Through the Winding Path

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Bob and I have navigated through the winding path of his illness for 3 months.  The twists, the turns, the hills, the valleys, the sudden stops, the ups and downs seemed to never end.  Then there were the complete rest stops and the times of waiting for days, sometimes weeks.   We have found that the waiting periods are often harder than moving through the craziness of the path before us.

Two days ago was the end of the first leg of our journey.

I awoke early that morning.  Too early.  I laid in bed waiting for the alarm to ring at the set time of 5:45am.  Then I felt Bob moving and heard him get up and walk out of the bedroom.  I turned off the alarm clock before it rang and got up.  Finally when both of us were ready, we grabbed our coffee along with the small spiral notepad that held our questions for the doctor and hit the road at 6:15am.

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As we drove, we talked about what brought us to this point in our journey and Bob said, “We are moving toward our moment of truth and we’ll finally have a clearer picture of what may lie ahead.”  I agreed.

We enjoyed the scenery of the glorious summer morning while music from the radio played softly in the background.  I realized how often we take the simple pleasures of life for granted.  Just looking out the window of our car there were reminders everywhere from the fireball of the sun coming up over the horizon to the green grass and trees lining the highway below.

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Neither of us said much for the next several minutes.  Then Bob finally said, “We are going to hear what we are expecting to hear or we may hear the unexpected.  It will be what it is and we will deal with it.”  I nodded.

As we approached the hospital I thought, This is it.  Here comes our moment of truth. 

We checked in, sat down and watched as others got up, one by one, to go into their appointments.  When we realized that everyone who was in the waiting area before we arrived had already been called in, Bob said, “I think we’re next.”  He was right.

Bob went through an examination and the Hematologist asked him if he had any new symptoms.  I took the small spiral notepad out of my purse and we shared what we had written in it.  Most of the concerns were things we forgot to mention or questions we didn’t ask on previous visits.  His Hematologist sat at a computer recording everything that we told him.  For the most part, Bob felt good and was symptom free.

Then the words we were expecting came out of the Hematologist’s mouth.  “Your bone marrow biopsy has confirmed that you do have Chronic Myeloid Leukemia and the treatment for this type of Leukemia is an oral chemo medication taken daily.”

It’s what his blood tests revealed over the past month and we had already accepted that diagnosis and did our research.  We were ready to tackle it but just needed that confirmation.

On the other hand, his biopsy could have revealed a much more serious type of Leukemia or even a different bone cancer.  They checked for anything and everything possible, but confirmed what they suspected and what Bob had come to accept.

The only other better news would have been that nothing was found but according to all his earlier tests we chose not to live in denial while maintaining our faith that anything is possible with God.  We still believe that.

However, Bob has cancer and his cancer is treatable.  It’s not curable but it is treatable and for that we are thankful.  Again, we maintain our faith in God and always pray for healing.

Having our path change direction is part of life.  We shouldn’t find that unusual.  What’s unusual is to expect life to always stay the same, to never have any hills or valleys or winding roads that unfold before us.

As much as we know this truthful reality in our heads, it’s still hard to change course when we have to, but letting go of expectations and moving into acceptance is the healthiest route to take.

If we don’t let go of unrealistic expectations, it will rob us of our joy.  Not being able to bend with the curves or adjust our course is worse than facing the rough road ahead.

There will be some challenges in our future but who doesn’t face challenges?  We will face them together and in the midst of those challenges there will be many things to give thanks for.

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Today I’m giving thanks for Bob’s primary care doctor who saw Bob without an appointment in April when he showed up at his office unannounced.  I’m also thankful that he ordered a CBC test when Bob wasn’t due to have it done for 7 months and I’m thankful that he pursued more tests when the first one came back abnormal.  I’m also thankful for the team of specialists that have taken great care of Bob this summer.

And then there’s the people we love — our family and friends who have remained a constant source of strength as they kept in touch with us non-stop and often assured us of their prayers.  The encouragement has lifted our spirits more times than we can even count.

When I think back, it is obvious whose fingerprints have been all over the circumstances of this journey.  In and through our winding path, up the hills and through the valleys I have seen the hand of God.  Even in the waiting, when it was difficult, we were held by the mighty hand of God.

We have now reached the end of the first leg of our journey and we are getting ready for the second leg.  The second leg will be the treatment phase and I will be at Bob’s side to help him but not without the help of the one who has brought us this far.  We have seen God’s hand in this from the beginning and he won’t let go now.  He hasn’t brought us this far to leave us.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

Right on Time

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When the azalea’s blossomed, when nature came alive, when surrounded by spring, something else sprung up–Bob’s allergies. That was the beginning of this new journey–when our path changed direction.

