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The Cat Whisperer

“That will never work,” Hanna declared decisively. Before her husband Jeremy could even finish the explanation of his newest dream for their business, practical Hanna proceeded to expound upon why it was a foolish plan.

“Could you just listen to my idea?” Jeremy pleaded, looking crushed. “But I know it won’t work,” she said simply. “You always have crazy plans, and you don’t think about the potential problems. That’s what I’m here for.”

Sharp-tongued and critical, Hanna was constantly berating her husband and squelching his excitement with her “realism”. Jeremy was all enthusiasm and passion, but Hanna seemed to be all prickles and spines.

But below the surface of Hanna’s “porcupine personality” were deep hurts. Rejected by her mother for not being as pretty as her sister, she’d always felt unwanted, unloved, and not valued. It was hard for her to believe that anyone could really care about her. The pain of childhood wounds that had never healed caused her to bristle when anyone got too close, unknowingly sabotaging her relationships.

The Cat Whisperer

Hanna came to mind this weekend as I chatted with a woman who calls herself a “Cat Whisperer”. She’s a volunteer “foster parent” for abandoned and traumatized animals from the SPCA. Many of the cats who come to her are aggressive, hissing and clawing when she brings them food or tries to pet them.

“I have to ask myself, ‘Why did this cat scratch me? Is it scared? Does it feel threatened?” the “Cat Whisperer” explained. “Then I have to get down on his level and show him that I’m not going to hurt him.” Eventually she builds trust with the skittish felines, overcoming their fear through gentle persistence.

In the case of my friend Hanna, the persistent love and affirmation of friends began to break down the walls of defense around her heart. She was finally able to identify those deep childhood wounds, and to forgive those who had hurt her. The prickles and spines began to fade away, and a softer side was revealed – more of the true Hanna, gentle and loving and compassionate.

Are you a “porcupine person”? Have past wounds made you prickly and spiny? Like those traumatized and abandoned cats, do you claw and scratch people who get too close? Stop and think about why you are responding this way, and ask the Lord to help you identify those wounds that need to be healed. He’s a true “Heart Whisperer” and He’s whispering His love to you right now!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”
Ezekiel 36:26 (NLT)
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Please Understand Me!

Abuela! She’s alone – what if something happens to her? It was my responsibility to care for my 101-year-old grandmother, who I call “Abuela” (grandma in Spanish). But in a moment of distraction, I’d left her unattended. And now an inexplicable sudden fear makes me rush back to the room, just in time to see her trying to get up from the wheelchair on frail, weak legs. As she wavers and starts to fall, I realize I won’t reach her in time. I try to call to her, but the words get stuck in my throat. “Abue-”

I wake myself up with the strangled cry. Sitting up in bed, I stare into the darkness, still shaking. It was just a dream, I whisper into the empty room. Just a dream.

My family recently made the very difficult and emotional decision to move my 101-yr-old grandmother into a Christian nursing home in another state, closer to more of the family. Debilitating strokes had left Abuela unable to dress herself or use the restroom unaided. A simple transfer from the bed to the wheelchair could take two or three people on an especially weak day. The memory loss and confusion of developing dementia meant she had to be monitored constantly. We loved having her with us. But after four and a half years of caring for her daily needs, it got to be too much. It was time for a change.

Though all the extended family agree this is the best decision, I still struggle with feeling guilty. It feels like we are abandoning Abuela. Every concerned look from friends, every sympathizing smile, every “how are you doing – really?” seems to confirm my underlying fear of being judged and misunderstood.

Jesus Understands

Jesus knows what it’s like to be judged and misunderstood. Even His closest friends couldn’t see what His true purpose was. They were waiting for Him to overthrow the Roman government and establish His reign on earth. Many times Jesus asked them, “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” (Mark 16:17-18, NIV).

Yet Jesus never lost sight of His purpose. John tells us that He “knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Even faced with the judgement, betrayal and abandonment of His friends, Christ drew strength from knowing He had the approval and acceptance of His heavenly Father.

Am I willing to be misunderstood? With vivid images of the traumatic dream still before me, I struggle with my condemning thoughts in the wee hours of the morning. Even if others don’t agree with the decision my family made to move Abuela to a nursing home, can I let it go? Once again, there alone in the dark, I decide to release my feelings of guilt, self-condemnation, judgement, and fear of others’ opinions. I give it all to the One who sees all, knows all, and does not judge me. He is the only One who truly understands me.

