Unshakable Hope


A few months ago, a mysterious illness infiltrated my body. (No, not covid.) The signs were subtle at first. Some swelling in my ankles and aching in my arms. It rapidly progressed through my body and currently holds me hostage with severely swollen, aching arms and legs and sometimes debilitating stabs of pain. Test results are all normal. I have no other symptoms apart from fatigue and an occasional headache. The doctors are stumped. I am on a three month wait for a specialist.

Not fun.

But God.

Whether I am afflicted or healed, God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has made every day, and I choose to rejoice and be glad in it.

As Jesus believers, we pray each day for healing, believing and claiming that by his stripes, I’m healed. And I believe I will be. It may not be today or tomorrow that my healing manifests, but it will be one day according to his plans. Plans I don’t understand, but that are always good.

So far, I’ve learned to trust him more. I’m learning to wait well. My mind is a battlefield, and I can choose to embrace God’s presence, hope, love, and joy, or I can believe lies and be filled with fear, anger, despair, and self-pity. Each day, and sometimes multiple times a day, I have the choice.

Days are better when I choose Jesus.

Today I watched the memorial service for a blogging friend of mine who went home to Jesus on December 30th. He wrote a blog called Unshakable Hope and lived with ALS for 24 years after the doctors gave him three to five to live. I met him because of this blog. He has been such a source of encouragement and faith building to me. As his two daughters shared some questions they asked him, and played his robotic responses while he was confined completely to a wheelchair with no voice and no ability to move, I was once again inspired.

Bill talked about the passage in Scripture where Paul asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh. He commented that our trials here are fleeting and temporary in light of eternity. Now as I wait on the Lord for healing to manifest, I am encouraged by this man’s incredible life. His wife, Mary, has been his caregiver all these years. Her grace and patience humble me. Bill reached tens of thousands of people through his blog that he wrote with eye recognition software. How can I live my life daily in this affliction so that it has eternal value?

How can I consider my current situation close to what he’s lived with? I only hope that I can live it with faith, grace, and unshakable hope like he did no matter how long it lasts. In light of eternity we live a fleeting moment.

Today is the only today we have. Tonight it will be gone, and tomorrow will come. What will we choose today?

I don’t know what the rest of my day or my tomorrows will be. We don’t even know how many tomorrows we’ll have. But today, I live for Christ in response to his love for me. No matter what comes, his love, his presence, peace, joy, and hope are beyond measure.

Will you choose him today? Whether you know him or you don’t, he loves you. He chose you. He has a plan for you.

In honor of my blogging brother Bill Sweeney. He chose Jesus.

If you’d like to see Bill’s site and posts, you can read here.

Hope in Desperate Times


Terrible situations deplete of us hope.

It’s easy to lose hope when faced with hardship, broken relationships, illness or a crisis. Or perhaps we’ve been waiting for something to happen – a relationship restored, a loved one to be healed, a wayward child to come home – and it’s been a long, long wait.

But what if we can find hope in the midst of and as a result of those broken places?

That’s what author, Deborah Malone, writes about on her blog and in her new book, Blooming in Broken Places.

Deborah is no stranger to the trials of life. She takes us on her real-life journey beginning with being her mother’s caregiver, to the rocky time of caring for her severely disabled daughter and finally to the disappointment  and trials of an abusive marriage that left her broken and feeling worthless.

But Deborah’s journey doesn’t stop there. Through healing and a gradual realization of God’s unlimited love, Deborah discovered how He could use her despite her limitations. In her book, Deborah delves into how numerous women from the Bible were all used by God, even while they were in broken places.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Deborah. It was great to get to know her a little better.

First, a couple of easy questions…

Are you a coffee or tea drinker?

Definitely tea. However, I do love my one cup of flavored coffee in the morning with a dollop of whipped cream on top.

Where do you write?

I have two places I like to write. If I’m not on a deadline then I will write in the family room sitting on the couch with my laptop. If I’m on a deadline then I will write in the office, at the desk, where it is quiet and I can concentrate.

I think people don’t realize the time that goes into writing a book. How long did it take you to write Blooming in Broken Places? In what ways did you find it healing?