Bob’s allergies with his watery eyes and runny nose led to head congestion, chest congestion, cough and a fever.

After days of Claritin, Ibuprofen, and cough syrup, without much relief, he knew it was time to see the doctor.  It was a Friday afternoon.  He didn’t want to wait over the weekend so he decided to drive to the doctor’s office.

“Aren’t you going to call before you go”?  I asked.  “No, I’m just going to show up”, came his response.  Then off he went.  It was mid-day.  I had my doubts whether the doctor would be able to see him without a scheduled appointment.

Upon his arrival, the receptionist informed him that they didn’t schedule any appointments that day, because the staff attended a conference.  They had just returned and were getting ready to lock up for the weekend.  The doctor was still there and was able to see him.  Bob couldn’t have asked for better timing.

The diagnosis — a secondary infection due to his allergies.  His physician prescribed antibiotics and an inhaler.  Then, out of the blue, the doctor ordered some routine blood work.  Bob wasn’t due to have blood work done for 7 months when he’d be back for his annual physical, but he followed the doctor’s orders.

The results came back indicating that Bob had an elevated white blood cell count.  “You had a respiratory infection when they did the test.  More than likely it’s from that”, I remarked.  The doctor also thought it could be from the infection but decided to check further.

After Bob fully recovered from his respiratory illness, he went to the lab for another blood test.  The result–an elevated white blood cell count.  Another blood test a week later confirmed the results.

At that point, the doctor became concerned and his concern led to our concern especially when he said, “I don’t want to worry you but this could be the beginning stages of something serious.  I’m referring you to a Hematologist”.

Several more blood tests were done.  Then came the appointment day with the Hematologist.  Then came the words, “You have Leukemia”

Leukemia?  Did the doctor just tell us that my husband has Leukemia?  I sat there trying to process the word.  L e u k e m i a.

The real world seemed distant.  What we heard and where we were sitting seemed surreal; almost dream like.  Reality set in with every question that we asked and with every answer from the doctor.  The Hematologist informed us that there were several different types of Leukemia–the acute Leukemia’s that are extremely aggressive and the chronic types, which grow slower.

Since Bob felt good and his white blood cell count stayed at the same level for several weeks, the doctor told us that there was a good chance that he had a chronic type.  Those words became our glimmer of hope.

We came home to process the news and to get ready for his bone marrow biopsy.  The bone marrow biopsy was necessary to confirm what type of Leukemia it was and to stage it.  They scheduled the biopsy for the following week and another trip to the lab to prepare for it.

Then a phone call from the Hematologist, “We can’t do the biopsy.  You’re testing positive for an autoimmune syndrome that affects blood clotting and we need to do some investigating before proceeding with the biopsy”.   More in-depth blood tests had to be done and sent out to several labs.  That meant more waiting.

While we waited, we did some research, prayed, and asked others to pray.

The results were back in a week and showed that the Leukemia was Chronic Myeloid Leukemia or CML, a type that will need treatment-more than likely an oral medication and strict monitoring of his blood.  A bone marrow biopsy would still be necessary to confirm the findings.

After his doctor conferred with other specialists, they determined that the autoimmune syndrome may or may not be caused by the Leukemia.  They couldn’t be certain.  There wasn’t a test that could be done to give us a concrete answer but his doctor assured us that it would be safe to go ahead with the biopsy.

Bob had the biopsy last week and now we’re in another waiting period.  We will receive the results in a few days.

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We are grateful and comforted by the outpouring of love and support from family and friends.  Each note, text, email, call and card confirms that many are thinking of us and praying.

During the weeks leading up to Bob’s diagnosis (even before we knew that he would be seeing a Hematologist) I was drawn to Lamentations 3: 21-24 in the Bible and focused on that passage for weeks.  I shared this scripture in earlier posts including, New Every Morning.

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A few days after we learned that Bob had Leukemia, I went to that familiar passage once again.  I sat there for some time reading the words and meditating on them.  Then I got up and went to my computer to check my email.  There was a message addressed to both myself and Bob from our pastor, David Wesin. Here’s some of what he wrote:

“The temptation in a circumstance like you’re experiencing is to let your mind race ahead to what the next thing might be.  In addition, we often fear that we will not be able to handle what comes next.  We are told that God gives us the grace we will need when we need it – not before.  My prayer for both of you will be that you focus on today and leave tomorrow in God’s hands.”

Then he shared the following scripture passage:

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

It was my go to verse.  The one I was reading, re-reading and sharing with Bob over several weeks.  It was the verse that I had just read before reading his email.

