Why Did I Think We Needed a Puppy?

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I have always been anti-dog.  My house is already full of loud, messy, needy creatures.  What do I need a dog for?

“It would be so good for the children,” my husband would argue the pro-dog position.

“They are so cute!  And it would be fun,” the children would chime in.

“Don’t worry, we will get one…someday…when we have a lot of land and the dog can be an outside dog,” I would always answer.

I had no intention of sharing my home with a stinky, hairy animal that may or may not destroy the furniture and pee on the rug.  God, however, had different ideas.

I drive to a farm once a week to purchase raw milk and pastured eggs.  A few years ago, beagles began showing up on the farm until there were three beagles in three separate pens.  Soon there was a litter of the cutest little balls of fur in one of the pens.  The children would “ooohhhh” and “ahhhhh” over them and try to pet them through the chain link fence.  The puppies would trample over each other to get to the children, wild with excitement.

The children would come home with tales of the adorable puppies.

“Just call and find out how much they are,” Chris urged me.

“We don’t need a puppy right now.  I don’t WANT a puppy right now,” was my reply.

“Just call,” he said.

After I called and found out that each puppy would require a sum of $450, the talk of getting a puppy ceased.  The puppies grew up and were all adopted.  Then six months later another batch of puppies would appear wobbling out of their little dog house and into the penned-in yard.  I let the children have fun talking to them and petting them, but my heart was unmoved.  I never thought that beagles were that cute anyway.

This September, there was a new litter of seven puppies.  The farmer invited me and my children to peek into the dog house.  We saw the tiniest black bundles snuggled up to their mother. They seemed different somehow.  They were black and white.  Had any of the other beagle puppies been black and white?  I couldn’t exactly remember.

Soon they grew enough to venture into their yard.  I felt strangely drawn to these tiny creatures.  They were so adorable.  Areli took a pictures of them with her phone.  Cute, right?

The farmer let the children hold one, and they were in love.

“So how many of them are you going to take home?” the farmer asked.

I just laughed!

The next week there was a new sign at the farm that read, “Border Collie Beagle Puppies $100.”  I started thinking, “Hey, we could afford $100!  If all the children would pitch in, they could cover all the costs and help to take care of a puppy.”

Yet my thoughts scared me!  What was I thinking, even considering this?  We didn’t need a puppy!

I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind.  The children would be overjoyed to have a puppy, and I would love to fulfill their heart’s desire.  I told Chris my thoughts and he said, “If YOU want to get a puppy that is all the confirmation I need!  Call them and ask if we can pick one out.  You better hurry before they sell them all!”

I called the owner, who was the wife of the farmer’s brother.  She told me the funny story about these $100 puppies.  She and the farmer’s brother were planning their wedding and decided not to breed the beagles this season since the puppies would arrive right around the wedding date, early September.  Well nature, the dogs, or God himself had different plans.  When the female beagle was in heat, the Border Collie who lives on the farm chewed into her cage.

I laughed about the unplanned pregnancy that had produced such adorable pups.  I set up a time to bring the entire family to the farm that Friday evening.

On Friday morning I was feeling very nervous about this rather impulsive, impractical, and life changing decision…to go PICK OUT A PUPPY!  What was I thinking?!  I asked God to give me a scripture to confirm that this was a good decision for our family.

He gave me Psalm 34.  I read the beloved verses such as:

I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Look to him and be radiant so your faces shall never be ashamed.

The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Peace began to flood my soul and I thought, “A puppy must be a good thing that God wants to give to us.”

Later that day, all 11 of us crowded into a room in the barn.  The floor was wet since all the puppies had just been given a bath. They were so little and cute and active!  They would run around wagging their tails rapidly; licking, chewing, and jumping the entire time.  I had prayed that the Holy Spirit would highlight the perfect puppy for our family, yet I couldn’t even tell them apart!  I finally settled on one puppy that seemed to like Ashlyn. I always had thought that a dog would be good for Ashlyn since she loves animals. Cooper and Cadin picked another puppy with distinctive brown eye brows who was identified by the owner as the most active puppy of the bunch.  Areli and Cole had bonded with a shy little girl who had been so scared by the bath, she spent the first half of the visit in her owner’s arms.  Once she was let down to the floor, Cole scooped her up and she fell asleep. photo-10Areli took a turn cradling the sleeping pup.  Cole and Areli were in love.

