Category Archives: Stories Of Faith

THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS

Forgive Each Other

Compassion flooded my heart as I walked into the room where my step-mother, Debbie, was resting while she battled the effects of stage-four cancer. With a frightened look in her eyes, she burst into a cry when she looked at me standing in the doorway. Debbie normally wasn’t emotional, but the sympathy in my eyes must have touched a deep place in her spirit.

With a smile, I walked toward Debbie, and her tears subsided as I embraced her. Serenity filled the room while we sat there together enjoying a conversation.

As love flowed from my heart, I asked Debbie if she would like me to say a prayer. Enthusiastically, she said, “Yes!” I held tightly onto her hands and began praying softly over her. The fear I had seen in her eyes began to fade away and a fresh glow illuminated her face.

After a sweet time together, I hugged her firmly and said, “Goodbye.” As the door shut behind me, a flood of emotion washed over me and I began sobbing.

The tears were a bittersweet mixture of the sorrow I felt for Debbie’s battle with cancer and a celebration of the powerful love I had shared with her in the midst of her pain.

I realized during those precious moments spent with my step-mother that I was reaping the fruit of my choice to forgive her many years before. Decades earlier when I was a thirteen-year-old girl, I met Debbie after my dad moved out of our home. He divorced my mother and married Debbie soon afterward.

The life I had known in my childhood was shattered and I felt the deepest pain I’ve ever experienced. Bitterness invaded my heart as I blamed Debbie for the break up of my family. In my brokenness, I struggled to open my heart to Debbie until after I matured and realized the burden of carrying the pain was too heavy.

While I watched the example of my mother’s forgiveness in the midst of the unwanted divorce, I resisted the urge to stay bitter. Miraculously, through the resurrection power of Christ, I was able to totally forgive Debbie, and the wound in my heart healed.

Forgiveness has the power to make something beautiful out of something terribly painful.

Amy and Debbie

On my wedding day, the photographer got a candid photo with my step-mom joyfully gazing at me. Only Christ could enable such beauty to emerge out of the brokenness from the past.

Years later, as I sat with my step-mom while she faced death, it was evident to me that the choice of forgiveness had truly transformed my soul. The hurting, young teen I once was, could not have fathomed I was capable of loving my step-mother with a love so pure.

While hoping and praying for Debbie’s healing, I received a phone call from my father. His voice was solemn as he said, “The doctors are saying it will be just a few hours before Debbie passes away.”

I said, “I’m so sorry, Daddy.” I was crying as I tried to comfort my father.

Peace encompassed my sad heart as I walked into the critical care unit. It was surreal to see Debbie hooked up to machines and nearly lifeless.

A kind nurse assured me that Debbie was listening even though she was powerless to speak. In those surreal moments, I embraced the sacredness of Debbie’s soul preparing to pass from this life into eternity.

As a heavenly aura filled the room, I walked closer to her bedside and with words mixed with tears, I passionately said, “I love you, Debbie; thank you for being a loving step-mother to me.”

If it’s possible to touch Heaven tangibly while still on the earth, I certainly touched it that day.

I am certain that forgiveness is the birthing place for the most beautiful kind of love. Evidence of the love that grew in my relationship with my step-mother is in a card she gave me a few months before her death.

Debbie’s written words will forever be inscribed on my heart. She wrote, “Amy, I have grown to love you like my very own daughter.”

After nearly nine years since Debbie’s death, she is treasured and the power of forgiveness remains the greatest miracle of my life.

A life without forgiveness is a burdensome existence—it’s like dragging a large weighted ball. Without forgiveness, the pain adheres itself to the soul and dampens everything we experience with a thick darkness. When we don’t forgive we are only hurting ourselves.

Forgiveness is one of the greatest keys to living an abundant life. The one who walks in love and forgiveness experiences an abundance of spiritual blessings. 

Are you carrying unnecessary weight in your heart? There’s no better time than now to choose forgiveness.  Christ died on the cross and rose again so that we can forgive and be free from the pain that weighs us down. Choosing the path of forgiveness leads us to eternal joy, perfect peace, and unleashes the most magnificent, unimaginable love.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank You for being the greatest example of love and forgiveness. We surrender to You and repent for the times we have had an unforgiving heart. Please show us the offenses we are holding in our hearts and let us totally forgive every offense that has come against us. Let us live a lifestyle of forgiveness daily and let us have a grace-filled heart that’s incapable of being offended. Let us be vessels of Your awesome love and let us be defined by Your powerful gospel of grace. Please use each one of us to make a difference in the world by spreading Christ’s love everywhere we go. We pray in the mighty name of Christ. Amen.

