I am very grateful to be included as a guest blogger on the website of my good friend Jolene Philo: Different Dream Living.

Please read my article, "A Grandmother's Prayer for a Grandchild with Special Needs."

And thank you, Jolene, for all you do to help the parents of children with special needs!

How has prayer affected your faith? How do you teach prayer and faith to your children?

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My daughter and I created our own “On the Edge” masterpieces at one of those “paint your own” places, where a young instructor in paint-spattered sneakers patiently prompted us through the steps. I dried the surface with a hairdryer, then carefully carried the canvas home and hung it on my office wall. It reminds me that when darkness looms and storm winds blow, God remains unmoved. It is by faith that we cling to him and his promises.

When tempests howl and threaten to throw us down from our foundations, there are a few things we can do to stand strong on our faith in God.

Pray. Sometimes it is difficult to praise God in the midst of our troubles, but the Bible says we should thank God for our challenges because hard times increase our strength. Trials produce patience and prepare us for greater work to come.

“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Help others. When it seems hardest for us to move forward, it is time to reach out and lift up another person who is struggling. When we know we have people counting on our help, we are given new purpose and reason to forge ahead.

“Through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).

Trust God. When we feel burdened with worry and uncertainty, we can know that God holds every outcome in his hands. We can choose to believe that everything happens for a reason and every circumstance offers us a lesson to be learned.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Believe we are loved. Despite the concerns and struggles of our lives, God’s word declares his unending love and compassion for all people. No matter the depth of the problems we face, we know we cannot be separated from the love of God.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38-39).

Throughout the storms that batter our lives; through death, divorce, disaster, or crushing disappointment; through every time and season of tempest or turmoil, God is ever-present. His love is always promised, and his faithfulness never fails.

Today I pray you hold tightly to the faith that holds us in return.

What helps you hold onto your faith in God? How do you know you have a firm foundation in him?

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I said a simple prayer today for anyone who needs an encouraging word this morning.

I pray you feel the peace that comes from knowing God will provide your every need.

May you feel the confidence that grows in following God’s plan and purpose for your life.

May you find the strength to stand and start each day anew.

May you enjoy the comfort of God’s presence and gentle influence on your every moment.

I pray all you ask and seek will be revealed to you, and every door that leads to your destiny will be opened wide before you.

Trust God to protect and guide you as you walk with him today.

Amen.

What is your prayer for today? What special request do you need to bring before God?

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What am I doing here? I wondered as I trudged up the hill toward the middle school.

In 2001 I worked as a teaching assistant while I finished my Elementary Ed degree. I had no experience working with kids, felt very insecure about my abilities, and quickly questioned how I had gotten hired.

I thought: God made a mistake bringing me to this place in my life, this school, this job, this town.

Within walking distance from my apartment stood a small shopping mall with a big bookstore.

I like books, I decided. I’ll quit my job and drop out of school to sell books instead.

On Saturday I revised my resume walked through the hilly neighborhood to the mall, but when I rounded the corner, I encountered an enormous “Going out of Business” banner tacked to the front of the bookstore and flapping in the breeze. I literally turned in my tracks and marched home.

When I called my friend Paege and told her what happened, she said, “I guess God gave you a pretty big sign.” On Monday I went back to work at the middle school, and I worked there for two more years.

Signs are not always as big and bright as a “Going out of Business” banner on the side of a building. Many signs arrive as subtle clues, quiet whispers, or gentle nudges turning us in the direction God wants us to travel. Signs may be missed if we’re not vigilant and watchful for the methods God often uses to steer our steps.

Conviction is that gut feeling we get telling us when one option is right and the other wrong. Conviction often defies logic and relies on hunches and emotions. Going to college as a single mom made no logical sense at the time, and though I often questioned my abilities and claimed I would quit, I always felt a certainty that I was called to return to class.

Coincidences are those seemingly unrelated events that happen at just the right time and place. Coincidences are often unexpected and unexplainable. I had not applied to work at the middle school where my daughter was a student, but the principal coincidentally found my resume in the school’s district office and called to offer me a job.

Conversations with friends and advisors often offer insights and revelations about God’s intended purposes. Chance comments from others often help us see and understand our circumstances more clearly. “I’m glad I work with you,” my coworker Molly told me after one particularly disappointing day. “God brought you here because he wants you here.”

For two years I worked at that middle school. The work was never easy, but I began to see the reasons God wanted me to stay. I received college credit for my hours in the sixth-grade classroom. I made connections with teachers who helped me with my homework assignments and later offered me job references. For two years I walked to school with my daughter every day. I knew her teachers and friends, and I felt we developed a better relationship through our time together. Most importantly, I learned to persevere through sometimes difficult and discouraging circumstances, and I began to realize that when we pay attention and follow God’s directions, we are always exactly where God wants us to be. God never makes mistakes.

What sign is God showing you today? How do you watch for his clues and direction?

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Kelly’s bedroom under the eaves of her house had sloping ceilings and a tiny doorway into a creepy attic crawlspace. I was jealous because she had her own half bath and cable TV. I spent many middle school and high school New Year’s Eves in Kelly’s bedroom, eating microwave popcorn and watching the Times Square Rockin’ New Year’s Eve party on her 13 inch TV screen. Back then, the excitement was in staying up all night and seeing how far we could get into the new year before we crashed.

As I’ve grown older, crashing into the new year takes on a new and more serious meaning.

Some people are approaching 2017 with fear and frustration, but I am choosing to be optimistic and hopeful about the year ahead. I’m excited about the changes I see approaching for my work and family. I want to confront new experiences and move forward with the new lessons I learn. I’m looking forward to pursuing new challenges and welcoming new opportunities to help others.

And I’m choosing to believe that though anything that happens in the future may be out of my hands, God has the whole world within his grasp.

