Posted in Faith

Knowing His Invisible Kingdom

Know God, Know Peace

“Heaven is not here, it’s there,” Elizabeth Elliot writes. Jesus put it this way: “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

We Christians know this truth, and yet we often have just as much trouble with a divided heart as any other human. We concentrate too much effort on thinking about the clothes we wear, the electronics we own, the kind of house we call home and too little time focusing on how great God is, how able He is to provide for each and every true need, just as He has promised.

Elliot continues,

“If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.”

In recent years, I am discovering that what I make complicated, God simplifies. I keenly long for peace, and yet I have spent a lifetime trying to accomplish things as if peace can be earned rather than accepted. If I could do enough, then I would feel better. If I was feeling nervous or off, then I obviously hadn’t been doing enough.

But God’s love for us isn’t based on a formula. He offers the gift of His grace, and when we truly accept it, we will know peace.

I know that intellectually, but only recently have I begun to understand the spiritual truth of God’s gift of grace. I have discovered that truth by following His instruction to keep my mind always on Him. That means I spend a lot more time thinking about the things around me I am thankful for. If I feel afraid, I have a conversation with the One who actually knows my future and has already planned for it. The more I put myself in conversation with God, the more I think about His Word, the more I am beginning to see the world from God’s view instead of my own.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding,” the Proverbs tell us (3:5). Take every thought and make it captive to Christ, Paul exhorts believers, and “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). A mind focused on God puts on the armor of God, and a mind shielded by the armor of God is a mind truly at peace—no matter what the world throws its way.

My focus has shifted gradually. At first, thinking about God, especially when I would rather be pouting or brooding, seemed awkward or artificial. But very quickly, I discovered that talking to God about things I was grateful for and asking about things I felt unsure about, even little things like sweet dreams, started to become more and more like second nature.

The really exciting thing about keeping my mind on God is that I know I am just beginning in this practice. I am sure there are times ahead when I will forget, get caught up in the things of this world even though I know better. But there are also plenty of opportunities for me to get better and better at putting God first. The rewards of balance and peace that putting God first brings are truly a glimpse of the invisible Kingdom for which we keenly long.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

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Posted in Christian Living, Faith

How Do You Cope? : Turn Your Mind to Jesus

A mind focused on Jesus learns to cope

God is awesome. He deserves our love and our praise. If we are wise, He also deserves the courtesy of our fear. Do you doubt it?

Sitting in the comfort of a home this week that kept the unending rain at bay, I thought about the mightiness of our LORD, how the strength of terrible weather, which I think goes part and parcel with a fallen world, reflects the awesome power of our Creator.

But God’s greater strength showed itself through His people, who reached out from all over Houston and this country to help those who have lost everything, washed away like so much refuse as the rain continued to pour.

Long after the news cameras tire of stories about boat rescues and flooded highways, people in Houston and across the Texas coast will be doing the most important work of all, which is learning to cope with the challenges that will continue for months and even years to come. God will show His strength in helping people cope, too.

Coping is a skill I’ve been honing the last several years. My grandmother, father-in-law and brother-in-law have all died, the latter within days of each other. My mother is battling ALS. Had I not learned to cope, I wouldn’t get out of bed.

Christ is the avenue to our best coping skills. When your mind begins to wander into worries you can do nothing about, think on Him. Draw your mind to Christ by thanking Him for the things around you, for the blessings you are most grateful for. Before you know it, He will bring your mind to a place of peace that pushes away the worry. He may give you the next step to take. He may send you to a scripture that expresses just how you feel. He may simply help you to just be still.

Time with the Trinity is more important than anything. Spending time in God’s word is the only way to learn just who He is. If you know your Bible, you know if the messages you feel are truly in alignment with that word or just the murmurs of your own heart’s desires. When you truly bend your will to God, you learn to accept the times when what you want is not what God says you need.

In Houston, there is a religious venue for every 1,000 people. This is a big city with a big heart for God. I like to think this belief plays a large role in our reactions to natural disasters. In these last few days, images of neighbor helping neighbor reflect the kind of things that happen when we take the love Christ has for us and pay it forward.

A mind set on the things of this world is subject to worry and angst. A mind set on our awesome God is destined to calm and peace. I know which mindset best serves me in times of ease and conflict. I hope you also prize your time with God so that no matter how the rains and winds blow, your mind is at heavenly peace.