Dr. Bruce Hebel teaches a powerful message on forgiveness. If you’re struggling to forgive, I highly recommend that you watch the video below and check out the ministry’s website to learn practical steps for walking in forgiveness:  ForgivingForward.com.

I’d be so honored if you would subscribe to receive my posts electronically by entering your e-mail address into the box on the right sidebar. Thanks so much to those who have already subscribed.

 

 

 

LIVING WITH A SURRENDERED HEART

LORD, WE SURRENDER ALL YO YOU

As I laid my head on my pillow one summer night years ago, my mind was clouded with worried thoughts. It was the only time in my life I ever felt anger toward God. Jesus, I’m mad at You.  Jesus patiently listened as I poured my heart out to Him.

I was questioning the Lord while my husband was facing another season of unemployment. Why are You allowing this to happen again, Lord? After several minutes of wallowing in my pity party, I fell asleep.

I woke up eight hours later with a new attitude. How ridiculous for me to be mad at Jesus. He’s the only one who can truly rescue us from the difficult challenges. Being mad at God will only make things worse.

After realizing how silly I was for being mad at Jesus, I prayed, “Lord, forgive me for my silliness. Please forgive me for being mad at You.”

It was in that precise moment that I arrived at the end of myself. I prayed, “Lord, I surrender everything to You. I will do anything You want for me to do or go anywhere You want for me to go.”

Prior to that moment, my fear of losing my home was holding me back from surrendering all to Christ. In the previous decades, I had surrendered parts of my life to Christ, but this was total surrender. It was the last time I ever tried to do things my way, without Christ’s help and guidance.

With a serious heart and a little bit of humor I told Christ, “You can have my house, all my material possessions, even my closet full of clothes, but will You please leave me one outfit?”

Obviously, I knew that Christ was not going to leave me destitute with nothing to wear, but I wanted to lay everything down. I was more serious than ever about following Christ’s will and no longer living controlled by my own will.

Christ rewarded my seriousness in the form of a great miracle. Amazingly, about two weeks later, my husband was offered a job that ultimately led him to his dream job and far exceeded any of our expectations. Miraculously, my fear of losing our home subsided and we are still living in our house after thirty years. Keeping the house was no longer more important than following Christ, so He helped me keep it.

There is something mysterious about totally surrendering to Christ. It’s as though our submission to His will opens the door to the supernatural realm.

When we place Christ as the highest priority in our lives, then miracles begin unfolding left and right.

I’m a work in progress and I do not have this journey of following Christ figured out, but I can testify that total surrender is the key to the door that leads to abundance and never-ending joy. Disappointments have absolutely no power over us when we live with a surrendered heart moment by moment. When desiring nothing but Christ’s will, we see His glory in greater ways and we are free to live in His abundant peace eternally.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We come to You with gratitude and we thank You for Your never-ending grace, mercy, and love. We surrender every part of our hearts to You and ask You to guide us in everything we do. Let us pray without ceasing and let our relationship with You be the most important part of our lives. Help us to grow spiritually every day and let us look to You for every need. Let us make a difference in the world every single day and let us share Your love in countless ways to those who are hurting. Fill us with bold faith and let our prayers shake the heavens and bring down the dark forces that seek to devour us. Let us arise as powerful, mighty warriors and let Your glory and light shine brighter than ever in all of us so that multitudes of people will come into Your kingdom. We trust You to keep Your hand upon our families and our nation and we wait expectantly for You to reveal Your glory in greater ways in 2017. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

“Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

May you have a blessed year in 2017!

XOXO,

Amy

LIVING A LIFE OF PRAYER

nothing-is-impossible-prayers

Two decades ago, my prayers seemed to be last resort petitions and my relationship with Christ had become complacent due mostly to an over-committed lifestyle. I was a thirty-one-year-old mom when I plummeted to the lowest point of my life.

While trying to be some sort of superwoman, I stayed up all hours of the night making homemade tiaras and princess wands for my daughter’s seventh birthday party. With my people-pleasing skills, it appeared that I had it all together. In reality, I was terrified and carrying the weight of many problems on my shoulders.

Shortly after my daughter’s extravagant birthday party, my self-sufficient strength imploded. Hopeless words in my journal from that dark season revealed my depressed state.

I vividly remember the night when I sat at my dining room table and began sobbing. In a puddle of tears, I thought about my broken marriage, our financial struggles, and how all the stress was affecting my daughter, Christa. With another child soon to be born, it all seemed like more than I could handle.

