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International Women’s Day

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RuthIt is International Women’s Day. A friend of mine blogged a beautiful story at the encouragement other women who believe in the power of story.   She, in her reflection, celebrates the Girl She Is and The Girl She Once Was.

Sharing her story took guts, but reveals the raw beauty she was born with as God paints her face with His fingers. What she’s encouraging women to do is share their stories…and through it, we reveal the ‘otherness’ we are created for…and that gives me courage.

My story:

I was the little Chinese kid with teeth that grew out of every available space in my mouth…glasses. Hair that refused to cooperate with any amount of wrangling…I had tomboy tendencies that would shred lacy anklet socks in 10 minutes flat.

The problem was, my mom wanted me to be a princess. I wanted to be a princess, but really, when you looked at pictures of the princess, she was tall, slender, graceful, blonde and really, really, really, NOT Chinese.

The closest I could come to ‘princess’ was ‘Amazon Warrior’…and so, my princess was Wonder Woman. Her story played fast and loose with Greek and Roman mythology which frustrated me, but as she had strength and played for justice, I could live with a confused identity.

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia/CC)

(Photo courtesy Wikipedia/CC)

I had dark hair, she had dark hair. I was athletic, she could stop cars. Seriously.

Being Wonder Woman was fantasy. She had respect. She could stop the bullets fired her way. That was where the reality crashed into make-believe. I had no one’s respect. Hurtful words hit and sank deep, creating emotional scars I carry to this day. I grew up believing I was ugly and stupid because that’s all I ever heard in connection with who I was, and the disappointment I was to any and all who cared to notice me.

When I noticed myself, I hated looking in the mirror because I didn’t like what I was seeing—I WAS ugly and I believed I deserved the disdain I lived with.

Here’s the thing: I’m also created by God—created for purpose, for beauty, and in His creation, it is good…therefore I am good. I am redeemable…and redeemed.  At 16, I decided to stop obsessing about my outer appearance since I could do nothing about it, and focus on my inner appearance…because that’s what would last. I wanted to be God’s grace when I grew up.

I had seen gracious women in my life and they were towers of strength. They were gentle. They were unstoppable. They were nurturing. They were forces to reckon with if you messed with their families. They were prayer warriors.  They are the beautiful women we see described in every facet of the Bible.

They are the Esther’s of this world, the Deborah’s, the Doris’, the Mary’s and the Martha’s. They are worthy of note because they are beautiful as they reflect God’s character.   They are the women that wear purple, care for their families, run the household and are the ‘grace to do’—part of the royal priesthood.

beautifulwomen

(Photo courtesy Ronne Rock, Orphan Outreach)

Understanding that freed me from the yoke of wanting to be blonde, tall, willowy, not Chinese. I could finally celebrate who I was created to be…and on this International Women’s Day, that is the following:

  • God is who He says He is
  • God can do what He says He can do
  • I am who God says I am
  • I can do all things through Christ
  • God’s Word is alive and living in me.*

Today is about celebrating who we are created to be. Be strong. Be real. Be free, because it’s beautiful.

 

*From Believing God, by Beth Moore

Christian-Catholic coalition issues global call to prayer

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Global Call for Prayer and Fasting for Peace as Tensions Escalate Between the West, Russia, and Ukraine

As fears grow that Russia and Ukraine could ignite WWIII, a large Christian coalition is urgently mobilizing a 40 day prayer campaign for peace to begin Monday, April 28th 2014.

The world also faces unprecedented global financial crises, record-breaking natural disasters, and attacks against life, family, and religious freedom. As soon-to-be saint Pope John Paul II said about the power of prayer and fasting, “Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil,” (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae 1994).

Last September 7th, Pope Francis called the world to a prayer and fasting vigil for peace. More than a hundred thousand people gathered in St. Peter’s Square in response to Pope Francis’ appeal. He said, “I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: Violence and War are never the way to peace.”

The Pope began by praying the Rosary and at the end he invoked Mary “Queen of Peace, pray for us.” The Pope wrote to his nine million followers on Twitter, “Pray for peace.”

To help combat these alarming threats, a grassroots Coalition of Catholic and Christian organizations worldwide are mobilizing for the 40 Days of Prayer and Fasting for Peace.