Love this question. This book is so dear to my heart. Many have asked me to write my story for many years. I wasn’t in the right place at the time. I didn’t want it to be negative or depressing, and I didn’t want to breathe life into long buried feelings. I was asked to speak on my life to a group of women who needed some encouragement. So many came up afterwards and told me I should write about my life to share with other women.

I didn’t write it then, but it sparked a flame in me. While I was writing my third book in the Skye Southerland Cozy Mystery Series, I was led to write Blooming in Broken Places. I came up with the idea of weaving my story between twelve women from the Bible that were broken, but whom God used in a mighty way even in their darkest times. In this way it would encourage those who read it. It took a year from conception to publication.

I am not going to say it was easy. After my first draft my editor and publisher both said I needed more me in the story. I knew then I could not get away with writing the bare bones. I would have to dig up feelings long buried for the story to be authentic enough to touch others. I never realized in the writing process I would find the healing I had been longing for.

From the reviews of your book, I would say people really appreciated the “you” factor. Well done delving into those difficult areas.

If you had to pick one women from the Bible that you wrote about, who would be your favorite? Why?

Oh my goodness. You would have to ask this question. During my research and writing I fell in love with all the women and came to admire their tenacity and faith. I call them my posse now. But, if you insist, I would have to pick the Samaritan Woman at the well as my favorite. It is such a beautiful story. Jesus went out of his way to put himself in her path. He had a plan for her life – and he didn’t wait until she was perfect to use her in a mighty way. This tells me I don’t have to be perfect for God to use me, too.

She’s my favorite too! She even ended up being one of the secondary characters in my new book, Rachel’s Son. I love the way Jesus interacted with her.

So what’s the most important message you want your readers to get from your new book?

We are all broken in some way. God can and will use us mightily even in our darkest moments. Also, if our goals haven’t been met yet it doesn’t mean they won’t happen. God’s timing isn’t always our timing. I was 57 when my first book was published.

Hope you don’t mind a final personal question. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Well, I guess it would be walking on trails in the woods. It’s a great way to get outside and get some fresh air. I’m looking forward to warmer weather. I still enjoy reading, but I don’t have a lot of time to read.

I completely understand. I’m an outdoor kind of girl myself. Maybe outdoors with a good book. 😉

If you’re like most of us, in need of hope, you can find Deborah’s new book on Amazon. Visit her blog and let her know you read this article. Deborah is also the author of mystery novels set in Georgia.

Deborah Malone’s first novel Death in Dahlonega, finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Category Five writing contest. Deborah was also nominated for 2012 and 2013 Georgia Author of the Year in Novel category. She has worked as a freelance writer and photographer for the historic magazine, Georgia Backroads, since 2001. She has had many article and photographs published, and her writing is featured in Tales of the Rails, edited by Olin Jackson, as well as the “Christian Communicator” and “Southern Writer’s Magazine.” She is a member of the Georgia Writer’s Association, Advanced Writer’s and Speaker’s Association and the American Christian Fiction Writers.

What Is Joy?


2014 was a rough year.

Continuing illness from our house with mold, landlord issues, lack of employment, moving across country, saying goodbye to friends and family, and then a job loss took its toll on our family.

So when our pastor, Matt Keller, at Next Level Church here in lovely, balmy Florida began talking about choosing joy during his holiday sermons, you can imagine my divided thoughts and emotions. Yes, I know God’s good, and in all of it, he has done incredible things.

But we were challenged to choose joy. In every setting. You know the verse in James, “Count it all joy, brothers…”

REALLY??

Interestingly enough, around the same time, I was contacted about Margaret Feinberg’s new book, Fight Back With Joy. Would I be willing to write an honest review if I were provided a few chapters?

Naturally I said yes.

I don’t think this was a coincidence. Joy seemed a struggling commodity in our lives this past year. I wanted joy. I need joy. Maybe my word for this coming year should be “joy.”

Margaret says in her book that she always thought of “…joy as a natural byproduct of a life well lived.” I think that is what I believed too. But if that was the case, then I hadn’t lived well the previous year, had I?