After much discussion and debate, we finally settled on the sleeping pup.  A sweet and docile dog would be a good complement to our overactive boys.  She was the only puppy that the owner had already named because she was the favorite.  Her name was “Happy” due to her constantly wagging tail.

It was a good thing we went to the farm that night because the very next day, all six of Happy’s brothers and sisters were adopted!  We decided to keep her name “Happy” because we couldn’t all agree on a name.

Chris wanted to name her “Dog.”

Cadin wanted, “Gigi.”

Cooper thought something like, “Skullcrusher” would be more appropriate.

Areli and I preferred a sweet name like, “Ellie”.

Cole suggested, “Gonorrhea,” for the entertaining shock value.

Mercifully, the named had already been chosen!!  Now we just had to wait until Oct 8th when we could take Happy home.

After the exciting trip to the farm, I sat down to read through Psalm 34 again.  When I got to verse 8, it was like a revelation from God.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good;

HAPPY are those who take refuge in him.”

God knew that Happy was the puppy for us.  I felt that He knew it all along, and that He had planned all of us to bless us.

When October 8th came, we were all very excited!  The children held a rather apprehensive Happy on the van ride home.  She had already gotten bigger!photo-4  She seemed uncertain about her new home and finally found her happy place, snuggled in Ashlyn’s lap.

Neither Chris nor I had ever had a dog.  We knew very little about being dog owners.  I had gotten all kinds of books and DVDs from the library which the children and I had been studying.  I was preparing myself for a lot of work initially.  Areli said she would take Happy out during the night.  Cole said he would train her.  The other boys said they would take her out for walks and play time.

I had a vision in my head inspired by the many books and movies I had seen about dogs.  The children and the dog would be best friends, almost inseparable.  She would look up at them with adoration in her eyes, longing to please.  She would join them on their adventures in the woods.  They would become responsible pet owners and grow in maturity.

Three days after we brought her home we noticed something in her fur.  Fleas!!!  Just two of them, but I had never had fleas in my house before.  The internet said that one flea could turn into hundreds, maybe thousands in just a week.  My skin started to crawl and I was officially freaking out.  How do I naturally deal with fleas?  We gave her bathes in flea shampoo and vacuumed every day.

After a few weeks, we were all worn out and it seemed as though Happy hadn’t learned anything.  She hadn’t learned to sleep through the night and Areli was walking through her day like a zombie.  Cole hadn’t trained her to do anything.  Someone was assigned to watch her at every moment and take her outside every half an hour.  Still, dog pee and poop on the carpet was the new normal.

I thanked God that our carpet was so old that it really should be replaced anyway, but the smell and the extra cleaning was frustrating.  Just to make it interesting, Happy barfed and had diarrhea a few times as well.

I began to realize that I really knew nothing about dogs.  Is this all normal?  Is she ok, or is she sick?  What would I do if she got sick?  I know all about taking care of children and babies.  I know exactly how to treat all of the childhood maladies, but a dog I had no clue about.  How could we afford vet bills?  What vaccines does she need and which ones are unnecessary?  Should we get her spayed and how?

I reminded myself that Happy was a BLESSING from God and He would work all this out.

Happy are those who take refuge in Him, I would remind myself over and over again.  My happiness was not in the circumstances but in His unchanging love and goodness.

More weeks passed and Happy continued to chew on EVERYTHING!  We had to keep the floor cleaner than if we had a baby crawling around.  When she got something that could be dangerous, it became a game of, “who can catch the puppy and pry this thing out of her mouth.”

The most distressing reality to me was the fact that she like to chew on PEOPLE!  My people!  My little defenseless people!  Annalise was afraid of Happy because Happy could knock her down.  I would have to hold Annalise or put her in her highchair when Happy was around, and this was incredibly inconvenient.  Courage wasn’t much better, but at least he could run away and climb up on the furniture to escape her reach.