Going vertical!
MJ

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Get out of the Boat

“I will go, I will go, I will go, Lord send me…” Sixteen thousand passionate college students sing in unison, arms outstretched. Individual faces are highlighted by the sweeping spotlights – some streaked with tears, some exuberant in worship, some quiet and reflective. As I stand in the midst of the massive crowd at the Urbana 2012 student missions conference, I’m struggling with an internal battle. Something inside me is holding me back.

“I’ve been here before, Lord,” I remind Him, as if He needs reminding. “And I remember what happened last time. I don’t think I’m ready to go there again.”

At Urbana 2000 I was a passionate and idealistic college student, ready to change the world. On the last day of the conference, I knelt down by my seat and told the Lord I was willing to go wherever He sent me. Within days after I returned home from Urbana 2000, I received an invitation to teach at a summer English camp in Shanghai, China. And that was the beginning of a new direction in my life. After graduate school I moved to East Asia for four years, where I taught English, learned some Mandarin, and made wonderful friends.

Burnout

But I didn’t know some of the challenges I was signing up for. Missing engagements and weddings. Not being there for the births of my friends’ kids, or being able to watch them grow up. Unable to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I was surprised at how hard-hit I was at times by loneliness, isolation, and the waves of homesickness that hit me at unexpected times. The long hours of teaching English, the cultural and language barriers with teammates, the conflicts with roommates, and the constant turnover of coworkers over four years left me physically and emotionally dry. Eventually I reached a point of burnout and had to return to the US.

It was probably the lowest point in my life. I felt like a failure. I was depressed. Whenever anyone asked me about my time in Asia, I cried. And I definitely did NOT want to ever go back. But through the ministry of Fresh Start and other godly counseling and prayer, the Lord began to heal the hurts in my heart and show me how He wanted to use it for good.

And now, 12 years after I first attended the conference as a college student, I’m at Urbana again. As I listen to the thousands of students singing “I will go, I will go,” I feel jaded and cynical.

“…To the world, to the lost, to the poor and hungry…”

“They have no idea what they’re in for,” I laugh to myself. “I KNOW how hard it is. I know the loneliness, and the frustration, and feeling like you wanna quit and go home every day…” Unable to fake it anymore, I sit down and cover my face with my hands to hide the tears.

“What are you so afraid of?” I feel the question more than hear it. No audible voice, but I know God is talking to me. “God, I don’t think I can go through all that again. The loneliness, the depression…”

A New Thing…

“Don’t remember the former things…” a snippet of a verse pops into my head. “…I am going to do a new thing.” A new thing. I exhale slowly and rub my face. A new thing. What amazing words. It doesn’t have to be like it was before. I learned from those experiences. I’m thankful for how God used that time in my life. But it doesn’t have to be the same. He’s going to do a new thing.

“…Take everything I am, I’m clay within Your hands…”

“God, I want to trust You,” I pray silently. “Even if I go through times of loneliness or discouragement, I know You will be with me. Help me not to fear. I know You are working all things for Your good. I choose to believe that You’re doing a new thing IN me!”

The cloud of fear slowly dissipates. I know there will still be hard times ahead. But like Peter, I take the step of faith out of the boat. Raising my arms I stand and sing with the crowd, “…I will go, I will go, send me!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
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Goal-Phobia

 

“So, what are your writing goals for this year?” My cousin Nathalie turns to me expectantly, pen poised to take notes. Jennifer looks up from her laptop and smiles encouragingly.

It’s a simple question. But I can already feel the rising anxiety.

We’re on a weekend writers’ retreat at the Outer Banks of North Carolina – brainstorming ideas, reading portions of our stories or articles aloud, critiquing each other’s work. It’s completely natural to talk about our writing goals for the upcoming year – this is why we’re here! So why in the world am I suddenly tongue-tied and nervous?

“Well, Michelle? Do you have any specific goals?” My cousin isn’t one to give up easily.

The whirring of the dishwasher seems unusually loud. My stomach twists in knots. All at once, I’m seven years old and standing in front of the blackboard, trying desperately to solve a difficult subtraction problem, feeling a dozen pair of eyes boring holes into my back. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.

“Goals… Yeah, you know I’m not much of a goals person,” I respond slowly. “I don’t know why. I just hate making goals. Guess it’s because…”

Suddenly it hits me.

