you, committed to following God's will.

Remember, God is a God of promises.  In today's world, no one keeps their word.  But, we have God's stability to lean on, not our own.  As long as you stay on the path God is leading you down, you will be blessed.  

Follow your road, even if its Plan B.

Forgiveness Part 2

by Rhonda, March 15, 2022

I didn't want to do another post on unforgiveness.  

I continued to look for inspiration around something else.  But, every topic I've come across this week is around forgiving others.  My e-mail has coincidentally populated with Christian messages about forgiveness.  My YouTube subscriptions are updating with lessons on forgiveness (Part 1 and Part 2, no less) as I quickly scroll past, not wanting to face it yet again.    

No, I'd rather have some sort of enlightenment on a new topic.  Maybe, I told myself, it will come to me in my sleep.  Last night as I slept peacefully, I did actually have a dream.  

I dreamed about my eyebrows.

Being a redhead, I've never had any color whatsoever in my blonde eyebrows.  But, in my dream, I had distinct eyebrows.  I looked in the mirror and I had defined, colored, perfectly manicured eyebrows.  They were colored a little dark for my hair color, but in fact, they existed.  It was fascinating. 

I made faces in the mirror during my dream.  I lifted them for a surprised look.  I lowered them for an angry look.  I had so many new emotions I could convey with my newfound eyebrows!  In my dream, I picked up a make-up wipe and tried to remove the eyebrows.  But, they were permanent.  I had permanently perfect eyebrows!  I inspected them from all angles before my dream suddenly ended.

As I woke this morning, I laid in bed for a while, telling myself it was absurd to actually think I had different eyebrows.  But, I couldn't stand it, and after a few minutes I hopped out of bed to check on my eyebrows.  Just as I suspected, they were the same shade of white as the night before.  

I looked to the ceiling. 


The eyebrow dream really doesn't have much to do with anything, except to illustrate when you're ignoring God's lessons and you then ask for a spiritual dream, you might get a dream about eyebrows.  I'm not sure if that's true for everyone, or just me.  

So, let's talk unforgiveness.

It has come upon me this week with a vengeance.  It seems unfair that I'm still dealing with this, since I did a good job of forgiving last week and I earned my gold star.  I am starting to sound very much like Peter, asking the Lord how many times I have to forgive.  This is a difficult phase post-divorce, and it seems like every day I am finding yet another reason to be angry.  

But, I must remind myself I'm not after a gold star, I'm after freedom.  I want to move forward.  I don't want to live in the past, allowing anger to fester into bitterness.  I refuse to allow my mind to remain in this state, continually producing toxic emotions that will drag me further down the pit.  
I made a list to refocus myself this week.  Perhaps this is helpful to you, too:

Unforgiveness causes tremendous stress.  Did you know when there is an excess of stress molecules flowing through the body, the first target is the circulatory system?  Your heart literally feels the emotion causing the stress (Dr. Caroline Leaf).  Forgive.  Don't let somebody else's bad behavior ruin your life and your health.  It will literally give you heartache.

Unforgiveness wastes energy.  When in a state of unforgiveness, you're continually trying to collect from people who cannot pay you back.  No one has the power to heal except Christ.  By looking for restitution from the person who is hurting you, you're actually putting the power of your peace in their hands time and time again.  God will pay you back many times over for what was taken from you in the past.

Unforgiveness causes us to settle.  When you choose to hold onto the past, you are not living your best life.  Do not settle for less than God's very best in your life.  God asks us to forgive.  God is a good God, who only wants good for His children.  If He asks you to forgive, it is because He has something better for you. 

Unforgiveness prevents change.  When you want change in your life, you have to do your part.  People typically don't just fall into blessings.  So, do you really want to get well?  Do you really want to change?  God won't change you without you being on board.  But God will help you with anything you are willing to give Him.  As long as you are blaming other people, it keeps you from seeing your part that has to change.
Unforgiveness puts "self" in control.  This is never a good thing.  You don't have to feel warm, fuzzy feelings to forgive.  You can make the decision to stop living by your feelings, and start obeying God.  When you do what's right, without tiring of it, God will take care of the impossible things.  You no longer have to manipulate a situation to get what you want.  Instead, "self" is removed from the driver's seat, and you just have to stay obedient to God and let Him handle it (in His way and in His timing).