Courage took to hitting and kicking the puppy.  I thought he was just being naughty, until I realized that he was really angry at this new “baby” for hurting him and scaring him.  The truth was, I was angry too and couldn’t blame Courage for his emotions.  I tried to teach him how to play with her nicely, but it ended up more like refereeing a mixed martial arts fight.  Happy just thought they were her brother and sister and wanted to play.

Ashlyn, who loved to play with Happy, would mess with the puppy endlessly.  This resulted in many bites and scratches.  The saddest moments for me would be when one of the middle boys would be playing with the puppy.  Happy would get over excited and bite hard.  The boys would end up bleeding and crying.  My idyllic vision of pet ownership was crushed.

I became very upset over the entire situation.  My day was much more difficult and messy and sad and frustrating.  Why did I think we needed a puppy?  I began to wish that I never had this stupid idea!

Happy are those who take refuge in Him, I tried to remind myself.

dsc_0093The children began to fight with me about taking Happy outside and cleaning up after her.  When I talked to Chris about all of these things at supper time, his response was very simple.

“This is just a dog.  All of you promised to help with her.  If you don’t help, or if you give Mama a hard time about it, I will get rid of the dog.  I have no problem posting on Facebook, ‘Free Puppy.’”

Chris was very serious.  I actually wanted to take him up on his offer!  What a load would be lifted!  Yet, I felt that God had brought us this specific puppy, and it wouldn’t be right to give her up.  I felt that eventually she would be a great blessing to our family, although in the moment I couldn’t quite imagine how.

Dealing with the inconveniences of a new puppy is a rather small trial.  Yet God was using this to teach me lessons I needed to navigate through the real trial in my life; the heartrending trial that is just too deep and personal to write about yet.  I was dealing with a situation that I had always hoped and earnestly prayed that I would NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH.  And now that I was in the middle of it, I just wanted to retreat.  To be done, to give up, to admit defeat.

Happy are those who take refuge in Him, I remind myself every time I look at our puppy. Just like this puppy, I know that God will use this horrible situation for my good and bring a blessing out of it.   I can’t imagine what the blessing will be, but I am trying to believe that there is ALWAYS a blessing to everything that God allows to enter our lives.

J.R. Miller expressed it perfectly when he wrote:

“Every difficult task that comes across your path – every one that you would rather not do, that will take the most effort, cause the most pain, and be the greatest struggle – brings a blessing with it.  And refusing to do it regardless of the personal cost is to miss the blessing…

“Every battle field you encounter, where you are required to draw your sword and fight the enemy, has the possibility of victory that will prove to be a rich blessing to your life.  And every heavy burden you are called upon to lift hides within itself a miraculous secret of strength.”

Now the puppy has become less of a trial.  The children had a real attitude adjustment and began helping more willingly.  They began to have fun playing outside with her and taking her to the park.  She began to sleep through the night!  She started to calm down with the chewing and biting.  She actually became very gentle with Annalise and better with the other children as well.  She started to obey some commands!

We take pleasure in petting her silky fur and scratching her belly as her tail thumps on the floor.  We love to snuggle with her on the sofa when she curls up to take a nap.

photo-12 She has stopped using our house as a toilet (most of the time) and her schedule has become more predictable.  The flea infestation that I had worried about never manifested.  Whenever I look at her I can’t help but think that she is the prettiest puppy in the entire world, and I am glad that she is ours!

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Happy is a constant reminder that Happy are those to take refuge in Him and every trial holds the promise of a blessing whether we can see it or not.

God is ALWAYS better than we think He is

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

This is a famous quote from the Hiding Place, a true story written by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her sister Betsy had defied the Nazis by hiding Jews in their home.  When their house was raided, the Jews were never discovered in the expertly designed hiding place, but Corrie and Betsy were taken into custody and eventually put into a concentration camp.  Corrie experienced the horrors of a hell on earth.  She witnessed the death of many, including her beloved sister.  Yet she learned that in the darkest pit, God was there…and He was good…so incredibly good.

She came out of that experience more in love with Jesus, more devoted to following Him.  She spent the rest of her life encouraging other people to love Jesus.  That is a testimony that no one can deny.  No imaginary God, no fairy tale God, no boring or religious God could work a miracle like that; placing a life into the crucible of suffering and making it a joyous offering.