In Christ,
Ramona  

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Gotta Serve Somebody

Gonna have to serve somebody

If there is one truth to which we should commit our whole selves, it is this: no matter how free we think we are, the very choices we make underscore our actual servitude, either to our Holy God or to the sinful nature that is the natural state of man, and woman, in a fallen world.

In his 1979 album, Slow Train Coming, Bob Dylan included a single that reflects on this truth, entitled, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

Dylan writes,

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance.
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage.
You may be a business man or some high-degree thief,
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are,
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you’re gonna serve somebody.

The apostle Paul acknowledges the truth of this concept in his letter to the Romans. After explaining about the burden a sinful life places on the individual, he exhorts the benefits of choosing instead to serve Christ.  “You have been set free from sin,” he writes, “and have become slaves to righteousness” (6:18). Before righteousness, the possibility of which came to us when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we were slaves to evil, which only made us more and more wicked. When we embrace being a slave to righteousness by accepting Christ as our Savior, we are made more holy, which leads to eternal life instead of death/damnation.

“What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” Paul questions, referring to the sinful lifestyle that marks any life that does not choose to walk with Christ. “Those things,” he tells us, “result in death!” (6:21) Paul continues,

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)

When Jesus promises us that His yoke is light, He is in part pointing toward this difference between serving “the new way of the Spirit,” as Paul describes it, “and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:16). Allowing one’s self to be ruled by the Spirit is choosing to serve our Holy, Forgiving God. His are the mercies that endure forever. Actions based on faith in Him make us a slave who does not feel the burden of his/her servitude, but instead experiences the lightness of spirit that exudes love and helps one sleep peacefully at night.

Our sinful nature, the body that is subject to death, is always ready to catch us in a moment of weakness, to be the sin living in us that causes us to stumble. Only as we repeatedly choose to be ruled by the Spirit of Truth in us do we join in Jesus’ triumph over death into a life spent with the easy yoke of a loving Lord.

Before Christ, all believers could expect was atonement for sin. They sacrificed on a regular basis to be washed clean of sin and even had ceremonies where they atoned for sins committed of which they were not even aware. At any given moment, even the most righteous of believers could be carrying around sins for which atonement had not yet been achieved.

When Christ died on the cross for the sins of all, the ultimate sacrifice, He achieved for us not only atonement but actual forgiveness for our sin. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul proclaims (Romans 8:1). We will be judged for our choices in this life, but those who have accepted Christ as Savior will never be condemned for those choices. 

It saddens me that Christians sometimes give the mistaken impression that we think the gift of Christ is exclusive to us, when what Christ offers is open to everyone who breathes. In the early days of the church, Peter tells his fellow Jews, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). Christ’s love extends to all comers, from the lowliest, most despised sinners to the most exalted people in the world. What He requires is a heart that loves Him in return, that understands the great benefit of choosing to serve the Lord and His righteousness instead of the evil one who plies his duplicitous trade in this fallen wasteland we call our mortal world.

You gotta serve somebody. Those serve best who choose, as Joshua of old, to serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15) The way of the Spirit is truly the lightened burden that casts off the crushing weight of a life bound by sin.

Each morning is a new day to choose to serve the Spirit. Will you join me in making a conscious choice each sunrise to serve a Christ Who loves you so much, He swallowed the wrath for your sin even though He had never sinned Himself? He is the only Master worth serving, the only One to whom service causes us to rise rather than stumble.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Faith

How God Lifted Me


There are no better lessons in grace than those in-the-valley moments in this life that all humans must face at one point or another. In those shadowed, veiled times, we might be tempted to turn away from a God we didn’t have such a great understanding of in the first place. Or, we might turn to Him for miracles that He sometimes grants and often provides in some out-of-nowhere way it may take years of living to figure out. We might just wallow, giving ourselves heaping mouthfuls of mud to go along with the bitter tastes in our mouths.

The first lesson to learn in the valley is that you are not alone. Even if you are having a rather one-sided argument with God at the moment, blocking out his ever-presence in your life, you don’t have to seek too far away in the valley to see the tell-tale signs of fellow sufferers. Being human, you’re likely to gravitate toward those who have chosen your same approach to hardship so that you might commiserate together.

I’ve been in the valley for the last several years. My husband’s family and my own have faced challenges with terminal illness of those we hold closest to us. My father-in-law and brother-in-law each lost his battle with cancer within weeks of each other during the holidays the year before last. My mother was diagnosed with ALS, and my parents daily struggle with the challenges of coping with this dreaded, dreadful disease.