In my desperation, I requested prayer from a counselor at church and turned to my loved ones for encouragement. My mother and grandmother prayed for me and encouraged me to stand firm in my faith. With their encouragement, I took baby steps toward a consistent prayer life and I eventually began praying and meditating on Scriptures persistently.

With a renewed confidence in Christ, I realized that my need to forgive some offenses was hindering my closeness with Him. I was reminded that the Bible says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions “(Mark 11:25, New American Standard Bible).

After choosing forgiveness, my hopeless feelings didn’t linger very long. I gave birth to a baby boy, and by the time my son, Thomas, was five months old, I was feeling like a new person.

As the darkness dissipated, I realized the prayers of my mother and grandmother had carried me through my immature years. I truly believe I wouldn’t have made it through such a tumultuous season without their prayers.

The dark season I experienced during my thirties was a catalyst for me to renew my spirit and turn to Christ wholeheartedly. Through prayer, I began to see the unfailing love and never-ending faithfulness of God.

With a rekindled prayer life, I prayed and waited for Jesus to restore the broken pieces of my heart. He began restoring my life step by step, and filled my soul with peace and joy. He healed my hurting marriage and restored our finances by leading my husband to a stable career.

During the hardships, I learned to pray passionately for my children in the same way my mother and grandmother prayed for me. As I released Christa and Thomas to Christ through prayer, I watched them grow into thriving adults.

A life without prayer is like a sailboat without sails. Without prayer, we get disconnected from Christ’s guiding voice, and without His guidance, we end up in desperate places. Desperation drives us to our knees more than anything else.

It’s interesting how, as humans, we need adversity to push us toward God and prayer. When things are going well, we sometimes think we don’t need to pray. Perhaps we need to pray the most during our best days.

Living a life of prayer connects us to God so that we can hear His still, small voice and live peacefully in the midst of life’s challenges.

Are you in a dark season? Don’t lose heart. Trust that Christ’s love for you is deeper than you can imagine (Ephesians 3: 17-18). Knowing Christ’s love for you is necessary to pray with faith. Simple, faith-filled prayers will move God’s heart to do what seems impossible.

Jesus teaches us to never give up praying (Luke 18: 1-8). If we persistently pray with pure motives and forgiving hearts, we will not only see Christ’s power working in the most amazing ways, but most importantly, we will continue growing closer to His heart. As we fix our eyes on Christ, prayer becomes as natural as breathing and we become transformed into God’s image in the process of waiting for His good plans to be established in our lives.

If you would like more encouragement for living a life of prayer download a FREE copy of the Prayers of a Mother’s Heart eBook through Monday, October 3rd.

JESUS RESTORES AND GIVES NEW LIFE

Jesus Gives New Life

It was a clear, February day and I was making valentine cards. As a young girl, I didn’t have a care in the world. I was safe in the comfort of my home with my mom close by in the kitchen.

That’s the last thing I remember before I heard my mother’s panicked voice hollering out: “It’s a fire!”

I looked up and saw the kitchen curtains engulfed in flames. My mom tried putting the fire out, but her main concern was my safety. We ran outside to get away from the smoke. A gentleman who had seen the smoke from the Post Office next door ran over to our house, grabbed a hose, busted a window, and extinguished the fire.

Later that day, we went back inside to assess the damage. In a matter of minutes, the flames had completely destroyed our kitchen and the smoke had damaged most of our house.

We never stayed in that house another day. We packed up our salvageable items and moved in with my grandparents. During the next few months, we waited for a beautiful, new home to be built.

My life had been turned upside down by the rampant flames that raged through my house on that winter day. It was difficult to have my life so shaken up, but knowing a beautiful home was being built for us helped to ease the difficulties. I remember visiting the new home and seeing the progress that was being made.

I was elated the day I first saw my completed bedroom with brand new carpet I picked out myself. It was breathtaking—nothing like my young heart had ever experienced. After losing my old home and the things I had been attached to, the new home was sweetness to my soul. It was amazing.

The new life offered by Christ reminds me of the new home I moved into after the fire. Before I fully surrendered myself to Christ’s plans for me, fiery trials swept through my life and destroyed many things that were important to me.

After surrendering everything to Jesus, He rebuilt my life and turned the pain of my past into a beautiful display of splendor. During the hardships, I remember wondering if I would ever have beauty in my life again. The stress of many problems all seemed impossible to repair.

As I wrestled to believe, my faith won and things began turning around for me. Christ restored all the broken things in my life. His love healed my marriage and turned all the trials into triumphant victories. Most important of all, Christ filled my heart with never-ending peace.

When we believe things are hopeless, then we will have a hopeless life. When we teeter on the fence of disbelief, we miss out on miracles the Bible promises we will see.