I have often pondered Corrie’s life and wondered what I would have done in her place.  It is unlikely that any of us will have to make the choices she had to make.  Yet each one of us will have our own personal hell on earth that we will have to navigate through.

On Thursday night, I heard the stories of five women from my church; each I knew well; each had faced their own crucible.

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Kristi is a wonderful deejay on the local Christian radio station.  She lives in my neighborhood and I sometimes see her pass my house, taking a walk with her little boy in a stroller.  She told how just months after their marriage, her husband was diagnosed with cancer.  Years later cancer was found in her body as well.  In addition, the doctors told them it would be impossible for them to have children.  Her story wasn’t about the seven long years of treatment and tests, sorrow and disappointments.  Her story was about the goodness of God, His healing power, and their miracle baby!

Bobbie is the mother of one of my first youth leaders, and one of the hardest working, sweetest ladies you will ever meet.  She faced breast cancer and multiple cancer scares after that. Does she live in fear?  No!  Her life is full of joy because of her amazing God!

Tiffany was just a junior higher when I met her.  I was in senior high and would sing on stage with the youth worship band.  She wrote me a sweet little note at one of the youth retreats that said something like this, “I see you on stage with such grace and confidence, and I know that God does that.”  Well, my singing voice is not what it used to be, and I have faded into the background.  Now I watch Tiffany on stage worshipping with a clear and powerful voice, singing songs that she has written and recorded, and I am looking up to her in admiration!

Tiffany told the story of suffering a blood clot in her lungs, dying twice, and surviving a surgery that would have killed 499,999 people out of 500,000.  Her story wasn’t about the pain and suffering she had to enduring during the recovery process.  She didn’t complain about the interruption in their lives with two little girls and a newborn baby boy.  She told of how God’s goodness was there every step of the way.  She said, “You can NEVER exaggerate the goodness of God.  He is ALWAYS better that we think he is!”

Sharon was a leader in youth group when I was in high school.  A few years later, I actually saw myself in her wedding album.  She and her husband were honeymooning in Boston.  I just happened to be there on a missions trip with YWAM, and we randomly ran into each other on the street and snapped a picture!  I admired both her and her husband, and when I heard the news that he had left her for another woman while she was pregnant with their second child, I was heartbroken for them.  She was devastated and was a single parent for almost 15 years.  Yet her story is not one of loss and betrayal.  It is a story of learning to love herself, learning to forgive, and learning how much God loved her.  Now she sees restoration in all the broken relationships and just married a man who is better than the very best she had ever imagined for herself.  God gave her more that she had asked for!

Sue is a powerful woman of God at our church.  I first met her when I volunteered to help out with vacation Bible school when I was in high school.  I was assigned to help in her room which was the dancing room.  Each day, four different groups of children would rotate through our room.  Sue led them with a microphone (which she really didn’t need) and tireless energy. I had never had so much fun at vacation Bible school before!

Sue told of her battle with cancer.  She was in so much pain that she wished for death.  She survived the surgery that took out her entire stomach, part of her esophagus, part of her intestines, and her gallbladder.  Her doctors were so surprised, they hadn’t developed a follow-up plan.  Cancer free six years later, she doesn’t moan about how unlucky she was.  She sings and shouts and passionately tells of her beloved Jesus!  She looks like she would explode if she didn’t proclaim her love.

How can this be?  Shouldn’t all these women be bitter and cynical, wondering why a loving God would lead them through the valley of the shadow of death?  All of these women have a real relationship with a real God who never left them for a moment.  In fact He was always right there with them, carrying them, listening to them, speaking to them, and healing them.  He was sending answers, giving provision, working miracles and loving on them until they were filled to overflowing with that love.

This is a God that we just cannot deny.  I pray that you and I will be encouraged to trust more in His great love for us and have the courage to say in our own trials…

“There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

 

Breaking Through to Prosperity

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“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2

I had always found great comfort in this verse during times of trial, knowing that no matter how hard my life got, God would not let the troubles overwhelm me.  Most of these trials have had to do with finances.  How many times can you drive around the same block of “not enough in my bank account” before you realize that you are in the wrong neighborhood and hightail it out of there?  Seemed to me that we had tried a million different paths to a million different locations and always ended up in the same place – that run down, ugly part of town called “Lack”

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otherwise known as “Hope Deferred”

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or “Too many Big Dreams and Not Enough Money.”