Unforgiveness spiritually neutralizes us.  Your greatest responsibility is pursuing the dreams God has given you.  The devil will try to stop you by keeping your focus on past wrongs, hurts, or hangups.  As long as you're focused on wrongs from the past, you won't have any energy left to dream the dreams God puts on your heart.  Remember, sometimes your plans have to fail in order for God's plans to proceed.  Stay focused on God's plans for your future, not your failed plans from the past.  

Unforgiveness prevents forward progress.  You almost always have to let go of something old to take hold of something new.  Forgiving allows you to separate yourself from your old ways.  The things that God asks us to lay down are the things that are usually making us miserable anyway.  God's plan is for us to enjoy our life in abundance.  Progress will never occur when you are busy avenging yourself.  Revenge prevents peace, which stops you from moving forward.

God always shows us what we need to do, but God won't deliver us from a problem we keep feeding.  We must stay in the fight to forgive, asking God to increase our faith so we will have the ability to make forgiveness a lifestyle instead of a one-time decision.

This week, I'm ready to fight for my freedom.  I am not meant to live under the dark shadow of the past.  Its time to let go of the old and embrace the new.

I hope you join me.

Pushing Through

by Rhonda, March 12, 2022

My son and I are training to get in shape by running together.  I'm not sure why we made this commitment in the coldest weeks of winter, but we've not always been known for our logic.  We don't own a treadmill, so the only option is to run outside.  After a particularly freezing run this week, I asked him how he was doing as we made our way into the house.

"I feel great." Funny how endorphins can make a person forget they're hypothermic. "Mom, you know something?  There's Christian lessons in running," he added.  

"How so?" I asked.

"When we ran up the hill, I had to just push through even though I felt like I couldn't make it.  Its like...you gotta push through your problems even when you feel like you can't make it."

"I agree with you," I said.  "In fact, when you feel the worst, you're usually near the top of the hill."

"I know!" he responded.

His observation is biblically accurate.  Many times in the Bible, the tougher the resistance, the closer the breakthrough.  Breakthrough victories as a Christian don't come without hard work.  Defeat of the enemy always come with a battle, but we are closer to the top of the hill than we think.  Even when the battle seems overwhelming, God reminds us to never lose hope because we are not meant to fight alone:

15 Jahaziel said, “King Jehoshaphat, listen! All you who live in Judah and Jerusalem, listen! The Lord says to you, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope because of this huge army. The battle is not yours. It is God’s. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley in the Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take your positions. Stand firm. You will see how the Lord will save you. Judah and Jerusalem, do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. Go out and face them tomorrow. The Lord will be with you.’ ”

(Side note: This is a cute depiction of the story of Jehosaphat in 2 Chronicles.  No matter how old I get, I still love Bible cartoons!)

So often, just like in the story of Jehosaphat, our enemy self destructs before any real damage is done to us.  When this happens, you can be sure that God has stepped into the ring.  In fact, our battles tend to be in the mind, battling fear of what could happen.  Fear is the devil's playground, and fear is often the resistance we fight before the breakthrough.  I once read a quote that said "courage is fear that's said its prayers".  Even though we feel fear, we can still be courageous and stand our ground while we wait for our victory.

If the majority of our battles are around fear, and fear is in the mind, the good news is we can control our minds.  Even if we don't realize it, we have the power within us to have victory over fear.  God would not command us to "not be afraid" and to "not lose hope" if we didn't have the ability.  He instructs us to push through our feelings of fear, and instead face our enemies, while allowing Him to fight the battle.  As it turns out, facing our enemies is what leads us to the top of the hill, and often the trip to the top is easier than we think.  

The hard part is the decision to move forward in the face of fear, even when we feel terrified, and stare down the enemy.  Once we've made that decision, the battle becomes God's.  All we have to do is show up.

When I view past problems in light of God's promises, I see how He was in the ring, fighting my battles all along.  Of all the problems I've feared, not a single one has destroyed me.  Yes, I've been through hard times.  I've been through a house fire, losing everything I own.  I've been through a divorce.  I've been through my son being diagnosed with cancer.  I nearly lost my daughter to an illness several years ago.  But against all odds, I'm still standing. In fact, fear itself was far worse than any terrible event that's occurred in my life.  I bet when you look back on your life, you can say the same.  