Whenever a doubtful thought taunts us, we can meditate on the Scriptures that bring life to a weary soul. Doubt cannot penetrate a heart that is fixated on the truth of God’s Word.

Are you struggling to believe God for good things in your life? Do you believe God can turn things around in America?

Jesus is the Restorer. Just as a builder builds a new house, Christ builds a new life out of broken pieces. He makes beautiful things.

Things begin changing when we step away from fear, leave doubt behind, and begin believing that Christ is the author of beauty.

Choose faith, pray, and watch as He rebuilds and recreates the beautiful life He longs to give all His children.

Father,

Thank You for being the giver of new life and new beginnings. Let all the believers in this nation surrender everything to You. Let us join together and pray until we see change and beauty arise in America. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit every day and let us go out and share the good news of the gospel of grace to a world in need. I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

“Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”

Acts 5:20

“We were buried in baptism as Christ was buried in death. As Christ was raised from the dead by the great power of God, so we will have new life also.”

Romans 6:4

A MOTHER’S PRAYER IS POWERFUL

A Mother's Prayer is Powerful

My mothering instincts kicked into high gear and a flood of concern rushed into my mind when I heard the ring of the phone after midnight. I was thinking: What if something is wrong with my daughter?

Christa was seventeen at the time and in Mexico on a mission trip for the purpose of constructing a house for a homeless family. She and a large group of students were camping in tents in an open field area.

I grabbed my phone as quickly as possible and heard my daughter’s sullen voice on the other end of the line.

“Mommy, I’m afraid I have a bad virus. I feel very nauseous. Everyone is asleep, and I don’t know what to do.”

There were chaperones sleeping in other tents, but understandably she was apprehensive about searching in the dark for one of the adults.

As a protective mother, I felt helpless while I listened to my daughter. In the midst of trying to push away my fearful thoughts, I accepted that the power of prayer was our only option.

“Let me get your daddy. He and I will pray for you.”

I encouraged Christa as calmly as I knew how. After awakening Michael, he and I prayed for healing for our daughter. In that moment, I felt peace wash over me.

Even though Christa was still feeling very sick, I mustered up enough faith to assure her that she would be okay and said, “Goodbye; I love you and I’ll be praying.”

After laying the phone down, I was tempted to let fear consume me, but there was truly no other choice than to trust Christ completely. I could not transport myself thousands of miles instantaneously to take care of my sick daughter. The situation was out of my control.

I could either fret or choose to believe God’s promises in the Bible. Christ promised if we believe that we have received it, it will be ours (Mark 11:24).

After my conversation with Christa, I struggled in the beginning to completely shake my worries, but eventually I let go and released my daughter to the Lord. During the following days, I tried to call Christa’s cell phone multiple times to check on her, but I never could reach her.

Eight days later, Michael and I excitedly hurried to the airport to pick up our daughter. In the baggage claim area, I looked intently for Christa’s face in the crowd. My heart was overjoyed when I saw my daughter’s beaming smile. I knew the moment I saw her glowing face, the Lord had heard our prayers and healed her.

As I stood there in awe, I asked, “Why didn’t you answer my calls?”  She replied, “There was no cell phone reception other than the night I was sick.”

Then I remembered that her youth leader had told us previously there would be no cell phone reception where they were staying.

I couldn’t deny God’s supernatural intervention. Already knowing the answer, I asked, “Did you get well after we prayed?”

“The nausea went away about ten minutes after we prayed together. I never felt sick again the entire trip.” Christa was radiating joy as she shared the testimony of God’s faithfulness.

 

Christa

 

Not only had God touched my daughter’s sick body—He had enabled her to get in touch with me in a place where cell phone reception is usually impossible.

Sometimes there are predicaments that only Jesus has the power to change. When we release our children to God through faith-filled prayer, miracles begin to happen.

Is your child in a situation that’s out of your control? If you’re struggling to release your children’s problems to the Lord, remember that with faith as small as a mustard seed, we can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible (Matthew 17: 20).

As a mother falls to her knees, crying out desperately for a divine intervention, Christ comes to the rescue. A mother’s heart aches when her child aches and the heavens are shaken with her love. The power of a mother’s fervent prayer moves the heart of God to do what only He can do.

If you need more encouragement as a praying mother, you can get a FREE download of the Prayers of a Mother’s Heart eBook today through July 13th.

 

 

FINDING BEAUTY IN MUNDANE MOMENTS

Spring - 2016

The routine things of life can weigh us down or they can be opportunities to find the divine in the mundane. Every day is an opportunity to see God’s beauty and His hand working in our lives.