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I was praying again for some insight on how to conduct our lives in a way that would lead us to that abundant peace and prosperity that the Bible is always talking about.  Again God gave me Isaiah 43.  But this time I understood it in a very different way.

Perhaps the most dangerous and powerful rivers in this life were not hardships as I had supposed.  Perhaps success, wealth, and the praises of man were far more perilous.  Perhaps the fiercest flames were not that of failure and rejection but that of acceptance and comfort.

My husband, Chris, loves music and had gotten in the habit of watching the TV show “Behind the Music.”  I don’t know very many popular bands, but I could predict the basic story line of almost every show.  A few guys had some talent and big dreams to become rich and famous.  They achieved their dream after varying degrees of time and effort.  They were worshiped by fans. They had enough money to make every desire and whim become a reality.  They had everything they ever wanted…and it just wasn’t enough. They would spiral out of control with excess; drinking, women, and drugs.  Many of them ruined their families and careers.  Some even lost their lives.  The blessed few humbled themselves and got their lives back on track.

What I learned is that quick and easy success is no blessing!  The adoration of fans is no blessing!  Abundant wealth is no blessing…if you do not have the character to handle it…it will destroy you.

If all our dreams came true tomorrow, I wouldn’t become a drug addict.  Chris wouldn’t become a womanizer.  Yet we could become prideful without even realizing it.  We could rejoice in our own wisdom and power.  We might be tempted to lead others to our most excellent way rather than point them to THE WAY.  We might become too comfortable to seek His kingdom first.

I began to read Isiah 43 in a new light.  Chris and I had learned so much through our 19 years of marriage.  How to better budget our money.  How to work as a team.  How to pray and trust God more.  How to leave behind generational curses.  We had made so much progress, yet we still did not see the prosperity that God had promised us.

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Then I heard His still, small voice.

“What is left is for you to do is to seek me and know me more.  Every moment of everyday, take the opportunity to sink your roots deeper into the soil of my love and truth.  I am withholding the mighty river of overwhelming blessing simply because you are not yet ready to handle it. Until your roots are firmly anchored in me, it could sweep you away.”

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I am so thankful that God is keeping me safe from myself.  I am so thankful that his promises mean that someday I will be like Jesus; able to steward great power and responsibility without letting it control me.  Being able to humbly accept both abundance and lack and be content.  I will be able to follow the advice of Rudyard Kipling.

“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same.”

Triumph and Disaster and are powerful forces that could consume all that is good in our lives.  Yet if we are already completely consumed by the Lover of Our Souls, those two impostors have no chance at moving us… except deeper into his embrace.

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God’s Goodness is Hunting Me Down

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Most if the time, most of us just want to be happy and comfortable.  That is what we look for and strive for and pray for.  That is how we define “being blessed.” Comfortable and happy.

Life is very rarely a comfortable and happy affair.  When the journey leads us to trial after trial, we begin to wonder what is wrong.  Are we on the wrong track?  Why isn’t God answering our prayers?  Does God really love us as much as he says that he does?  Will we ever see our dreams come true?

I love the book, Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.  I have read it many times and each time, I relate to it more and more.  I find great comfort in realizing that Hannah Hurnard experienced her Christian walk much the same way that I have.  Much the same as every Christian, I suspect.

When Much-Afraid started her trek to the High Places, she knew that the journey would be difficult.  She had to climb the mountains with her twisted, lame feet.  She knew that to ever achieve the Shepard’s goal for her; it would take a bit of the supernatural.  But she never guessed what was in store for her.

The Shepard chose two companions to help her since she was lame and very fearful.  They never left her side and assisted her every step of the way.  They were Sorrow and Suffering.  Instead of climbing into the mountains, the path led the three travelers to the Desert, then the Shores of Loneliness, the Precipice of Injury, the Forest of Danger and Tribulation, the Mist, the Valley of Loss, the Floods, and the Grave.  By the time Much-Afraid had reached the Grave, she was no longer the same girl who had started at the foot of the mountains.  She had suffered much, but she had also spent much time with the good Shepard.  She laid herself and her dreams on the alter.  She could see that she would never reach the high places, but she was happy to obey her beloved Shepard.

