He Qualifies the Called

So one of my New Year’s resolutions was to go on more adventures… And we went on a great one for my 25th birthday! We hiked several trails in the Boxley Valley area and stayed at a beautiful cabin near Jasper, AR that overlooks Steel Creek Valley. We got to see a herd of elk, we talked around the campfire, ate some great food, took in the breathtaking views, explored the rock formations and waterfalls… I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend with a better group of people. I took my camera along and here are some pics from the trip:

I’m not in the greatest of shape, and hiking is challenging for me still even though my arthritis is much improved from six months ago. I’ve found that stopping and taking photos is a great way to take little breaks while hiking. Haha! I may be at the back of the pack, but it’s teaching me to take the time to enjoy and document the amazing details along the way that I might otherwise skip over.

That reminds me of something…

Last night we just finished up our young women’s Bible study series called “Unashamed” by Christine Caine. I wanted to share one of the closing thoughts, because it spoke to me in a big way:

It is so important that we do not allow the words and actions of others, or for that matter, even our own self-talk, to define us or limit our potential. God does not ever call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

It’s a process, but I am learning to let go of what I think about myself, and just go with it and be used by God! God uses all of my limits, my imperfections, my flaws, for His glory and for my good. Even things like being the slowest hiker EVER can end up being a positive (photos and memories I might otherwise have missed out on). I’m reminded that when we stop focusing on our own shortcomings and instead focus on serving God and others, that is when things fall into place and we can begin to see the big picture of the good life that He has for us! I’m so thankful for that reminder and for that wonderful weekend enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. What a great way to kick off my 25th birthday year!

Love,
Willa

The Power of Words

Do you ever have days where you just feel discouraged? Today is one of those days, so bear with me. Despite physical therapy and medication, my knee and elbows are still painful and swollen from the arthritis some days, and increasingly so this past week. I’ve been fighting some kind of cold every couple of weeks, which makes it hard to have the energy to get much else done besides work and keeping up with household stuff. I’ll make a little progress with PT, and then it feels like I take two steps backwards. Praying for energy and to stay healthy even though I’m around so many germs at work. Praying for wisdom as well, because Bo and I are beginning to think that working on a med surg floor may not be the best thing for me physically long-term.

Despite all of that, there have been some exciting things happening. I have to remember that even with the physical stuff going on, there’s a bigger picture and God is so, so good. I’m preaching to the choir here… It’s easy to lose focus on God’s goodness when we are dealing with aches and pain. Thankfully, we’ve started up with a young women’s Bible study again after being on break since Christmas. We’re doing Christine Caine’s “Unashamed” study (reading the book and doing a weekly DVD session in one another’s homes). It’s such an encouragement and reminder of God’s faithfulness to be around a small group of women my own age.  To hear everyone’s struggles, victories, prayer requests, and words of encouragement to each other is just such a priceless gift.

That brings me to something that has been on my heart to share: the power our words have to build up or tear down. Here are five verses that I’ve copied into my journal on what the Bible says about our words:

  • Colossians 4:6 “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
  • Ephesians 4:29 “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
  • James 1:26 “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”
  • Proverbs 16:24 “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage one another and build one another up.”

This reminder is for everyone reading and myself as well: is there anyone around you who is discouraged? Anyone who needs a reminder that they are loved? That they matter? Anyone at all who is struggling? It’s our job as followers of Christ to build one another up. If we allow God to be in control of our words, there is such incredible POWER to overturn what the devil is doing to discourage and beat down those around us. Like Proverbs says, our words are  “sweet to the soul and healthy for the body”of the person we are speaking to. That’s amazing! I’ve found that when I’m feeling down and discouraged, the best antidote for that is to do my best to be an encouragement to others. So that’s going to be my goal today, and I hope that this is food for thought for those reading!

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Love,
Willa

New Beginnings

I know I’m a couple of days late, but Happy New Year! I’ve never been much for New Year’s resolutions, but there are just a few things that have been on my heart that I wanted to share.

But first – a little health update! I’ve been seeing a rheumatologist for the joint pain I’ve been experiencing. I’ve been to see her twice and will go back in another couple of weeks for a followup visit. She has been very positive and encouraging, and so knowledgeable! It’s still a little confusing because my lab work doesn’t show any specific arthritis markers. She’s diagnosed me with “seronegative inflammatory arthritis.” She told me that sometimes the lab work shows up negative, but not to be surprised if later on down the road as the disease progresses it starts to show up positive. But God is so, so good, and with the right treatment and doing my best to stay active and moving, the pain is almost gone! I’ve been feeling so much better that on New Year’s Day we actually went on a 3-mile hike.