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that He makes the most ordinary days seem absolutely extraordinary. Walking a dog in the park, a trip to the grocery store, or simply doing yard work can be filled with magnificence because of the awareness of God’s constancy in our lives.

Being aware of God’s presence makes life beautiful no matter what.

During the past week, a young mom began chatting with me while I was standing in the check-out line at a store. She told me several things about her little girl and I shared some things with her about my grown children. It was refreshing to talk with her.

As she stepped away to walk toward the exit, I noticed that “JESUS” was written in big, bold letters on the back of her t-shirt. With a smile, I said, “I love your shirt.” While telling me it was a favorite shirt of hers, she turned around so I could read the words.

With bubbling joy, I said, “Those words are written on the key chain that belonged to my grandmother.” She smiled and it seemed obvious that she knew she had blessed me.

As she walked out of the store I said, “God bless you.” My heart was overjoyed over a short encounter with a stranger.

My beloved ninety-five-year-old grandmother passed away in February. My dad gave me Mema’s jewelry box shortly after her death. Tucked inside with the jewelry, there was a key chain with these words: “The key to my heart is JESUS.” The phrase was new to me and the key chain instantly became my favorite. The words reminded me that only Christ can fully satisfy the heart. He fills the empty hole that’s left when a loved one dies.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I was chatting with someone I’d never met—a woman wearing a shirt with words similar to the words on Mema’s key chain. I stopped believing in coincidence many years ago.

I believe things that seem like they happen coincidentally are actually divine appointments to reveal God’s perfect love for us.

God used a woman’s kind heart and her t-shirt to touch my spirit. God says He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). He is present with us always.

If we look for God with our whole heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). We can have eternal joy in all circumstances because of His love and presence.

Have you seen God’s hand working in your life lately? Do you realize how deeply He loves you?

No matter what we’re going through in this broken world, Jesus is enough. He is enough to satisfy the longings we have. He is enough when we are experiencing pain. His beauty is waiting to be unveiled in the most unexpected ways in the mundane moments of life.

LORD,

You are amazing. Nothing satisfies the soul like You do. Let us seek You with our whole heart. Help us to look to You and expect You to meet our needs. Let us see Your hand working in our lives every day in the most amazing ways. Let us gaze upon Your beauty today and always. I pray in Your name, Christ. Amen.

“One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”— Psalm 27:3 (NIV)

Photo Credit: My husband, Michael, captured the picture while we were out enjoying a walk.

A SACRED EXPERIENCE

Mema and Amy

My beloved grandmother, Mema, has woven love through every fiber of my being since I was born. Shortly, she will be leaving her earth suit to go to her eternal home, and that love will remain deeply embedded in my soul forever and ever. Nine days ago, she moved into a hospice facility to spend her last days on the earth.

There is something tremendously holy about being present during the dying process of a saintly, peaceful person. It has been a sacred experience. Heaven has come down and touched the earth in that pretty, pale yellow hospice room.

As Mema’s body has weakened, her spirit has grown stronger. I’ve witnessed the power of God over and over again during my daily visits on these consecrated days. Without the ability to speak words any longer, Mema has opened her eyes and smiled at me numerous times as I’ve spoken to her and prayed over her. I’ve known it’s her way of responding to me non-verbally.

While sitting near her bed in the hospice room, her eyes have opened and she nodded her head at times as I’ve spoken to her and caressed her hair. I think my favorite moments this week were when her face lit up brightly and she blinked distinctively each time I said, “I love you.” It felt as though it was her way of saying, “I love you, too.”

The nurses and doctors have been very compassionate and listened as I shared my heart and said, “She’s ninety-five, almost ninety-six years old and she’s ready to go. I can’t complain about Mema’s soon passing,” It was September, 2013 when Mema told me: “I am ready to go any time; I’ve had a really blessed life.” God began preparing my heart then and gave me two and a half bonus years to savor.

There’s a part of my heart that wants to hold Mema here on the earth, but in my spirit I know it’s her time to go. I’m letting her go with my heart enveloped in an indescribable peace. Jesus is holding my heart in His hands while He’s holding Mema in His arms simultaneously. I am praising Him for making Mema’s life and her death so beautiful.

My heart is filled with gratitude for the countless visits with her—especially during the past five years. During these final days, I’m honored to help bring her comfort through her time of transition. Today, I can imagine the angels are singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” over the soon homecoming of my sweet grandmother.

“We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.”

