The Roller Coaster Ride

roller coaster

I have never enjoyed amusement parks and if I had to take my children or go with friends I definitely avoided the roller coaster rides. I like a ride called the Spider. It was nice and slow with only a few lifts and dips. That’s how I enjoy life, too. Just a few lifts and dips…nothing extreme. But that’s not reality, is it?

Over the last few months we have been navigating a path we have never been on before.  Once again we are in a place where we are facing challenges that make our stomachs sink with each twist and turn.  It’s an emotional roller coaster ride. One day there is good news and the ride takes an upward turn. The next day there is a curve we didn’t see coming and we travel down at lightning speed.

How do you and I hold on and know that the ride will eventually come to a conclusion? Trust. Those of us who get on those rides at amusement parks trust the one conducting the ride. You never speak to them, ask how long they have been operating the ride, or challenge their capabilities to start, execute and stop the ride at just the right time. When life starts to become a roller coaster ride I start to ask the Conductor a lot of questions. Do you know what You are doing? Why are You making the ride take this turn? Are You really in control? Will I survive?

As we go along the roller coaster ride of life we must trust that God is in control and sees the beginning from the end. He not only sovereignly allows us to get on the ride but He rides with us and stays close to calm our fears and reassures us of His presence. He knows what is ahead even if we aren’t expecting it. He knows how long it will take until the ride comes to an end.

Do you trust Him today in the midst of the twists and turns? When things seem to speed up and feel out of control do you trust Him? When your heart and stomach cry out for the ride to stop do you trust Him?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Psalm 20:7

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14

Blessings,

Kathy

Kathy Withers is on staff at America’s Keswick and serves as Director of Partner Care. Kathy has been married to her husband Dave for 30 years. They have two adult children. Kathy is active in her local Church and teaches a Bible Study for women. Her passion is to encourage women to deepen their walk with Jesus Christ by finding and living out the truths of God’s Word.

Satisfied and Fulfilled

Stressed woman driver

Sometimes, when you are feeling the need to reach out to someone or something to feel better, you actually just need to sit and let God take care of it. That’s what happened to me on the way home from church recently. I was feeling a bit upset and anxious, but I wasn’t sure why. I thought it might be helpful to call a friend and pontificate about what I self-diagnosed the problem to be. Well, as God’s will would have it, no one I called was home. So instead I found myself driving quietly and just thinking. And in this profound wordless conversation I had with myself, I realized that I didn’t need someone or something else to make me feel better. I needed God. You see, I’ve been a Christian for quite some time now. However, due to my own issues and misperceptions, I haven’t let God be my everything.

David writes in Psalm 63, Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water… Because your love is better than life my lips will glorify you. God can satiate your life and spirit if you let Him. I had not let God do this. I love the Lord very much. But there is a part of me that still won’t let God all the way in. He wants to completely transform my life. And although He’s done so much already, my flesh won’t let me be satisfied with just God and God alone. I keep searching the earth for this additional external entity that is going to quench my thirst, but to no avail it is ever found. I continuously seek out something to add to God, but to my despair I continue looking. That’s because there is nothing else. It is God and God alone that can fulfill me. And by fulfill, I’m not referring to this concept of acquiring possessions and worldly success. No, by “fulfill me” I mean that the Lord leaves me feeling complete at all times. When my circumstances are promising, I feel fulfilled. When my circumstances are grim, I still feel fulfilled.

In John, Jesus refers to Himself as the vine and we are its branches. …apart from me you can do nothing. This is so true! How many of you own a houseplant? How does it live? You water it, prune it, and place it near sunlight. It doesn’t have to do anything but be the houseplant. Well, God does the same for us. Except we like to move around. How would you like it if your houseplant could move on its own? It would make taking care of the plant pretty difficult, right? Or what if your plant could talk back and complain about the water being too hot or too cold. Well, that’s what I realize I do to God. He wants to take care of me, but I fight Him every step of the way. I just need to be that little grape branch chillin’ on the vine and not worry about anything. I don’t have to search for the rain or the sun. Because as long as I am attached to the vine, I am always taken care of, my rain and sun will come. The vine is a constant source for fulfilling all my needs. Without the vine I bear no fruit — I am unproductive.

So I have decided that I need time for solitude, time for just God and me to get to know one another personally. People can’t always be there for me. And the more I try to have all my emotional needs met by them, the more I realize that people fail. And that would be a very sad realization if I didn’t also know the truth about my Lord, in that He never fails me, forgets me, or forsakes me. Do you know this truth too?

