Months have passed since the pandemic began; the loss of life, of dreams and of fellowship has taken a toll on all of us. In addition to the threat of a virus, tensions have mounted between people ensnared by a willingness to hate.
How ARE we, as servants of Christ, to respond to the uncertainties of our time?
What would He have us learn along the way?
I believe the first thing we need to recognize is that uncertainty in this world is nothing new, Jesus was born into a dark time such as our own, with truth-seekers and truth-haters in need of a Savior. As we approach the celebration of the birth of God’s Son, at the end of this most challenging year, I invite you to join me in savoring the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul:
“Now we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” II Corinthians 4:7-8, 16-18
How are we to respond to adversity in uncertain times? Paul reminds his friends (and us) of our human vulnerability in a fallen world: fragile . . .earthen . . . clay pots. Because of this, we are to rely on God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to provide the wisdom and strength we need each and every day. In such times, when we feel crushed and broken beyond repair, I have found it helpful to distance myself to from whatever has happened and then ask God to give me His eyes to see two things:
The blessing of His protection and provision–that He is with me always.
To learn (and remember!) whatever lesson He wants to teach me..
The blessing is that Paul doesn’t leave is in our vulnerable uncertainty, but encourages us to embrace the certainty of our hope in spending eternity with Christ Jesus! I especially love that Paul calls us to fix our (spiritual) eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen–God Himself
I invite you to join me in asking God to help us look at the past year through His eyes– to see how He watched over and/or provided for you and I. (For me it was this past August when I was hospitalized. It was a place I greatly feared, and yet through it I received the greatest blessing when He removed my fear and drew me to Himself.)* Also, is there a particular lesson you learned, or insight gained about God, that you want to hold onto as we prepare to enter the coming year? (For me, I will never take hugs for granted again!!!) If so, then please share how God watched over you to encourage others in the comments below!
What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? My thoughts go immediately to family, food and giving thanks to God–not just for the “stuff” in my life but for His Divine Presence.
I remember one Thanksgiving traveling to Grandma and Grandpa Hutcherson’s house from our home in the Los Angeles area. The three-and-a-half hour journey, North from LA to Bakersfield and beyond to Pixley (a small farming community where my dad grew up) was never boring. As we (Mom, Dad, my brother Norm, and I) made our way out of the busyness of the suburbs, we watched the sunrise in the east. We followed the old Highway 99 Grapevine–tmountainous yet devoid of trees (except for the occasional cluster of black oaks scattered across the dry, grassy landscape– it offered a unique beauty. As we followed 99 down to the wide expanse of the Central Valley, where oil fields and farmland commingled, our excitement grew–we were more than halfway to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!
When we finally reached Pixley we were grateful to stretch our legs as we got out of our car and exchanged hugs all around. Throughout the day, as more family arrived, there were always more hugs and lots of conversation, often spiced with gentle teasing and an abundance of laughter. Grandma Grace, a farmer’s wife and the mother of 6 children, always had things well in hand by the time everyone arrived.The fragrance of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy wafting out of her kitchen had us all salivating as we eagerly listened for the magic words, “Time to eat!“ Once everything was laid out and the call made, we filled our plates high with Grandma’s fixings and the numerous side-dishes other family brought for our Thanksgiving Feast. Reflecting back, with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and several cousins now gone, it remains a little slice of heaven in my bank of memories . . .💝💝💝
This year . . . the year of COVID–Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will be very different from years past. The warm exchange of hugs will largely be missing and the sharing of food will likely be different too. In fact this holiday season will be one of mourning the loss of loved ones and facing uncertainty. I don’t know about you, but with so much loss and the “restrictions” placed on many, the idea of any sort of traditional “celebration” seems almost impossible,
So how can we bring good (and perhaps discover blessing) during this tough, unexpected circumstance we find ourselves in? The wisdom of the Apostle Paul provides a timeless framework when it comes to living out God’s will in every season::
“Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice that when life seems out of control, God is still in control.
Pray for your concerns with the confidence that you are heard!.
Give thanks to God for watching over you, especially in the tough times.
Remember that God sees a larger picture than we do, as He works out His good and perfect will, for our good and His Glory.
How can we work this out practically? How can we bring more light (and with it hope) into this holiday season as we celebrate God’s Sovereign Goodness? Here are some thoughts to help make this years celebration, is aseason to remember:
To be more intentional in “unwrapping” God’s gift of each new day–confessing fears/sin while asking Him to help us see His blessing throughout each day.