— 2 Corinthians 4:18

LESSONS I LEARNED DURING FINANCIAL HARDSHIPS: PART TWO

Store Your Treasures in Heaven

We had just sat down for dinner when my preteen son noticed the bottle of salad dressing was not his favorite kind. Like a typical American kid, Thomas said, “Yuck. I’m not eating a salad tonight if this is the only salad dressing we have.”

At the time, our grocery budget was very small because of our less-than-average income. We ate rice and beans very often and didn’t buy many well-known brands. I had bought a salad dressing for about half the price of the popular brand.

I decided to refrain from lecturing my son during dinner. With patience, I picked up his salad bowl and placed it in the refrigerator while saying, “I’m sure someone else will be happy to eat your salad later on.”

As we sat at the table enjoying our meal together, Thomas got out of his chair and walked to the refrigerator a few minutes later. With a puzzled tone I asked, “What are you doing?”

In a subdued way, Thomas said something like this: I know there are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat. They would be happy to have a salad and wouldn’t be complaining. So I’m happy to eat my salad.

Immediately, tears came to my eyes and a warm feeling washed over me as I realized that my son had grasped a concept I’d been trying to teach him throughout his young life. I rejoiced greatly that he’d learned something around the age of eleven that many people four times his age couldn’t grasp. It was evident Thomas understood gratitude that day. Amazingly, I have never heard him complain about anything he lacked since then. In a society where it’s more common to be ungrateful, my children learned the gift of gratitude during our hard times.

From the day my children were able to talk, I would not allow them to complain. Especially during the times when our income fell very low, I would remind them of our blessings by saying, “We will not ever feel sorry for ourselves. We are so blessed to have a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothes to wear.” It was important to emphasize the point that we had absolutely nothing to complain about, ever.

Last month, I shared about our journey that led to our financial challenges in “Part One: Lessons I Learned During Financial Struggles.” As we’re in the midst of the Christmas season, it’s a good time to think about what really matters most in life.

Are you discouraged because you can’t buy your family expensive gifts for Christmas? Let me encourage you with some of the great lessons I learned when we were scraping by on a small income.

A grateful heart makes it possible to be joyful in all circumstances.

Gratitude takes the focus off of what we don’t have and places the focus on what we do have to be thankful for. A thankful heart is a joyful heart. I learned to be content in all circumstances when I lived with a single mom as a teen girl. My son and daughter learned to be content as a result of their simple upbringing. At eighteen and twenty-five years old, they are both grateful for everything they have. As a family, we learned that we are very blessed even when we have less than others.

Children thrive in a loving environment even when finances are lacking.

Now that my two children are grown, I can see clearly that raising them without an excessive amount of finances was actually a very good thing. When the environment is filled with unconditional love and joy, children are content with simple gifts. During the years we struggled financially, my children were learning to think of others more than themselves. Instead of having an entitled attitude, my children grew into contented, generous, and compassionate people. I believe growing up with less than their friends helped mold them into people who want to serve others. They give sacrificially by volunteering at non-profit organizations and helping the homeless and other people with unmet needs.

There are many creative ways to live frugally.

It’s not the amount of money we have; it’s how we manage what we have. We learned how to buy things for a fraction of the cost. Making handmade gifts, shopping at thrift stores, finding deals at consignment stores, and buying used items on eBay are some of the ways we found affordable gifts for our children through the years. One year, my husband bought a used XBOX game system for $40.00 along with about five games for our son’s Christmas gift. Thomas was ecstatic with joy about receiving his first game system. During one Christmas season, I found our daughter a “like new” bicycle at our favorite thrift store. Christa was elated about her beautiful, pink bike. She could have never imagined that it was purchased for only $15.00. With my childlike faith, I believe God placed that bike at Bargain City Thrift Store especially for my daughter.

Contentment does not come from material things.

No matter how much a person tries to believe that happiness comes from having stuff, it’s simply not the truth. The human soul has a God-sized place that can only be filled up with God’s love. Nothing can satisfy the soul’s need except for our Creator. Unhappy people try to fill their souls up with things money can buy. That’s why they are not truly content.

Are you feeling the contentment that comes from knowing Christ? I pray you will draw near to God and that His presence in your life will be your greatest treasure. The things of this earth are slowly wasting away. Love, joy, peace, kindness, and generosity are things that will last forever.

May you find your joy in the eternal treasures this Christmas season.

“Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”

— Matthew 6:20

LESSONS I LEARNED DURING FINANCIAL HARDSHIPS: PART ONE

Seek the Kingdom of God

As a young married couple, my husband and I were sailing through life enjoying the comforts of a really good income. Michael was super ambitious and working for Burroughs Corporation in his twenties. I was ambitious, too, and braved three interviews to get hired by Procter and Gamble.