Here are some photos from our New Year’s Day hike to Hawksbill Crag (Shot with a Nikon D3300):

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Photo credit: Jacob Bruggeman

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Photo credit: random hiker

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Photo credit: Jacob Bruggeman

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So blessed to be feeling good enough to walk without pain – it’s the little things in life that we so much take for granted! That’s definitely something that God has been showing me over the last six months.

Now, for those New Year’s resolutions. I have three! Maybe that sounds like overkill, but all three have been on my heart and I feel are worth sharing:

  1. Regaining my physical strength – this one might seem a little obvious with everything that has been going on. It’s a goal of mine to really work on my strength and become stronger than I’ve ever been in 2017. I want hike, kayak, camp… I want to take every opportunity that comes up to explore new places!
  2. Being generous to others – this is something Bo and I have really been talking about lately. These past six months we have really had people go out of their way to bless us and make sure that we were taken care of. We want to show that same kindness to others this coming year. We want to focus on showing hospitality in our home, giving to others, and doing small acts of kindness. We are praying for hearts that will be open to opportunities as God leads us!This third one is much more personal. It’s not fun or easy for me to share this, because I’m more than a little ashamed when I think back on the way I’ve acted. BUT, if this is encouraging for anyone or sheds light on some of the same struggles for even one other person out there then it’s well worth it for me to share it and I just need to swallow my pride, ha!
  3. Being kind to the people closest to me – there have been so many nights I’ve come home from work exhausted and have been less than nice to my poor hubs. I don’t know if I speak for any other nurses out there (Please… I’m hoping that I’m not alone in this…), but after a 12-13 hour shift of being “nice” to patients and family members, sometimes when I get home I just explode. It’s like a bomb going off. All of the frustrations I’ve bottled up and the words I’ve had to bite my tongue and swallow over the course of the day just seem to fly through the air like shrapnel. And of course they hit the ones closest to me.
    I don’t want to go into this in a lot of detail, but I’ll paraphrase something I wrote in my journal last month after an experience similar to what I just described: “It doesn’t matter how kind I was to my patients at work; it doesn’t matter that I made sure they had every little thing they needed even if that meant staying late; it doesn’t matter that I smoothed over a difficult situation; it doesn’t matter that I had a meaningful conversation with a patient or co-worker. All of that good stuff I did at work becomes null and void if I come home and can’t even speak kindly to the nearest and dearest person that God has placed in my life.”
    So, if anyone out there struggles with this, please comment below and let me know I’m not alone! I’m not sure why it is, but I’ve found that some days it’s hardest to be kind to the very person who loves you the most and seemingly should be the easiest to be kind to. God has really been convicting me of this, and it’s my top personal goal for 2017 – to just be nice.

In conclusion, let’s just say I’m really looking forward to a New Year and new beginnings! I’m excited to work on getting my strength back and exploring and getting outdoors as much as possible. I’m hoping for God to give Bo and I many, many opportunities to bless others – I know that He will! And I’m feeling very humbled after sharing that third personal goal of working on being kind to the ones closest to me. I’m praying for God to renew my heart going into this new year.

May He help me and each one reading this post to never grow weary of doing good, and to show mercy and grace to others as we have been shown mercy and grace. Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!

Love,
Willa

When My Fear Is Crippling

For about six months I’ve had increasing arthritic pain, and it’s gotten to the point where it is affecting my whole body. Some days I feel feverish. There are days when it’s very hard to get around at work (I’m an RN on a very busy medical floor) because my knees are swollen and painful. There have been times when it has been difficult to hold a fork or a spoon in my right hand to eat. There have been days when my poor husband Bo has had to help me get out of bed and help get me dressed for work because I was hurting so much.

Last night Bo was at a guy’s Bible study and I got home from a very busy, long shift, and I was determined that no matter how bad it hurt I was changing out of my scrubs into my comfy PJs… My shoulder and elbows hurt so badly that it took me several attempts to complete the task but when it was done I leaned against the shelf in the closet sobbing from the pain and also from the frustration of how incredibly difficult a seemingly simple activity had become. Getting in and out of the shower is a chore. Shaking someone’s hand at church is, well, not always fun. Walking around the grocery store and lifting anything remotely heavy is getting very difficult. Taking care of my patients at work is becoming much harder to do.

But enough about all that. I decided to write this blog post after writing in my journal today. It all started when I randomly woke up at 6:30 AM with a song stuck in my head that the youth group band at church often plays (Bo and I have started helping out with 8th graders there on Wednesday nights). The words to the song are like this:

You are peace, you are peace
When my fear is crippling.
You are true, you are true
Even in my wandering.
You are joy, you are joy
You’re the reason that I sing.
You are life, you are life
In you death has lost its sting.

