Eve and God’s Blessing


A Thought About Eve

Have you ever thought about Eve and that fateful bite she took that damned womankind to the struggles of child birth?  How that singular act of disobedience brought about millennia of swollen ankles, heart burn, kicked ribs, stretch marks, weight gain, and tortured bladders, not to mention the life altering experience of labor and delivery.  I have, and as I thought about it I also realized that the discipline of God that caused women to experience pregnancy, labor and delivery, also allows us to hold in our arms the greatest act of creativity our bodies will ever encounter, our children.  The image of two; his eyes and smile, my hair and feet, our baby, nurtured and grown within my body then pushed out to be nurtured and grown by our hands. How loving is that?  God’s divine way of correcting Eve and womankind is also our biggest blessing.  Now that is love.

NIV Genesis 3:16
To the woman he said I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.


My bulging belly is all I can see as I pull on my knees
my face red as blood, hair sweaty and matted to my head. 
I Push, I scream, I hit my stinkin’ husband.
This is no time to comfort me.
Hey You, Man! Take away this pain!
It is your fault, the bulging belly, swollen ankles, and the contractions.         
I can see everything now, with crystal clear vision.                                                        

You are saying kind words and rubbing my back.
Then your hand pats my arm … don’t pat me!
I’m not a pet or stuffed animal.
I’m sweaty, tired, and in pain.
Don’t touch me!

You say don’t Push.  Darn you husband!
I will Push when I want … I want to Push Now!
I want the entire earth Pushed out of my body. 
I want the pain of being women cast onto your body
for a week or a day; your body shaking and contracting with intense pain.                                           

Then we would see who the weaker sex is!                                                                           
Could a man, sweaty, tired, and in pain, control the profanity that  
wants to spew out of me and land in a big wet blob on anyone
who says, PUSH or don’t PUSH. 

My heart beats like a war drum, my sweaty
hands pull at the sheets; I Push to release the pain.
I Push like a weight lifter lifting 500 pounds. One more Push and
I see the shiny, smooth, dark, head crowning.
I pull on my knees, I breath and pant, I wait, and then
I Push.

 I look at my husband; he is smiling that goofy smile.
He watches as the head emerge from the depths of me
and into this world.  We see our baby’s face, pink, gooey, beautiful.
I Push again, and again, and one more time. 
The pain subsides and our baby is here. 

My sweaty, tired body trembles with exhaustion and joy. 
A silent tear of happiness slides down my husband’s cheek.
He embraces me and I him, he is exhausted too.
Now that the pain has diminished to a low throb like an ember burning in me,
I lay back and hold my baby to my breasts, he searches with open mouth
for sustenance.  I examine the face, touching it softly. 
I feel the tiny fingers curl around mine and then grip with
surprising strength.  I want to hold onto my baby forever, smashing
the perfect, pink body into mine. 
My husband is standing close with one protective arm still around me.
He reaches out and gently touched the top of our baby’s head;
contentment and joy shining deep in his eyes.

The room is full of happy chatter and well-wisher.
Grandparents, aunts, and uncles, all looking at the beautiful baby in my arms.
I think for a minute about my nasty thoughts and questionable words, then give my husband a shy smile.
Now, the pain seems like a small sacrifice for the beautiful baby in my arms.
A reflection of my husband and me. 

This poem is an aggregate of birthing experiences.  I based it on stories I have heard from friends and family along with my own birthing experiences.  To you women who endure the birthing process without angry and hateful thoughts, or unreasonable demands, you have my sincere respect.

By Debora Shelford Hobbs




It was one of those years.  Nothing really seemed to go right no matter how hard I tried.  I was president of an organization and was chairing a huge project on which I had poured my heart and soul.  I spent countless hours writing reports, forming plans, praying for wisdom, and leading a committee to pursue the project.  We had lots of community support…at first. But after some opposition and inflexibility from the powers that be, the committee disbanded because most believed there were too many obstacles to overcome. To make matters worse I found myself in a power struggle with one of the organization’s board members.  I soon discovered that the board member had been spreading rumors about me based on an assumption that was wrong.  I confronted my accuser and explained that they had jumped to a wrong conclusion and they apologized, but damage to my reputation was done and I had no idea how to fix it. 