Diera Shaw-Mendez is thrilled to be part of the team Barbara’s Place, and also serves as worship leader and youth leader at New Beginnings Worship Center, Pennsauken, NJ. She is wife to Chaplain Juan Mendez and mama to Olivia Joy and Sage. She enjoys graphic design, event planning, and cooking. Diera is a God-fearing, Starbucks loving, tech junkie (…in that order!) who simply wants to remind women of God’s unchanging, healing love.

Vantage Point

Empty wood table top with blur sunlight in window building

 

A few months ago, a friend stopped by my home to drop something off. As per usual, we started talking, which invariably led to us meandering from one spot to another as we chatted. After a few moments of this, she began to observe the various photos hanging from the walls. One in particular captured her attention because it represented my entire family, some of whom she had yet to meet. (I don’t have a very large immediate family.)

As we stood there looking upon it, I attempted to draw her attention to a detail that was a source of minor irritation for me every time I happened to look in its direction.

You see, the portrait is framed and then encased in glass. From where it hangs on the wall, it’s almost directly opposite a window, where sunlight streams throughout much of the day, creating a glare which prevents me from looking at the photo and clearly seeing everyone’s faces.

Over and over I pointed this detail out to my friend.  Over and over she looked at the framed photo and said, “I can see everyone just fine.”

Thinking she surely wasn’t seeing correctly, I stepped closer-which placed me directly behind her-and I pointed directly at the blind spot in the glass.

Again she said, “I can see everyone just fine, Steph.”

I just looked at her incredulous, like, really? You can’t see that big glare spot?

Then, the reason she could not see it hit me square in my head. Sort of like a “V8 moment.” So much so that I started cracking up with laughter.

She looked up at me and asked, “What’s so funny?”

Instead of answering her directly, I stooped my 5’10” frame down bit by bit until my vantage point was consistent with all of her 5 foot 4 inches.

Yep!

You guessed it. No glare.

After we stopped laughing about the silliness of it all, I was instantly struck by how this same scene plays itself out in other areas of life, specifically as it relates to simple everyday disagreements, arguments, conflicts, etc.  Y’all know what I’m talking about. You’re in a simple conversation with someone you “really care about” and the next thing you know, voices are raised and unkind words are being spoken about some truly benign thing like the right direction one should drive to arrive at a certain destination in the “right” amount of time. Blah. Blah. Blah. The list is endless and I’m sure we can all easily visualize the multiple ways these exchanges take place. I know I can and I honestly wish I could undo the majority of them.

All too often a personal perspective becomes “the right way”, “the best way”, “the most important” or “the better way.” You get the point. We major on minors, forgetting the most important thing; the MAIN THING is love, love, love!

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.  2 Peter 1:5-9

Stephanie Paul

Stephanie served on staff at America’s Keswick as Women of Character Director. She is married to Sesky; together they have 2 adult children.

 

 

 

Today I Wore My Glasses

First Day of School

Today I got out of bed and decided to wear my eyeglasses instead of my contact lenses…

And I hate them.

My boss was shocked when I walked into work wearing my eyeglasses. He said he’s hardly ever seen me wear them. Well, there’s a reason for that. I forgot how uncomfortable they are, and I don’t really like how I look in them. And it’s so weird, because I feel like I can see things much more clearly when I wear my contacts, even though my glasses and contacts are the same prescription. Also, my eyes feel so tired today because I’m not used to so much oxygen hitting them. But what I dislike most about wearing my glasses is that I can see my eyeglass frames, and if I look up, down, or to either side, the world is SO blurry.

If I want to make sure I don’t bump into things, I have to make sure my eyes are focused on what’s in front of me. I can’t get distracted by the blurriness surrounding me or things could get pretty… painful (BANG! CRASH!!!).  Likewise, if we don’t keep our eyes focused on Jesus, things also won’t turn out so well.

Think about Peter in Matthew 14:28-31 who, after having taken his focus off of Jesus (and doubting Him), began to sink into the water. After saving him, Jesus said “You who have so little faith, why did you doubt?”

Or, if you’d rather, think about Martha, who became so distracted with the meal she was preparing for Jesus that she missed out on what He was teaching. Jesus said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Hebrews 12:2 says, fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him, endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

The devil wants to distract us, but let’s make sure we keep our faith, our eyes, and our attentive ears on Jesus. It’s common, especially in this season, to get so distracted by our To-Do lists that we don’t take time to listen to what Jesus is trying to teach us.  Let’s commit ourselves during this Christmas season (and moving forward) to really keep our eyes and hearts focused. We don’t have to try and perform for Jesus like Martha did. Let’s just sit at His feet and listen like Mary.

