What's the key that many believers have discovered that keeps their hearts soft, receptive and open even as horrible tragedy strikes their lives? I don't know all the answers but I definitely have seen a common theme in the lives of many of my spiritual mentors. That theme is a life that has practiced thankfulness.
I worked in a refugee camp along the Thai/Cambodian border in 1984. The very last scene of the movie "The Killing Fields" was filmed in the camp during my time there. Bamboo huts, open sewage, dirt floors along with a bland and insufficient diet marked the daily life of these refugees. Many single women slept in pits under their huts to hide from the drunken Thai soldiers who patrolled the camp at night. Crime and corruption were rampant. Many refugees waited for years in such conditions as they waited in hope of being accepted to a new country.
Yet,in the midst of this dark place, the church grew at an incredible rate. Despite the persecution and ridicule that new converts faced from their Buddhist community, they eagerly shared the good news. The darkness was a perfect backdrop for the light of Jesus that shone in these new believer's lives. Even when their bellies were rumbling, they rejoiced in Christ and found joy in the smallest things; their bright smiles radiated the love of God.
I was privileged to become friends with a young man who acted as my translator and my assistant. Duan had accepted the Lord about a year before I arrived in the camp. His love for Christ was infectious and his ready laugh often filled our little office. Every day he would come into work and share with me the wonderful things God was doing in his life. He'd rejoice over an extra half an egg for dinner, he'd give thanks as he pointed to a new patch on his worn jeans, expertly repaired by an older sister in Christ. "Look Katherine, you can hardly notice it is there!" I walked alongside him as he healed from a broken heart when a girl didn't return didn't return his affection. As he grieved, his joy remained. Over the months we worked together, he shared with me some of the horrors he had faced under the cruel reign of the Khmer Rouge and while I could see the pain in his eyes as he spoke of his grievous loss of family, home and country, he spoke from a heart of gratitude that the Lord had spared his life.
Many of his neighbours came to know Christ, drawn in by to Duan's positive heart. His hut literally shone with the light of Jesus and most of that light was contained in his smile. What was his secret? I pondered this question years later when I was in a dark time in my own life and I believe God gave me some insight.
Duan, and many of his fellow Christians in the camp, learned the discipline of being thankful. They were thankful the Lord had set them free from sin. They were thankful that the Lord had delivered them from his enemies and they were thankful that they woke up in the morning with rice in their bowls. In the midst of their pain and grieving, they rejoiced. I learned much from my brothers and sisters in Christ within that camp and I look forward to the day in heaven when I can thank them for the heart lessons they taught me.
Although Thanksgiving passed us a few months ago, I invite you to join me as I pledge to live a life of thanks. Thanks-Living, I suppose you can call it. A Thanks-living lifestyle searches for and finds the many blessings in life on a daily basis. If Duan and the millions of persecuted Christians around the world can have that thanks-living deep in their spirits, then we as Western Christians have absolutely no excuse not to give thanks in ALL things.
Think of 'thanks-living' as an acquired skill, learned through practice, determined thought and repetition. You might falter and want to give up. But press in. Soon, it will be natural for you to see God's blessings in the midst of the darkest circumstances. With enough practice, it won't seem foreign or strained, it'll become as breathing.
As children, we are taught to brush our teeth every day in order to protect our teeth from decay and disease. If you learn the art of daily thanks-living, you'll be guarding your heart against hardness; without thanks-living, you open yourself to spiritual decay.
I Thessalonians 5:18
In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Until next week,
© 2004, 2011 Katherine Walden
Frozen Yet Fragrant
The Christmas meal that had been planned for our church family last year was cancelled. The heavy snow and underlying ice made travel treacherous. So we had our get-together this week instead – complete with Christmas gifts!
On the way back home, as I walked to the car, I spotted some straggly looking plants in the border of the restaurant. In the half-light I could see that they were lavender bushes. Out of a gardener’s habit, rather than hope, I brushed my hands over the somewhat dried foliage and flower stalks. The pungent, unmistakeable fragrance of lavendar rose in the night air and clung to the palm of my hand! It was unbelievable. After almost a month of sitting under 2-3 feet of snow, the flower stalks still stood tall. Though they had been frozen rigid for so long, once rubbed, the little dried lavender flowers were exuding their scent.
How do I react when circumstances leave me cold? Do I simply wither inside when things are not going well for me? Do I turn into myself and give nothing to others?
I believe that God wants us to be like that lavender.
* We can, with his help, rest in him even when the burden that is weighing on us lingers longer than we would like.BR> * We can stand up tall again, and not give in, even when we have been knocked flat. We can be, as JB Philips put it, "…knocked down but not knocked out" (2 Corinthians 4:9)!
* And we can also exude the fragrance of Christ, especially when someone of something bumps against us, "rubs us up the wrong way", bruises and wounds us.