Every voice that whispered to my heart and mind told me that my reputation that was previously spotless was now tarnished beyond repair.  My confidence was broken.  To make matters worse my kids were making poor decisions and their grades had dropped.  Since I was already feeling bad about myself, I took my kids struggles as a personal reflection and believed that I was failing as a parent.

I was covered in shame. 

Nothing seemed right in my life and I was use to “appearing” like I had a good life, good kids, with a great home; I was used to being in demand.  In my mind I had become a throw away – useless – like I should just withdraw and quit volunteering because I was a complete failure. 

One night, sleep eluded me due to sorting through the scenarios over and over. I got up and decided it was time to “duke it out” with the Lord.  I cried out to him, complained to him, and “tattled” on others.  I asked him why all this had transpired and why the “wonderful project” had come to a screeching halt with little to no accomplishment.  I told Him that it left me feeling like a fool and asked him why His favor wasn’t with the project…a project that was  good for so many.  I had prayed so hard for God’s favor and believed fervently that the goal would be accomplished. Now it was dead…Why?  …Why?                                                         
I wanted to understand the purpose for the power struggle and any possible good that could come from it and I asked to understand why He would allow my reputation to be tarnished.  Then I moved on to my kids and wailed about why they were slumping and why none of them were walking with the Lord.  I begged to know why his blessing wasn’t with me and asked Him to show me if I had done something wrong. I told God that I felt like an embarrassment to Him and I felt like a poor reflection of a Christian.   I asked the Lord if my usefulness to others was over and if it was time to quit and maybe find an obscure path in which to serve Him. 

In that moment of hurt and self pity the Lord gently reminded me that it shouldn’t be a surprise when we face opposition and even shame; that if the perfect son of God felt it, how much more will we with our human failures, experience it.  He reminded me how Jesus had built a following in his disciples.  They were committed and totally believed that they were following the One that would deliver the Jews out of bondage. But when things didn’t turn out the way they thought and Jesus was taken away, beaten, and crucified, every one of them abandoned Him and Judas even betrayed Him.  Jesus knew exactly how I felt…alone and abandoned.
He died a most shameful death on the cross…as if he were a criminal.  But he was sinless, perfect…something I will never be.  Jesus was falsely accused and he had to walk through it and hold his head high knowing his father in heaven valued him and loved him endlessly regardless of how things appeared to observers.  Jesus didn’t worry about what others were thinking about him, or about his reputation at that moment.  He looked at the big picture and knew God had a perfect plan in the shame, pain, and abandonment. 

The Lord showed me that even the disciples felt shame.  They were confused and embarrassed because things didn’t turn out like they thought.  Jesus was supposed to become their king but they hadn’t realized that it was a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one.  They had staked everything on their belief, even their reputations.  They probably felt like fools.  They stuck their necks out and look what happened…Jesus died.  He never became king and he never physically delivered the Jews.  They thought it was going to work out their way and it just didn’t. They hid behind locked doors and were confused not knowing what to do next until Jesus rose and appeared to them to make clear all their questions and doubts. 

Pondering all of this, the Lord showed me that I had become self centered; that I was thinking about myself first and foremost in relation to everything that was going on.  God showed me to get my eyes off myself and to give my reputation and future usefulness to Him. My only task was to make myself available to Him and others and to do my best to keep a right heart and attitude.  There could be no place for resentment and self pity but rather I must love everyone and be willing to give up my own dreams and goals and even my reputation.