Use whatever means available to stay connected with people–especially people you can laugh with to keep your spirits up. (I participate in three different Zoom groups each week that help me take my focus off myself as I connect with others.)
Start a special Thanksgiving Journal –covering the holiday season through Epiphany. Fill it with a log of daily praises (add to it a list of the blessings you have received or witnessed during the past year.) Also include concerns and insights gained that day through people as well as in Scripture,.
Watch for ways to help the needy. (It’s a fact that when we help others we are also encouraged.)
I still plan on decorating my home this Season–focused on the Birth of Jesus–in the hope of encouraging hurting neighbors and friends. (No schlock this year!)
This morning I found comfort in Lamentations that lend a helpful perspective on why thanksgiving to God is so very important this year:
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Yes, because of the Lord’s great love we have much to give thanks for. Please join me in giving thanks to Him for the hope that is ours in His Son.
What are some of your thoughts about celebrating the coming Season? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!
It has been over six weeks since I knew I was closer to death than I had ever been before, and yet . . . I had never felt more alive. After being hospitalized with a badly infected perforated ulcer and then having problems with my heart, I was finally released from the hospital and wrote the following to a friend:
Thank you for your prayers! They carried me through many a cliff-hanger as doctors and nurses did everything they could to save my life.. Once the surgery was done, that took the back burner as two nurses worked through two nights to restore the natural rhythm of my heart. It was tough in many, many ways. But God blessed me with His presence and peace, which many non-believers who watched the drama unfold could not deny. It took 3 days and switching around countless medications to finally get the rhythm of my heart restored.
“Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples. With Your mighty arm You redeemed Your people . . . .”
I never realized how awkward it is to write about something that you know happened, but there is no other explanation for it except to say, it was a miracle.
Miracle defined: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.*
As I write about some of the “extraordinary events” that happened after being unexpectedly hospitalized, I do so in the hope of enlarging the vision of those of you who are facing challenges you would never have chosen for yourselves. I invite all to draw your own conclusion as to whether it was God “intervening in human affairs” or if it was something else. (I would love to hear your thoughts.)
In the first of this three post series** I wrote about“sheltering in place” for months because of COVID-19, and how the thought of going to the hospital and picking up the virus terrified me. Then the night came when, finding myself in unbearable abdominal pain, I had no other choice than to face my greatest fear. As the ambulance siren wailed I found myself praying this simple prayer:
Thank you God that You love me and that I am not alone, Thank You that You have a plan and purpose for my life.. Help me Lord to see those You put on my pathwith Your eyes
as I trust You no matter what!
Such was the beginning of an adventure that would transform my faith in remarkable ways. It was that first night and into the next day that I came to understand this simple truth:
God often uses the very things we are most afraid of
to draw us closer to Himself.
In my second post I wrote how God has faithfully worked in the lives of people since the beginning of time. I pointed to the prophet Elijah, who ran away when Jezebel threatened to kill him. The passage talks about how God ministered to Elijah and how eventually Elijah“pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” when he heard God speak in “a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11-13) In that post I wrote about learning to listen for His gentle whisper when fearful, discouraged or feeling utterly alone. The night I was wheeled through the Emergency Room doors I heard that gentle whisper in my mind asking, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?”
Looking back all these weeks later, I can now see that when I responded to God’s question (at first tentatively and then fully) with, “Yes Lord, I will trust in You!” –it was then that the Holy Spirit stepped in. During the entire time He helped me take my eyes off myself/my fears and to choose to trust in God’s sovereign goodness.
Only now, as I reflect back on the night of my surgery, can I better appreciate what happened. Scheduled for exploratory surgery at five that evening I was remarkably at ease. In fact, as I was wheeled into the surgical room I suddenly remembered having seen the same setting of lights, people and a surgical table waiting when I had my tonsils removed when I was about six years old. For me, it was a pleasant memory as I remembered seeing stars after they put the mask over my face. That is my last memory until I was taken back to my room three hours later. I was told the surgery was a success, but I paid little attention to it as I watched two nurses diligently work through the night trying to get my heart rate under control. As they worked together the lights were low, and it felt like being in a cathedral. Surrounded by a scattering of vaulted light and soft, shimmering colors, the nurses ran lines of various combinations of medications to finally stabilize me. I watched and prayed but experienced no fear and no pain. Finally the male nurse (Shawn) spoke to me: “Mrs. Siler, your hair is shining!” Moments later he exclaimed, “Mrs. Siler, your skin is beautiful!” and then asked, “Mrs Siler, what are you doing?” All I could think to say was, “I’m cheering you on!”