Erin Culleny serves as a Marketing Assistant and Staff Writer. She loves encouraging women through her Victory Calls and finds such joy in praying for her sisters in Christ. Her favorite activities include reading her Bible, encouraging others with scripture, buying new makeup, buying dresses, and eating at the Cheesecake Factory… In that order!

Our Equal Opportunity God

iStock-867391274.jpg

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 2:20-21

I’ll never forget the day. Word got out that the casting list was posted. (Now this was before email and text messages!) Veiling angst under a disingenuously calm veneer, I sauntered over to check the board of announced roles and corresponding names. Our middle school was doing the Wizard of Oz play that year, and I had tried out for the lead role of Dorothy.

As I feverishly scanned the list of chosen ones, I noticed something important was conspicuously absent: my name! Those who didn’t make the cut for preferred roles were offered the role of munchkin- something that didn’t feel like enough of a stretch for me. I attended a few rehearsals then soon after dropped out.

In hindsight, I realize that the role was repugnant to me for several reasons (many of which were self-focused!) with one nobler one being that I desired a role that would really require something of me and stretch me. Years later I fell in love with a director of a grander story than Dorothy in Oz- one that has not only current significance but eternal ramifications as well and inspires me to give my all in each part that he casts me in.

And while the school play I had tried out for had only so many “honorable” roles to cast, this greater story’s cast numbers and role assignments are solely limited by each participant’s own choices. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, speaks to this in his last letter to Timothy while passing on his torch. He confirms that there will indeed be less honorable roles in this greatest story ever told, but that the decision falls to each individual in reference to his or her own participation. And all are invited to participate!!

What better time of year is there to reflect on this story and our privileged part in it?! Not only is God for all who turn to him in sincere faith, he is in us, with us, beside us, and before us. Emmanuel is working in us, around us, and through us as ambassadors for his kingdom and glory in his tale of relentless, redemptive, pursuing love for mankind. He is making and looking for vessels of honor that are not just cleansed positionally, but who are walking accordingly. May we recognize and respond to his cues today!

Melissa Smith is the Women’s Enrich Counselor at America’s Keswick. She has the privilege and honor of ministering to the Colony men’s wives, fiancees and girlfriends, the Barbara’s Place women, and some women from the community who God brings to America’s Keswick for help or care. She and Bill, her husband of 18 years, have four adopted children ages 17 to 24. Her fervent desire is to point women to Christ and His sufficiency, provision, and promises.

Wake up and Makeup!

Woman face powders, and apply blush to the cheekbones

I. Love. Makeup. I mean, I really love makeup. I have a favorite foundation; I know what eyeshadow palettes work with my eye color; I have a three-step process JUST for my eyebrows; and I’ve gotten REALLY good at doing the perfect winged eyeliner.

We’re girls! Most of us do have a daily makeup routine (maybe not as in-depth as mine because I’m a little cuckoo) but most of us have our processes, which is why I am REALLY excited to share about a really cool article I came across with you all. I can’t take credit for it; it’s from ibelieve.com and the author is Asheritah Ciuciu. It’s entitled “5 Tips to Turn Your Makeup Routine into a Spiritual Exercise.”

I will just paraphrase this devotional, but if you want to read it in-depth (and I encourage you to) here is the link: https://www.ibelieve.com/health-beauty/5-tips-to-turn-your-makeup-routine-into-a-spiritual-exercise.html

Step 1: Wash your Face and Cleanse your Heart

As you wake up in the morning and get ready to start your day, you probably take some face wash or soap with water to your face because you want a fresh, clean canvas to work on. While you wash your face, pray for a cleansed heart. The author of this article stresses the importance of cleansing our hearts before the Lord and includes the verses Psalm 51:7 and 10 to explain that this includes confessions of sins and prayer.

Step 2: Cover your Face and Uncover His Glory

The author talks about how we put on moisturizer, foundation, concealer, powder, etc., when we are beginning our makeup routine. She shares how, as we do that, it’s a good idea to pray that “people will see Jesus when they look at your face” (Ciuciu). Pray that your face would radiate the glory of God as it did with Moses when he spoke with the Lord.

Step 3: Pretty up your Eyes and Guard Them, Too.

I really love this step. Asheritah Ciuciu writes that as we do our eyes, we can pray that they would be fixed on Jesus throughout the day so that we can recognize His hand at work. Our prayer can be that we would see others as Jesus sees them, and that we could have protection over our eyes so that we would not look at any worthless or impure things that would tempt us to sin.