Coalition chairperson Maureen Flynn says, “Many news broadcasters and religious commentators speak today about our global financial crisis, the scandals of our administration, and the global imminent threat of world war. However, few speak about our rapid spiritual and moral decline, which manifest in our families and our nations. Many people believe that America is now under God’s judgment. In addition to the concern over the state of our global economies and the violence in our world, there should be outrage and sorrow over the daily destruction of over 4,000 unborn babies in America through abortion, the euthanizing of our elderly, and the mass shootings of our youth, etc.”

We must remember, Our Lord is a God of Mercy and He responds to our repentance and prayers. As individuals, as families, and as nations we must pray and fast for a return to a moral and spiritual nation founded on God.

Learn more here: http://40daysofprayerandfasting.org/

The new Mission Network News Website

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It has been long in coming. Mission Network News, after more than a year, has a new website. It hasn’t come with out a little pain. We’re still dealing with some of it, but we’re excited about what will be able to do through it. I wanted to take some time to tell you what’s new about this website.

First, the design is totally different. 2005 was the last time we redesigned our website. This website is more appealing to the eye, but it will also allow us to provide you with breaking news easily. Also, each story gives you an opportunity to interact. You can leave comments and share each story on your favorite social media outlet. Also, in each story we can use all kinds of media to tell the story including photos, video and audio.

Another update is the Mission Network News daily and weekly email news and prayer updates. The last time this service was updated was in 2005. The backbone of the service had roots to 1997 technology. It’s amazing that it served us as long as it did without any issues. The new service will allow us to be more effective in the way we not only send our email, but how we recruit new subscribers.

The new website hasn’t come without challenges. We completely renamed everything on our website, so Google is going to take some time catching up to our file system. You can help us. If you have a Google+ account, when you post links to your page, you’ll encourage Google to re-index our website, which will help us in search engine referrals.

No website is perfect. But, we believe with you help we can make it a missions website that will motivate ordinary people like you and me to tell an extraordinary message of Jesus Christ.

 

Training workers to leap through the 4/14 Window.

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Congo-Kinshasa (MNN) — You’ve heard of the 10/40 Window, as it applies to missions, right? (If not, it refers to regions of the eastern hemisphere, plus the European and African part of the western hemisphere, located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator-places with the highest levels of socioeconomic challenge and the least access to the Gospel.)

What about the 4/14 Window? It represents the golden age of opportunity to transform the world. It’s actually describing kids from age four to fourteen years old, which is the most open and receptive age to every form of spiritual and developmental input.

Yet, this people group has often been overlooked. They are the most vulnerable to upheaval and sometimes, the least protected. Many countries experiencing social upheaval have a very young population that is being impacted by the ideologies surrounding the uncertainties in their countries. Still, with the right focus and resourcing, this enormous and largely ignored people group can become agents of change in God’s Hands.

Every Child Ministries’ Lorella Rouster shares a case in point with a pastor she spoke with in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I talked with a pastor who had received our training from years back, and that training was about how to reach children with the Gospel.”

The first step for this pastor was to raise awareness. The fact that he was working in Kinshasa pointed to an issue dealing with the value of children. “You’d think that the Church, having the Scriptures, would realize the value of children, but that isn’t always the case.”

She goes on to explain, “He ended up in Kinshasa, the capital city, and began gathering a small group of neighborhood children and started a Sunday school for those children, and those kids enjoyed what they were hearing. He began to visit their families and won many of them to Christ.”

Careful cultivation of the relationships with both the kids and their families yielded results. “Today, that effort has grown to an active church of several hundred people”, she says, adding that serves as the model for other work in other countries. “We’re finding that starting a Sunday school for children can be a very effective way to plant new churches.”

You may be wondering how kids are effective evangelists. That’s answered by this question: “Have you ever had your child participate in something he/she really likes? ” It’s singular focus and enthusiasm that drives the Gospel message into the homes of the Sunday school kids. “We’re trying to reach children one by one, but children are attached to families , so when the children come to Christ, typically, they go home and talk about the good things that they’re hearing, and how much they enjoy it.”