Was joy the measure of whether my life was good or bad?

It couldn’t be. And if joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life, something God grants me then couldn’t I have it for the asking? Couldn’t it be cultivated in my heart?

What is joy anyway?

This is what Margaret Feinberg reveals in Fight Back With Joy.

And she goes a step further, showing how she chose joy in the midst of a diagnosis of cancer. Say what? Who does that?

In her typically engaging, lay-it-all out there way, Margaret shares how her life-threatening challenge created a compelling platform for discovering and communicating what true joy is and what it meant in her darkest time of need.

Defiant joy that declared darkness would not win.

We are encouraged that joy doesn’t deny hardship. It doesn’t sugar-coat our trials and pretend they are easy. No,

…joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles.”

Wow. It seems my battles have been joy stealers. The concept that I can choose joy to fight gives me hope and fills me with – joy!

Margaret goes on to explain all the ways God gives us joy. Such as through embracing his love for us, looking for joy in each good thing, being blessed by people God sends to refresh us (like Philemon for Paul in the Bible) and choosing to create moments and situations of hilarity. Those are only a few of the thought provoking and uplifting discoveries this encouraging author offers.

I nearly cried when my first few chapters came to an end.

This is a book I needed. And I have the inkling that many others do as well. We need this honest look at how to deal with the trials of our lives. Life, especially these days, is rough. Not everyone is facing cancer, but as Margaret acknowledges, every one of us has dealt with or is going through some difficult situation.

And God intends for us, enables us to live in joy.

Even in the darkest, most heart-wrenching of times. Not putting on a fake smile of “Everything’s great!,” but existing with something deeper and stronger in the midst of pain or sorrow.

I for one need that.

Thank you, Margaret, for sharing your story. Thank you for showing us how to fight in life with true joy.

How Can I Have Joy When My Life Stinks?


It depends on where your focus is.

Every year, right after school lets out for the summer, our church hosts a week long day camp called VBS. Or as we VBS 011affectionately call it “vibs.” In most parts, Vacation Bible School is a well known event among church goers. Children gather for a few hours and participate in Bible stories, crafts and maybe learning a few songs about Jesus loving us.

At our church, we believe that kids relate to fun so we make VBS hugely fun with an entire morning and afternoon production, sports games, crafts, special events — a climbing wall, bounce houses and a petting zoo (to name a few).

The kids are in age/gender teams and create banners, team cheers and close friendships. They spray water guns and fly down a zip line. Stories are acted out on stage in front of them and discussed during team time with their adult leaders and teen assistants.

It’s a week of special treats like the snack bar, snow cones and ice cream. Songs are sung with dancing and hand motions in an outdoor amphitheater with the words displayed on huge banners. A dance team worships the Lord, encouraging the kids to learn the moves and dance along. Bible Buddies, or B Buds, act out the verses for the day which all fit with the theme for the week.

Today is the our day and will end with an amazing barbeque and final production to give the parents a glimpse of what their children have experienced all week – the reason they are all smiles, dirt and good tiredness.

Sounds like fun, huh?

Did I mention that approximately two hundred volunteers donate their time, often their vacation time from work, to help make this event a success? From that first year I stepped into the role of “team leader,” I couldn’t imagine not helping with VBS.

But last year, I became ill and as we got closer to the event, I realized that my acting role that year was not going to happen. Others stepped in for me at the last minute, and I traveled out of state for some rest. I watched my husband and daughters perform online via live streaming. I missed it. And this year, while I’m better, I’ve still been sick.

I didn’t think I had the physical strength to participate.

And I didn’t have the energy to care. I decided I would stay home and pray. People asked what I would be doing.

Nothing this year,” I’d answer.

But one day a few weeks back, a friend made a simple request. The man directing traffic was desperately in need of help. Since my husband and I had been in charge of traffic a few years ago, my friend wondered if I would consider helping out at all. Even for a day or two. I didn’t think it would work, but I agreed to pray about it. After all, it would only be a couple of hours in the morning.

I said yes.