Step 4: Moisturize your Lips and Encourage Others

Moisturizer, lip liner, lip gloss, lipstick, lip exfoliators… there are so many products for our lips!  As we add color to our mouth, the author writes that we can ask God to guard our mouths and every word we speak, so that it would build others up and so that we would not slander, gossip, swear, or say anything unwholesome (Ephesians 4:29).

Step 5: Reapply as Necessary

This is another one of those super-cool steps. As our makeup requires touch-ups throughout the day, we can pray that our hands would be ready to do God’s work and have “periodic check-ins with God throughout the day” (Ciuciu). Keep the conversation going!

There are more things that the author shares in this step and this article in general, so I encourage you to go read it! As my friend Maggie would say, slap on some lipstick and be a light for God today!

Erin Culleny serves as a Marketing Assistant and Staff Writer. She loves encouraging women through her Victory Calls and finds such joy in praying for her sisters in Christ. Her favorite activities include reading her Bible, encouraging others with scripture, buying new makeup, buying dresses, and eating at the Cheesecake Factory… In that order!

Ciuciu, Asheritah “5 Tips to Turn Your Makeup Routine into a Spiritual Exercise.” IBelive.com, OneThingAlone.com, 23 Feb 2016, http://www.ibelieve.com/health-beauty/5-tips-to-turn-your-makeup-routine-into-a-spiritual-exercise.html.

 

It’s Impossible

Christmas holiday stress

For nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37 ESV

It’s the season where many things seem impossible. The gift you wanted to buy is sold out. You won’t find one in stock anywhere. The decorations beckon you from the attic but your time is tight. It looks impossible to get all those boxes down and have some semblance of Christmas décor set up before Christmas arrives. Cookies need to be baked, children’s pageants need to be attended, cards need to be written out and mailed…oh my! It seems impossible!

Maybe it’s not just this particular season. Maybe things have been looking rather impossible for a while. Life is overwhelming and the anxiety you feel is intensifying. How do we begin to fight through the situations that look impossible? In Anxious for Nothing, Max Lucado says “God’s sovereignty bids us to fight the onslaught of fret with the sword that is etched with the words but God.”

When you and I begin to think circumstances won’t change, the outcome could not possibly turn out in our favor or we’re just ready to throw in the towel….remember, BUT GOD! Now maybe your packages won’t get wrapped or your flight will get cancelled when the weather gets bad. But remain focused on what this season really is about. Marvel at the wonder of the birth of Jesus. Really listen to some of your favorite carols. Enjoy those around you. Reminisce of Christmas’ past and relish in the hope of the season to come.  Pick up your sword etched with the words we need to remember… “But God.” God can do the impossible by giving you His peace in the midst of it all.

Blessings,

Kathy

Kathy Withers is on staff at America’s Keswick and serves as Director of Partner Care. Kathy has been married to her husband Dave for 30 years. They have two adult children. Kathy is active in her local church and teaches a Bible study for women. Her passion is to encourage women to deepen their walk with Jesus Christ by finding and living out the truths of God’s Word.

DUST TO DUST

 

 Beautiful woman cleaning

 Is there anything less useful and more annoying than dust? It’s EVERYWHERE! We’re constantly creating new ways to rid ourselves of it: dusters, vacuum cleaners, filters, etc. And no matter how hard we work at its elimination, it just keeps coming back! It’s in our eyes, our nose, even in our lungs. Even the dust that floats through space enters our atmosphere and, ultimately, us! There’s no escaping it; it’s quite ubiquitous.

God used this raw material to create us. He could have snapped His fingers and had us just appear, but instead decided to use dust as the foundation for His creation. It is where our bodies came from and will ultimately return (Genesis 3:19; Eccl. 3:20).

Have you ever gone to a museum, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and been awed by what artists can do with stone? Aren’t we amazed when we see what people can do with rock? Michelangelo and Bernini carved their statues of David out of marble. We marvel at their work. Our God made Michelangelo and Bernini…from dust. Wow.

The next time we dust our furniture, our computer, our car, our baseboards, our windowsills (does not this list go on and on and on????), let it be a reminder of what we are and who He is. Psalm 103:13 &14 says,

Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.

His mercies are new every morning. His compassions fail not. Great is His faithfulness.

Just thinking while I’m cleaning…

Carol

Carol Tirondola is on staff with the Partner Care team at America’s Keswick. She and her best friend, Mario, have been married for 35 years. They have 2 sons and 2 daughters-in-law that they call their “BFFs.” They also have 7 precious gems called grandchildren. Her family has savored many memories of the heart made at Keswick over the last 35+ years and she is thrilled to serve on staff!