According to ECM the average for village Sunday schools seems to be about 80 children. This means ECM training is responsible for about 200,000 children receiving weekly Bible training in Central Africa.

The pastors who utilize the training start with friendship with the families-building relationship and trust within the communities. ECM’s goal is to empower local Bible-believing churches to reach children through any means possible. “Reaching children is a very effective way to building the kingdom of God. People can actually support a person to receive a year of intensive training and reaching children for only $350.” Rouster goes on to explain that $350 is really an investment in one person’s life, “and yet It can result in thousands coming to Christ, not only children, but whole families, and even in churches being planted.” ECM is asking for a little boost to help more trained leaders get through the Window before it closes. Resources are one part of the solution. Prayer is the other. “Pray that those who have been trained will remain true, they will remain faithful to Christ and to the Scriptures.”

Want to help support leadership development in Africa? Click here.

Website is close

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It has been nearly a year since you all helped us raise the needed money to recreate the new Mission Network News website. It has been a long time. Our web designers have spent hours converting tens of thousands of data files and creating a site we believe will allow MNN to do even more to encourage people to find God’s call on their lives.

The website will have everything we currently offer, but will be more flexible. It will allow us to post breaking news stories easily, provide better social media interaction, and will allow you to interact with stories on our website — just like you do on Facebook.

While I’d like to tell you there is a date for the launch, I can’t. We still have a lot testing and training to do. Please continue to pray that the testing and training goes smoothly. Also pray that we would be able catch things we missed (if we’ve missed things) before we go live.

Leaving with lessons: my last blog post

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Today marks my final hours as a Writer for Mission Network News. It’s going to be really odd not coming in every morning, figuring out what happened over night and gathering stories from all over the world. It’s going to be odd not getting to talk to unbelievable missionaries and inspiring speakers every day. It’s going to be odd no longer writing about God’s work around the world in a news setting. But I will take with me everywhere all I’ve learned here. Before I take it though, I wanted to share a few bits of it with you. The following is a shorter list than would ever suffice as a thorough explanation of how MNN has shaped me. But here are some of the major things I have discovered:

God is doing far more around the world than I could ever imagine. 

It’s impossible to work at MNN and not have a change of perspective. Every single story we write talks about how the Gospel is spreading worldwide, yet there are millions of stories that go untold. As I write every day about God moving in Mozambique, Iran, China, Brazil I see how small my view of God’s work is. He is not just working in my life, or my church, or my family. He’s appearing in dreams to Muslims who’ve never met a Christian. He’s booming his church in nations actively persecuting his followers. He’s working in the hearts of young children, drawing them to himself, and then using them to bring their families into his kingdom as well. He’s rescuing victims of trafficking, abuse and neglect. There are amazing stories in America to be sure, but the longer I’ve been here, the more I see there are amazing stories everywhere. God’s hand is moving in every nation, and I’ve gotten to be a part of it through writing and prayer.

Prayer is not just an item to check off the list; it IS the list. 

In every single interview I’ve done, pastors, missionaries and ministry CEO’s have asked for prayer. Prayer for lights to go on in young, dark hearts. Prayer for church movement in closed nations. Prayer for dictators to rearrange their hearts. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that “prayer is the most important thing.” I can’t say that hearing this over and over — and then hearing how God answers — has transformed my prayer life into something like Christ’s. I can say though I am at least much more likely now to get on my knees while writing a story, or more likely to remember Syrian refugees while I’m praying in the morning. I never would have thought to pray for Muslims during Ramadan if it weren’t for hearing continuously how vital that is. As Doug Hutchcraft recently told me, God says he knows our prayers before we speak them, but he doesn’t say he’ll answer them before we speak them. I guess we had better pray.

Missionaries are not unapproachable weirdos. 

To those of us not on the missions field overseas, missionaries can seem a little out there. People that voluntarily live in huts and eat local bugs? Weird. But the more I’ve talked to missionaries the more I’ve seen that they are ordinary people who have simply responded to God’s Great Commission call. What I find is that most missionaries are really easy to talk to, but often have a much deeper faith than mine. Possibly because their faith has been stretched in ways mine has yet to be. I’ve also discovered that missionaries come in every form: electricians, agriculturists, translators, teachers, grandparents, young families. The list is never ending, and there’s a need for people in every working field somewhere. You’d think God specifically planned our likes and dislikes for ministry or something…

I am often envious of the persecuted church. 