“…Because if I make a goal and I can’t meet it, that means I’ve failed.” The words tumble out before I can stop them, my voice trembling. “So it’s easier to not make goals than to risk failure.” Embarrassed at my tears, I wipe my nose on my sleeve and rub my eyes with the back of my hand.

Fear of failure can sneak up at the most unlikely times, in the most unexpected places. At the root of my fear of failure is the fear of disappointing others. It’s saying, “What everyone else thinks about me matters more than what God thinks about me.”

“You know, just because you make a goal doesn’t mean you HAVE to accomplish it,” my cousin is saying gently. “It’s just something to aim for.”

“Start small,” pipes in Jennifer. “Baby steps.”

I know they’re right. I can do this.

“Can I put, ‘drink 3 cups of coffee a day’ as one of my goals? I’m pretty sure I can meet that one!”

Laughing, the three of us are able to come up with reachable goals – for today, next week, this month, and this year. Once I’ve typed them up, I let out a sigh of relief. That wasn’t so bad.

“And even if you don’t accomplish all these goals, you’re NOT going to beat yourself up, are you?” asks Jennifer, cocking her head.

I grin and shake my head. It’s ok to fail sometimes. It’s ok to admit I’m not perfect. Because HE is perfect, and HE never fails. Taking a sip of my latte, I mentally mark ‘drink coffee’ off the list with a big check. Next on my list – trusting God to help me overcome my fear of failure, one small goal at a time – CHECK!

Going Vertical!
MJ

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
Deuteronomy 32:4 (NIV)
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Called by Name

 

“As I watched my father’s mistress put her suitcases in his car, an animal rage came over me. I felt I could tear her apart with my hands.” Yagmur, tall and elegant with perfectly styled blond hair, spoke evenly to the audience in the church, but the pain of that childhood memory was evident. “That day I made a decision to hate my father for the rest of my life.”

Yagmur’s mother was also angry, and took out her anger in the form of physical abuse toward her daughter. “As a young girl, I had scars and bruises all over my body from my mother’s beatings. I hated my father for his unfaithfulness. And I hated my mother for her helplessness.”

“Every day my mother told me I was ugly and stupid,” Yagmur continued. “Faith comes through hearing. And I started to believe in what I was hearing.” Escaping to her room and pulling the blankets over her head, Yagmur would dream of being a beautiful princess in a long, sparkling gown. And she would imagine her mother and father smiling at her, proudly. She longed for their love.

Immediately after college, she married a charming and passionate young man, desperate to escape the abuse and pain of her home life. But soon another nightmare began. Her husband began beating her too, accusing her of unfaithfulness, demanding to know why she was a few minutes late coming home from work.

Then one day her husband held a knife to her throat, insisting that she jump out of an eighth-story window. Yagmur clung to his ankles, sobbing and pleading for her life until he let her go.

In desperation, Yagmur fled to the U.S. to start a new life. But when her second husband’s drug abuse got out of control, she found herself becoming more and more hopeless, wanting to end her life. “There is hatred and pain everywhere I go,” she thought in despair. “I can’t escape.”

Eventually Yagmur found a job working for a Christian company. Wanting to impress the boss, she joined the early-morning Bible study at the office. They were reading the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman. Yagmur couldn’t help blurting out, “Why did he forgive her? She was not worthy to be forgiven!”

“None of us are worthy,” a co-worker explained. “But Jesus forgives us because he loves us. Even if that woman had been the only person on the earth, Jesus still would have come to earth for her and died in her place, because he loves her.”

Called By Name

“I was that unworthy woman,” she recalled. All the shame of her childhood, the memories of being called ugly and stupid, the feeling of being worthless, the abuse of her marriages, the abandonment and emptiness and thoughts of suicide – it all culminated one day in a desperate cry in the office restroom. “Help me, God! Have mercy! I need You!” As she dried her eyes and walked to her desk, she wondered if He even heard her.

Before she could even get back to work, Yagmur’s boss called her urgently to his office. “I’ve never done this before,” he explained hesitantly. “But I feel Jesus prompting me strongly that I need to tell you something. He says that He has heard your prayer in the bathroom. He saw you when you were a little girl. He’s been with you all this time. And He loves you and forgives you.”

Yagmur crumpled to the carpet, weeping. “Do you want Jesus to be your Lord and Savior?” Her boss was asking kindly. “YES, YES, YES!” She sobbed. Finally she had found the love she had been searching for.

