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This Is Not A Punishment 

This Is Not a Punishment by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder, The Refreshing Life

How do you reconcile praying for something and feeling like the answer is no, and will always be no? I have tried my best to handle my infertility with grace and most importantly with faith. Walking through the stages of mourning from questioning, to anger, to bitterness and grief.  Finally making peace with my empty arms despite wanting to hold on to the dream with mustard seed faith. Trying to believe and receive the prophetic words that still come declaring that there will still be a child. 

But at forty-seven all I can do is say, “I believe, help my unbelief, let Your will be done!” 

We always planned to adopt so bringing foster children into our home with a husband who was adopted was just part of the dream and we shared with our Social Worker that we only wanted to foster children that were ready to be adopted, those already in need of a forever home. 

When they plopped a two-year-old and a two month on our doorstep we were ecstatic. And then we got to court, and we met mom and much became clear.  She had no intention of giving up her children, she didn’t appear to be a drug addict or unwilling – rather she seemed like a young mother who had fallen on hard times and needed some help.  What were we suppose to do in that moment when the Social Worker asked if we wanted to keep them while she got things together? And even more alarming to me, we were asked if we wanted to keep them both. I was appalled, we were already in love with them and they were siblings, we don’t separate siblings, no – we don’t rock like that. 

I have to be honest, I was heartbroken, but I wouldn’t admit it.  It looks like I will love and raise them for a season and then give them back. My gut twists even writing the words. With so many people clamoring to tell us congratulations, to give us helpful items, to step in and help us care for them, makes the burden all the harder to bare. 

These are not my children, although I am charged to love them like Jesus loved them, and quite honestly, I would give my life for them.  I already mourn the day when I have to pack them up and send them on their way.  And I must admit it is really difficult not to let bitterness creep in while the devil is whispering in my ear… "God made you infertile, now He's given you children that can never be yours." that's enough to allow bitterness more then a foothold in my life.

I wrestle with the perception that the Lord knows my mother’s heart, He knows the grief of my infertility. He knows how I’ve cried in the middle of the night and felt like less then a woman because I could not birth a living legacy. Children are a legacy of the Lord. That’s what the scripture says. 

This denial often teases me to think that I am being punished.  Have I done something to offend the Lord that He would allow me to watch my former youth group kids have numerous children, or the young ladies who I prayed with in Nashville for husbands now having beautiful additions to their families? Or what about all the women who take this enormous gift from God and destroy it? 

I have cried out to the Lord seeking the answer, asking how have I offended You? Have I not loved enough or served enough or given enough? And the heavens remained silent. Until I came across the following passage of scripture: 

 “What a wonderful God we have—He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does He do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we undergo sufferings for Christ, the more He will shower us with his comfort and encouragement. 

 We are in deep trouble for bringing you God’s comfort and salvation. But in our trouble God has comforted us—and this, too, to help you: to show you from our personal experience how God will tenderly comfort you when you undergo these same sufferings. He will give you the strength to endure.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-8 

It’s a hard pill to swallow but His word never lies. The Lord must really want to comfort, strengthen and help me walk this broken road. This isn’t a punishment. Somehow my infertility, the potential loss of these babies that have nestled under my heart, are burdens that I must let Christ carry through me. These are seasons I must walk through so that someone else might be comforted in their own time of questioning, uncertainty and grief. 

When I accepted the call to be an encourager of God’s people, I never knew when or where I’d have to encourage others. I choose to accept in this moment, infertility as a blessing, not for me but for someone else who is walking through this shadow. And if I should pack these children up and send them on their way, I choose to believe that this is not a punishment either, but somehow this part of the journey will be one more opportunity to run into the arms of my Father, who sometimes makes decisions that are in my best interest, but I won’t understand until I’m older.

And later on, I’ll be able to encourage someone else to do the same.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share your comments and questions below.

 

#adoptionstory #adoptionjourney #fostertoadopt #infertility #copingwithinfertility #infertilityandfaith

#fostermom #griefandfostering

 

Photo Credit: Image by MorningbirdPhoto from Pixabay

We Needed Her 

We Needed Her by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder, The Refreshing Life

Sometimes I want to throttle the two year old in my house.  Not seriously, but when I find Cheerios in the oddest places, when she refuses to take no for an answer, when she floods the bathroom after distinctly being told not to touch the faucet, I am amazed at her audacity. Her logic often alludes me, her capacity to forget a simple request and her willingness to get sidetracked by baby sharks and paw patrols leave me frustrated, snappish and tired. 

