From Russia with Love

By Cortney Donelson

Romans 8:18 (NLT)
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.”

Gut-wrenching pain. I know it well. If you or anyone you know has ever suffered through infertility, then you know the heartbreak that couples who are struggling with this issue experience.

My husband and I tried to have a baby for almost four years. There were scheduled “date nights” when neither one of us was really in the mood, countless injections of hormones, hot flashes, ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, ovulation kits, test tubes, medical procedures, books, new diets, tears, and yes… many prayers. Our friends didn’t know what to say to us, and our family didn’t know how to help us. In truth, there was nothing anyone could have said or done. It really was tough. We watched in bittersweet agony as several family members and friends became pregnant and started their families.

During those years, I would wake up at 5:00 am, sit on the floor, and pray in the empty room that we had designated for our nursery. I would plead with God for pregnancy. I couldn’t understand… “God, why are You saying ‘no”?

Finally, after four long years, I relented and changed the content of my prayers. My pleas to get pregnant became prayers of “Your will be done,” and “God help me accept whatever You have planned for us.” God, ease my grief! Help me live again! After all, I was not living well at this point. I had been allowing my unmet plans and dreams darken every facet of my life. I realized I could not continue down that path.

That is precisely when I was hit by “the 2×4”. On a ten-second walk into a restaurant, God quietly whispered in my ear, “Adopt”. It was just one word. A word that had previously been so painful that I couldn’t even say it out loud had, in that moment, become God’s answer. It was then that I released my desires and grasped onto God’s will.

Seven short months later, my husband and I traveled to Rostov, Russia to bring home our precious baby boy. It was our agency’s fastest adoption process in its history. Seriously… I heard God laughing. God had to hit me with that 2×4 in His perfect timing, and I had to be obedient right there in that restaurant parking lot… or we would have missed the greatest thing in our lives. We had to trust His will rather than our own as the best course for our lives. Just writing this brings me to tears. Please hear this! Had I not suffered as much as I did for those four years, I never would have relinquished my plan for His plan. I never would have met the chubby little baby waiting for me on the other side of the world… the one who has changed my world forever! God knew this as He caught every one of my tears during that time of agony.

Romans 8:18 says, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” Our trials and those painful experiences for which we agonize over now, pale in comparison to what God has in store for us in the future. There will be dark times that we just aren’t able to understand. There will be prayers answered with a “no” or “not yet”.

The purposes behind God’s plans may become evident later in our lives here on Earth, or it may be that we won’t fully understand until we are in all His glory, praising Him in His Kingdom of Heaven. Me? I think it is often both. Yet, I do know this: God’s perfect plan will be just that… perfect!

Prayer – Dear Lord, thank you for waiting patiently for me during my seasons of struggles. Thank you for listening to every cry, catching every tear, and answering every prayer. I am so grateful to have the promise of Your glory and all that You will reveal in Your time! I pray I continue to embrace my trials and know they can be blessings. You are in complete control. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!

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My Hope as God’s Chosen One

By Missy Strayer

1 Thessalonians 2:13-14
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning
God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

While drinking a cup of coffee one morning, I caught something on TV that really gave me cause to stop. It actually sent chills down my spine. It was a morning CNN-type news talk show that had three separate guest commentaries. One was an atheist, the other a therapist that talked with Priests as they grew older and had questions about faith and where they were going after death, and the last was an agnostic. The main focus of the conversation was how Christianity was on the decline in the United States.  People are turning away from the religious notions of God and the ultimate power. Well, it really upset me. If you could have seen me, I was talking to the TV without anyone commenting back.  It was really a little silly, but I was making a point. I was outraged how anyone could believe that there was no God! Most of us have seen his hand at work. We have all known someone or been that person who has had a divine intervention from God and have been blessed at some time in life. I really cannot imagine going through life not knowing that someone had my back… that God was watching over me continuously without sleeping. Elijah talked about the false god Baal, how maybe he was away sleeping when he didn’t show up. My God never sleeps. 