Eventually Yagmur was able to forgive her father and mother for all the pain they caused her for so many years. And today Yagmur has a ministry of bringing hope and healing to girls and women around the world, through TV programming and radio broadcasts. “You are loved, you are valued, you are beautiful,” she tells them. “God has a plan for your future. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.” She knows it is true – she is living proof.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1b (NRSV)
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Private Grief

Dabbing at her eyes with a tissue, Bella apologized for her tears. “I’m sorry for unloading on you. It’s just been so hard recently.”

Two miscarriages in the last few months had left her raw. And as the wife of someone in church leadership, it seemed she had no one to talk to about it. “Unless you’ve lost a baby, you can’t understand how how much it hurts,” Bella explained. “And well-meaning people can say such insensitive things.”

All I could do was listen and cry with her. “It’s so hard to trust God in all of this,” Bella confided before we said goodbye. “But I just have to believe that He’s doing something good in me in the process.”

Giving it to God

Here’s the rest of the story, in Bella’s own words.

I hit bottom on my first baby’s due date. I felt so discouraged. Nine months, two lost babies, and still empty-handed. And now I was scared that not only would I have to deal with losses, but would I now have to deal with infertility again?

I remember one day having a very honest conversation with the Lord. I told Him that I was angry, frustrated, and tired. It felt like I was coming to a place where this burden of pain and loss was more than I could bear. I wanted this season of pain to be over. And I told Him I was so disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant, and to please have mercy on me.

And in that moment I felt His presence so strong with me. I heard Him tell me to just hang on a little longer, that this season would soon be over, and that He was holding me by my hand and would not let me go. I also felt Him say that I didn’t conceive because He was answering the very thing I had asked Him, and that was to not allow it to happen until it was His time. But then I heard Him say that my time was coming very soon and to just be patient.

I felt such a peace come over me about having another baby and the timing. Even the way I felt about the babies I lost… God gave me such a peace about that. There is no way to explain what He did. It was completely effortless on my part. I just felt different. I felt such a healing work from the Lord. It was like although He knew already what I was feeling and thinking, I needed to be honest with Him and myself first.

Hope

That night that we spoke, I didn’t know yet, but a few days later I found out that I am expecting again! Naturally I am nervous, but I must say that I feel different than with the last pregnancies I lost, especially the second one. With that second one I lost, I was in a constant state of anxiety, panic, and worry. I knew something was wrong, and I felt completely helpless to save my baby.

So here I am now, expecting again. Hopeful, but cautious. I know I have a long road ahead of me before I can feel completely at ease about whether this baby will make it. But I am trusting in the Lord. I know He is with me.

Do you have a secret pain? A private grief? Your secret pain doesn’t have to consume you. Give it to Him today. Let Him hold you and give you His peace in the midst of it. And trust Him to do something good in you and through you in the process.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

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Don’t Look Down

My hands grip the steering wheel, knuckles turning white. “Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…” I tell myself. Yet my eyes are irresistibly drawn to the drop-off on the right side of the car. I just barely catch a glimpse of the yawning gulf stretching out endlessly in either direction before whipping my head back to the front again. Wiping a sweaty palm on my jeans, I try to take deep breaths.

“This is amazing!” Beth is ecstatic. She peers out the passenger window at the snowy ridges that seem to stretch on forever. “I can’t believe we’re here!”

The whole trip was Beth’s idea. “I have to see the Grand Canyon before I go back home,” she’d said. “And you have to come with me!”

An exchange student from Asia, Beth’s been my language tutor for the past few months. We studied the Gospel of John for our lessons, which sparked many interesting discussions. “I’ve met so many Christians in America,” Beth explained to me once. “And they’re such good people! But I can’t become a Christian. I have to go back to my country soon, and it’s different there.”

Now, driving on the snowy roads of the Grand Canyon National Park, I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing. This is a bad idea, I worry, my heart pounding. What if I hit an icy patch and lose control of the car? The car will skid and swerve and then careen over the edge of that cliff. It will all be over in a matter of minutes. And no one will even see it happen…

Trusting Him

“Are you OK?” Concern in her voice, Beth reaches out and touches my arm gently. “You don’t look so good.”

Shaking my head to dispel the disturbing images, I snap back to reality. “Um, I guess I’m a little afraid of heights,” I confess shakily. “I didn’t think I was, but…” My voice trails off.