God showed me that I must give of myself in humility no matter how useless I feel.   My focus cannot be on accomplishing great things and gaining a great reputation.  Rather, my task is to serve God wholly and to give of myself endlessly, leaving the outcomes to Him.  People will hurt us from time to time, there will be disappointments, and we will have ups and downs.  But through it all, we must forgive completely, trust endlessly, and hope tirelessly.  We must remember that Jesus walked through extreme shame and pain for an amazing purpose that has changed the entire course of history.  We cannot forget that Joseph suffered great humiliation and trouble for 13 years for a purpose that brought great glory to God and saved many lives.  We must die to ourselves in the midst of our shame and trials knowing God has a great outcome for us as well. God is in control and in the long run all of our outcomes will be for His glory if we will fix our eyes on him instead of ourselves, our hopes, and our beliefs.

By Rhonda Shelford Jansen

The Dive of Courage

A small story demonstrating the huge amount of support it takes for us to accomplish difficult task.

There I stood on the side of the pool looking like a baby beluga from the sixties.  I had on my fashionable bright pink plastic swim cap, decorated with floppy white daises that was held firmly in place by a thick white chin strap that caused my cheeks to push out, just a bit.

My chubby, six year old body was covered in a skirted, two- piece, swimsuit that enhanced the physical attribute inspiring my nick name “Princess Belly Belly.”  My chubby legs were pressed close together as if giving each other strength. The instructor stood next to me bent at the waist, arms reaching over her head meeting in a sharp point at her finger-tips.  “This is proper formation; just hold it and ….go” She would say to me while bending at the knees and pushing out toward the pool’s smooth, blue surface.  I watched her intently, sure that this time I would hold “proper formation” all the way into the water.

After her perfect demonstration she would physically adjust my uncooperative body into the stance, “I can do this” I said to myself.  Then she said, “One, two, three go!” and gave me a gentle push on the rump.  I stared at the water with complete focus then began to slowly lean forward, getting closer and closer to the smooth, surface, and then; … I went in feet first.

Some uncontrollable force was spinning my feet around and making them enter the water before my head.  I seemed to have an innate fear of entering the water head first. We went through this same scenario many times over several lessons.  The instructor even had my older brother and sister treading water just beyond where I would land.  Each yelling words of encouragement to me “you can do it, Deb” and “It’s not scary, see” I was feeling very disappointed with myself and awkward at the amount of attention I was receiving over my inability to dive.

One lesson my Dad was even there encouraging me on.  He and mom stood behind the spectator’s rope waving and smiling at me.  I waved back feeling a mixture of happy comfort and anxiety about performing.  With the instructor next to me I got into position and stared down at the glassy surface of the pool.  One, Two, Three and go… I pushed off toward the water, but my darn feet entered first.  After Dad’s visit I received another nick name, “Little Splash.” This one stayed with me for years.

Finally, during the last swim lessons of the summer session I succeeded in diving head first into the pool.  Sweet success at last! The instructor, my brother and sister, mom, the rest of my class, along with an assortment of people I didn’t know, all cheered at my late coming success in the area of diving. Seldom is success easy or accomplished alone.  Usually it requires encouragement from others and stubborn courage and determination from ourselves.

Frequently we fail before we succeed and after a failure we must dig deep into faith to find the courage to try again.   This small story illustrates in a simple way how support from others along with self-determination to not give up finally resulted in success.  Remember that an individual’s success is gained with the help and strength of others.

Philemon 1:7 your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

By Debora Shelford Hobbs

Alone in the Dark

Oh night of terror, long and dark
Alone we lay, together but apart.
Was I wrong? Was I bad? Or just not smart?
What happened in this room
while we lay alone in the dark?

A stranger you are.  Where did you go?
I knew you so well a long time ago.
Sweet looks once came from those cold, cold eyes.
Oh Lord, Oh Lord, please tell me why!

A welcoming body has been replaced
With ridged indifference and seemingly, no grace.
Two hearts united one day long ago.
Dreams of companionship fresh and aglow;
What happened, what happened, Lord let me know!

These dreams now replaced with uncertainty and fear
That seems to grow greater and ever more near.  
A cloud of darkness has enveloped us dear.
I no longer see you as a lover and friend
I just see fear.