Recently, as I was reading 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14, I was reminded of that TV show.  Now, I think how sad for them! As believers we know, and really have no need to prove, that God is with us. He loves us, and He chose “Us”… a single mom of two kids who has done her fair share of sinning throughout life. Yet, I am still His first fruit. He chose me. Along with being chosen, I feel there comes a responsibility for sharing the Word and teaching those with whom we come in contact.  For those that do not have faith, I truly feel great sadness towards them. They don’t have the true joy, the HOPE that springs eternal. May we continue to touch others’ lives for Christ.

Prayer – Dear Heavenly Father, as the passage above says, I thank you for choosing me, loving me, and for walking along side me. I pray that I always see through your eyes and use the words that you put on my tongue to reach the unreachable. May my faith multiply so that it continues to touch others’ lives to then also touch even more lives. Father, help us to let go of our own stuff and let others know that they too are your chosen children. Help them to feel your love and open their hearts. All this I pray in Jesus name. Amen.

Less of Me… More of Him

By Cortney Donelson

Psalm 42:11
“Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God!”

Our team, Oaks of Righteousness Ministries, had a mantra for our very first weekend retreat that we repeated to ourselves in order to prepare the way for the women who would attend our inaugural event. “Less of me… More of Him!” We had to battle and overcome fatigue, selfishness, discord, obstacles, debts, and pain to ensure we were ready for the women whom God entrusted to us for that weekend.

About 3 months after that first retreat, I was challenged by God to put that message into play again. I was angry. I was hurt. My heart was bitter, and I was in the process of forgiving someone for something she knew nothing about. I was not in a place where I wanted to encourage or help her. After all, I was in pain! Yet, God had a different plan. He challenged me to look beyond myself. He asked me to put aside my pride, my hurt, my pain, and for just a moment, reach out to her with some encouragement.

It was hard! Yet, I knew I couldn’t say no to My Creator. Okay, God, “Less of me, More of You!” This woman had sent me an email about how discouraged she was and how life was not going the way she had planned nor liked. She used that word, “discouraged.” If I’m real here, I would say that for an instant my deceiving heart…

“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

…felt no empathy or sympathy for this woman. I would have loved to follow that heart of mine and blow off her email. But, God would not accept that. He was about to give me His heart.

Ten minutes later, by God’s design, I read the Verse of the Day on my  phone’s Bible app. Psalm 42:11 says, “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again- my Savior and my God!” That word “discouraged”, the same word this woman had used in her email, jumped right off the screen and into my bitter heart. God was saying, “I know she hurt you. But, I love her, and she needs to hear Me. Today, I choose you to speak for Me.”

How could I say no? I forwarded her the Bible verse with a short note of encouragement. In the end, I am not sure who benefited most from my willingness to put myself aside for God’s purposes: God… this woman… or me!

Oh, and the mantra for our upcoming women’s retreat in September? “Ask… Act… Trust!”

Prayer – Dear Lord, thank you for interrupting my pride and selfishness in order to bring a little piece of Heaven down to this place. I pray I am continually able to put You and your purposes above my own desires and pain. In Jesus’ Name I pray, AMEN!

Rolling with God’s Tide

By Missy Strayer

Psalm 100:5
“For the Lord is good, His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation.”

I was on vacation in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and it was the first morning down at the water’s edge. I had my chair sitting in the water, while I was just gazing out into the horizon. My thoughts were all over the place, but soon I centered on what God has done in this world. I thought about how He had provided this awesome view of the water with so many different hues of greenish blue to deep blue… all the way out to the horizon. The waves were slowly going out to sea.

While sitting and watching the waves, I noticed in front of me a father and his daughter.   He was a big man of maybe 6’ 4”, heavy-built, and his daughter must have been around four years old with blonde curly hair. You know- the white blonde that babies have with soft ringlets. She was on a little floating board in about 3 inches of water.  Her father was on his knees out a bit in the waves.  He was encouraging her to ride them.  At first, she was hesitant and just stood there watching the waves and the board drift. The father would get up, get the board, and bring it back to her. Then, he would get on his knees again, and he would help her on the board onto her belly. Eventually she started riding them in.  The girl was riding them on her belly, laughing and grinning from ear to ear. The look on her face was joy at her accomplishment and excitement for the ride, all rolled up into one package. Each time she became better and better at the process.