So, as much as anybody out there, I think I have the right to ask the unanswerable questions, like why God lets bad things happen to good people, or why nature itself has to be as evil as any serial killer you can find on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

But, these really weren’t questions I had to find answers for as this long journey in the shadows continues for me because God has granted me so many spiritual mentors and fruitful lessons from my Bible studies. I know that God cares for all of us. I know that this life with all its troubles is not what He had originally planned when He plopped Adam and Eve in a garden paradise. I survive because I have faith that God will work to the good even the most horrific things that happen in this life for those, like me, who strive to walk by faith in our belief.

My spiritual mentors have been many. I have friends who hold God close to their hearts. They have introduced me to great Bible teachers like Ravi Zacharias, Andy Stanley, and Randy Harris, men who do a good job of putting Biblical concepts into modern-day language. These are men who value the love of Jesus and who know that grace is something we all need in equal measure. Instead of judging other people, these mentors have taught me to seek the good in others in order to spread Jesus’ most precious gift of forgiveness through grace.

As a writer, I admire what apologists such as Philip Yancey and Sarah Young and novelists like Charles Martin and Francine Rivers can do when they put pen to paper and allow God’s gift to flow through them.  I have learned that it’s okay to ask questions about and of God, that staying in a mode of thankfulness draws me closer to God, that the strength of our relationships on earth can reflect the strength of our interactions with our Savior, that the kind of love that truly puts the other first will never fail.

My days have been dark and will be darker still, but I will continue to walk by faith. These are no longer bumper-sticker words to me, but the result of persevering. I study my Bible, I pray continually, I share my belief with others, I am open to learning from God and fellow believers. Some days, many days, I have to choose that today is a good day for a good day.  I have had to learn to cut myself some breaks. I have learned that helping others even when my own world is crumbling helps me feel better.  I lean on the understanding that this life is about becoming something for the next life. God, my potter, is molding the clay that is me into a masterpiece for His kingdom.

I am comforted by the idea that some day, when my perseverance is complete, the angels will dance.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

With God, Simple Things Can Mean A Lot

God makes even simple things into something magnificent, according to His purpose

I am very good at making things more complicated than they have to be. Pick almost any area in life, and I have figured out a way to look at the issue that gives it many more twists and turns than really exist.

Take salvation, for example. All I have to do is believe in Christ and His purpose and profess that belief, and yet I make that simple act of faith into something much more complicated. I tell myself I have more responsibility in this act of living my faith than God ever said I had.

For example, I think that it is somehow up to me to make other people believe about God and the Bible the way that I do. I get frustrated when people disagree with me, even angry when I think they are saying something wrong about the word of God according to the way that I understand that word.

God has led me to a focus shift this week, one that should help me quit taking on responsibilities that are not my own. Through my Bible reading and conversations with other believers, I have been reminded that God is the One who holds the responsibility for what others ultimately believe. He alone is Judge.

I must not apply my usual habit of shoulds in life to my plan for living my faith. A to-do list is not what being a Christian is about. Instead, we are asked to live through love.

In the Old Testament, we learn an important lesson about the simplicity of our salvation when we truly hand over the responsibility for that salvation to our Holy God. Naaman, the commander of King Aram’s army, goes to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When Elisha tells him all he has to do is go dip himself in the Jordan seven times, instead of being thankful such a simple task is all that is required, Naaman gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand how the solution could be so simple. Why wouldn’t a body of water in his home country be even more likely to heal him, if that is all it would take, Naaman wonders?

In fact, Naaman feels affronted that Elisha’s solution does not require more of him, as if his station deserves to be recognized by the level of responsibility required for healing. Naaman would have wandered through the rest of his proud life, full of responsibility and covered in his skin disease, if not for his servants, who asked the obvious but profound question:

“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you ‘ wash and be cleansed?'” (2 Kings 5:13)

Luckily for him, Naaman realizes the truth to this statement and proceeds to follow Elisha’s instructions from God. In the end, Naaman walks out of the Jordan with skin as whole as if he had just been born. More importantly, he learns the profound truth that in even the smallest of ways, God can do great things.

As I was settling into the truth of these verses during the week, I was offered another important lesson when it comes to how God works in our lives, which is the comfort that comes when we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this world that is full of evil.

In this season of my life, I have as much reason as anyone to see the world in general and the act of living in particular as a losing struggle against forces that are gunning for my ultimate destruction. Beginning in 2014, in the span of some fourteen months, my grandmother died, my husband’s father and oldest brother lost their battles with cancer within a few weeks of each other, and my dear mama was diagnosed with ALS.