The traffic director said I made his day. Imagine that. Something so simple brought such joy to him. Monday I arrived in the fog with excitement stirring in my heart. I greeted cars and directed them to the appropriate places. God gave me the energy to run around even when an unexpected situation arose that required way more than I thought I had to give.

After I finished, I watched my daughter sing and dance, kissed my two grand kids and went home to rest. Tuesday I woke with a migraine, but since I felt better standing rather than lying down, I took some pain medication and headed off to VBS again. Within an hour, my head wasn’t threatening to explode anymore. During the singing and dancing, I held my grand daughter.

And so it continued. A few hours of  chatting with friends, welcoming strangers, and participating in song and dance with my grand children in the morning, and then I’ve rested in the afternoon.

It seems like I haven’t done anything much.

But something has happened to my heart. Each day as I’ve worshiped the Lord, waved to parents, cheered for my daughter, watched my son with his team and snuggled my grand kids, I’ve been infused with joy. Overflowing, tears pouring down my cheeks joy.

Nothing in my circumstances has changed. I’m still sick. Our finances are tight. My husband is battling with job issues. We still don’t know what to do about mold, and our landlord has raised our rent, but not made needed repairs. My son sprained his knee and got hit in the chin with a baseball. Life kind of stinks. As do the lives of many of the people I’ve been serving with this week. Illness, injuries, and tough life challenges abound.

But my focus changed this week.

What I see is different. A smile goes a long way to cheer someone. We are in this together, joined by Jesus and our trials. My daughter’s face radiates the joy of the Lord as she belts out worship songs and dances on stage in front of hundreds of kids and adults. Our son rejoiced when one of his friends accepted the Lord. I wake and go through my day with the lines from songs echoing in my head. Words like:

I know You love me. You are for me, not against me …You only think good thoughts about me.

Or

Take me. This is all I can bring. (this little bit of sick, weakness) I feel alive. I come alive. I am alive…

It’s ended up being a great week. I’m no more tired than usual, but my heart is far less heavy. And I’ve found that having joy in the midst of life’s difficulties all depends on our focus.

To check out our VBS FUN visit www.coastlands.org and find us on Facebook.

 

Missing In Action


The saga continues.

Almost five years ago, within months of becoming a newlywed, I began to feel sick. Flu like. Tired. Nauseated. Dizzy. Headaches. At first I wondered if I could be pregnant. I mean, it would have taken a miracle, but God had already done that putting Brendan and me together. We would have welcomed a baby.

I took a test. Negative.

That was okay. We had enough adjustments to make without adding a pregnancy and newborn to the list. But my “sickness” didn’t diminish. In fact, it became worse. We took a trip to Disneyland, and I had to be pushed in a wheelchair because I didn’t have the strength to walk or even stand in line. It was a little overwhelming and discouraging. And I became sicker. Until I could barely crawl out of bed on most days.

Eventually, we discovered we had mold growing in our house.IMG_4523

A lot of mold. One of the giveaways was how I would feel better when I was out of the house for long periods of time. When the landlord finally decided to address the issues we presented (mushrooms growing in the bathroom for example), they tore open a small section of the bathroom wall and discovered everything was covered in black mold. They tore out more, more mold, etc. Until the bathroom was gutted, as was the laundry and the floor under the kitchen. Many months of cleaning, a long story of homelessness and two years of a law suit later, we seem to have arrived in the same place.

Seriously?

For the first two years of living in our current house, I was finally becoming healthy again. Yay! Then, a year ago November my “illness” returned. I felt similar to that first year in what we “affectionately” call “the mold house.” But there were no visible signs. No musty smells. We had some leaking faucets and a pretty substantial crack in our shower that seemed a potential for mold, but with no clear evidence, we passed it off as winter colds, and me pushing myself too hard in a busy life. Stresses contributed. Family loss and troubles with a couple of our kids. You know. The usual stuff. But I became more ill. A plumber finally fixed the leaks and “sealed” the crack in the shower. Never mind the now obvious water marks on the ceiling below said shower. I became sicker. I started a symptoms log. In addition to the first illness symptoms, there were others. Awful itching, blistering rashes, choking congestion, stomach pain.

I went to doctors.