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you,” God promises. “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27), “For I am with you always , even until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).

I am choosing to trust God’s promise that he will never leave nor forsake the people who love and trust in him. We may face many challenges in the year ahead. We may experience uncertainty, confusion and even crises in the new year, but we know God will be with us throughout every moment.

So be still and know that he is God! (Psalm 46:10) I pray this year that you know God’s presence and feel his unending care for you. Be comforted that God is always with us, and he will never change.

What are you looking forward to in 2017? How are you preparing to move forward into the new year?

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dog-740152_1920"Don't jerk the leash," the instructor warned us. "Jerking the leash just makes the dog pull back harder."

Instead, she told us to lure the dog with the promise of treats. Reward the dog whenever she walks on the leash without pulling your arm out of socket.

So we walked the dogs in dizzying circles around the training room, praising them when they behaved, and waiting patiently when they pulled and whined.

I had never before considered the idea that I am leashed to God; but the truth is, he can pull me back into line whenever he wants with one good, hard yank. I have to learn to be content to walk by his side without racing ahead or dragging behind.

We get ahead of God by moving too fast and running beyond his command. Pulling the leash means making choices before we are ready or making decisions without carefully considering and consulting God first. When we break our bonds and race ahead, we risk dashing into dangerous territory and unhealthy situations that threaten our peace and safety.

We fall behind God by denying our potential and refusing to follow the paths he has planned for us. Dragging our feet means refusing to accept the opportunities God delivers or being afraid to face the challenges we need to help us learn and grow. When we have to be tugged reluctantly toward the changes and circumstances God offers, we stop growing and fail to become the people God means for us to be.

If we don't listen to God's cues, we keep trotting around the circle, wondering why we're never off the leash, wondering why our point of view never changes to encompass the broader range of experiences we know could be available to us.

But if we learn to be patient, trust God to lead, and walk calmly by his side; he gives us more freedom and the reward that is waiting at the end of the line.

How do you know when God is telling you to slow down? How do you pick up the pace when you need to catch up with him again?

 

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The instructor told the dog to "Stay," then she opened the classroom door. As long as the dog remained sitting, the door stood open. As soon as the dog moved to stand, the door swung closed.

For a while the dog yo-yo'd up and down while the door flapped open and shut. When the dog finally surrendered and sat motionless, the instructor opened the door, said a quiet "Go," and allowed the dog to move.

This exercise is important to teach patient waiting, the instructor explained. Dogs that learn to "Stay" won't lunge forward and bolt through every open door temptation. They are protected from the dangers of speeding traffic and busy streets that threaten outside their shelters. Dogs that learn to "Stay" have to trust they will be allowed to move when it is safe for them to do so.

Lately I've been struggling to hear God's "Stay" or "Go" in my own life. I've debated leaving behind some projects and commitments that I suspect are no longer helping me grow. I see the doors swing open, but I cannot hear the "Go" command nor see what lies on the other side.

God's directions are usually not as clear as a firm "Stay here" or "Go now." God often speaks to us through quiet signs and signals. We have to stop, watch, and listen for the subtle clues and comments that may arrive from unexpected sources.

On the day I planned to quit one job and move on to something new and different, I received a surprise email from a person whose faith I admire and trust.

"I'm proud of the work you're doing," she told me. "I brag about you to all my friends."

Suddenly my work seemed noticed and valuable. Suddenly someone understood and appreciated my efforts.

I think that means I need to stay where I am and be patient a while longer, I decided. I need to keep working and finish all the lessons I need before I'm released to take what I've learned outside. 

Someday I will hear the command to move forward. It may come through another unexpected email, a comment from a friend, or just a feeling of certainty that I can't stay where I am any longer. Meanwhile, I keep listening and learning, so that when the time is right, I will be ready to launch forward through a waiting open door.

How has God told you when it's time to move forward? How does God encourage you when it's time to stay and wait?

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I took a journalism class in high school. I snapped pictures for the school newspaper with an old 35 mm camera and developed real photographs in the school dark room. I wrote an article about Easter traditions for the school newspaper (we could talk about Easter at school back then), and my essay about education careers was published in our small-town newspaper.

I learned to ask the 5 W + 1 H questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?

I never pursued a career in journalism, but I have found myself asking those same questions repeatedly throughout my life.

Who is taking this journey with me? What does God have planned for us? Where are we going? When will we get there? Why is this experience important? How do we know we're going the right way?

Usually, I have found the answers to my questions only lead to more questions.

Who is really on my side? What does it all mean? Where do we go from here? When will we be happy? Why do we make the same mistakes? How can we help each other?

And as I've grown older, the questions become deeper, murkier, and more serious.

Who will remember me when I'm gone? What lies ahead for our country? Where will we be in 20 years? When will I ever feel security? Why does God allow people to suffer? How long can we go on like this?

Anytime I think I've found the answers, I realize I still have much to learn.

Like a journalist, I try to compose a coherent storyline to my life. I try to piece together the truth from small bits of information, clues left behind, quotes from eyewitnesses, and unreliable tips from anonymous sources. Each lead I receive only leads me to the next phase of the investigation. My struggling and digging never seem to uncover the answers to the questions of our lives.

It seems the more I interrogate and demand to know, the more God replies, "No comment."

Finally, I have to admit my role here is limited. I can never understand all the answers. I will never solve all the mysteries. The best I can do is collect my observations, organize my notes, and submit a first draft for consideration.

"Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

God is crafting the final edition. He sets the deadlines and decides what to cut and what to print. He determines which features make the final page. And though I continue to ask and seek, I have to accept that only God controls the final copy.

The final answer is to accept God's authority and let him revise my work.

What questions do you ask about your life? Where do you go to seek the answers?

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