Some may call this a coincidence.  I call it God’s mercy.  His mercies never come to an end – they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.  Bob and I will hope and trust in God who continues to confirm that his mercies will always come right on time. 

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

A Beautiful Fragrance (revisited)

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I eagerly awaited the arrival of my peony blooms this season.   The old-fashioned flower bush has some great memories attached to it–just like my lily of the valley plants do.  Both are favorites from my childhood.  They bloomed in my mother’s flower garden, fragrant and beautiful.

Although peony flowers are lovely to look at in the garden, what I enjoy most about them is that they make great cut flower arrangements.  This is what I was looking forward to when I planted 4 bushes in my yard last year and 4 more this spring.

When the weather warmed, the lush green foliage signaled hope ahead as they grew taller and wider.

One spring morning I asked my husband, “Are those buds on the peony bushes?” I ran out the back door, down the stairs toward the plants and yelled back at him, “Wow, we’re going to have peonies this year.”  I don’t think that he was as excited as I was but he did crack a smile.  I’m sure his smile was mostly because the labor it took to plant them was paying off and he did most of the hard work.

I wasn’t sure if the first summer would produce blooms, but there was the evidence.  I was going to have my peonies.  I had visions of cut flowers from the bushes being brought inside my home and placed in vases.  So when the buds opened up, that’s what I did.

I had forgotten how fragrant the flowers were but once I brought them inside I noticed the familiarity to the sweet scent of roses.  I don’t know if different varieties have their own distinct scent but mine smelled like roses.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Just as my lily of the valley brought a beautiful fragrance into my home in the spring, my peonies did the same in the summer and again I embraced the reminder of how we are to spread the fragrance of Christ through our own sphere of influence. 

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Today I’m focusing more on why some may find the scent offensive.  Hopefully, the fragrance we’re spreading is one of life and love without judgement but even then others may find it unpleasant.  Why?  That’s what I’m pondering today.

When Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2: 14-17 that Christ spreads through us everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him he also said that to those perishing it will smell like death.

During the time period of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the Romans (when victorious in battle) would march triumphantly through the streets of the city.  The generals would parade their plundered goods and captives in front of spectators.  It was their victory march.  While they made their triumphal procession, they were accompanied by incense bearers.  The strong scent of the burning incense filled the air.  For those that were celebrating the victory, it was a sweet aroma but to the captives it was the awful smell of death, because that’s where they were marching toward–their death.

There have been various interpretations from different Bible scholars about Paul’s words to the Corinthians.  I’m certainly not a scholar but I do know that Christ secured my victory.

Christ is in me.  As I abide in him, he will spread his beautiful fragrance through me.

Salvation is up to God.  It’s not up to me.  His job is to set the captives free.  My job is to spread the fragrance of Christ through my story, through my service, through what I say, through what I don’t say, through my love.  And the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13: 13b)

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Some people aren’t ready to accept the love of God and maybe the fragrance of Christ is offensive to them, but you and I never know when the fragrance will become a beautiful aroma.  So I try not to give up on reaching deep into the reservoir of love that I have received from God and then spreading it through my sphere of influence.

Loving others may look differently depending on the circumstances and the needs.  That’s another topic for another post.  Maybe we’ll unpack that here someday.  Until then, join me in focusing on the fragrance of Christ and what it means.  Has it become life for us?  How can it become a beautiful aroma through us?

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

A Beautiful Fragrance

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Beneath the bay kitchen window, of my childhood home, there was a patch of Lily of the Valley.  Lush green leaves covered the ground and every spring their white bell-shaped flowers grew up on tiny stalks. 

Once our windows opened up, gentle breezes wafted their fragrance around our kitchen table.  All of our meals were surrounded by their sweet scent.

Playing in the front yard or just walking past the flowers I would catch a pleasant whiff. Often I’d kneel down next to the lily garden and look closely at each white bloom. I adored them.

Throughout their growing season, a small vase in our home held a bouquet.

Today, I’m still in love with the tiny beauties called Lily of the Valley.

Along the hillside in my yard they bloom. Like a cover blanketing the earth.

Each spring I wait in expectation for their arrival.  I weed and rake and glance toward them while taking care of other plantings in my yard. First the green emerges and in no time the delicate small flowers with their bold fragrance appears.

The hillside is an ideal place for them. There they are free to run wild weaving in and out of the trees and bushes.

At their first appearance, I’m ready with my shears. I clip a handful and place them in a vase.

There isn’t a scented candle or potpourri that could compare to the fragrance that fills my home from one small bouquet of Lilies. There isn’t a centerpiece that compares to the elegance it brings to my kitchen table.

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On a beautiful spring day this year, I gathered a bunch for a bouquet and placed them in a vase.