It wasn’t until weeks later that I thought about Shawn’s question: What WAS I doing?!! I thought about how they couldn’t understand how I was able to stay with them as I teetered on the edge of life and death!
Humanly speaking I should have been exhausted. I’d had major surgery to address a life threatening issue just hours before. (Imagine my surprise when, days later, I saw the seven inch incision down my middle being held together by fourteen staples!).
Yet I was clear-headed, not a bit fearful and felt no pain. (My only concern for the nurses.)
In fact, I felt exhilarated to the point where I cannot remember ever feeling more alive!
The only reasonable answer was the working of the Holy Spirit in me. It was indeed, “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs” .
So what can we learn from this?
God often uses the very things we are most afraid of to draw us closer to Himself.
To enjoy our God-given life to the fullest requires that we be fully invested in Him–not our fears or the things of this world.
But how can we avoid giving way to our fears/emotions and the stress that is so much a part of this world? The Apostle Paul put it well: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:18) To fight the onslaught of emotions that can so easily overtake us, I have found it most helpful to simply bring Christ into the center of my thinking:
Thank you, God, for loving me and for sending your Son to save me for Yourself. Thank You that You have a plan and purpose for my life. Help me Lord to live for, love and serve You with a glad heart.
The words of Jesus that flew like a banner in my mind when I first entered the hospital, continue to be true for all who choose to trust in Him:
“I have come that they (YOU!) may have life,
and have it to the full.”
All to His Glory!
*Merriam-Webster Dictionary **To access the first and second posts of this series press here >>Not Afraid<< for the first post and here >> The Fullness Of Life << for the second.
Inspiring words posted by a friend about to lose her hair due to cancer treatment:
“The stars are beautiful this morning, Venus in the eastern sky like a diamond. The moon in the southwestern sky. Every star has a name given by the Lord. Billions just like us, the sparrows, the hairs on my head, all the good and bad cells in our bodies, He knows it all. And with His great love, mercy, grace and justice, new every morning.”
As I write to you, I do so to share my story about the largeness of God and how He can use what we most fear to draw us closer to Himself. We see it happen again and again in Scripture as we read about how He worked in the lives of people determined to trust Him since the beginning of time:*
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13
This picture of how God ministered to Elijah, after Jezebel threatened to kill him, is one of my favorites. Full of fear, discouraged and feeling abandoned, Elijah wanted to die. But God still had plans for him. In the passage God was not in the wind; nor was He in the earthquake or fire. Instead, Elijah recognized God’s voice in, “a gentle whisper.” I love it because I have learned to listen for His whisper when fearful, discouraged or I am feeling utterly alone: “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?” Perhaps you have heard Him too?
In my last post I told you about how I had “sheltered in place” for months because of COVID-19. During that time, the thought of having to go to the hospital terrified me most of all. Twice I experienced bouts of extended heart palpitations (when I normally would have gone to the hospital) but did not go because I so feared picking up the virus.
That changed on the night of August 4, when I was overcome by abdominal pain that was so severe that I could not walk. I screamed for my husband to call an ambulance. As the crew bundled me into the back of the ambulance my husband was told not to follow because he would not be allowed to enter the hospital. It was then that I embarked on an adventure not of my choosing. As I rode to the hospital I prayed a prayer I have prayed many times to quell my fears and put my focus on Him:
Thank you God that you love me, thank You that You have a plan and purpose for my life.. Help me Lord to see those You put on my pathwith Your eyes
as I trust You no matter what.**
As I was transferred into the hospital Emergency Room my fears were left behind me as the words of Jesus pulsed through my mind:
“I have come that they (you!) may have life,
and have it to the full.”
Suddenly the words ‘life” and “full” took on new meaning for me:.
To enjoy our God-given life to the fullest extent
requires that we be fully invested in Him.
As I contemplated my circumstances– separated from the shelter of my home, family and friends– I none-the-less felt energized, even as I was poked, prodded and questioned. I did my best to answer their questions but I honestly don’t remember much about any of it except that the pain subsided even as doctors determined the danger was very real. They decided I had a perforated ulcer that might be infected but they needed to run more tests. I was admitted as a patient under observation and finally put into bed at 4 A.M.