By Debora Shelford Hobbs

Living Through Loss

Have you ever been mad at God?  That question makes many religious folks uncomfortable; after all how can a mere human be mad at the one and only sovereign God?  Why would a God who makes no mistakes and who loves us allow us to walk through times of suffering?  I confess that there have been times of deep hurt, when I’ve been flat out mad.  There have been other times when the anger manifested itself in a quiet distance from the God whom I could no longer trust.   But what I learned from these dark times is that even though anger is a normal emotion in times of great loss,  I must be very careful to see that the anger doesn’t leave a permanent, hidden rift between God and me. 

There are so many scenarios that can leave a human heart hurt and angry at God.  Sometimes it’s a sudden and unexpected tragedy and other times it’s something for which we have prayed diligently and fervently and yet the focus of our prayer is met with devastation.  There are times when pain is a direct result of reaping what we sew and other times we’re bewildered as Job as to why we must suffer loss.  Sometimes we suffer tragedy for a specific outcome like in the case of Joseph being sold into slavery and there are other times when God allows pain into our lives to teach and refine us so that we can relate to and help other hurting people in the same situation.

The thing I try and remember through the raw emotion which breeds a childish pride, is that no matter the reason for loss, God will use it for good in my life and in the lives of others.  That is the great hope that we can all have.  There will be pain and there will be loss but the more we submit and trust God in the pain the greater the benefit that comes from the tragedy.  The more we harden our hearts toward God and build walls against Him, the more the devastation from the tragedy will grow.  Each layer of pain we suffer is spiritual sandpaper meant to chafe away layers of pride and self reliance and the outcome is to leave behind a fresh and pure heart of complete submission to God.  Remember Joseph and all the horrible injustice he suffered for 13 years.  He stayed faithful and soft hearted and in the end he was able to look at his brothers and say ”What you meant for evil God intended for good.”

A Prayer:
O Sovereign God,  Lord of Lord and King of Kings, You are mighty and Your ways are awesome… even when I  don’t like or understand them.  Forgive me for my unbelief and open my heart this day to Your spirit and soften all the hard and scared places.  Forgive me for the anger deep in my heart for I have been angry at You for allowing this to happen.  Renew my love and trust in You and help me to lay everything dear to me on the alter… at Your feet.   I don’t understand why I must go through this, it doesn’t seem right and its hard because I know You have the power to fix it. Help me to remember that You have a big plan in mind and help me to see with Your eyes so I might focus on the big picture, knowing that You will bring great good from my devastation.   Move by the power of Your might over me that I might rise up out of my circumstances and walk upon them in the truth of Your light. In the name of Jesus, I bind every lie that tells me that You have failed me, that You don’t love me, and that You don’t care about my circumstances. And I loose the truth from Your word that says You love me, that You see my tears, and that You hear my cries.  I loose the truth That You hide me and my loved ones under Your wing and that You have good plans for me and my family, even when it isn’t obvious.  Father I submit myself to You in the midst of my loss and trouble and ask for You to come and bring pure good from that which the enemy has meant for evil.  Spring every trap that the devil has planned for my loved ones and me and send them all back into his own camp.  Set my family and me upon a path that is clear and lead us each day in the way we should go.  Father, I have no strength left, But You are my strength for in my weakness You promise to be strong and I worship You for that.  I loose my loved ones and me in to the purpose for which You created us and I bind anything that would stand against Your purpose in our lives and Your blessing in our lives.  I loose Your favor, Your blessing, Your restoration in every area of our lives and I praise You for what You are going to do.  Give me the heart and strength to seek You each day and use me and this circumstance for great good and to glorify Your holy name.  In the name of Jesus Christ who died in my place so that You see me as pure and righteous.  Amen.