One said I had rheumatoid arthritis even though I had no common symptoms and blood tests were clear. More blood tests. No clear diagnosis. A friend recommended a naturopathic doctor who ended up being a life saver. Through diet, rest and supplements I began to feel like life was returning. But not fully. I can’t seem to get past the 75-80% mark. I still need a nap each day. I’m tired, dizzy and have headaches often. I can’t exercise or be around too many people at once without exhaustion setting in. Or if I can, I end up paying the next day.

Then our son broke out in a terrible rash.

With no known cause, he had hives from head to toe and ended up having an emergency room visit one night after vomiting, fainting and shaking. He now has to use an inhaler before exercise for allergy induced bronchial spasms. Our daughter became ill with sore throats and extreme fatigue (okay so she’s a teenaged girl, but still…). Brendan and I hated to think it, but the only common thread was the dreaded mold. Next door, construction of a new apartment complex had been going on since November where they had torn down a few very old buildings. Could that have contributed as well? Now we noticed two growing water stains on our bedroom ceiling…

We finally did mold testing last week.

I guess its good and bad when you hope for the answer to be positive for something. You hope to have an answer. But you dread the answer. We have mold growing in our house. No wonder we have all struggled this year feeling terrible. We’re still waiting for the detailed test results.

After hours of research, I found information about essential oils killing mold.

Natures Mold Rx by Dr. Ed Close, explained through numerous case studies how mold had been eradicated in buildings and homes by diffusing a blend of essential oils over long periods of time. I felt hopeful for the first in a long time. Within a week, I had two diffusers going – one upstairs and one down – in an effort to bring health to our home. At first, it seemed to help. After blasting our air for eight hours, we were breathing a little better. I stopped having choking fits at night. Our kids felt better. But then I quit running the diffusers all the time. I decreased it to a few hours, a couple of times per day. This week I’ve not felt well at all. Same symptoms again.

Discouragement set in.

As of this writing, we are wondering about moving. About how to deal with our landlord. Again. About cleaning our things and finding a house free of mold. It’s a daunting and exhausting situation. One that I keep reminding myself God has an answer for.

I’ve learned so much this past year and a half of illness. I’m grateful for all the Lord has taught me, shown me, and how I’ve learned to rest in him. But I’m also ready to move on. I long to be healthy and active again. To take a walk and make dinner without feeling done in. I thought this week of my blogger friend Bill, and wondered how I could even think of complaining when he has such an amazing attitude while being in his constant state of illness. He wrote a great blog recently about purpose. I’m thankful for the challenge in my perspective. I also want to act with wisdom where I can take steps in faith to act.

I write this because it has been hugely encouraging me to read about other people’s stories. To discover I’m not crazy, nor suffering alone. And to say thanks for being with me…

Have you experienced any of the same situations?

Looking Deeper


It’s been a rough week.

Symptoms of illness have flared again, leaving me discouraged and depressed. In addition, current circumstances are less than desirable. Can I confess that as a result, I’ve been having a hard time getting excited about Christmas?

But God has a way of flipping my perspective. 

Two days ago, I sat on a massive piece of driftwood, looking out over the expanse of our beautiful bay. My friend and I talked, cried and prayed. As I gazed at the bay, I felt a whisper from God.  What if I have something deeper for you this year? Are you willing to ask? Look for it? Find it?

In the moment, I didn’t voice those thoughts, but as the past couple of days have unfolded, I’ve come back to that moment.

What does Christmas mean this year? DSC_0002

It’s never really been about the materialism. Our family focuses most on the birth of Jesus, and our gift giving is a reflection of all he’s given us. But each year I find God digging deeper in my heart to turn up a nugget of spiritual gold; a treasure beyond even the best intentions of the season.

Last year, I was struck by Emmanuel – God with Us.

Everywhere I turned; the message danced around my head and evidenced itself in numerous ways. I needed God with me, and I knew with great confidence that he was. His presence was imperative to my existence and well-being so he showed up all over my life. His assurance dogged me this year.

What does he have for me this year?