She did not anticipate the glorious resurrection that would occur, healing her lame feet and changing her from Much-Afraid to Grace and Glory!  Though it was the Shepard who was her prize, the High Places became hers as well, and it was more glorious than she ever imagined!

I hope I make it to the High Places someday.  I hope that all the dreams that I have carried in my heart come to pass, yet I have laid them down to say that God is enough.

I could lose everything and suffer great tragedy, yet there is only one thing that I can never afford to lose…my faith.  My faith is my life and my hope.  Without my faith in a good Father, I would be dead while I still lived…and then be a dead shell for all eternity.  My faith, which is worth more than gold (1 Peter 1:7), is what God in his infinite wisdom is after.

The trials that purify my faith make it feel as though his goodness and mercy are far away.  Yet his Goodness and Mercy are always following me! God’s goodness and mercy will follow me all of the days of my life. (Psalm 23:6) Follow means to aggressively pursue, run after, chase.  God’s goodness is hunting me down.  At times I wish his goodness would leave me alone and let me be comfortable and happy for a little while.  It is chasing me like a massive hunting dog; pouncing on me, knocking me down, and licking me all over with messy, wet doggy kisses.  I may struggle and mourn and wail.  But it is God’s irresistible Goodness that won’t let me go.   It will not let me stay the way I am now because God loves me too much.

“Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible – terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemishing or unworthy to remain in the beloved.” –Hinds Feet on High Places

Being comfortable and happy would be great…for a short while.  But the purification of my faith is worth so much more.  To become like Jesus and to enjoy a closer walk with him is worth any trial it takes to get me there.  To know his great love for me is my prize and great reward, and it brings a deep and abiding joy.

“Multiplied” is a great worship song for those of us who are being hunted down by his love!

God is a Strange Kind of Blesser

I have a good man.  One of the best!  We have gone through our share of trials together, and I have watched him weather storm after storm.  I have seen him carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.  I have witnessed him straining under the overwhelming burden of it, trying with all his strength to simply stay afloat.

We have had many struggles during our marriage.  We have had times when we couldn’t pay our bills, we were getting calls from creditors threatening to take our home, and we were expecting that our vehicles would be repossessed.  We have gone through many financial storms such as layoffs and economic downturns.  We have followed trusted leaders into a treacherous sea of financial decisions and then have been abandoned, left to navigate to shore alone.  We have made our share of bad decisions, landing us in overwhelming debt.  We have also lived through the death of one dream after another, dreams that could have rescued us and put us on solid ground again.

 

One night a few years ago, we watched “Cinderella Man” together.  It became one of my favorite movies because it depicted something we had been through.  A young family with children to take care of.  A man wanting to work so badly, but there was no work to be found.  Things went from bad to worse in the middle of the Great Depression. Finally he got a break.  His former boxing trainer had gotten him a fight!  He would most certainly lose, but he would get paid.  He jumped at the chance to provide for his family!  The thought of being pummeled and hit until he was bloody was nothing to him. No suffering could compare to the thought of his children going without food.  Miraculously, he won the fight and eventually was in line to fight for the heavyweight title.  His opponent was a bear of a man who had killed someone in the ring with one knockout punch.  When James J. Braddock was talking to the media about how he had become such an amazing boxer when previously he was only mediocre, this was his answer, “Now I know what I am fighting for…milk.”

At this point Chris made a comment that I will never forget.  He said, “I would submit to a public beating if it would cancel all our debts.”

I almost wept right there!  The heart of a man who stands up and fights for his family against seemingly unbeatable odds!  Is there anything more courageous?  Chris had no opportunity to get into the ring like Jimmy Braddock, but he did work two jobs for four years to get us out of debt.  He worked hard, and he worked well.  He was diligent and did everything with wisdom and integrity.  In the midst of it, he realized that all of these jobs would drain him of his energy and time but never provide what we needed for our every growing family.