Then I went to my linen closet and pulled out an embroidered tablecloth that I recently purchased at a second-hand store.  I draped it over the table placing the vase of flowers in the center.  Instead of my everyday dishes, I pulled out a few pieces of china and stemware from a cabinet.

On special occasions, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, my china and stemware have graced my table.  In recent years, it hasn’t been pulled out much–not even for holidays.  These days everything has gotten casual–even special occasions.

But that particular day was different. My lilies were encouraging me to make a table transformation.

My husband, tired from laying hardwood floors in our living room all day, walked into the kitchen and announced that he was going to shower before dinner.

He glanced at the table and then at me with a puzzled look.

I smiled.  He smiled and walked toward the bathroom.

My unpretentious breakfast nook transformed into something elegant after placing the vase of lily of the valley in the middle of the table surrounded by china.

I reveled in the beauty.

Why couldn’t we eat our leftover pulled pork on china, I thought.  And so we did.

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After cleaning up the kitchen and putting the dishes away, one thing remained…the scent from the lilies. It remained throughout most of the house for several days.

In the midst of the often messy circumstances in life there’s still beauty around us.  Sometimes we have to look for it, be aware of it but it is there mingled with the messy.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to create beauty. Just like our creator beautifies us.

I was pretty messy when he came after me. He’s far from done with me but I’m a cleaned up version of what I once was.

If Jesus is at the center of our lives, like my lilies graced the center of my ordinary table, he will make something beautiful out of our ordinary lives.

Paul writes that followers of Jesus are the fragrance of Christ that spreads everywhere and an aroma of Christ to God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

When I think of fragrance, I think of a beautiful scent. To those God is seeking it will be irresistible but to others…maybe not so much. There’s no way around that fact.  The fact is not everyone will appreciate the fragrance.

To me a beautiful fragrance isn’t judgmental, pushy, or demanding. It is pleasant, kind, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. That sort of sounds like God doesn’t it? (See Psalm 103:8)

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5: 1-2)

The fragrance emanating from the lily of the valley that filled my home for several days was a good reminder of what God has done for me and what the very essence of my life should be for him.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

New Every Morning

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Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  (Lamentations 3:22-24)  I’ve read and focused on this comforting verse recently and even shared it in my last post.

Another version of the same verse states:  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

God’s love never ceases, his mercies never end, they are new every morning, because he is faithful.

His mercies come in different ways — like gifts to unwrap.

Sometimes the gift I want isn’t the package that I receive.

A phone call with unsettling news came yesterday.

It was an ordinary day.  A day when my Iris’ were in full bloom and my peony buds were getting ready to open. All things were good.

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peony-bud - CopyThen the phone call.  In the late afternoon as the call came in, storm clouds rolled over my house and the world around me and inside of me changed.  No longer did it seem good.  If God’s mercy is new every morning, I’d like the mercy to come packaged in a change in circumstances.  For now, that isn’t the gift that I’m receiving.

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 One friend said, “You’ve got this.”  My thought was, I know she loves me, means well and I appreciate her confidence in me, but there is no way that I have this under controlOr in my control

Then the words from my sister, “God’s got this.”  Yep, now those are words I can count on and believe in.  Sometimes I unpack mercy through the words of encouragement that are spoken to me through others.

There are times when God’s mercy shows up in a visit or a phone call from a friend who just happened to have me on their mind.

It can come through the words of a card, a blog, a book, a sermon and especially the Bible–comforting words that warm my heart and carry me through the day.

Other times it’s unwrapped in quiet reflection as I remember how mercy was given to me in the past and it will come again.

One day at a time his mercy comes.  It’s new and different everyday but from the same God.  A God who never changes and promises me that his mercy will be new every morning.

Today it came in the symbol of peace.  A dove.  A dove on the bird bath in my yard at dawn.

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A dove brought an olive branch to Noah to signal new life.  A dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, descended on Jesus as he was baptized by John the Baptist.

The dove; a symbol of peace and a symbol of the Holy Spirit sat before me on my bird bath.  It reminded me that I cannot manufacture peace.  It comes, like a dove, descending on me and through me by the Holy Spirit as I trust in God.  In the remembering, I received the gift.

The Holy Spirit will see me through all things and I will be presented with gifts of mercy daily and I will untie the ribbons and accept the gift with a thankful heart.

This morning the gift I unwrapped was PEACE.  All things are good again–within me.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

 

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After the Winter

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As winter comes to an end, I can easily get absorbed in the renewal and beauty of the earth around me.

For most of us living in the snowy states of the Midwest and traversing through what I call, the wilderness of the winter months, springtime is like a rebirth, a new life, a time to enjoy the blooms, the birds, the sights, the sounds, the smells of this season that we call spring.