And who wouldn’t be tired when being jarred out of sleep after finally getting the baby down by a little voice demanding Apple Juice or wanting to, “Get Out” of her bed.  Her needs are apparent and they extend beyond the basic needs for life. She needs lots of hugs, she does not like to be left alone, uncertainty makes her nutty and she is a true attention hog.  Typical for most toddlers, but imagine the typical turned up to the tenth degree. We don’t know much about her past, but we pray over her future and try to love her hard in the present. 

When things get hard, when she frustrates me to the point of anger or I’m tempted to say the wrong thing I remind myself she is two and she’s survived things I can’t even imagine – most foster care children have. I ask myself what would Jesus do and try to rethink my approach while applying the easy answer, the self-righteous answer, the answer that makes me the savior and she the one in need of saving.  The answer… she needs me, I can’t forget, she needs me. 

Then just a few days ago, when she had been banished to bed for some rude transgression that had pushed me to the edge of sanity, I walked into my bedroom and was just about to reiterate to my husband how much she must need us since we were in the middle of another test of patience that required unlimited compassion and love. But I had fallen short and sent her to bed thirty minutes early. 

And the Spirit of the Lord spoke to me at the moment – “You need her just as much as she needs you.”  

I needed her? The more I thought about it and prayed over it, the more I understood that I did need her. I knew I wanted her, any woman who has struggled with infertility and wants a child more then anything understands that wanting. No, I needed her, it was well past wanting, I needed her, so that I could become more like Jesus. 

I need her remind me that Christ loves me no matter what silly transgression I commit. That He expresses this love regardless of what I or don’t do, that no matter what happens He blesses me with grace and compassion. And that I have to learn to love like that as well, not out of obligation but out of joy. 

I need her to illustrate how Jesus never gives up on me, even when I forget to do what He told me to do, when I get sidetracked on the way to accomplish His will for my life, when I make a bad choice and have to suffer the consequences. 

But no matter what… Jesus is there, with a big unconditional love that never fails and my toddler pushes me to that standard every day.  Because after getting in trouble or making me nuts, there she is ten minutes later with the most beautiful smile, big eyes on me full of trust and love. I need that. And my promise to her, her brother, and even her biological mother is to give her big unfailing love right back. Just like Jesus.

#fostercare #adoptionstory #fostertoadopt #toddlermother #learningtoparent #lovinglikeJesus

The Joy Challenge! 2019 

The Joy Challenge 2019 by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder, The Refreshing Life

#storiesoffaith #findingjoy #joyfulliving #lifeofjoy

I'm on a mission to bring more joy to my life. I have a habit of worrying to much, forgetting to live in the moment and letting go of things I have no business hanging on to. So for the next few months I am starting a grand journey, launching off into the deep to hear the laughter of Jesus... I am trying to learn to live in the pleasure of the Father.  

That means more then just doing things that are fun and make me laugh.  Learning to live in the pleasure of the Father means sometimes doing the hard and scary things like being a witness, serving in areas that are a challenge for me, being bold in sharing the gospel.

It means reaching for deeper intimacy with the Lord, immersing myself in His Word, seeking His face and finding refreshing in prayer, in learning to discern that still small voice again and moving quickly to do what He has called me to do.  

And it also means being downright silly, sometimes eating the ice cream, rejoicing in the love of my husband and playing tea party with the toddler who has taken over my home and heart.

Life is short and I don't want to live it worried about how long we'll have these children in our lives, if my liver disease will take me out, wishing I spent more time reading my Bible, sharing His word and singing His song. 

This month I commit to resurrect my joy, like Christ resurrected from the grave! And I'm going to start with picking things off my list - 100 Ways To Find More Joy In Your Life to try to bring a smile to my heart.

This month, I commit to doing at least 10 things on the list to the right of 100 Ways To Have More Joy... this is only the first page, but I'd love to share all 100 with you!

So, I'm on a journey to joy and I expect it to be a wild ride. I'm rolling with Jesus and I'll be documenting the journey with pictures, videos and blogs. Who wants to roll with me?