During my first pregnancy, we were in excellent shape financially. We assumed we would be raising our family with a great income. To our surprise though, Michael was laid off due to the merger between Burroughs and Sperry. The two corporations became a new one: Unisys. This resulted in job losses for a number of employees. Michael’s job was cut during a third lay off period, three months before our first child was born.

In the midst of the shocking news, we saw God’s hand working. Christa was born only one day before our medical insurance was dropped. We were grateful for such perfect timing.

After the lay off, we were wondering: What should we do now? The main thing Michael and I agreed upon strongly is that we did not want to place Christa in daycare. My boss understood my situation, and she worked it out for me to drastically cut my work schedule, so I could focus on parenting.

Michael dreamed of being an entrepreneur, so he was elated when his boss retired from Burroughs and asked him to be his partner in starting a computer business. Michael worked from home, making a fraction of his previous income and stayed with our daughter while I worked very part-time hours.

Several years later, Procter and Gamble was transitioning into using computers for processing orders. The training would have required more hours of work for me. With mixed emotions, I took a leap of faith and quit my job, desiring to pour myself into motherhood more than any other job.

It wasn’t long after leaving my job that I learned the old adage is true: “When one door closes, God opens a window.” After leaving the corporate world, God opened new doors for me to earn money. Working as a nanny for other children kept me from having to leave my daughter in the care of someone else.

After my son was born, I was more determined than ever to savor motherhood. More doors opened for flexible part-time jobs, enabling me to be a home-schooling mom.

As my husband and I lived by faith, we chose to reject the popular definition of the AMERICAN DREAM. Our dream transitioned into living more purposefully. We intentionally chose the less popular path of a really simple life.

Our choice was not easily done, but taking the road of faith is never easy. Following Christ is the most fulfilling journey, but it’s not the easiest path.

With determination to stay true to our convictions, we passed through some really tough seasons. God carried us through the loss of Michael’s computer business, several more job losses and home business losses.

At one point, Michael had to deliver pizzas for several years. He worked nights at the YMCA in addition to his day job for a season. And while my daughter and husband attended college during the same time period, it was necessary for me to work weekends and late nights to make ends meet.

Our faith in Christ sustained us through every challenge and led us to new opportunities. In 2010, after two decades of riding a financial roller-coaster, we were elated when Michael earned a Biomedical Engineering degree. In his late forties, Michael began a new career in the medical diagnostics field.

I cannot say I miss the twists and turns of our past, but I would definitely relive all of the challenges over again for the great treasures I gained along the way.

Now that my children are grown—one in college and one college graduate who’s working for a non-profit corporation—I’m grateful I chose the kinds of work that gave me the flexibility I needed as a mother. Looking back, I know I made the right choice for my family. There’s nothing that could replace the value of the time spent raising my children.

I’m happy to share the priceless lessons I learned through experiencing financial hardships. I hope you’ll find encouragement from these truths.

God is the ultimate provider.

Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. — Matthew 6:33 (NLT)

Confidently knowing that Christ is trustworthy is the greatest lesson I learned during our financial struggles. My family received miracles in ways we could not have experienced otherwise. Our lack of finances at times forced us into an infant-like dependency upon Christ. Through our hardships, we got to experience the extraordinary power and provision of God, our Father.

Giving to others is better than receiving blessings ourselves.

We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” — Acts 20:35 (ESV)

The greatest need as human beings is our need to give. Early in our marriage, Michael and I chose to give in various ways, including sponsoring missionaries with monthly support. After several job losses, our ability to sponsor missionaries was hindered temporarily. However, I learned that generosity doesn’t have to be limited by the amount of money we have. We can give generously by giving our time, our talents, and our love, regardless of our income level.

The greatest joy comes after seasons of waiting.

The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)

Instant gratification is not a good thing; I believe it actually limits our ability to appreciate and enjoy things. I learned that waiting is a gift. Having to wait on something actually heightens the experience, simply because the delay makes the fulfilled desire extra sweet. One of my best memories is when we visited Disney World in 2012 after many years of waiting to go together as a family. The joy was multiplied and intensified greatly as a result of the delay.

Christ carried our family through the challenges and then graciously restored our finances above and beyond what we had hoped for.

Christ provides. He restores. He directs our paths.

Be encouraged if you are facing a financial challenge. I am confident that God will do for you what He did for my family if you trust and seek Him wholeheartedly. With Christ, it’s possible to live abundantly in all seasons of life.

PART TWO of this article will be posted next week.