If I didn’t believe that the only way God can offer us the free will to choose Him is to allow for both evil and good to exist in this life, then I would have given up on the idea of a loving God a long time ago. But, in acknowledging the truth of the need for evil to exist in a fallen world, I realize that I have somehow lost the even stronger truth that God controls everything, even, somehow, the process of letting us tumble into His always waiting, open hands.

God’s control negates my need to be responsible for outcomes. Notice, I did not say actions. Free will means I am inherently responsible for everything I say and do. But, when what I say and do is in alignment with the life of Christ and His teachings, I can trust the outcome will be according to the will of God, even when things look farthest from that conclusion. His Holy Spirit can so easily bring to fruition whatever seeds my Christ-like words and actions may plant. But, I have to live like I believe that, even in simple ways, mostly in simple ways.

What a powerful realization this working of the Holy Spirit in our lives is for those who believe. When we forget about His power or try to usurp it by manipulating situations toward our own desired outcomes, we do a disservice to our faith. We also overlook the little, simple things that God can make truly great, like the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree.

God is always able

 

Just like Naaman, I am guilty of wanting something more difficult than the simple truths of God’s promises. He wants me to know that He has things under control in accordance to His Master Plan, a plan my human mind is incapable of fully understanding. When I contain myself by worrying about only my actions and words instead of putting myself in the role of judge over others, I give myself the light burden and peace that Christ promised as the gift of believing in Him. I grasp God’s simple solution to life’s complex problems.

In Sunday school, we reached the point in Romans where Paul asks why we think we have the right to judge those who serve God. We are not their masters, after all. But for those who allow God to be master, the promise is clear:

To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

The Lord is able to bring about our success in walking by faith. Not long after Naaman discovered that God’s truths can be powerful even in simplicity, the prophet Elisha faces a dangerous situation that further underscores God’s ability. When the King of Aram sends an army to harm the prophet, God provides His own, conquering army to protect the servant of our heavenly King:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:13-17)

When I profess my faith, when I show love in the face of hate, when I turn the other cheek, God is able. He is surrounding me with His angels, looking out for my ultimate good. If I live each day knowing this truth, I will simplify my walk with Christ. I will be free to love other people in full knowledge that the paths of their lives and their ultimate judgment are in God’s hands, not my own.

Christianity is simple. We humans are the ones who tend to complicate things, forgetting despite all His promises, that God is able.

Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Easter, Learn the Difference When You Live What You Believe

He is risen indeed

One of the discount department stores is running an ad about their sales for the weekend, emphasizing great prices on dresses and dress clothes for the annual Easter Sunday church visit.

I wonder about those of us who only see the inside of church on these special occasions. We put on the cloak of Christianity like a garment we can choose to wear or discard as the feelings move us. We call out to God in times of distress as if He should overlook all the times He hasn’t heard from us, not even a simple thank you for our daily kindnesses and blessings.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the greatest gift God ever gave us—the potential to return to a healed relationship with Him through the salvation provided by Christ’s sacrifice for us when He died on the cross despite being blameless so that our many sins will not condemn us. But, we can’t maintain a healthy relationship that allows us to grasp the full potential of God’s blessings if we only work on that relationship every once-in-a-while.

Sometimes, I wonder if people who condemn those of us who believe in our mighty God really understand what it is they are rejecting. What seems like a fairy tale of a by-gone age to them is to me the spiritual and logical conclusion of a series of events that go back to the beginning of time.

God made a perfect world. He populated it with flora and fauna. He even made man in His own image to enjoy the fruits of His labor. Man, setting the example of a pattern of behavior that dominates to this day , didn’t waste much time ruining the gift of the paradise God created for them. Walking with God without shame, conversing with Him as if He were the kind neighbor from down the street and not the Creator of all things, just wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve. They wanted to know what God knows. They grasped the knowledge of good and evil as if the human heart, though made in the image of God, could yet somehow be god-like.

But, humans who know evil and good will inevitably sink to the level of evil because the human heart is not to be trusted. It cannot know evil without falling victim to the weakness of giving in to that evil. And when we commit sin, we cannot go forward in a relationship with the God-head as if nothing bad has happened. So, God gave man instructions on the kinds of sacrifices He required to bring a person back into relationship with Him whenever a person stumbles.

