Our Unexpected Journey

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Floyd is struggling with chest congestion this week.  I feel so bad for him when he has this because it means they need to regularly suction his passageways in order for his breathing to be clear.  It is not a pleasant experience.  He has still managed some smiles though which warms my heart. 

We have had an unexpected tragedy in our community of friends here.  A dear friend passed away in his sleep.  He was fit and healthy, so it was a shock.  He and his wife worked with us in Amsterdam many years ago - and we have had lots of contact with them since we moved to South Africa.  He was part of the care team for Floyd in the early months of his illness.  No one could have imagined that he would go to be with Jesus before Floyd.  

Walking through this in the last few days has brought back lots of memories of the early days when Floyd took suddenly, and so seriously, ill.  I vividly remember the tears, the questions, the trying to find answers, the shock.  It was very traumatic, and very painful.  Watching my vibrant gentle giant be struck down in a matter of hours was beyond comprehension.

I know many of you reading this can identify with me - and with our friends grieving family.  It seems so incomprehensible when something like this happens.  How could this happen?  There were no warnings, no clues.  Everything seemed fine.  And, of course, we have to deal with the "why" questions.  I've prayed my way through all these things the last 29 months.

I love something Rick Warren said:  "I do not have to know why everything happens since I know God is good, He loves me, and life on earth is not the whole story."  

I think that sums up where my heart has landed.  We know God is good.  We know He loves us, and wants His will for our lives.  We know we can trust Him.  We know He will help us - that His grace is sufficient.  We know He is working for good in every situation.  We know He has a "future and a hope" for us. (Jeremiah 29:11) We know we can't survive things like this on our own, but God will be by our side, holding our hand, and walking with us through it.

In the midst of our pain and suffering, Jesus is right with us.  I have been encouraged by the fact that when Jesus saw the distress of Martha and Mary weeping over the death of their brother Lazarus, "Jesus wept" with them.  (John 11:35)  I believe He often weeps with us in our pain and distress.  His heart is broken with us when we walk through these deep waters.

A while back a friend sent me a song by Jonathan & Melissa Helser - "I Raise a Hallelujah - I'm gonna sing in the middle of the storm."  That's what I've tried to do on this journey.  I want to keep trusting, keep singing - "louder than the unbelief, my weapon is a melody......up from the ashes, hope will arise, death is defeated, the King is alive."

When fear, pain, confusion, questions, doubts - when any of those things try to raise their head on my journey......I have asked the Lord to give me strength to sing and praise Him in the middle of the storm.  He helps me each time.  He is faithful.  I raise a hallelujah to Him.

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

"They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress."  Psalm 107:28

"We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."  2 Corinthians 4:8,9

" 'For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you."  Isaiah 54:10

"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together."  Colossians 1:17

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."  Isaiah 43:1,2

When we go through the hard times of life - He will keep us.  He loves us.  He's not punishing us.  He doesn't enjoy watching us suffer.  He suffers with us.  He will help us.  He will bring us through the difficult time.  He won't let us fall apart.  He won't let it destroy us.  But we have to keep holding onto Him!  If we do that, He'll help us sing in the middle of the storm.  I'm so grateful for His help and faithfulness to me.

I've been so grateful for all the birthday greetings and messages that have been sent to Floyd over this past week.  We have read every single one to him.  Over 250 of them!  Floyd has listened carefully, and smiled a lot.  I think they have blessed and encouraged him.

It's made me think about how powerful encouragement is.  A simple word of encouragement can make a big difference in someone's life.  It can help them keep going rather than giving up.  It can leave an impact that lasts a lifetime.  It can bring hope in the midst of discouragement.

Thinking about this reminded me of something that happened when we lived in Holland.  I regularly went to a bank near to where we lived to cash checks of support that people sent us.  One of the bank tellers was a difficult lady.  She didn't like foreigners - particularly Americans.  She was grumpy, and often responded with negative comments.  I always hoped that someone else would be working when I went into the bank.