RESTING IN GOD’S PROMISES

God Keeps His Promises

I was thinking, “Who’s calling late on a Saturday night?” Michael answered the call and he knew something was wrong when he heard our son’s voice. Thomas called from college five days ago in physical pain, asking for prayer and advice.

Michael encouraged our son, assuring him that he would seek the best medical care for him the next day. The phone call was short because Thomas had friends from Georgia visiting him for the weekend.

As soon as Michael laid the phone down, we discussed the fact that we were going to pray and trust Christ to work in this situation. I thought about the illnesses Thomas had suffered during the past two years. He went to the E.R. and spent a night in the hospital during his junior year of high school and he repeated the same scenario (with a different type of illness) during his senior year. During both stays at the hospital we saw God’s faithfulness powerfully. However, we did not want to repeat the former hospital adventures with Thomas in Oklahoma, eight-hundred miles from home.

Faith filled our hearts, as we prayed for Thomas. “Lord, we know it is Your desire to heal and protect Thomas. I trust You and believe that You want him to be well. Please heal him and take away his pain completely…”

Our prayers continued pouring out of us with fierceness, passion, and an unrelenting strength. We’ve become quite the prayer team. Two people praying together are better than one (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Peace filled our hearts as we finished praying. Then Michael sent a prayer request in a text message to Seth, a young man who’s involved in a prayer ministry for the city of Tulsa. We met him by a divine appointment while visiting Tulsa in April. Seth sent a message, saying he’d be praying and offered to pray with Thomas at his dorm. Since Thomas had out-of-town guests, it wasn’t necessary for Seth to visit him. Although, knowing Thomas was with his close friends and that Seth would be willing to go pray with him brought us comfort.

With certainty that God had Thomas in the palm of His hand, Michael and I went to sleep. We both were awakened in the early morning hours and prayed more for Thomas. Shortly after I got out of bed, I noticed Michael was already awake and in the other room.

He walked in and enthusiastically said, “I received a text message from Thomas. His pain
and the main symptoms are both gone.” I sighed with relief.

While praising the Lord for answering our prayers, I thought about the beautiful rainbow we had seen the morning before. It couldn’t be a coincidence that on the same day Thomas called us with the news of his pain, we saw the most magnificent rainbow at daybreak.

I was sitting there thinking about my reaction to seeing the rainbow in its entirety at the
dawn of the day. I had reacted with the giddiness of a child, and shouted, “How can anyone not believe in God?” The rainbow took my breath away as it reminded me of the way God keeps His promises.

Twenty-four hours after I was rejoicing over the rainbow, I was thanking God for what He had done for my son. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that the rainbow came as a symbol, reminding me of how the darkest hour is right before dawn. Then daybreak comes, and if we keep our eyes focused on Christ, a miracle comes, too.

Years ago, I heard a pastor say that spiritual warfare intensifies shortly before God is about to birth something new in our lives. I’ve seen a pattern of this spiritual law in my life and in the lives of those closest to me.

Last year, Thomas was lying in a hospital bed a few days before he received an opportunity of a lifetime. While in the E.R. I said to Thomas, “Something good must be about to happen. I think it has to do with football—a door opening for you.”

When I said those words, I could have never imagined that three and a half days later my son would get an offer to play college football at the division-one level.

Now that Thomas is living out his dream of being on a college football team and taking steps toward his God-given destiny, there’s a dark force trying to stop him. But with Christ, all things are possible, and all resistance is being met with a fierce kind of faith.

After Thomas had several doctor’s appointments this week, he was released to return to his usual schedule of football practices. Michael and I rejoiced over our specific prayers being answered, especially that there was no need for an E.R. visit. We are confident that God will protect Thomas and continue carrying him on the divine path laid out for him. I believe this medical challenge was part of the spiritual battle and just more evidence that Thomas is on the right path with more great things in store for him in the near future.

With childlike faith, I trust Christ wholeheartedly; I know He gave me a rainbow as a sign to assure me of His faithfulness to keep His promises.

Do you believe in the promises of God?

He promises that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

He promises whatever we ask will be done for us if we abide in Him and His words abide in us (John 15:7).

He promises He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

He promises to give us rest for our souls (Matthew 11: 29).

He promises to heal the brokenhearted and save those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

He promises to sustain us and restore us to good health (Psalm 41: 3).

He promises to watch over and protect us as we dwell in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 91: 1).

His promises are limitless. We can choose to believe they are true or we can choose disbelief and live a defeated life. What are you choosing?

I choose joy and faith. When things get hard, let’s keep focused on Christ, looking heavenward and resting in the the promises of God.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael captured the photo of the actual rainbow that God sent on Saturday morning, October 31, 2015. I’ll remember it forever.