“What you need is some worship music,” Beth decides, scanning the radio stations until she finds a familiar Chris Tomlin song. “And we should pray. But you keep your eyes open!” She shakes a finger at me teasingly, then gets serious. “God, please help Michelle not to be afraid. Help her to trust You. Amen.”

Amazing. Beth, who says she doesn’t even believe in God, is telling ME to trust Him! I’m convicted and forced to examine my heart. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Do I really trust God to keep me safe in ANY and ALL circumstances? Is He able to calm this pounding fear that’s threatening to paralyze me?

“Just remember, God is with you!” Beth’s voice is earnest. “You don’t have to be afraid. It’s going to be OK.”

As I park the car and turn off the engine, I let out a deep breath and relax my shoulders. Here, at the edge of this cavernous depth, I face my fear head-on. I will NOT be afraid. Fear has no power over me. God is with me. I can trust Him.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” I smile at my friend in the passenger seat. “Let’s go see the Grand Canyon!”

Going Vertical!
MJ

“I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Psalm 34:4 (NRSV)

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The Thief

“Hello? Hello?”

An eerie stillness met me in the semi-dark apartment as I tentatively pushed the door open. Maybe my roommate had come home early from her babysitting job and forgotten to close the front door…

But then I saw that the back door was open too. Something was not right.

“Anyone here?” Peeking around corners, throwing open closet doors, jabbing behind the shower curtain, I explored every room in the house. But when I saw the clothes strewn on the floor in my bedroom, boxes pulled out from the closet, and my jewelry box dumped out, I couldn’t deny it any longer.

Someone had broken into our apartment.

“Anything else missing?” Officer Mills asked, checking his report. “Electronics? Laptop? Cash?” I answered his questions mechanically while a detective dusted for fingerprints and snapped photos, and his partner interviewed the neighbors.

“No, I don’t think so…” Then I remembered. My iPad. I almost always took it to work, using it in my classes to show videos, enter grades, or plan lessons. But that day I didn’t need it and had left it home, plugged in next to my bed… I rushed back into my room. Of course, it was gone. That and one gold watch and two valuable necklaces of my roommate were all that were taken.

Finally the detective and the police officers left, my parents and the neighbors went home, and my roommate Maira and I were left alone in the house. Though we locked and barred all the doors and checked all the windows several times, I still didn’t feel safe. Strangers had broken into our home, rifled through our personal belongings, and stolen things from us! I tried to imagine them pulling socks and underwear out of my dresser, dumping out my desk drawers, escaping out the back door… It gave me chills.

God is Still Good

“We need to pray.” I didn’t FEEL like praying. I was still in shock. Yet more than the loss of the iPad and the jewelry, it was the loss of my sense of safety and security that I was concerned about. Maira and I had specifically chosen this apartment because it’s in a quiet, safe neighborhood. We’d never felt concern for our well-being here. Until now. Now I was starting to get angry – angry at the enemy who comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). I couldn’t let him steal my peace. It was time to fight back.

“Jesus, we declare Your peace in this place. This is YOUR house, and we are YOUR daughters. We know we are safe in Your hands.”

As we agreed in prayer, I felt a strange calmness. He is still here. I don’t understand why this happened. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make sense. But I have to trust that God is still good.

Yes, I’ll double-check the doors tonight to make sure the deadbolt is secure. But I don’t have to live in fear. Because even if I get robbed again, I know my Daddy’s holding me. My peace is not dependent on my circumstances. It’s based on the security of my relationship with Him. And that’s never going to change.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.”
Psalm 4:8 (NLT)
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Vanilla Chapstick and Hearing God’s Voice

The brilliant Cartagena sun beat down on the scattered group sitting on folding chairs in the open patio. A bird called, breaking the stillness. My stomach rumbled, and I glanced discreetly at my watch. How many more hours until dinner?

I was nineteen years old, in Colombia on outreach with my Youth With A Mission team. Several of the YWAM students at this Cartagena base had significant financial needs, and we were joining them in a day of prayer and fasting.

“God, what can I possibly give? I don’t have anything.” My mind kept wandering as I shifted in my chair, waiting to hear something.

Give that chapstick in your pocket to Gina. The thought came suddenly, unexpectedly. I glanced over at the Colombian girl to my left, who I’d just met this week. Surely I’d heard God wrong.

“But God, she needs money. She doesn’t need chapstick.” I shook my head and tried to clear my thoughts.