Why most sacrifices require the shedding of blood can be a hard concept to grasp if you have grown up in a world where you get trophies just for participating, where everybody is a winner. But, for me at least, the idea that I only truly understand the depth of my sin if I see the extent of the sacrifice to make me right again with God seems to be perfectly logical. I can’t trust my heart to tell me when I am in the wrong. My heart is quick to make excuses for me and an expert at giving me the benefit of the doubt. But the blood on the altar of an animal that had nothing to do with my sin is a definite wake up call for my need to straighten up my act. Having in me the genetic memory of first man’s close contact with our sovereign God, I long to return to that place of perfect peace where we walk in the garden, and I am not afraid.

No troubled hearts for those who believe

Do you like the humanist stand on morality better than the strict guidelines that unconditional love requires? I wonder why. If God does not exist, as the humanists proclaim, then what is the point of these randomly sequenced molecules that are the only explanation left in a world where no master Creator spoke the world into being? The closest thing I can find to one is Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest. And if that is our point, to be the strongest, the one to survive so that our genes continue to thrive, then what happens to kindness or thoughtfulness or love? We humans have proven how quickly and deeply we can fall into the depths of darkness.  We torture and maim, watch as children starve,  enslave each other. Auschwitz. Hiroshima. The human heart never leans toward the light, not when it does not acknowledge a God exists who has the power and desire to fill that heart with love and light.

When Christ sacrificed Himself, spilled His own blood because of my sin—He had no sin of His own—He tore the curtain that separated the unholy from the Holiest once and for all. When I believe Christ died for me, when I bow my head and acknowledge my own sinfulness, my wicked heart, and say, You are my savior, I invite the light and love of God into my heart. I allow Him to transform the heart from that which is only able to look out for number one to a loving light that knows the power of Christ’s gift of grace and can’t help but find ways to share the good news about that love with others.

In this world God created, those who survive best are often the weakest, the most humble. Survival is defined by staying in close relationship with God, in taking steps to love other people like we want to be loved. We walk in the perfect garden and are not afraid.

I like a world that is more concerned about what I am becoming for the next life than concentrating on making the most of this world because it is the only one we’ve got. When you celebrate Easter this Sunday, do it in full knowledge of the enormity of the gift Christ gave when He put your salvation before His survival.  You are no longer condemned, but bathed in the Spirit of Truth that will compel you to live according to what pleases God instead of trying to please other people or yourself.

I am so thankful God tore away the barrier that separated His holiness from my humanness. When I call, He hears me. When I make choices based on His teachings, I know peace.

And isn’t that what I am really seeking when I put on that new Spring dress Easter Sunday, my curls pulled back with a bright bow, and step into the sanctuary where the voices of those who believe swell in the still air like even the angels are singing?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Finding His Strength in My Weakness: this Broken Road

My grandmother’s life of hardship offers lessons about learning to lean on God’s mercy and power.

We fickle humans do not thrive in abundance. Sitting in my fancy easy chair typing these words, I have more in my possession today than past generations of my ancestors ever hoped to possess. And yet, I daily struggle with doubts and fears, pride and anger that are incongruent with my economic “wealth.”

I have fallen victim despite the roots of my practical raising to the dream of finding happiness in a world where evil dwells. Even though I know that God’s reason for me has nothing to do with my happiness in this life, I still keep trying to find it.  Even when I embrace the idea of seeking to thrive despite the pitfalls of living in a fallen world and I strive toward becoming what God needs of me for my eternal home, I too quickly fall back into the mind traps of the transient peace that happiness offers.

I don’t think it takes a scientific analysis or Gallup poll to figure out that those who face the most challenges tend to be the most at ease with themselves and the God they worship. My grandparents didn’t have time to contemplate their mental states on a regular basis. They were too busy scratching out a living on unforgiving soil, stitching up clothing well beyond its use-by date, laboring with hands cracked by years of exposure to sun and wind, doing without when crops failed, stealing pecans from the pack rats’ nests to sell to the grocer for thread.

When a bath takes more work to make happen than the pleasure being clean subsequently brings, tell me of your repugnance to the smell of those who adhere to the once-a-week bathing regimen. When the only light you can afford is the billowing, blackening heat of a kerosene lamp, you’ll understand the wisdom of a sun-up to sun-down mentality.

Living in a world where abundance is hard to come by makes you appreciate and recognize blessings. You’ll walk miles in bad weather to catch the matinee on Saturday. You’ll eat bar-b-que you didn’t have to make off of strips of brown, butcher paper as if you were dining in an elegant restaurant with linen tablecloths instead of the planked, rough boards where strangers sit elbow to elbow, dripping sweet, savory sauce from puffy lips.