By Rhonda Jansen
Suggested Reading:
When God Doesn’t Make Sense  by James Dobson




The Power of Forgiveness:

An old wooden cart is rumbling up a dusty, desert trail.  The day is hot and cart is pulled by a nameless man intent on doing his task. Sitting in the wooden cart is another man; he is sickly and slumping against the rough, wooden slats. His boney face is drawn and sad and he is wearing nothing but a bleached, ragged loin wrap.  Not a word is spoken and each man acts as if the other isn’t there. 
Chained to the leg of the sickly man is a rotting corpse but he seems unaware of its presence. 
This doomed man isn’t crying for help nor does he try to remove the decaying body so he can be healthy again; he just sits there, completely subject to his circumstances.
As people pass by they cry out “Break the chain and bury the corpse or it will poison you.” 
The man hears them but does not listen nor heed their cry but continues on, a prisoner to the corpse and cart. 
The corpse decays more and the stench becomes so great that no one can stand coming near.
Even those that cared enough to try and convince him to unchain the body can’t take it anymore so they give up and stay away. 
They leave the man to die in his own, self-induced misery.

This is a dream that came to me three times and each time the cart was pulled by something different.  The third time it disrupted my sleep I sat up and said “Lord, why do I keep having this horrible dream? Are you trying to teach me something?”
In an Instant, I knew the meaning:

The sickly man in the cart is broken from hurt, disappointment, and the traumas of life.  He is hopeless which has birthed a consuming depression.  The corpse represents situations from childhood to present and retell a story of loss, failure, shame, fear, and abuse.  He hates and loves it at the same time and it constantly reminds him that he will never be free.  The cart symbolizes how small his world has become because his focus is on the bitterness of the past rather than on what good can come from those experiences.  His world has become more and more about “him” and less and less about what he can contribute.

In the three dreams, a man, a donkey, and a train were pulling the cart.  They demonstrate that the sickly man is no longer active in determining the outcomes of his life. He isn’t pulling his own cart.  He sees himself as a victim caught in a life that someone else controls.  He allows his circumstances that change from day to day to determine where he goes, how he acts, and what he does. The stench represents a cloud of self pity and bitterness that have been birthed from refusing to let go of the past.  He see everything that happens as a personal offense and others don’t like being around him because he is a black cloud.

The people willing to help are friends, family, and counselors that advise him to see the past through different glasses.  They try to convince him that God can take beauty from all the ashes of his past and he is willing to listen and receive their attention but he never implements any of the advice.  Now the friends have given up and have left him to die with the corpse of his past.

This is a warning to all of us.  We all have hurts from the past that we haven’t truly let go and certainly haven’t fully forgiven; they are dead weight and would love to destroy us.  The problem is, the enemy works overtime convincing us that to let go of those hurts would make light of their gravity and to forgive the offender(s) would offer undeserved mercy and free them of responsibility for the crime.  We have a determined loyalty and obligation to the very past that is damning us. 
To forgive and release the offender or event doesn’t change the fact that it happened nor does it remove responsibility; it only changes us and sets us free.  When we refuse to let hurts go, the event stays active in our lives, and the act is committed over and over again.   If we don’t release the past our legacy will become one of darkness, self pity, and bitterness. God wants to do something good with our hurt…WE ARE NOT VICTIMS.  We are individuals that have experienced hurt that others too have experienced and we are going to become better and richer in character because of that hurt.  Becoming free of the past will take a conscious decision that the experience will no longer destroy us.

Another step toward freedom from the past is to be aware of our words and behavior.  Speaking out and thinking in a positive way…even when we don’t feel like it will help to break old patterns.  We must quit paying attention to how we feel and act on the truth of God’s word.  Our feelings change from day to day and are unreliable.  Our state of mind must be built on the solid foundation that God has something good for each of us, that bad things happen to good people to make us stronger, to develop our character, and make us more useful to society.  It is also important to be interested in other people’s lives and ask them how they are doing; to be more interested in hearing someone else’s story than in telling our own.  It will birth awareness that there are many other hurting people in this world and our experiences, as we learn to let God use them, will help others.