Give the chapstick in your pocket to Gina. I couldn’t ignore the nagging prompting. Give her the chapstick. Give the chapstick to Gina.

Hearing God’s Voice

Feeling completely ridiculous, I reluctantly rose from my seat and slowly approached Gina. “God, do I really have to do this? It’s not even new! Isn’t she going to be offended that I’m giving her a tube of used chapstick? She’s going to think I’m stupid…”

Gina looked up inquisitively when I tapped her on the shoulder. “Um, I know this is weird, but…” Face flushed, I fumbled in my jeans pocket, my fingers closing on the plastic tube. “…I felt like God told me to give you this,” I muttered, thrusting it into her hand.

Her eyes widened as she looked at the tube, opened it, sniffed it, applied some to her lips.

“You won’t believe this, but I’ve just been sitting here, thinking about how I need chapstick. It’s such a small thing, but my lips have been so dry… And vanilla is my favorite scent!” Gina smiled at me through tears. “Gracias… Thank you so much.”

Slipping back into my seat, I sighed with relief. I hadn’t just imagined it. God DID speak to me.

“Did God REALLY say….?” It’s one of the Enemy’s oldest tricks in the book. Since the Garden of Eden, he’s tried to plant seeds of doubt in our minds. “Did you hear God right? Are you sure?”

In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” We are His sheep, and He DOES speak to us. The more we listen and obey, even if it seems like a small thing, the more we can hear Him clearly. When I question my ability to hear my Heavenly Father, I remember that day in Cartagena many years ago. and a tube of vanilla chapstick. And I remind myself that I’m His sheep, and I CAN hear His voice!

Going Vertical!
MJ

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Drowning

“I’m not gonna make it.” I was so very tired. It would be so easy to just give up and submit to the waves that were trying to submerge me. “I just can’t keep going anymore.”

Half-wading, half-swimming, my mom and my brother Stephen and I had made our way through the clear, shallow waters of the secluded bay that afternoon, anxious to test out our snorkeling gear. Brilliant yellow and blue fish darted in and out among the rocks, so close we could have touched them! Visiting my parents here in Costa Rica was a refreshing change from my busy life as an English teacher in East Asia, and the week was going by far too quickly.

When I finally decided to swim back to the shore, my legs and arms were already starting to ache. All that snorkeling around the rocks had worn me out more than I realized. I swam underwater for a few minutes, then decided to stand up and take a break.

My feet didn’t touch the bottom.

Looking back to where my mom and brother were still snorkeling, I realized we had drifted down the coast with the current. “I guess it’s a bit deeper at this spot. When I’d swum out here, it had been shallow the whole way!”

Swimming on my back this time, I aimed for the beach once more. But every time I turned my head to look, it seemed no closer than before. And when I tried to stand after a few minutes, there was nothing but water beneath me. This time my head went under and I got a mouthful of salty seawater. Coughing and sputtering, I looked toward the distant beach where my dad was reading in the shade of a tree. I waved my arm frantically to get his attention. He cheerfully waved back.

“He has no idea I’m in trouble,” I thought in desperation, struggling to keep my head above water. I’d never been a strong swimmer, and now I felt so desperately weary.

“No one would even see me go under,” I realized. My mom and brother still hadn’t noticed my distress, and we were the only ones on this isolated stretch of beach. “I’m going to drown right here within sight of my dad on the shore.”

I don’t know how, but somehow I made it to the shore that terrifying afternoon in Costa Rica. My dad later told me that when I was swimming on my back, I was actually going in circles. No wonder the shore never seemed to get any closer. When I finally crawled onto the sand, gasping for breath, I couldn’t believe how close I had been to giving up.

Hopeless. Helpless. Desperate. I’ve been there before. Sometimes life just seems to be one pounding wave after another of pain and disappointment and loss. And I feel like I’m drowning in it all.

But God doesn’t leave me there. When I have nothing left, not even the strength to yell for help, I look to Him in desperation. And even if He doesn’t pluck me out of the circumstances I’m in, He gives me the strength and the grace to make it through the rough waters.

How about you? Are you stuck in destructive cycles of conflict and harmful relationships?Are you in danger of drowning under waves of disappointment? Do the depths of pain in your life seem endless? You are never without hope. Help is on the way. He won’t let you drown.

Going Vertical!
MJ

“…He pulled me out of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning. He stood me up on a wide-open field; I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!”
Psalm 18:16-19 (The Message).