I'd love to hear your comments or questions. And if you are interested in following along or going on this journey with me email me simply saying, I want to go on the journey! Journey To Joy Sign Up

Want a copy of all 100 Ways To Bring More Joy To Your Life?

Get your digital download here:

100 Ways To Have More Joy! 

Let Go of the Weight 

Let Go of the Weight, Guest Post by Alicia Terry

Some years ago I wrote a blog post titled, Get Rid of Those Keys. I referenced a key chain I carried that had a lot of keys, but they no longer gave me access to the doors, vehicles and anything else they unlocked. So, why did I continue to carry them? Good question. At the time I thought for sure I would get rid of the keys after I published the blog post.

But, I didn’t. I continued to carry them out of habit, a sense of nostalgia and being comfortable with the weight. It wasn’t until the other day when the leather strap to my automatic car door opener tore and the keys fell that I had to acknowledge the weight had been too much. Years ago I knew the weight was too much, but ignored it until things broke and I found myself picking up the pieces.

Have you ever done this? Are you doing it now…carrying weight that serves no constructive purpose and only wears you and things out over time? Let’s stop doing this to ourselves. We have the power to live in and from victory and accomplish what we’ve been put on earth to do.

Hebrews 12:1 says: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (NLT)

You and I, we can do this. The Bible is full of stories of people who serve as examples for us. They are the great cloud of witnesses, who, by faith, dropped the weight of their circumstances and moved forward with great focus and determination. The lighter load enabled them to endure to the end and win the race God intended for them to win.

We can experience this too. Let go of the weight. Run with endurance. Complete your race!

 

As the owner and founder of Idea Haven, a communications and training practice, Alicia Terry helps entrepreneurs, teens and women clarify the message around their mission so they can attract and connect with the people they are meant to serve. You can learn more about Alicia at aliciaterry.com and connect with her on Facebook. She is a frequent writer for the Refreshing Life Blog.

#crushfear #overcominglimitations #nolimits #Aliciaterry #livingalifeofjoy

Valentine's Day... 

Date Night Ideas With Jon and Naima! by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder of the Refreshing Life

 

This is the first time since we've been married that Jon and I are not together on Valentine's Day! But our move, the stability his job provides and February being my busiest month of the year dictates that we be in two different states this year.  I'm sad, but we've got an amazing get a way weekend planned for the first weekend in March.  

This video was shoot last year when we still lived in Nashville.  It gives you a look into our nutty, silly adventures as a couple determined to live for God and be best friends as well. Jon and I don't always make the grade, but we strive to live a life in the center of God's will on the journey to joy with Jesus.

So if you are looking for some marital inspiration, if you are single and want to be encouraged about what the Lord has in store for you, or if you just want  a good laugh, check out the video below, subscribe to our Youtube Channel to keep up with all the nuttiness and leave us a comment!  

And if you need prayer for your marriage, feel free to shoot us a note, we'd be more then glad to bring your request before the Lord! Email us at: naima@ministryofnaima.com  

 Click The Image To Watch The Video!

 

#marriageministry #christianmarriage #datenightideas #valentinesdayideas #relationshipgoals

 

Looking for a great tool to help you build a strong marriage?

Check out my book, Lessons From The Back Seat or How I Learned To Be A Wife!

Click Here To Order: Refreshing Life Store

 

Brother Harlow Turns 90 

Brother Harlow Turns 90 by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush

I miss unlimited soup and salad from the Olive Garden. I desire to pop into Barnes and Noble and visit the discount craft store when I want to pay less than Michael’s prices. I long for prepackaged nuts from Trader Joe’s and nitrate free turkey pepperoni from Whole Foods.  And let’s not even talk about skipping down to Disney on a Saturday afternoon, laying on the beach, burying my toes in the sand and roaming the countless thrift stores, vintage shops, flea markets and garage sales that pepper the greater Jacksonville area. 

In these areas JAX – Duval County to be exact, where they bring the RACHET… (yes that is a city wide slogan) has tiny little Leesville/New Llano, LA beat.  But these temporal things mean nothing when I think about the family we have found in this place.  We have been embraced by the beautiful and colorful southern hearted home folks in this area.  In this place I’ve puzzled over crawfish houses, been introduced to finger licking Cajun cooking, been bitten by fire ants, waved at the po po, who always make sure I’m safe when I’m in the yard with the dogs after dark and everybody else who has driven up our street, and had more, “Girl how you doing!” meetings in Wal-Mart then I can count. 