Father

Crying

“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Matthew 28:20b; Hebrews 13:5b

  In a previous Victory Call I referred to a book I’d recently finished titled “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom. One of my most meaningful takeaways from the book was the relationship Corrie and her siblings had with their father. I could cry, even now, as I think about how their father was able to bring such peace and stability to their souls as they encountered life in its pains and sorrows.

One such occasion, Corrie’s heart had been broken because, Karel, who was the love of her life, visited their family to introduce his fiancée. Yes, you read correctly. His wife-to- be!

To Corrie, this young man was the only one who’d likely have been her husband, as she’d been smitten with him from their first meeting. There had been conversations about marriage and family, letters had been sent back and forth, etc. How then could he so boldly show up like this, as if there had never been anything between himself and Corrie?

I’m sure there are some reading this devotion today who can all too clearly imagine the pain she was in. Betrayal, after all, can be a deeply embittering insult to inflict on one’s soul and spirit. It’s simply too much to bear. What is she to do? What are we to do when those who would seemingly love us, hurt us?

In the book, Corrie tells us:

 “Somehow I managed to shake her hand…and to wish them every happiness…I was fleeing up the stairs to my own room at the top of the house where the tears could come…Later I heard father’s footsteps coming up the stairs…I was afraid of what father would say, afraid he would say, “There will be someone else soon.”

 “Corrie,” he began instead, “Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world and when it is blocked, that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then, of course, a part of us dies too. Or Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. God loves Karel, even more than you do. And if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent; nothing can destroy. Whatever we cannot love in the old human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.”

I sincerely hope no one reading this sees a pat answer, for surely, her father’s response is beyond that. She will go on to share that these words of wisdom from him were a “secret that would open far darker rooms than this – places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.”

Have you been there? Have you ever felt a depth of pain you thought surely, “this will undo me?” What do you do? Where do you go? To whom do you run?

My encouragement to you is that you run to Abba Father!  (Personally, it’s the only thing that keeps me going. I tell you the truth.)

In the midst of deep pain (pain which could easily have made her bitter) Corrie talked to her father. He was a safe place for her, a comforting place.  Her father drew near and was present with her in her pain. He didn’t leave her to suffer alone. He didn’t minimize, chastise or rebuke. And, as only a true father can, he was present with her to give her the exact words she needed for help and healing.

Dear sisters, if we are God’s daughters we have something far richer in our relationship with Him because He is Perfect Love and He is Always Good. He will never leave us or forsake us for another. He is always present! Therefore, a cry, a call, a shout, a whimper…any noise from us in His direction is enough to have the blessed assurance of Father’s heart.

Stephanie Paul

Stephanie served on staff at America’s Keswick as Women of Character Director. She is married to Sesky; together they have 2 adult children.

From Victim to Victory

 

girl amazed

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

It is so easy for us to remain stuck in a “victim mentality” rather than live in victory through Christ.  Each one of us has sinned against someone and we have been sinned against. Some hurts are so deep that we walk around ready to rip open the bandage and expose our wounds to anyone who will look so that they can know of our pain and perhaps comfort or sympathize with us.  We walk around with a “placard” that says, “I’ve been betrayed, abandoned, cheated against, abused (physically or emotionally) or…” well, you can fill in the blank.  Our tendency is to first take our hurts to our family or friends and eventually to God.

I imagine our heavenly Father with His arms opened wide waiting for us to bring all our wounds to Him. He wants to comfort and give us His strength.

God is the only One who will listen anytime night or day.  He is the only One who can truly comfort us.  He’s the One who stands ready to take us from victim to victory.  We don’t discount our pain or what has happened, but God takes our pain, hurts and suffering and transforms them to treasure for His glory.  We can claim victory through Christ! Our pain will no longer define who we are.  It is included in the fabric of our life to make us who we are.

I remember, ever so clearly, before I was a Christian walking around, downcast all the time, saying to just about everyone, “Why me? Poor me.”  My teen sons were spiraling out of control in the drug world; I was in pain, miserable and hurt.  I beat myself up for being a bad mom and wife.  But after I gave my heart to Jesus, I began to continually cry out to Him and surrender it all to Him daily.  I admit I took it back a few times.  I came to know He was the only One who could give me or my family victory.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) became my reality. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. God is in the business of transforming lives as they are surrendered to Him.  Not only has my victim status been transformed to victory, but He has transformed my pain for His glory.  Who but God!

Mary Ann Kiernan

Mary Ann recently retired after 11 years on staff at America’s Keswick, where she served both in women’s ministry and as the Intake Manager at the Colony of Mercy. She plans to become a regular contributor to Victory Call after a cruise with her husband. This devotional originally appeared in Real Victory for Real Life, Volume 2.