God is so faithful.

One of my biggest defenses against fear is to change my focus.  I often can't battle fear by simply telling myself to calm down, or working to convince myself that everything will be okay.  Fear never takes into account the presence of God.  Instead of fighting fear on its terms, I change my focus.  The Bible says fear can't stand in presence of perfect love.  Perfect love is Jesus.  Instead of fighting a battle meant to be His, I change my strategy.  I remind myself of His faithfulness through all of my other problems.  I focus on what He's done, not on what I'm facing.  If He's faithful once, He's going to be faithful again. I add Jesus into the equation, and all of a sudden, those dark fears scatter in the presence of Jesus.  They don't stand a chance.  

The more difficult fear becomes, the more I am determined my goal is to allow it to drive me into the arms of God.  I know if I allow my problems to draw me closer to God, the enemy is defeated.  Instead of trusting God less, I will trust Him more.  Instead of stepping out on my own, I will lean into Him.  Instead of sinning my way out of fear, I will stand firm until God has defeated my situation.  The devil won't win this battle for my mind.  I am determined.

We have the ability to face our enemy.  We don't have to live in the darkness of anxiety and fear, tormented by our thoughts.  We don't have to cower to our feelings.  We don't have to live under the what-ifs that never come to fruition.  Jesus didn't die for our life to be dark.  Instead, He invites us to see when He's fighting our battles, there's nothing to fear.

Tomorrow, my son and I will lace up our running shoes again.  We will run up the same hill that was so difficult yesterday.  We will face that evil, evil hill that threatens to destroy us and make our calves scream for mercy.  

But, you know what?  This time I'm less afraid.  I know its possible to have victory, and without fear, all of a sudden that hill doesn't seem so daunting. 

He Must Increase

by Rhonda, March 10, 2022

Matthew 11:11 "Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist”

Those are Jesus' words about John the Baptist.  If we had the opportunity to have those words written on our tombstone, I think we could consider our life well-lived.  He's worth studying for no other reason than Matthew 11:11.

But John the Baptist was a bit of a quirky guy.  He lived in the wilderness.  He wore clothing made of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist.  He ate locusts and wild honey (yuck).  He's not exactly the guy who would be accepted at the local country club, not that he would care.  He knew who he was, and he knew his purpose.

John 3:30 "He must increase, but I must decrease."

John the Baptist was referring to Christ in this verse.  In fact, the ministry John had worked so hard to create had to decrease at the time of Christ.  It was never meant to be a ministry to follow John, instead it was a ministry meant to pave the way for the Messiah.  His followers had to become Christ followers once the Messiah appeared.  So, we can understand why John knowingly said "He must increase, but I must decrease." 

He wasn't the Messiah.  

The only way for Christ to become greater was for John to become less.  Everything he was, and everything he possessed was designed to make Christ increase.  But, John didn't view this as a loss.  He understood this was gain.

Today, the world places value on accomplishments, money, fast cars, easy relationships, and social status.  Living a simple life doesn't earn any accolades.  Why would anyone intentionally choose to decrease when the name of the game is who makes the most money or has the most rewards on the shelf?

I was at an estate sale a few years ago.  An elderly man had passed away, but in his basement, there were boxes of golf trophies he'd earned throughout his lifetime.  Several boxes sat on the floor, full of differing trophies.  No one wanted them, since they were engraved with his name.  At the end of the day, even after marking the box down to a dollar, they remained on the floor.  They were going to be hauled off to the trash, or perhaps Goodwill.

You know, one day, all of our trophies are going to end up in the trash.  

The only thing that lasts is Christ, and John the Baptist knew it.  Even though he didn't live to see the crucifixion and resurrection, John knew his place and his purpose.  He must increase, but I must decrease. 

I wonder what would happen if we started to live as though everything we are, and everything we possess, is to make Christ increase.  We aren't the end game.  In fact, life is not about us, the next thing we buy, or the next position we have.  What if we really understood the only way Christ will become greater is if we become less?  

We have to step down from the throne of our own lives in order for God to get on the throne.  But, Christ in his rightful place, changes everything.  

  • Christ in his rightful place means he rules our lives, instead of "self" ruling our lives.
  • Christ in his rightful place means we are led by joy instead of fear.
  • Christ in his rightful place means we will worship God instead of things.