Sound asleep and assuming I was in a private room because of my age and vulnerability (I am over 70 and have heart and lung issues) I awoke to the booming voice of a young man trying to translate the hospital menu into Spanish for the roommate I didn’t know I had! There were other sounds I could hear but because of the heavy draperies that separated our beds I could not tell how many people were actually there or what was happening. I would love to tell you that I took it in stride but I didn’t. It was in that moment that fear gripped my heart in a big way.
After calling for the nurse, a young woman came to my bedside. In a shaky voice I expressed my concerns about being in the category of “most vulnerable” (I’d heard it on the news for months) and for that reason I had expected to be in a private room, The nurse was patient but unsympathetic, telling me that there were no private rooms available. She added that patients with COVID were no where near where I was. Suddenly I saw the tired eyes of a nurse who had had the same conversation many times before. Feeling very convicted at giving way to fear, I heard that gentle voice whisper, “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?”
In that moment something changed in me. After battling health concerns for months, I had longed to connect with God as I once did. Instead, I felt increasingly distant from Him. Even my love of reading Scripture had wained, as I looked around for other distractions. Watching television programs I had recorded and doing paint-by-number projects had become my two favorite distractions.
It was then that I knew God’s answer to my longing for more of Him,
was to place me exactly where I was,
away from all the distractions.
With that realization I gladly replied, “Yes, Lord, I will trust You in this!”
Are you in a place not of your choosing? Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed by problems with your health; or are stressed over finances and/or family responsibilities. Maybe you have so distanced yourself from the world out of fear, that you have also lost connection with God as I did?
Then if you claim Christ and desire to enjoy the fullness of life God intends for you, I encourage you to pray in the quiet confidence of His Sovereign Goodness:
Thank You God that You love me;
thank You that You have a plan and purpose for my life.
Help me Lord to see those You put on my path
with Your eyes, as I trust You no matter what.**
In my next post I will finish my story about how:
God worked miracles large and small that would change me forever.
He opened up my eyes to appreciate healthcare professionals even more than I had.
My confidence in God’s Sovereign Goodness continues to draw me ever closer to Him.
All to His Glory!
*Read Hebrews 11 and the beginning of chapter 12 for inspiration.
**I have found that developing a praise response to God when trouble comes, is helpful to battling depression.and anxiety. Keeping a praise journal (I recommend logging three things you’re thankful to God each day) helps breakup the negative perceptions so common with depression.
“My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me.”
I do not think of myself as a fearful person. I have followed Christ for more than forty years, faced many a trial, and time and again He has proved Himself faithful. For twenty-five of those years, I have sought to strengthen every Client I have counseled, by helping them gain confidence in going to the Scriptures for the wisdom and perspective they need.
Yet, I must confess that giving way to fear is the area in my life where I remain most vulnerable. Indeed, there are times when my heart falters and fear makes me tremble as my mind follows the ever winding downward path of, the“What if’s?” I have prayed about it, confessing my weaknesses while fearing that I would fail to be faithful when/if truly tough times came. My one comfort that has provided hope for me at the prospect of facing hard times is the counsel Jesus gave His disciples before His arrest:
“Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial,
do not worry beforehand about what to say.
Just say whatever is given you at the time,
for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Mark 13:11
Being mindful of how the Holy Spirit watched over and protected the early church, how he has radically changed lives through the centuries (including my own) I knew that relying on God’s Spirit was my only hope.
Then hard times came in the form of COVID-19. After months of “sheltering in place” and facing my own vulnerability–I’m over 70 years of age with heart and lung issues–I found myself mentally in an ever deepening hole of fear despite my determination to face my fears. During that time I had two extended episodes of heart palpitations that I normally would have gone to the hospital for, but did not. Why? Because the thought of going to the hospital and picking up the virus terrified me most of all.
During that time, as fear continued to rule my heart, I struggled with guilt. I prayed, confessing my fears and asking Him to somehow help me to have victory over them. His answer to my prayer began on the evening of August 4 when I learned that:
God often uses the very things we are most afraid of
to draw us closer to Himself.
The day had been crazy after a tornado hit our town-an extremely rare occurance. Our son and daughter-in-law were spending the night with us because their electric was off and they had a lot of debris from the tornado blocking their driveway. I hadn’t felt well that day, but that was no different from most days. We shared a celebration dinner that no one was seriously hurt or killed in our area. I remember thinking as I sipped a glass of wine that maybe it would help settle my stomach that had been touchy all day. Nothing could have been further from the truth . . . .