I want to live daily in Christ’s presence, growing more like him, absorbing the atmosphere of heaven. Then, when pressures and troubles come, when I am suffering, something of the beauty and fragrance of Christ will be released to those around me.
© 2011 Lin Pearson
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Though The Journey May Be Hard, He Never Forsakes Us
I had been visiting my son in southern Ohio, and decided to go home via Greyhound. The price was right and the connections good. My home is in Salmo, British Columbia. I made the reservations, and paid for the ticket. As I looked over the itinerary, I noticed that I would arrive in Cranbrook BC about midnight, and would have a layover of 4 - 5 hours before I could catch the next bus for home. I had traveled this route before and knew that the station in Cranbrook was small and would not be open for anyone to get inside out of the cold. My trip was early in October, and I had spent over a month in Ohio, so had not prepared for the cold return trip. No winter clothing. I also knew there were no other stores or places of business that were open during this time.
Since I already had purchased my ticket, I had no other choices. I asked God to be with me, and protect me during this four day trip, especially when I reached Cranbrook in the middle of the night with no place to get in out of the cold.
I purchased a sweat suit, hoping for fairly good weather, and trusted God to watch over me. The first part of the trip was hectic. The buses were full, we had to transfer out own luggage each time we changed busses, which was four times before we headed north. By the time we reached Wichita Kansas, I was tired and wishing I had either hitch-hiked or walked home.
When I got on the bus heading for Winnipeg, it was not crowded at all. Plenty of room, plus the bus stops were clean, and uncrowded. What a refreshing change. As we neared the border, one of the passengers said he had always had a hard time getting through the border. They always gave him a hard time, and kept him waiting for long periods of time. Once again, I asked God to give us safe and quick passage through the border. I was really getting stressed and still had two days to go before I got home. In the back of my mind was that long layover in Creston in the middle of the night.
When we arrived at the border the immigration officials came on board, collected the papers we had filled out, and took them inside. Shortly thereafter they waved us through the border, where we took a short rest stop. As we walked to the waiting room - back in Canada - the young man who had problems commented that he had never had such a quick trip through the border. I told him I had asked God to get us through quickly and safely. He agreed that it had worked.
At Winnipeg, we changed busses again and set off again. When we got into Calgary it was getting dark and starting to snow. Just what I needed as my next stop was Cranbrook. The Calgary depot is large with a dining room, washrooms, warm and so inviting, I hated the thoughts of leaving. As I went to board the bus, the driver took my ticket, looked it over and commented, "You do not want to get on this bus! Take this ticket to the counter and they will exchange it for one where you wait here for four hours, and the bus you catch will take you to Salmo, you do not need to sit in Cranbrook in the middle of the night for four hours."
I could hardly believe my ears. God had certainly watched over me. I caught the next bus for home and slept right through Cranbrook. Praise God who hears our prayer.
©2011 Patti Yampolsky
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Isn’t peace what we Christians strive for? When things are going well, we are at peace, aren’t we? How do we learn to keep that peace when adversity comes along? At the age of fifty-three, I have learned a great deal about keeping the peace Christ died to give each of us. I hope and pray my story will encourage you.
I grew up in a dysfunctional family, with a screaming mother and an alcoholic father. I am; however, thankful to my mother for bringing me to church, as that is where I learned that God, my Heavenly Father, loved ME! HE LOVED ME! I couldn’t believe that the Creator of the Universe loved me. That is how I got through my life, knowing that God loved me, and he would never abandon me. I had a heavenly Father, even though I didn’t have earthly parents who were able to give me the love and direction I desperately needed. My self-esteem came by knowing that God loved me then, and that he still loves me now, and will forever. You too, can have the self-esteem that comes from knowing God loves you. He loves you as if you were the only person on earth. He would have sent his precious Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for just you. It is unfathomable for us mere human beings to comprehend.
I walked closely with God my entire life. Church every Sunday, released education every Wednesday after school, and the Spirit of God, were my hope and my salvation to carry on. How I loved hearing about God, Jesus, and the Angels. How I loved hearing that my true home was heaven. All of this knowledge made me who I am today. It kept me out of trouble and gave me hope for a better life someday. Truth comforted me as I cried and considered suicide through my childhood and my teenage years. God was there to comfort me and let me know I wasn’t alone.
When I was eighteen, God sent Nicholas into my life. He was only a year older than I was; yet, he had the maturity of a twenty-five year old man. At eighteen, twenty-five oozed of wisdom and cultivation! Nicholas was such a handsome, tall, and broad shouldered gentleman, that most women would have been proud to be by his side.