This probably sounds really strange. I don’t mean I wish I were being beaten, tortured, attacked, bombed or raided. But I have discovered many things about the persecuted church in the last four years that have made me admire those suffering for Christ more than any other believers. For one thing, an interesting phenomenon takes place worldwide: the more persecution the church faces, the more it grows. This seems to be the case about 90% of the time. As God’s people are targeted, more people seem to want to know about Christ. Take Iran, for example. It’s 5 on the World Watch List but has probably the fastest growing church in the world.

Secondly, those who have been persecuted for their faith are often strongest in their walks–even without access to Bibles or podcasts or church buildings. We have had people in the MNN office who, when asked  how we could pray for the persecution to stop, have laughed in our faces. They ask not for an end to it, but for wisdom in responding in a way that reflects the Lord, and for opportunities to share his name. It’s not that these believers enjoy persecution or want it. They just take John 15:18-25 seriously. Personally, I think if someone beat me for telling a friend what I thought about Jesus, I would be a little scared off. Believers who are not able to practice their faith in the open, who would rather face physical hardship than spiritual loss, have become the greatest examples of faith to me. I am envious of their zeal and faithfulness to the Creator.

I have a responsibility. 

To give, to pray, to do. I am not off the hook for the Great Commission just because I live in America and am not a “missionary.” If I have more than I need, I’m responsible to help fund God’s work through missionaries. I’m responsible to help those in need around me. I’m responsible to pray for those suffering as if I myself were suffering. I am not any less called to spread Christ’s name just because missions work is not my full-time occupation. As a follower of Christ, I have a responsibility to be a light–wherever I go.

Heaven is going to be filled with unbelievable people. 

Ok, I knew this before I started working here. But I’ve met some of my favorite ever Christians here. The people working at the ministries we partner with are incredible examples of dedication to Christ. I am going to miss interviewing these exceptional believers. But whenever I think about that, I stop and realize I’m going to get to spend all of eternity with Tom Doyle, Todd Nettleton, York Moore, Carl Moeller, Ron Hutchcraft, Mark Lewis, JP Sundararajan, Teresa Flores, Ruth Kramer, Greg Yoder, Sharon Felton, Lyndsey Gammage and the list goes on for pages. Praise God that I will have eternity to get to know all of these people better, to keep sharing thoughts and experiences, and to rejoice together in the work of the Lord. I would guess I’m far (relatively) from dying, but when I do leave the earth, it’s going to be a grand reunion!

 

Thank you to all who have read my stories, believed in my abilities, and responded to the call of the Lord as a result of MNN. My final plea: keep “doing” for the Lord. Let MNN be your guide in how to do that; they’re pretty good at it.

God’s comfort

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My family still wrestles with what feels like very fresh grief over my dad’s passing last September. There are moments where things hit us and we feel this ache of his absence.

We know that he has gone to be with his Heavenly Father and no longer suffers from the limitations of this mortal coil. It’s just that sometimes, we miss him. It’s at those times when something happens that reminds us of the hope that we have in Christ our Savior, of our purpose here as followers of Christ, as co-laborers in the Kingdom of Heaven.

These reminders serve as encouragement to fight the good fight, keeping our eyes on the prize. I was thinking of my dad today and decided to read some of the devotionals he used to write for the ministry to which he dedicated his remaining years, Transport for Christ. When his health could no longer allow him to serve onsite as a chaplain, he wrote encouragement to the truck drivers and the chaplains in service.

I can hear his voice in these words. There’s great comfort in his reminder. I share his words with you so that you may also take comfort in a greater plan, and in the hope that comes from trusting God is in control:

“Most of the time, when we grieve, we grieve over something that’s happened in our lives. But there are also times when we grieve over something that hasn’t happened or “what might have been.”

Unrealized expectations and dashed hopes can paralyze us with sadness. We mourn for what we could have had, could have done or could have experienced. We live in a fog as we struggle with our unmet goals and dreams.