When Chris had the opportunity to buy a business, he jumped at it. He knew it would be a lot of work at first, but eventually he would be able to earn more as the owner and boss then he ever could as an employee.  He leaped out of the boat and started to swim into uncharted waters with faith and excitement.  It was true that we had failed many times before, but this time would be different!

It was about four months into owning the new business that we ran out of money.  We knew that God had led us there, but we didn’t know how to move forward.  I felt this amazing peace that everything would be just fine.  I didn’t know how, but I knew that God did, so I could trust Him.

Chris, on the other hand, had to go into work each day and try to figure out how he was going to buy materials to make signs and how he was going to pay his employees to make the signs.  On and on the troubles went day after day.  The days turned into weeks, and no miraculous provision materialized.  Things went from bad to worse.

I had seen Chris upset and discouraged before, but never like this.  In his mind, he had failed.  He had taken every resource we had and put it into this dream of a better life…and he had lost it all.  The darkness surrounding him was so thick; I could hardly get through it.  I could see that he was so tired of years of fighting and struggling, and his deepest heart’s desire was to just give up…on the business, on trying, on life.  His father had left him before he was old enough to remember.  Chris had vowed to himself that he would never leave his children fatherless.  So he kept fighting although he had lost almost all hope.  He kept going to work day after day, even though he felt it was useless.

He couldn’t see it, but I saw a miracle occurring.  Instead of getting angry and trying to ease his pain with distractions, Chris became humble and quiet.  He leaned into God.  He went to church whenever he could, and I saw him worship God in the midst of his hopelessness!

One night we both went to church because they were offering personal prophecies.  Boy, did we need a word from the Lord.  Any type of encouragement would be a life-preserver!  We sat down in the theater of our church and waited for one of the pastoral staff to come and pray for us.  Anne Stock, a senior pastor, kneeled down to where we were sitting and began to pray.  Her words were the very opposite of what Chris was expecting.  He was feeling like the biggest loser and screw-up there ever was.  Yet her prayer went something like this:

“God is enlarging you, showing you one more side.  You are ready.  He is showing you another dimension.  Don’t be concerned.  It is good.  I pray for Grace to do this different and new thing.  This is happening in your life right now is because He likes you!    HE IS A STRANGE KIND OF BLESSER. You are going to make it through this fire not even smelling like smoke, because there is a 4th man in the fire.  The fire is only burning that which had you bound; only the things that kept you from being free.  Your heart will come out unscathed.  Strength!”

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Chris was blown away.  God actually liked him and was blessing him.  Our struggles were not because he was destined to be a loser for the rest of his life.  It was because God knew he was ready to face this new trial and be enlarged by it.

I watched Chris begin to trust God more like a good Father, the good father that he had never had.  We looked on as God provided dramatic miracles to keep our business going, not just once, but twice!  And we see God doing the small miracles, day by day as we go into our fourth year.  We have lost the concern for our own lives.  Whether we fail or succeed is not so important.  Instead we are living to see the kingdom of God come to our little sphere of influence, however God wants to do it.

God is a strange kind of blesser!  As I look back over my life, the worst of times have always been linked to the very best of times.  When I was depressed or stressed or sick or so tired I couldn’t go on, that is when God met me and shook my world with His amazing words.  Words that have healed me and shaped who I am.  Words that I can offer to others to give them hope and meaning.  God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (PS 34:18). What a blessing it is to have God so close!  Anything that comes into your life, no matter how evil or heartbreaking, can be turned around for good.  God can use absolutely anything to bless you!

If you look over the lives of famous history makers such a Joseph (in the Bible), Squanto, George Washington Carver, Corrie ten Boom, and even contemporaries such as Roland and Heidi Baker, you can see it!  You can see the crushing trials and loss that God used to bring about great blessings, not just for them but for the entire world.  If you are facing hard times, remember, your destiny is so great, so important, that God cannot leave you as you are.  He knows that there is an amazing treasure inside of you.  He knows that this trial will cause your roots to go deep down into His living waters.

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He knows that you are in the process of growing so deep and so wide and so strong, that all the powers of hell and all the forces on earth couldn’t move you from God’s purposes.  And in the midst of it all – His blessings overflow!