When my fear is crippling… 

Now, I know there are many people much more affected by arthritis than I am. As a nurse I’ve taken care of some of them, and trust me it’s not cool seeing pretty much on a daily basis how bad arthritis can get. I’m so very thankful that most days my left side feels fairly normal and I can still get out of bed, run errands, do my work at the hospital, etc. That being said, I’m beginning to become all too well-acquainted with dealing with pain on a daily basis. Well, some days I don’t “deal.” Some days I have a bad attitude and the devil discourages me and I become unhappy and my poor Bo bears the brunt of it. And on other days when I am faithful to pray, read the word, and focus on trusting God instead of how I’m feeling, I realize that there’s a much bigger picture than what I’m going through and that God is so, so good regardless of the aches and pains.

But as I lay in bed this morning thinking about those words, “When my fear is crippling,” I began to see the point that God was gently trying to get me to understand. This disease that is affecting my joints and making daily activities so difficult; making my body deconditioned because of lack of activity; making the full potential of what my body was created to do seem simply unreachable… well, just like this arthritis is a disease that can cripple my physical body, Fear is a disease that can cripple my spiritual body.

Fear can make the simple principles of the Christian walk so much harder than they have to be. Here are some examples just from my own life of some things that fear got in the way of:

  1. Trusting God no matter my circumstances
  2. Praying in front of other people
  3. Inviting people to church
  4. Showing love to someone I’m not sure will be accepting of it
  5. Continuing to be Christ-centered when I’m not around other believers

I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it for a few more minutes that list would continue to grow and grow. There have been so many times in my life where fear for myself and fear of what others might think of me crippled my soul and made it so much harder for me to do what God was telling me to do at the time. Indeed, fear makes us miss out on our spiritual potential.

I’m so thankful that God, “Jehovah Rapha,” which is a Hebrew term for God meaning “The LORD who heals” has the cure for this disease called Fear. And that cure is Love.

1 John 4 explains beautifully and much better than I ever could why love is the antidote for fear, and how we apply this concept to everyday living:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love casts out all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

As we live our lives trusting God, looking to Him for direction, seeing Him as our heavenly dad who loves us and cares for us unconditionally – it is then and only then that our love reaches its potential. When that happens, we are able to live our lives without fear, in a way where the love inside of us overflows and reaches those around us. It’s our job here on this earth to show the love we have to others, regardless of our circumstances, our health, or our current mood.

I’m looking forward to seeing a rheumatologist next month to hopefully get some answers and better treatment for whatever it is that’s going on. But until then I am determined to live with hope, knowing that what is going on in my body is simply temporary, and that one day, in His time, God will heal me and make my body perfect and whole again.

Through all of this, there are so many things to be thankful for. Our marriage has gotten much stronger. Our finances are still in good shape even with all the doctor bills. I’ve had so much encouragement and have been lifted up in prayer by so many friends and family – I’m so grateful for that. Everyone at work has been so understanding and helpful. God is so good, and I’ve grown so much closer to Him. There are many scriptures that prior to this had never really hit home, but now are very close to my heart:

  • Romans 12:12 – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7 – I will walk by faith even when I cannot see.
  • Psalm 73: 23-26 – Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into gory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9 – My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

I’ve shared this devotional from our young women’s Bible study on my Facebook page before, but I also wanted to post it here, because it really fits in with everything I’ve written in this post. This reading has helped me so, so much on those days when I get frustrated. It has helped me to understand that it’s OK to tell people about my weaknesses. It’s OK to share with others how hard what I’m going through is:

God Never Wastes Our Pain

By Glynnis Whitwer (paraphrased)

“What I’ve come to believe is this: that God will never waste my pain, but I can. When I’m not honest about the reality of how hard life is, I waste God’s offer of peace. When I try to do things in my own strength, I waste God’s offer of power. When I keep the pain to myself and pretend everything is perfect, I waste opportunities to minister to others walking a similar path. But when I confess my feelings of inadequacies, when I admit I’m helpless, I move into a place of reliance – and that’s just where God wants me to be. For in this place of dependence, God takes center stage.

Although I’d remove the pain with a snap of my fingers if I could, I know God is working in this – especially in this. I understand better now how the apostle Paul could be glad for his weakness. I’m not glad for sin or what caused the brokenness we face. But I see the pain for what it is – a condition of this fallen world and a place for God’s power to work. This perspective helps me face another day. My circumstances haven’t changed, but hope has seeped in through the cracks.

No pain is wasted when I submit myself to God’s plan.”

That’s all for now. I just really wanted to share this in hopes that it encourages someone out there! If there’s even one person this reaches, then it’s well worth it.

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Love,
Willa