Are you wrestling with accepting something in your life? Mourning a shattered dream? Instead of focusing on what might have been, try focusing on what is and what could still be. Revising your dreams isn’t bad. It’s realistic. And the sooner you do, the sooner the weight of grief will let go. The fog will lift. Hope will return.”

Why next week should have us on our knees

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North Korea is the eeriest kind of horror-film setting I can think of. Terrible things are happening elsewhere–thousands are dying from senseless fighting in Syria, children are forced to use machine guns in Congo, girls are pruned for prostitution in Thailand–but North Korea seems to be the only nation that has found a way to control its citizens’ minds.

I get a cold, disturbed feeling any time I write a story about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. On the best of days, the nation’s outrageous propaganda can seem humorous; on other days, the emaciated faces of starving people playing through my mind represent the worst of tragedies. I am no North Korean expert. Apart from a handful of documentaries I’ve seen and news articles I’ve written, I know little about the intricate inner-workings of North Korea. But in all of my news writing, interviews and research, I have come to the conclusion (as undoubtedly many others have) that North Korea is in its own homemade category of crazy. I don’t mean that in a funny way, I mean it in a psychotic, manic and disturbing way. North Korea is number one on the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians–it has been for ten years–but it seems to me to be leaps and bounds ahead of Afghanistan (number 2 on the list) or Saudi Arabia (number 3) in its terrifying restrictions. Christians caught with a Bible in North Korea–which claims to have freedom of religion–can not only be sentenced to prison, but their children and their children’s children can carry that same sentence. Just for owning a Bible. There are an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 believers in North Korean prisons. Those who are not in jail for their “crimes” live incredibly meager lives. Believers have said that although it’s the norm in North Korea to be starving, Christians potentially suffer the worst. They are often the last to get any sort of food aid when it’s distributed.

“Oppressive” does not begin to describe a place where children are encouraged to rat out their parents for owning a copy of the Scriptures, where every person is forced to worship the “god” Kim Jung-un, where Christians are viewed as Western spies, and where even private worship can be punishable by death without trial. It seems almost too horrifying to be true; simply unreal. And yet, we serve–and our North Korean brothers and sisters serve–the same God who kept three men alive when thrown into a furnace for refusing to bow to a false god. The same God who set an entire people free from slavery by defying natural law and parting a sea. The same God who has broken the bonds of death itself. Surely our God can rescue His people from the grasp of human leaders in North Korea.

But will He do it if we do not ask?

Open Doors is calling on all believers next week, April 23-29 to get on their knees and pray for the most oppressive nation on earth. To pray for safety of believers, for the Gospel to spread (as it IS doing!), to pray for leaders to turn to Christ and for true freedom to reign. We advocate so many giving opportunities and prayer guides at Mission Network News that it’s impossible for all of us working here to do them all. But this is one I cannot, in good conscience, miss. In an article airing on MNN on April 17, Jerry Dykstra tells us that North Korean believers have said the only thing keeping them going is knowing they have the support of other believers’ prayers. Thus our prayers will have a dual effect: both beseeching the Lord of the universe to find favor with our North Korean family members, and encouraging our brothers and sisters that they are not alone.

To join in this week-long prayer effort–purposely coincident with North Korea Freedom Week–visit http://www.opendoorsusa.org/. You can also view a 19 minute Open Doors video to learn more about Christians living underground in North Korea here.

Christmas dreaming

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I have a (perhaps unhealthy) obsession with Christmas. As I write this, I am listening to Louis Armstrong sing “Cool Yule.” I have not one but THREE Christmas stations on my Pandora radio station list, and I have been listening to Christmas music since about July–regularly since September. I taped a big snowflake to my computer screen yesterday, and contemplated taking out my red and green paper chain for decoration. I decided against it, as my desk is pretty central to the office. Don’t want to raise too many eyebrows.

My passion for the holiday season is so severe that I’ve taken a considerable amount of time to think about why I am this way over the past few years. I’ve discovered there’s just something about Christmastime. There is something pure, warm and delightful that surrounds the Christmas season that I constantly long for and can never quite describe.