I’m asking, seeking, contemplating. I expect it will hit me with a suddenness that will produce a rush of revelation and tears. And because of this anticipation, my heart toward the coming holiday has done an about face. Today, a seemingly impossible situation that unexpectedly changed reminded me that my God can do the unbelievable in a matter of moments. And nothing will be the same.

I remembered the words of James “…you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” (4:14) In a moment, everything could change.

Waiting for that moment with anticipation this Christmas.

 

What about you? What does Christmas mean when you look deeper?

HEALING: To Be or Not to Be?


That is a good question.

Anyone who’s ever been sick thinks of getting well. And as Christians who follow a Savior known as the Healer, we pray for it, claim it andDSC_0128 stake our faith on it.

But what happens when healing doesn’t come?

Or at least, not healing as we’d like it.

It’s been almost a year since I began feeling consistently unwell. This is the second year since my husband, Brendan, and I have been married. Two yearlong illnesses in less than five years. Not quite how I envisioned our newlywed life.

I can point at all the underlying issues: mold, stress, a driven way of life; but I also still believe God holds my health as well as my life in his hands.

He can heal instantly.

I’ve experienced him healing me a few times pretty much within minutes of someone praying for me. But I’ve also struggled with illness for more than a few weeks. He has healed my emotional wounds both in the moment I realized them and asked, and in decades of slow motion. I’ve known people who have been healed from debilitating diseases like cancer, and those who have died from them. All those folks believe God is sovereign and holds their life as precious and valued.

So what gives?

Here are my current conclusions:

  1. God cares most about our relationship with him. We are spiritual beings living in a physical world—someday purposed to spend eternity with him. While he cares immensely about our illness, wounds and brokenness, he most cares how it will draw us and others closer to him, and show him to those who haven’t yet met him. Is my illness bringing me closer to the Lord? Absolutely. I have a friend who suffers from a life-long illness. He claims he is a different person as a result, and while he would love to feel well all the time, he is grateful for the way God has used his illness to change him. I’m grateful too. For both of us.
  2. God wants to heal us. And he will. Whether today, in two months or in heaven, we will all be whole and with new bodies someday. The question isn’t whether God can or will, it’s what will I do with my illness in the meantime? Continue to ask for healing, while asking what I can learn in the process. Look to the Lord for what is most important today. Thank him for whatever he is using my illness to accomplish. I must keep focused on the good, the positive, the hopeful, all the way to the grave whenever that day comes. I can easily get discouraged from day to day based on whether I feel well or not if I don’t keep my eyes and heart on Jesus.
  3. Sometimes well-meaning people don’t see the big picture. Remember Job’s friends? I have to be willing to listen to advice, but ultimately God is my leader. I have to keep asking him what he wants for me in each given day, or hour or sometimes moment. I can’t do something because I’m concerned about what other people will think.                                                                                                      Last night I planned on attending an event at our church. I wanted to be there to serve, support my family, see my children and grandchildren, and interact with my church family; but midway through the day, I knew I shouldn’t go. I prayed, hoping the little nudge I felt to stay home and rest was imagined. But the more I wrestled over it with the Lord, the more I knew the answer. I kissed my husband and children goodbye and curled up with a bowl of veggie soup, praying for the event to make people feel safe and welcomed by the Holy Spirit on a night filled with evil. I worried briefly about what others might say about my not being there. I felt a little sad to not partake of the creative way our church campus was transformed into an adventure in space. But I knew I was where God wanted me. Resting and praying.
  4. I want my time of being ill to glorify God. My faith has been so strengthened and encouraged by people who have battled or continue to battle in the face of terrible illness or heartbreak—most far worse than mine. When I see the way those people carry on, loving Jesus with abandon, trusting him with each moment of each day even in the pain and tears, I feel empowered. I feel the spirit of God. Thank you Jo, Jeff, Margaret, Ashli, Dabney, Bill, Brian, Jen, Pamela, Ariana, Sharon, and so many others. Your lives testify of God’s goodness in the midst of a broken world.

I don’t have all the answers. I haven’t been fully healed—yet. But God is good and is teaching me to be more like him. Isn’t that the point?

 
If you disagree with me, or have some of your own conclusions, I’d love to hear about them.