But I knew I was home when I attended Brother Harlow’s 90th birthday party.  Brother Harlow is the sweetest man, filled with faith and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  He always makes sure that Jon Bush is behaving and seriously insists that if my husband steps out of line I should promptly inform him.  We celebrated him with the most delicious cake, mounds and mounds of food, lots of laugher and a picture to commemorate the event. When we told him we were honored to be invited, he told us we were family. 

As Jon and I left we paused to view the display that had been set up to celebrate his life. My heart filled as I examined a life in pictures that told of triumph and struggle, of love, faith, family and great loss.  And when we left I was overwhelmed with sadness because the last picture I studied was of Brother Harlow and his beautiful wife who had passed away. I remember thinking, I wished she was here to celebrate with him and how much he must be missing her even with all the laughter and the crowded room of well wishers and loved ones. 

And it dawned on me, that one day, if Jesus should tarry, Jon or I would be in the same situation. There will be a day when one of us will have to say good bye to the other one for a season.  I can barely breathe just thinking about it.  How many of us have had to say goodbye to the ones we treasure and have never really recovered even though life and the love still goes on? 

At the end of that wonderful man’s party when grief tried to grip and squeeze me, the Lord reminded me of this simple truth. Death is hard because it is unnatural. How often do we hear death is a natural part of life? But honestly, death was never part of the Lord’s original plan for us, so it isn’t natural at all.  We mourn because we lose something we were never supposed to lose…  each other. That’s why it hurts so bad. And every new person that takes up residence in my heart gets not only my love but will one day be mourned or mourn me. And recently in the tiny town where I now live, many people have made my heart their home by moving in and finding a favorite chair or a place on the couch to chill out. 

The thought could be unbearable, but that is when hope rose up with healing in its wings. Brother Harlow’s wife was a believer, so we rest assured that we will see her again. And all the separations, all the loss, all the tears will be wiped from our eyes because death, hell and the grave will be over and done forever. I’ve dealt and struggled a lot with death this year, so here is where I dig in and refuse to let my faith be shaken.  I know God is a promise keeper and a miracle worker.  And I know He is not a liar.  

There are many mansions in my Father’s House, if it wasn’t so He would have told me.  And somewhere in that huge dwelling, Sister Harlow is worshipping with my grandmothers, my aunts and my sweet Leslie. Accepting and living for Jesus means forgiveness, unconditional love and everlasting life… so life is like the night and being in the eternal presence of the Lord is the morning. 

Remember, the Lord never lies… fill your heart with love knowing that one day you will face the unthinkable. Because weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning – and reunions to!

 

Dr. Naima Johnston Bush is the founder of The Refreshing Life with Naima and is on a mission to help you live a life of joy, powerful prayer and sincere gratitude! Please leave a comment if the blog is blessing you and feel free to share if you think it will bless someone else!

Have you grabbed your copy of the Refreshing Life Prayer Journal? For more information click here: The Refreshing Life Prayer Journal

In The Shadow of Cancer 

For Those Who Struggle With Fear by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush

I must be honest, I've had a really hard time since Leslie passed away.  At only 31, she was vibrant and loving and oh so kind...

My struggle has really centered on my work, my age, my failures, my inability to have a child.  It feels like the days are passing by so quickly and with my birthday quickly approaching I am no where near where I want to be in so many areas of my life. And with 47 barreling down the pike coming at me like a Mack truck, I can't help but think, did I make the right choice all those years ago when I quit my job and began to work for the Lord? 

The news comes fast, every time I log on someone else has passed away, someone else has cancer or some other disease, people are questioning their faith, they are afraid and discouraged and overcome.  And here I am suppose to be the encourager, the one who lives a life of joy. What do you do with all these broken pieces and parts that want to pull you under.  You look those feelings straight in the eye and call them what they are. Fear has always been a enemy of mine and I find myself locking horns with it quite a bit these days.  And the only refuge I can find is in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God. Below is a piece that I wrote years ago during one of the scariest times in my life, some of you may remember it, but in this season I think it bears repeating. Out of times of great trial a new song always comes forth... my new song hasn't come yet, but until it does I will sing the old ones and remember I serve the same God who gave me victory before and will do it again...