One day I needed to cash a check before I could buy groceries.  As I went to the bank, the grumpy lady's window was the only one open - and there was a long line.....with mostly tourists changing money.  She was not happy.  I had to get cash that day so there was no choice but to wait.  As I stood in the line, I felt the Lord speak something into my heart - "I want you to encourage her."  I thought surely I was hearing the Lord wrong, but the thought persisted.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to say.  I couldn't think of anything nice or encouraging to say to her.  I could think of a few other things!  So I stood in the line and prayed for God to help me.  Actually, more like pleaded with Him to help me because I was dreading getting to the front of the line.

As my turn came, I smiled at her and said - "It looks like you're having a rough day.  I'm sorry for all of us who come in here and often don't understand the currency exchange.  It must make your job more difficult.  Thank you for helping us and serving us."  She didn't say anything for a few seconds.  Then she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said - "Thank you.  I needed that."  It was a short, simple verbal exchange - I got my cash - and I left.  I had no idea of the impact it had made.

From that day on until we left Holland, every time I went to the bank she opened up her window for just me.  We began to talk and get to know one another.  We developed a sweet relationship.  I was sad to leave her when we left Amsterdam.

In the midst of a hard time, pain, suffering, loss......or just the day to day hurts that come our way in life - encouragement is a powerful "balm" that God uses to bring strength, help, and comfort to our hearts.  We can never know what a few words of encouragement will do in someone's heart......like the lady at the bank.  A word of thanks, a caring smile, a warm handshake, a heartfelt expression of appreciation are all things that God can anoint and use in the lives of those around us.  Sweet words of encouragement have helped me get through many hard days on our unexpected journey.  I'm very grateful for the loving balm of encouragement.

I'm also convinced that the words of love, gratitude, and appreciation sent to Floyd for his birthday have ministered grace and strength to his heart.  

"A word in due season, how good it is."  Proverbs 15:23

"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."  Proverbs 25:11

"Outdo one another in showing honor."  Romans 12:10

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up."  1 Thessalonians 5:11

"Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."  Proverbs 16:24

"If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love.....any affection and sympathy.....in humility count others more significant than yourselves."  Philippians 2:1-3

"Therefore encourage one another with these words."  1 Thessalonians 4:18

"The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain."  Proverbs 10:11

A friend once told me the story of a little girl who attended a church that had many stained glass windows.  One day someone asked her what a saint was.  She replied, "the people the light shines through."  You and I can be the people the light shines through with our words of encouragement!  

With all that has been going on these past weeks I have had really stressful days.  In fact yesterday was one of those days when it seemed like lots of things went wrong.  I was feeling the heaviness of everything.  I stopped several times and just lifted my cares, my situation to the Lord - pouring out my heart to Him.  I was reminded of the verse that "God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all."  1 John 1:5

I meditated on His light.  I rejected the feelings of darkness.  And then I remembered a picture someone sent me a while back.  Light has no shadow!! 

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When we walk in His light, there is no shadow of darkness.  I need to, I must, stay in His light on hard days.

As I worshipped Him, quoted scriptures about His light, and lifted my burdens to the Lord in prayer - the heaviness was dis-spelled.  He is so good and faithful!  I'm grateful I can follow Him, holding His hand, and walk in His light.

"For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory."  2 Corinthians 4:6

"Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, 'I am the light of the world.  If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.' " John 8:12

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  John 1:5

"The Lord is my light and my salvation - so why should I be afraid?  The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?"  Psalm 27:1

"The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand."  Psalm 119:130

"Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."  Psalm 119:105

God is so faithful.  He shines His light and all darkness scatters.  He speaks peace and the turmoil quietens.  He brings love and hope is rekindled.  He gives counsel and difficult decisions are resolved.  He ministers comfort to the heavy heart.  He proclaims His power and fears are sent fleeing.  He brings strength to help carry the heavy load.  He reminds of His sovereignty and the future becomes safe in His hands.

He is sufficient to meet every need, every day, for everything!