But before we can enjoy spring we have to make it through the barrenness of winter.

Every year some of us vow not only to exist in it but to enjoy it. In other words, we tell ourselves we are going to get out there and build a snow man, or snow fort, put on the snowshoes and walk through the woods, take up skiing, snowmobiling or whatever winter sport or activity we can find, and the list goes on and on, but we never do it.  We just grin and try to bear it.

When I was a child and young adult, it didn’t bother me as much as it does now. This is where my ancestors settled. This is where I grew up and so I built snowmen, ice skated and never thought much about winter being anything more than just another season.

That has changed somewhat for me now. Don’t get me wrong. I do love a little winter and can’t imagine myself living in a state without some snow.  I like to put the fireplace on, drink hot chocolate, or a cup of coffee topped with whip cream. I start making crocks of soup, stew and roasts. It’s a cozy time. I’ll even boot and bundle up to venture out for walks through the newly fallen snow. The first snowfall and what follows for a few weeks is pristine and pretty.

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Yes, I do enjoy a little winter but usually only until the end of December. In other words, only up to and shortly after Christmas. At Christmas, the lights adorning houses and tree branches glistening through the white backdrop is magical.  There truly is beauty in our winter wonderland.  Then January comes and, I’ll be truthful, I want to see green grass, trees full of leaves, hyacinths and other flowers blooming.  I want springtime.

So my husband and I took a break from winter this year and followed the snowbirds south for a while.

We warmed up for a bit and came back again to cooler temperatures with barren trees, brown grass and a longing for spring to bloom in Michigan.

The Calendar may have said it was spring but it still looked like winter in these parts. The trees were bare and there wasn’t even a hint of a flower bud anywhere.

It has been one of those years, probably one of the worst winters on record. Many people longed for spring to show up in Michigan.

We all have longings. There’s something deep within us that yearns for something better. I believe we’re searching for paradise. Like a place where we could live in perfect harmony with one another and the earth, sea, birds, animals and everything covering the earth would be in perfect balance. With fresh air, beautiful blooms and perfect peace.

In the beginning that was the intended purpose for creation and we want it back.

After the fall of humanity, we lost it and all of its perfectness.

So we try to seek it through temporary avenues. The problem is we can’t fill the void. As much as we try, we never stay full and it becomes a vicious cycle of trying to manufacture it again and again.

The wilderness of winter is like a tutor for life. We will walk through wilderness periods. Or what some call the deep night of the soul.

I refer to any loss whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship, health, or dreams as those wilderness times of life. It’s the unexpected call that comes at an unexpected hour with unexpected news and we are over wrought with unexpected emotions. We’re consumed and so begins our wilderness experience.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a Michigander, it’s that winters do end. We won’t walk through the wilderness forever. There’s hope ahead.

As the harsh winds give way to warm breezes, the snow piles lessen, sunshine warms the earth, the white evaporates, brown grass turns green, gray skies become blue, and flowers bud…relief finally comes.

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Trying to make it through the wilderness periods of life can seem daunting at times. Our hope seems gone, joy hard to find and our soul feels barren. Yet we will make it through. We do make it through.

God is faithful to see us through the wilderness, even as he did with the Israelites through the barren desert, even if our wilderness lasts longer than any Midwest winter.

Wait for him. The key is remembering that he is faithful and the only way out of it is through it. Not alone, but with him.

When we go through the wilderness, and can’t seem to see the end in sight, there is hope. There is always hope and even in the midst of horrible circumstances God is good.

Life is hard. The longing we have in our hearts is for paradise — for God.  I believe he put the unrest in us so we’d seek him in all things and in all seasons.  It’s the longing to live in perfect peace with a perfect God in a perfect place.  That day will come.  God will create a new earth…he will give paradise back to those who love him.  (Revelation 21).

Until that day, renewal happens within us.  Through Jesus.  Jesus’ strength for our weakness, his peace for our pain, his comfort for our grief, his perspective for our bad attitudes and hope to move forward again.  It often happens through prayer — his word — by being thankful for the simple pleasures in life — by taking the focus off of ourselves and placing it on him.

As we walk through our wilderness periods, the Lord’s presence goes with us.  It’s where we often learn that he is enough.  With him we’re not consumed.  Renewal, like spring, will come again.   Maybe not in a change of circumstances but with a change of heart.  Look for the beautiful in the messiness of life.  It’s there.  Sometimes pain masks it but it’s there.  Wait patiently and it will return.  I will leave you with these words from Jeremiah from the book of Lamentations:

Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3: 21-24

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014