At about ten that evening I started feeling sick, and as the pain in my abdominal area increased, I knew I was in trouble. I screamed for my husband to call an ambulance and suddenly all my fears of going to the hospital vanished as I began to pray:
“Thank you, Lord, that you love me and that You are worthy of my trust. Thank you for sending your Son to free me from my sins
and that my days are in Your most capable hands.
Help me Lord to not give way to fear
but to see those trying to help me with Your eyes.”
It was a prayer that I had come to say in my battle against fear. That night, and in the days that followed, it took over my perceptions as God’s Spirit worked double duty in my heart.
As the ambulance neared the hospital the words of Jesus waved like a banner across my mind:
“I have come that they (you!) may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b
As I entered the Emergency Room that night I realized that whatever happened was part of the “fullness” God had planned for me all along. It was in that moment that hope and a quiet confidence in knowing that whatever happened would be according to God’s good, pleasing and perfect will . . .❤️*
I will write more about God’s faithfulness in my next post. For now, I ask you this one question: In this season of uncertainty, do you find yourself giving way to fear as I did?
There is nothing wrong with being afraid in uncertain times. However, there is definitely something wrong when, as Christ-followers, we allow our faith to be overrun by fear. Reflecting now on how God took over, providing the courage I could never have mustered in and of myself, I am grateful for this truth:
God often uses the very things we are most afraid of
to draw us closer to Himself.
Whatever you are facing, God is bigger than your fears and is worthy of your trust. I urge you to give thanks with me to a God who is faithful as we trust in His faithfulness:
“My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26
Until it happened, few of us could imagine the vast machinery of civilization being shut down. With streets and airports mostly empty and the future uncertain, we locked our doors and limited our exposure to others as an invisible foe caused us to face our own mortality. In the decades to come the question frequently asked will be, “Where were you when the pandemic hit?” and, “What did God teach you?“
I had just completed a series of spinal injections and physical therapy to relieve debilitating pain in my lower back and left leg. Our oldest grandson was home visiting, so we were vacationing for a week at a place rented months before as a family get-away. Three days into our seven day vacation we were told not to drive across the causeway to the mainland because we would not be allowed to return, When we returned home, all my medical appointments had been canceled we were told to stay home due to COVID-19 . . . the shutdown had begun.
Here is some of what I have learned thus far:
Every day is a gift from God-not a right.
Humanly speaking, it is easy to give way to fear. But God is faithful to help us switch spiritual gears when we confess our fears in faith.
The best way to replace fear with faith is to give thanks to God for His Sovereign Goodness.*
While looking for wisdom in Scripture I found hope in the sufferings of Job:
“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; He does great things beyond our understanding. He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that everyone He has made may know His work, He stops all people from their labor.” Job 37:5-7
Quite frankly, I almost choked as the last seventeen words reminded me that God does what He will to draw us closer to Himself and is still in control!
The person who spoke those words was a young man named Elihu– the only one of Job’s friends to urge him to trust God in his suffering.
While reflecting on God’s possible purposes in the “storm” we find ourselves in today, I found the insight of commentator Mike Mason helpful:
“Is not the whole book of Job about men who have been stopped from their work? It is about an enormous work stoppage, an enormous inconvenience that has fallen out of the sky and forced five busy people to drop everything they were doing and to turn for a while to a more important task.” *
And that more important task?
To look at whatever we face with eyes of faith,
as we embrace each day as a gift from God.
The following passages provide further food for thought as we make our way through the pandemic::
“Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'”
As with the whole of Scripture, the Apostle Paul spoke truth in love in his opening remarks to the church in Rome:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven
against all the godlessness and wickedness of men
who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities,
His eternal power and divine nature,
have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship,
so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20
Paul offered those living in uncertain times in his day these words of encouragement in Christ:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
since as members of one body you were called to peace.
And be thankful.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly
as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom
through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed,
do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:15-17
God continues to encourage those who are in Christ through His Spirit and His Word. Know and trust that as you continue to give thanks for each new day, He will continue to carry you through any storm you face.
All to His Glory!
*Thanking Him for His love and mercy . . . that we are never alone . . . that His ultimate goal is blessing.
**Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job: An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One Who Lost Everything, January, 1994, p. 379.