In The Shadow of Cancer

I’m a New Yorker – born and raised in the Bronx, my family still resides there, but for many years the Lord had me living in Ohio. On September 11, 2001, before I went into fulltime music ministry, I went to work and every person in my office was huddled around the big screen TV in the lounge. My secretary Viki gently told me what was happening, she knew that my entire family was in a four-mile radius of the Twin Towers. As I watched the towers fall I was in shock, and the fact that I couldn’t get a phone to ring on the East Coast made the moment all the more terrifying. 

My brother wound up having to walk miles and cross a huge NYC bridge to get home. My cousin was outside when the tower fell; she sustained cuts but was ok. My brother’s girlfriend at the time worked at the World Trade Center, she just happened to be late for work that morning. My mother was stranded about 15 miles from home, with a river between her and home she uttered a prayer to the Lord and a woman she met for the first time earlier that same morning in our massive apartment complex of  35 buildings,  33 floors to a building, 12 apartments to a floor, saw her standing on the side of the road and took her home. And my dad… my dad was diagnosed with Cancer. 

Some remember that right after the towers fell, Anthrax was being sent through the mail, my father worked at the post office where the anthrax was first found and had to be put on Anthrax medication as well. And even fewer people remember that several weeks after 9-11 another plane crashed in a Queens neighborhood for reasons that still have yet to be determined. That neighborhood was the one my father lived in and on the day that plane fell from the sky, my father and I were at the airport waiting for him to catch a flight home after visiting me in Ohio. 

I was petrified, 600 miles from home and my world was upside down. I remember crying and praying and asking the Lord for peace. And something my grandmother said came to me, that whenever I was afraid I should read the 91st Psalm. I got up from prayer and picked up my Bible and read:

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” 

The song poured out, another feeble heart cry to the Lord, letting Him know that even though I was I was afraid I’d trust Him and believe that I was under His shadow. Not under the shadow of cancer or terrorists, or sickness, or crashing planes. 

Random Life Lesson # 32, Fear is a killer of Faith. Even in the shadow of the things we most fear, God will lead us along the best pathways for our lives, He is with us, even till the end of the age! Today if there is something that you fear, remember that the Lord is with you and you can run into His arms and find peace and safety in the shadow of His wings.

I'd love to gift you with a copy of the song, In Your Shadow - Click Here To Download

Naima

He Bit Precious On The Nose - In Memory of Leslie Prestal 

He Bit Precious On The Nose - In Memory of Leslie Prestal

 

I don’t remember when we first met exactly, but she turned up in my life, like she had always been there. Fourteen years old, full of questions and life, pony tales and an eager spirit, she soaked up the things of the Lord like a sponge.  

For a brief shining second in time, I was part of something rare and beautiful, in small town Ohio, I saw roses grow from cornfields. I was witness to the spiritual growth and development of a group of kids that served and worshiped the Lord with abandon, dedication and boldness in a way I never had.  It wasn’t until later that I realized what a tremendous responsibility and blessing it was to serve as a youth leader for Victory Temple Church in Fairborn, Ohio.  Leslie was a part of this unusual group.  Anointed, evangelistic, Holy Spirit filled, they preferred the things of God over the mall and hanging out.  It was nothing to see these radical teenagers laid out before the alter crying out to the Lord for revival, for healing, for deliverance. 

I got a chance to watch them all grow, some departed the faith and others became stronger and even more in love with Jesus. Leslie was one of those who fell in so deep, she couldn’t get out if she tried.  Many people try to be good, but Leslie was good.  And although she would be the first to admit she didn’t always feel good, that she battled her own flesh, I know what I saw.  The glory of the Lord all over her, displaying the Him in her so brilliantly that sometimes she was blinding. His words in her mouth, His heart in her compassionate ways, His sacrifice in her kindnesses, His truth in her desire that no one would perish. And she grew into a mighty woman of God and went from being one of my kids to being one of my sweetest friends. 