This play time reminded me of how our Heavenly father patiently helps us… gently guiding us and always there for us.  He is always encouraging us to take that next step, to go out of our own comfort zone, to reach for what we feel is unreachable.  I could expound on that thought alone, but what happened next was out of my comfort zone.  As the mom and older brother, maybe seven, came down and joined in the fun it was heart touching to watch how the parents took time to interact with both children.  Here is the crazy part for me.  When they stated to walk up from the water right beside me, the Lord touched my heart to speak…. and here is what came out.  “I was watching you with your daughter and watching the joy on both of your faces as you played in the water.  It reminded me of how Our Heavenly father watches out for us. The love and attention that you are showing her is the same love and affection, only expanded, that our Father has for us. You are giving her a firm foundation as she grows up of what a father’s love and safety feels like. She will also know one day of the love of her Heavenly Father.  You have given her something more precious than a memory at the beach.  You have given her the basis of a love that will allow her to know her Heavenly father.”  I was amazed that it came out of my mouth, but also amazed at how much joy that gave both the mother and the father of that little girl.  The dad was all smiles and thanked me while the mother said, “You are right”.  I guess three people were touched that morning by the hand of God… that mother, that father, and I each played our role in spreading His word. I am still amazed that I spoke to perfect strangers on the beach about the love of Christ!  The words that came out of my mouth were not mine.  They were filled with the Spirit, and I am so thankful that He used me as his vessel. I am thankful that I listened to His still small voice. 

Prayer – Dear Father Abba, May we each know you in the full glory of who you are and who we are in you. I pray that everyone knows the love of Christ, and that as you touch each of us, You give us the power to love our children well. Help us spread the word of who you are and the love and hope that you give to each and every one of us. Lord if there is someone who feels that they are not worthy of your love, touch their hearts with your hand, and let them know there is no test that has to be taken to be one of God’s children. Let each and every one know how deeply You care for them and watch over them at all times. May the love of Christ be with you always.  Amen.

 

One Who Illuminates

By Cortney Donelson

2 Corinthians 4:7 (NLT)
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

Some of my closest girlfriends gave me a new name… a Hebrew name, Meira. It means, “One who Illuminates.” Let me explain. These wonderful Christian women view me as the “Light” of our group. There are eight of us in this accountability group, and each has her own significant name, apart from her birth name. Some of the names are Ariel or “Lion of God,” Rafaela or “Healed by God”, Cherut or “Freedom”, and Liron or “My Song.”

These names are a reflection of how a Holy Creator designed us as uniquely as He did each snowflake that falls from the sky. The names also highlight our God-inspired strengths. They represent the holy piece of God that we carry around on display for others to see.

I love my name. It was given to me during a very dark time in my life. It was a reminder of God’s truth and His promises. I may be a fragile jar made of clay where life’s trials and struggles can crack my exterior and bring me to my knees. However, the Holy Spirit within me is a light that can shine forth through those cracks, spreading joy, hope, and truth.

My cracks won’t cause me to crumble. My difficult days won’t cause me death. Even more amazing than what the Lord does for my heart is how He can use my imperfections and struggles to minister to others. I can be sitting in my own dark cave, and I can still shine with His Light for those around me. I may be ripping at the seams, yet I can still provide to others that same joy, hope, and truth that the Lord provides for me.

That is the glory of it all. God is bigger than any of our cracks. He is bigger and better. His power is infinitely stronger than our flesh and the enemy’s tactics combined. As 2 Corinthians 4:7 states, “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” That great treasure is God himself…. How does He shine through you? Is it through worship and praise? Is it through ministering to wounded hearts or breaking down walls? Perhaps it is through speaking like a Holy megaphone. For me, it is shining his Light into darkness, illuminating the path for others to see.

Prayer – Dear Lord, we whole-heartedly thank you for creating us to be delicate vessels that will never shatter as long as we have You. We praise you for every good and perfect gift you provide, despite our mistakes, weaknesses, and shortcomings. You are a great treasure! Thank you that even in darkness, you have and will continue to overcome! In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!