Indeed, the increase of Christ is not loss.

It is great gain.


by Rhonda, March 08, 2022

I had an evening this week where I was particularly grouchy.  Usually, when I am grumpy, I tend to isolate myself and I refuse to interact.  I guess somehow in my mind, that's better than lashing out at those unfortunate souls who live with me.  I felt bad about my evening of self-imposed isolation, so the next day, I had to send out an apology text to my kids.

But, it made me wonder.  Why is it so easy to be nice when we're at work, or at church, but sometimes it is so difficult when we're at home trying to make dinner?  I thought about the question for a while, then while driving down the road, I decided to ask God if He would weigh in with His opinion.

You know, when you ask God for His opinion, He usually gives it to you.  Immediately, one word came to the forefront of my mind.


I sighed.  Lessons on forgiveness are so difficult for me.  God has already been talking to me about the need to forgive so I can move on from my divorce.  Now, here's the same darn topic again, showing up in a different area of my life.

Am I really grouchy at home because of unforgiveness? I asked myself.  I didn't ask God to weigh in this time, because I figured I wouldn't like the answer.  

God asks us to forgive, because He knows the toxicity of holding onto anger, bitterness, and revenge is crippling for a Christian.  It gives the devil an opening into our minds, and when he's given an opening, he'll turn our minds into his playground.  No matter which way we approach it, there's no true peace for a Christian who is living with unforgiveness.

It is easy to say, but so difficult to put into practice.  There's something inside of us that feels like forgiving and letting go means we lose.  But forgiveness is what keeps us from living in the past, in a pit of debilitating emotions threatening to overtake us based on the trigger of the day.  Forgiveness is freedom.

As I pondered my situation, I realized unforgiveness over my divorce has really crept up on me over the past few weeks.  Years of memories have their way of storming my mind, reminding me of how I've been wronged (it rarely reminds me of how I've wronged). Things said, things done, and hurtful memories have been popping into my mind at random times, and instead of letting those things go, I've been holding on them.  I've been thinking about how things should have gone, and that cycle of thinking means more memories pop up more often.

So, Christ reminds me.

Forgiveness puts an end to this cycle.  

Matthew 18: 21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Sometimes Peter is so relatable.  This is a question I probably would have asked.  "Lord, how many times are you going to expect this of me?  It seems like seven should be the limit."  Then God answers, "seventy-seven times".  I can just hear Peter's response.  "Seventy-seven times!  Are you serious?"

God was telling Peter forgiveness has to be a lifestyle.  It can't be a decision we make once and then revert back to life as before.  That same hurt will pop up the next day as a memory, and the next day.  In fact, every day, those we love the most also have the opportunity to hurt us the most.  We're all humans, and those closest to us will hurt us whether they intend to or not.  If we're not careful, even small everyday offenses will build up in our minds, and unforgiveness will rear its ugly head over even the smallest, most inconsequential things.

Forgiveness doesn't mean we don't set boundaries.  It doesn't mean we put ourselves out there to be hurt by someone who is abusive,  But, it means we let go of needing to even the score, of wanting to take revenge that belongs to Christ.  In fact, forgiveness is more about letting go than hanging on.  

God wants us to forgive because He doesn't want anything coming between us and God.  He doesn't want us hanging onto things that are going to lead us down a road of destruction, following the next sinful thing that will make us feel better.  No, God wants us to be healed.  It is out of His love for us that he sets forgiveness as an example, not out of any need for suffering on our part.

So, I will try again.  I will continue to work on making forgiveness a lifestyle, not a moment.

In this, I will find freedom.

The Phone Call

by Rhonda, March 06, 2022

I was working from home this week when I received a text that made me sigh.  It was from a person that I find particularly stressful, with a personality I'd rather avoid.  This person tends to be argumentative and often talks down to me.  

Give me a call when you get a moment.

My heart sunk.  I'd rather not, I thought.  But, according to my driver's license, I am an adult.  As an adult, I should return texts and phone calls, even when I'd rather pretend I never received it.

I dropped my head at my desk.  I could delay it for an hour, perhaps.  No, I decided, it makes no sense to torture myself for an hour.  I might as well get it overwith.

Just then, my phone rang, and an unknown number popped onto the screen.

"Hello, I am with the women's ministry at the church and I was just calling to see how you are doing and if there's anything I need to pray for in your life."