Once when she was around sixteen, the youth group was gathered at the Youth Pastor’s home for fellowship.  Leann (the Pastor’s wife) had this funny little dog – named, D.O.G. who use to terrorize the kids.  Leann was sitting in a chair with the little dog tucked away besides her barely visible.  Someone said something hilarious, and Leslie who was sitting at Leann’s feet, popped up on her knees screaming in laughter and rocking forward.  And as she came near to the chair, that dog popped out like a little viper and nipped her on the nose.  It was one of the funniest things we had ever seen.  It scared Leslie more than anything and D.O.G. got in major trouble, but my how we laughed about that incident for years. 

For some reason, the Lord allowed me to play a part in her spiritual journey – which makes no sense to me as I often feel so weak and powerless, and Leslie was so faith filled and strong. I got to counsel her on those teenage issues, share with her from the word of the Lord, help teach her how to lead worship. Later, Leslie and I helped that same Pastor and his wife start a church and worked together in the church office, she was one of the first volunteers for my ministry.  She traveled over five hours to serve at my wedding and we’d meet for breakfast and discuss her dreams, her goals, her desires.  I was her big sister in the faith and she was my Les-er-lee. 

And then one day I came into her office and she told me she had gotten some abnormal test results back from the doctor and had to see a specialist. We brushed it off, declared the victory over the situation and put it in the hands of the Lord. 

 She fought valiantly, and there were times of healing, refreshing and reprieve.  Two times she conquered the beast of cancer by the power of the Lord.  And when it returned the third time, she won the ultimate victory and went home to be with her Savior, the One whom her soul loved. 

I don’t understand why a thirty-one-year-old would die. Especially one who went on mission trips, led worship, shared with the world how faithful God was. I don’t understand why the Lord didn’t allow her to be the wife and mother that she desired to be.  My heart is broken and I am weak and crying at all hours of the day and night. I got a chance to talk with her before she died, to sing a song that we sang together when she was that fourteen-year-old rose turning her face to the light to grow in grace.  

One of the last things Leslie said was, “I still believe God can heal me, and I am trusting Him to do so. What a marvelous testimony that would be.  But if He doesn’t heal me, and He calls me home, that’s OK to, because then I’ll be with Jesus.” 

We are a people always looking for miracles. We cry and question and when a loved one leaves this earth at a time we define as “to soon” we let our faith be shaken and say God didn’t answer our prayer.  But isn’t the true miracle that Leslie faced the beginning of her eternal life anchored in His promises and speaking them over her own life to give us comfort? 

And I comfort myself thinking about how D.O.G. nipped her on the nose and how she laughed until her face turned red after it happened. I am left with all the memories I wish I could pour out on this page to share with you about utterly lovely Leslie is.  I say is – because she still lives, she lives in the presence of the Lord and she lives in my heart.  And I am humbled and honored to know that in some small way, for one brief second in eternity, I got to share this earthly life with her and that for a time I got to be a gardener tending one of His most precious roses. 

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. 
Psalm 116:15

Smile! It's Over! 

Just when I thought I was home… the Lord ups and speaks a word and sends me from sunny Florida to tiny town Louisiana.  Yep, Jon and I are now living down on the bayou and it happened so quick I know some of you are still trying to figure out how the heck it happened.  I’m still trying to figure out it happened! 

It just goes to show you that we make plans and God laughs.  And in His laughter we have a choice, will we laugh with Him and enjoy the journey even if it takes us to unexpected places? Or will we cry and moan and be angry that the life we thought we were about to live is now gone? 

Moments like these call for some Dr. Seuss wisdom. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” 

For three wonderful years we didn’t wear socks in the winter, went to Disney frequently, made a multitude of new friends and saw the Lord sustain through sickness, lack and discouragement. And we never thought we’d leave. As a matter of fact I was just about to purchase my Florida Disney Resident Pass! 

For a couple who are called "the gypsies" by our family, we felt like we had finally found home – oh, we might have left Jacksonville and went on to Orlando or Tampa at some point, but at some moment in time unbeknownst to us, Florida replaced Nashville and became home. 

New Llano, Louisiana, a small town surrounded by the booming metropolis of Leesville… combined the population is about 8,000 people with about 20,000 at Folk Polk, the army base that is a few miles up the road.  This is a town where people wave at me in my front yard as they drive pass, where people introduce themselves to me in the Walmart because they know me, although we have not yet met, a place where we have been truly embraced by our new church family.  It’s so very far from all our big city “villes” Nashville, Jacksonville… now Leesville. This is a town where I have to drive 2 hours to get to Whole Foods... 