At nineteen, Nicholas asked me to marry him. I said “Yes!” without hesitation. God began blessing me with a man who would try to heal the pain I had to endure growing up. Nicholas would bring me a wrapped gift every Friday after work. He opened and closed the car door for me which was something I had never had done for me before. He even drove my car to fill it with gas, so I wouldn’t have to do it! We both had very well paying jobs and we enjoyed our work, and having each other to come home to every night was a blessing. I thanked God every night for the gift of Nicholas. I wasn’t used to being treated with such kindness and affection. Instead, I was used to hiding under the piece of plywood my dad made me which served as my desk. It was in the corner of my bedroom, where I would curl up and hide under when my parents were fighting. I could hear them through a hole where an old stove pipe used to be. I would look down the hole from time to time and have to run downstairs to break up physical fights when necessary.
God blessed Nicholas and I with four children; two boys, and two girls. I was in seventh heaven with my babies and husband. I loved and cherished them intensely. There were challenges in raising four children, as can only be expected, but we met and conquered them all, with God’s help.
When our youngest daughter, Gracie, was eight months old, Nicholas was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was hell. Pure hell. I thought I had a strong faith that absolutely nothing could touch. I was wrong. My faith was tested, and I questioned the God I had known all my life. I searched new age religion for about a year, and Jesus himself appeared to me in spirit and in truth. I knew it was Jesus telling me that He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It took years before I could sit in a church building without breaking down crying and grieving, but with time and God’s grace, I began to heal, and I am finally at peace.
Three of my children are grown and are on their own. My youngest daughter is seventeen and will be leaving in another year to live her life with God as her guide. I pray for my children daily and “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4
Note: The author has moved from her home town where she lived with her late husband. She is a prayer ministry leader at her church and she is very much at peace with God, her family, and her life.
©2011 Serena Soulia
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The River of Adversity
There was a river of pain, the River of Adversity where the little girl was born. She was very familiar with this river. The river had never disappeared away. This river always existed as long as she remembered it. The river was scary and strong. It wasn't like any other rivers, it was the River of Adverstiy. This word was difficult for the little girl to understand it completely but she knew that something was wrong with it because she felt different whenever she passed near by it or when she wondered around the river.
As she grew older, she was more curious about the river and she even put her feet in it from time to time. First she tried a little bit, not much deep in the river. The bitterness of the water hurt her feet so much. The river wasn't that far away from her home. That's why it was hard for her sometimes to stay away from its bitterness. She knew she needed to be carefull with it because she had heard that there were some other people before who fell in the same river and they never came back.
As the little girl grew up more and she became a young lady, she came across with this river more often in her life. Actually she was a very blessed girl since she had a special Person in her life who was guiding her from the Very Beginning; even when she didn't know about this Person.
One day she had to go to another village but it was impossible to cross the way without being get wet by the splashes from the river. Ahh...the splashes burnt her legs and she was crying in pain and she decided to move to another city where there was no River of pain like this! Yes, that would be the solution for her and also for other people maybe? Certainly she would find a place where no River of pain and sorrow was flowing.
She didn't have any strength anymoe to face this River one more day. When she was all ready to leave, she heard the Voice of the Special Person,in her deep being. The Voice was coming from her Heavenly Father... He met her for a short moment at her house gate but it felt like a very long sweet appointment.
After He was finished with His Words she was convinced to stay...She wasn't going to run away from the River anymore. When the Heavenly Father speaks, He speaks firm,convincing and lovely. You know you are safe when He speaks. The girl was happy to know that she was safe and she was going to keep her Father's words even when she would become an old woman. And she did: She did keep those precious Words from the Father, even after many years. It was those words that changed her attitude towards the life with the River of Adversity.
Her Father had said to her that day... :"My dear Child... Running away from the Pain is never the solution, it never helps you to overcome it. In every city and village, you will run into the same River. You cannot run away from it but you can face it. My Child...overcoming the pain means to continue living in spite of the pain. Going through pain is not meaningless: Trust Me that it is meaningful, trust Me that it is meaningful even when the Meaning is hidden in Me. Don't be afraid of such deadly rivers in your life; don't be afraid of tears in your life. You are strong enough in Me if the splash from that river comes onto your feet but your feet won't be affected as long as you walk with Me. I will bless your feet. Pain is a life calling sometimes but your attitude should not be to run away from it but staying with Me during it. Pain is not for your damage but it is for your growth My Child. That River will be flowing here and there as long as you live but I will be here as well during your lifetime. Don't forget that it is Me, your Heavenly Father who is sailing your Boat."
His Face was shining on her tears. The young girl said to Him:" I love You and your Word, Father..." Father said:" Good child, continue loving My Word and loving Him means obeying Him, too." The girl knew this was real and she wasn't just dreaming. He said:" Tell other people too if they see you that you are not afraid of the River of Pain. Tell them that it is Me, the Father who is sailing your Boat on the river. You will overcome the River because first I have overcome it for you."
©2011 Aylin Kurul
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