The following is an email I wrote about a year ago this time to a friend who shares my deep love for the season:

I feel as though I write about this every single time I write you a letter or send you an email, but that is only because I know that you are the one person who truly understands my bizarre and pressing obsession with the wonder that is Christmas. I know I might eat my words about the weather, but right now I want nothing more than to watch the snow fall outside my window as I work and gaze into the cold night sky. I want to sit by a fire and forget that there is so much to do and so much begging for my attention. You know, I think my constant longing for Christmas has something to do with the peace and calm that it represents. There is no running around at Christmas. Ok, I know that’s not true; there are shopping and relative visiting and holiday parties to attend among other things. But on the best of Christmas nights, the house is warm, joy blankets every room, and sweet peace provides me with the invitation to just sit and soak it in. Every time I begin to get overwhelmed with life I run back to that beautiful place that is Christmas, remembering that there will again be a time that I can breathe and forget the numerous things that seem to tear life from my arms. I think what I’m really chasing after is (to borrow the old adage) the Christ that is found in Christmas.

The more I reflect on it, the more I realize the reason I burn to be near a fire with snow falling outside and family all around is indeed rooted in an innate desire for Christ, the Prince of Peace. Christmas feels like home. Christ feels like home. Christmas–to me–represents rest. Christ gives us rest. Christmas is about love. God is love. It’s all the “magic,” if you will, encompassing the birth of God into humanity. And I cannot get enough–no matter what month it is.

So indulge me. Take a minute to listen to your favorite carol, and reflect on Christ’s incarnation on the earth, when he left all that is good and pure and holy to dwell among all that is evil and tainted and sinful. Take a minute to rest in the immense promise God gave us by humbling himself on earth, not only coming here, but living to someday die for all of us. Reflect. Rest. Rejoice! You too might find we could all use a little more Christmas in our lives.

testing our sanctification

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There are some people in our lives who test our sanctification.  They hide barbs in their conversations, they open their mouths and pour out contempt on you.  Most of the time, smart people will back away from toxic relationships like this, but sometimes you can’t cut off all connections…sometimes you are related by blood.

I have one such person in my life, and every time there is interaction, I wonder what it will cost me later on…I voiced this thought to a friend of mine and she suggested I take a look at Job.

I was wondering what Job had to do with irritating people, but then Alistair Begg connected the dots for me.  He was talking about suffering and the fact that God is Sovereign–which means that He allows suffering but He is not the author of evil.

There’s an interesting distinction there:  He created the world and it was good….but sin entered and it became imperfect.   He gave us choice to love Him freely—and that’s what this whole story is about.  Do good because you love to do good, not just follow the rules.  It’s a choice to obey.  It’s a choice to disobey.  Obedience has great rewards, and disobedience carries natural consequence…but God is not the author of evil.

When we choose to love God in the midst of suffering (especially when it’s at someone else’s hands), we experience love that is more like Christ’s love–it’s richer, deeper and much more fulfilling…it fills your countenance…there are people I know who have born the consequences of someone else’s sin…and they do it wearing the sweet aroma of Christ…it makes a HUGE impact on everyone around them.  You know who I’m talking about, right?  They’re the people who are so sweet, you could never imagine them any other way.  When they share their testimony, you hear about alot of things that would break most people, shatter most families, and yet, here they are, praising God for His hand in their lives….thanking Him for the sorrow.

I’ll admit I was filled with skepticism when I first met a woman like this.  I was unwilling to believe that she was so content with all the stuff that she had experienced.  The longer I knew her, the more I wanted to reflect Christ like she did…and the more I talked with her, the more of Christ she shared with me.   Before she died, she told me ‘Nothing comes easily in this life.  But the struggle is part of the blessing.  It’s the real test of the light of Christ.  The more you succumb to bitterness, the more your heart closes off to the hope that is in Christ.’

Her words came back to me over and over again when I began walking a difficult path seven years ago.  Grace is never cheap.  Suffering gives us the opportunity to experience intimacy with Him, that transformative power of His sufficiency and His presence that can only come when we love Him and trust Him in all circumstances.

It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt.  Pain is like black paint in a Vermeer painting.  It’s dark, but it highlights the Light–these are opportunities He uses to draw us into Christ-likeness.   These people who test your sanctification?  Let them.  Let God.  Bring it!