How did we get here? It happened in a whirlwind six week period. Jon was offered a position as the principal of Leesville Christian Academy. So totally unexpected, I mean it really was a message on Facebook, a few phone calls, lots of tense discussions, a whole lot of prayer and boom – next thing we know we were packing the house right after Valentine’s Day and waving good bye to Lyle Lane on March 20th. Miracle after miracle paved the way and every door opened before us even though it seemed at times there was a great deal of opposition. 

So here I am adjusting to a new life, a new home, a new church, a new mission again.  I can already tell this is a season of growth and pruning – God has been speaking and I have been listening.  It’s going to be an interesting year with some interesting blogs, I can already tell you that. 

But I do miss Florida.  But I do trust the plan of the Lord and His promise.  Today, If you are facing sudden changes, surprises in life, opposition or the unknown, I encourage you to join me in mediating on the following scripture: 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 
  
And as He leads you smile… beautiful things are in store for every ending is a doorway to a new beginning. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, come minister to your group or see you over in our Refreshing Life Community if you are not already a member on Facebook. Shoot me a message and let me know how I can be of service or your comments about this post! Message Naima

God of the Hills and Valleys - Sarah Cepeda  

Good day all! 

I normally speak about empowerment, growth, self-love etc. Today will be a bit different. 

I am a strong believer in God and his goodness in our lives and that's what I want to focus on today. I was riding to work this morning, listening to the Christian radio station I love and the song "Hills and Valleys" by Tauren Wells came on. This is one of my favorite songs. Some of the lyrics, the ones that especially stood out to me this morning, are as follows.... 

On the mountains, I will bow my life 
To the one who set me there 
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there 
When I'm standing on the mountain, I didn't get there on my own 
When I'm walking through the valley, I know I am not alone! 
You're God of the hills and valleys! 
Hills and Valleys! 
God of the hills and valleys 
And I am not alone! 

While this song has always had a special significance to me, from the very first time I heard it, today it really touched me to the point where I was almost in tears. It brought to mind, everything that is happening in Houston, Texas right now. I have seen videos on social media platforms, where despite the circumstances they are experiencing, people are still praising God and thanking Him. There are people who have lost everything except the clothes on their back and they still manage to smile and thank God for his grace and mercies. In the midst of all of the loss, they are still aware that God is with them and will never leave them. They are well aware of the fact that our God is most certainly a God of the hills and valleys and He will never leave us. Even in the midst of our worst storm, he is there. Even when we look up and things seem so bad that all we can see is storms and darkness, He is there. This is so powerful! 

In addition, many of the videos I've seen have had people of all races and backgrounds joining together to help one another in their time of need. With the political climate in our country being what it is now and the country appearing to be so divided across racial lines, seeing these videos, while tragic, was also uplifting for me. It confirmed to me that God and love will still always win over hatred, no matter what the picture looks like on the surface. 

I try to be optimistic and look at the silver lining in every cloud. While it is challenging to find a silver lining in the cloud of Hurricane Harvey, I do believe that there is one. Yes, Hurricane Harvey is a tragedy and has had some devastating effects on people. Some people have lost everything they spent their entire lives building. Some people have lost loved ones. It will likely take years to rebuild Houston, Texas after such a devastating storm. Despite all of this, I do believe there is a silver lining.

For me, the silver lining is the love that is coming out of all of this. The love that people have for human kind, that is enabling them to cross lines of hate and racism in order to help those in their community. The love of strangers who are leaving their homes in neighboring states to go to Houston to offer assistance. The love of people who cannot be there, who are sending donations. The love of people who are praying for Houston, Texas everyday. The love of those Houston residents, who despite everything, are still praising God and thanking Him. For me, all of these things are the silver lining in the horrible cloud that is Hurricane Harvey.

For me, all of these things are what give me hope for this world and help to strengthen my desire to continue to seek after God and all of His goodness. For me, this represents hope and determination and the fullness of the love of God and the fact that He is always there, to hold our hand and get us through whatever storm we may be facing! 

God bless you always! 

Sarah J. Cepeda 

CEO/Owner Broken Chains, LLC 

Certified Holistic Life Coach 

Empowerment Speaker