God understands the importance of our weakness to make use of His strength. He offered abundance to His people as they wandered in the desert. For forty years, He gave them sufficient food for each day, food they did not have to labor for or worry about. In this abundance, His people forgot about Him over and over again. They worshiped false gods even though the proof of the One, True God descended upon them in harvest every morning. They married outside of their own faith despite His warnings to the contrary.

We read about the wanderings in the desert with a little contempt today, but are we any different? Even the poorest among us in this country have more than most of the rest of the world and instead of thanking God for our abundance, we shun His very existence. We let others mock His power and forgiveness. We put up with those who would silence us when we want to call out His name.

When I am weak, He is strong. When I am most aware of my human frailty, I am most likely to feel gratitude to a God that saves me from even greater evils than those I face. In weakness, I will understand the satisfaction of a life lived as testimony as opposed to a life lived for my pleasure, the difference between a broken road and a road that will break you.

I asked my grandmother once about the invention of such time-saving household tools as the vacuum cleaner. My textbook said women loved these things because it gave them more leisure time, after all.

Grandmother had lived in houses whose floors were hard-packed dirt. She had worn clothes made from flour sacking and been the cook and cleaner and clothes washer and butter churner and quilter and more in her childhood family of three brothers and her dad since her mother passed away when my grandma was a toddler. She had cooked over campfires and seined coal from the river, walked miles to the mill where gathered grain could be ground for flour and plucked chickens she had slaughtered for the evening supper table. She worked seven days a week from the time the sun rose to the time the sun set in a world where all the people around her were eking out the same kind of existence.

These were the greatest generation, those who fought for the freedoms of people a world away, sacrificing life, limb, and the little things at home to make sure the world was a safer place. People planted gardens, learned to like margarine, rationed everything, saved even the dirty grease from the stove to donate to the factories for the cause of making rubber. The Depression had taught them how to make an onion and some parsnips last to a week’s worth of suppers, inspired the pickled mesquite bark in their cupboards and the repurposing of everything so that years later, my grandfather saw nothing wrong with using the same pan for his famous popcorn as the family also utilized for upchucks.

So, did Grandma think the vacuum cleaner was a gift sent from God? Definitely not. This abundance just meant she had more work to do. Standards of cleanliness rose along with our ability to clean until she was left with even more work than she had experienced before.

God’s enough is defined by our weakness turned toward His strength, which manifests itself in our love for Him and His Word, and the resulting love we then have for ourselves and others. If I can concentrate on being thankful instead of on the electronics I have surrounding me or the pretty clothes or the nice car, perhaps I will finally find that core of strength that is woven in my DNA from those who lived when abundance was only found in weakness. I appreciate the lessons they taught me by merely surviving amidst untold hardship and tragedy. I appreciate even more that they survived in full knowing of the gratitude they owed the Divine for every victory He allowed them, even in the midst of sandstorms and rain, of brown, crispy harvests and loved ones laid much too soon into the hard, cold ground.

Despite a lifetime of hardship and loss, my grandmother never gave up on her belief in God. She treasured the large print Bible I gave her on her 90th birthday because it gave her the ability to read more of the Bible daily than her cataract-challenged eyes had otherwise afforded her.

The capacity to find God’s strength in our own weakness might be summed up in a photograph I found among my grandmother’s belongings, a color snapshot of a chihuahua, my grandmother’s long-time house dog long-since passed, sitting on a plaid blanket, with these words written on the back in a steady hand:

A small brown dog with big, beautiful eyes that wanders through the halls of my memory.  Helen

If she, who had lost mother and husband and son and father and brothers, and yet never lost her faith in God, could find sweetness in the memory of loss, then what other proof of the value of accepting my weakness do I need?

I will try to recognize my abundance and its concurrent enemies of seeking happiness and fulfillment for what they are, which are obstacles to my ability to know and give the love God so freely offers to all who believe in Him, especially to those who allow Him to show His strength through the very weakness we usually fight to keep away. As I heard Rick Atchley preach just recently, we cannot ask God to make us stronger Christians and also ask Him to make everything all right. Only through the suffering that weakness brings can God truly do His work in us.

My grandparents’ generation proved the truth of this theology. More importantly, Christ sealed the truth of it when He willingly died in weakness on the Cross so that all humanity might be saved through faith by the love of the Almighty. That’s the strength I lean on. Won’t you join me?

In Christ,
Ramona