She sounded incredibly sincere.  She caught me off-guard.  I stammered for a minute, then I said, "I am actually doing really well, and I can't think of anything I need to be prayed for."

It didn't occur to me to have her pray over my unfortunate text message.  It was so small and insignificant, plus it would take a while to explain the whole situation.  I was in a hurry to handle my problem, after all.  

But, if I'm being totally honest, I also was refusing to be transparent or vulnerable.  I don't know why I do that, but I would rather be the "pray-er" than the "pray-ee" in pretty much any situation.  Isn't it always easier to be the "pray-er"?  

She said, "Well then we can pray a prayer of praise that you're doing so well.  Do you want to pray with me, or would you rather I pray for you after we got off this call?"

I chose to pray on the call.  Upon my confirmation, that sweet little woman prayed a sincere, heartfelt prayer praising the Lord that I was doing so well, considering all of the challenges in the world today.  

I hung up.  

I looked out the window, up to the sky.  "I know that was You," I said out loud.

It didn't take long for my attention to shift back to the phone call I needed to make.  I returned the call as requested, and the stressful situation turned out to be not-so-stressful.  I moved onto the next tasks in my day, and it wasn't long before I completely forgot about the sweet woman who prayed for me.

I wonder how often we miss God's grace because we're so focused on the problems directly in front of us.  When we move to and fro throughout our day, refusing to look up, we miss the bigger picture.  We're focused on the trees, when there's an entire forest that God wants us to view instead.  Without perspective, we miss the rhyme and rhythm of life.

Anxiety and fear will always draw our gaze back to our problems.  But, anxiety and fear always discount God's presence.  That sweet, obedient woman was being used by God to send a message to me.  I am not meant to face the problems of life alone.  That was never His design.  I am meant to navigate life in tandem with Him, conquering obstacles in my path together with my creator, rather than entirely alone.  When I approach problems on my own, I am ill-equipped.  When I approach problems with Him, I have inexhaustible resources.

I can never fully understand why we have a creator who cares so much about even the littlest details of our lives, but we do.  His love for us knows no bounds, and He has the ability to stand by our side, even through the smallest conflicts of life.  I still can't fully wrap my mind around a Savior so thoughtful.  But, when you really, really love someone, you care about the smallest details of their life.  That's how He feels about us. 

Zepheniah 3:17 "The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.  He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Imagine what life could look like if we viewed every day as an opportunity to work through our problems and conflicts with God.  Gone would be the stress and anxiety that keep us in a constant state of fear.  Instead, the confidence of knowing that nothing is too difficult for God to handle would greet us on a daily basis, promising peace as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

Its time to look up.  Its time to see the forest through the trees.  

The God of the universe is on our side.

On The Throne

by Rhonda, March 03, 2022

I'm a news junkie right now.  I am consistently checking for stories on Russia, Ukraine, and what's happening in the conflict.  I even wake up in the middle of the night to check the latest news.  I've been praying for a peaceful resolution to minimize loss of life.  It is so sad to watch, and terrifying to think of the possibility of another world war.

At church last week, we prayed for the Ukraine.  We even paid to evacuate several pastors from the Ukraine.  It didn't feel like enough.  

My children are from Russia.  I've spent a significant amount of time in Russia.  The entire situation is surreal.  

Tonight I turned off the television, went onto the back deck of my home, and watched the sunset.  I couldn't help but contrast my view with the sky views in Ukraine, with bombs and ammunition lighting up the night sky.  I am very blessed as I sit on my quiet, peaceful deck.

While I pray for an end to war, I am reassured knowing that someday Christ is going to return and put an end to all of this.  God knows the exact date.  He hears our prayers with a tender heart, and our prayers are important.  When He returns, He's going to make all things new.

Matthew 24:6-7  You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

As I watch the news, though, there's another side that is shining through the darkness.  The Ukranian people have shown a determination to protect and defend their country.  The citizens are willing to risk their lives to protect their freedoms, and the freedoms of their children.  

The Ukraine is united, pulling together for one cause, and they're not backing down.  In some ways, perhaps, they are blessed to know who they really are.  I'm sure they feel fear, but they're not bowing to it.  There's a resolve in their heroism, a freedom in their lack of fear.  

I can't help but think they're an example for unity right now.  In fact, the unity of the Ukranian people should inspire the Christians around the world.  These brave men and women are fighting for their freedom, unified in one cause, and they're standing their ground. You know, sitting back and watching everything unfold is purposeless without learning from it.  

I pray for the tensions rising, the Russian people, and most certainly for the country of Ukraine.  But, even as the fears pervade and the anxiety heightens, one thing's for certain.

Christ is still on the throne.

The Rottweiler

by Rhonda, March 01, 2022

Sometimes trying new things takes courage.  I felt that way today.  

I haven't run in over two years.  I've been so sad, so tired.  I used to run all of the time.  I even ran a full marathon at one point.  But now, the depression and stress have taken their toll.  My body is carrying extra weight, and my mind tells me I'll never relive my days when I ran to keep myself healthy.

Except God tells me otherwise.  

So, today, I decided it was time to start listening to God's prodding.  He's been pushing me to run for a while now, but I have been afraid.  What if I can't run anymore?  What if I embarrass myself?  

I decided it didn't matter.  It was time.  So, despite my dread, I laced up my sneakers.  I found headphones for my phone and a running program.  I put a leash on our overly-active Husky named Zeus.  He was bouncing off the walls with excitement.  

I stepped out the front door.  Given it was a Sunday, the typically-busy highway was very quiet.  Perfect.

Zeus has no idea how to run since he's never been taught.  After a few run/walk intervals I began to get frustrated.  Every time I would run, he would get excited and try to pull me into the ditch.  Or, even worse, he would decide to cross over in front of me and nearly cause me to trip.  I began to realize that Zeus was indeed, a terrible runner.  Perhaps even worse than me.  The two of us were quite the pair.  

After several failed attempts, I decided to try one more run interval.  Just as before, Zeus decided to run off into the ditch.  This time, when I yanked fiercely on his leash to bring him back into line, he laid down.  I stopped to see what in the world was going on when I realized I was dragging dead weight.  

Immediately, I saw his problem.  Coming up from behind us was a loose Rottweiler.  

Zeus lacks most common sense, but even he knew he needed to show submission.  She was scary to me, I am sure she was terrifying to him.  She was muscular and intimidating and Zeus had no idea what to do.  Even though I told her no and tried to protect him, Zeus decided to bare his teeth.  I have no idea why, since he would have died a terrible death if she decided to engage.

A truck stopped on the road and asked if I needed help.  

"Yes, please." I replied.  

"It looks like you're about to have a dog fight here," he said. 

He helped herd the Rottweiler to the other side of the road, and then he drove off.  

But, as Zeus and I continued along our way, the Rottweiler returned.  Zeus laid down again, which did not help my plan to move along quickly.

"Get up," I begged him.  But he wasn't going anywhere.

I turned my attention to the Rottweiler who was returning.  This time, she approached timidly and I offered my hand.  She laid her ears back, clearly very nervous about the situation.  I moved slowly, taking my hand towards her ears and petting her head.  She stood there for a while and then she laid her head in my hands allowing me to rub her ears.

So much for the terrifying Rottweiler. She was just a big baby.

She walked over to Zeus and sniffed him a few times.  Zeus started to relax, realizing she wasn't going to eat him alive.  

Then, she did something that completely surprised me.  She walked in front of us.  

I kept Zeus tight on his leash so he couldn't reach her.  Much to my amazement, he was no longer interested in veering along into the ditches or running across my path.  He was focused on the female in front of us.

I decided to try the run/walk intervals again.  I shook my head with laughter as I watched her.  When we walked, she walked.  When we ran, she jogged.  For the remainder of my run, Zeus stayed in a perfectly straight line in front of me, completely focused on the dog leading our way.  He knew he couldn't outrun his leash, so he didn't try.  Instead he just followed her.

She led us two miles home.  It was an awesome run for me.  Zeus behaved, I could run at the pace I needed to, and I really enjoyed being outside.

I'd forgotten.  Running always brought me so much peace.  It brought me closer to God.  It cleared my mind, and it introduced joy to my soul.  How I've missed it.

The Rottweiler stopped when we reached out front yard.  I tried to get her to come over to me again, but she wouldn't.  I wanted to bring her into the house to give her some water, but she declined.  

After we went inside, she returned down the highway, from the same direction.

I'm sure she was going home.