A final thought.  Many times our hurt brings either a hidden or an overt rift with God.  We feel abandoned because he didn’t protect us from our situation. After all, we would use any means possible to protect our kids from harm, and aren’t we God’s kids? The doubt and distrust places our relationship with God at arm’s length.
The belief is hidden deep in our heart that God chose not to bless us with good things so we must somehow be less. Never forget that God allowed his own son to be tortured and crucified for a purpose far greater than those immediately involved were able to understand and Jesus had to walk out the pain in order for the good to be realized.  Imagine if Christ, about half way through his torture, said “Father, if you really loved me, You wouldn’t allow this to happen to me.”  And while hanging there, hardened his heart against God and determined to fix things his own way.  What if he used his supernatural power to get off the cross then killed all the soldiers and walked away?  He could have and things would certainly be different now, wouldn’t they?  Even though Jesus cried out in hurt and pain “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” He submitted to God, kept his heart soft toward his father, and walked through the pain, knowing there was great purpose in it and there would be a future reward.  Furthermore, he didn’t hate the Jews or the Soldiers even though they had committed a terrible crime.  He forgave them fully.
You see, Jesus, God’s own precious Son suffered great injustice.  He felt abandoned, hurt, and deep pain and it wasn’t because He wasn’t blessed or favored by God.  There was a great purpose for it that would change the entire course of the world.

By Rhonda Shelford Jansen


Where are the promises that God has given?  Why am I not seeing them fulfilled?  Why don’t the desires of my heart seem important to God?  It’s so hard to trust sometimes… it’s so hard to wait on God.
I’ve prayed until there are no words left; bound strongholds and loosed the opposite; I’ve fasted and asked others to pray; I’ve even endlessly quoted bible verses of victory and healing.  In return…nothing…just the same devastating situation. 
The heart cries out “Why God?  Why don’t you help me? Why are you so far, why don’t you see me?”  But there is no answer.  Times of discouragement like these weigh heavily upon the heart and it is so tempting to give up and stay a safe distance from the Lord; close enough that He can still be seen, but far enough that disappointment is no longer a factor.

In that dark place God reminded me of what happened when Abraham and Sara got tired of waiting for God to send them their promised baby.  They quit waiting – they quit trusting God at his word. Sara assumed she knew God’s mind; that since it was taking so long for her to conceive, God must have meant for her to receive a child by another means. She gave Abraham her servant to conceive for her and in her impatience and unwillingness to walk out God’s timing, she created Ishmael; the father of Arabs who have resented and been at war with the Israelites until this present day. This is what happens when we give up on God; this is what happens when we want our own way instead of God’s way.  She didn’t like her barren position it made her feel like a spectacle or joke. Just like we feel when we have to admit to someone that in spite of all the prayer and faith, nothing has changed.   But rather than harden our hearts and grow bitter, we must submit ourselves to God in the midst of our urgent need.  We must keep trusting God even if we feel foolish. We must ask him what he wants us to do while in this undesirable state. Is there a purpose He wants to accomplish in us or something he wants us to learn?

Think about King Saul.  God chose him and anointed him to be Israel’s first King.  At first, he almost seems a better man than King David.  He certainly didn’t have David’s “women” issues and he seemed quite humble and merciful.  But that was the outward appearance and God doesn’t care about “outward.”  God cares about and can see what’s in the heart.  When God saw that Saul cared more about pleasing man than Him, He made a change and took the throne from Saul’s lineage.  Saul didn’t like that change and it gnawed at him day and night.  I’m sure he thought After all it should be my son next in line for the throne, not David.  Why don’t I get the recognition that I deserve?  I have been a good man; I have done many great things. He stewed and fretted over the situation and even tried to kill David many times. Eventually, after refusing to submit his will to God’s and trust God with his undesirable circumstances he more or less became mentally ill and from what is reported in I Samuel, he struggled severely with depression.  Why? Because he couldn’t get what he wanted.  That’s it in a nutshell.  He wanted what he wanted and just couldn’t get over it.  He never found that humility; that submitted  trust.  I wonder what his life was supposed to be besides a bitter, resentful, depressed man that committed suicide?

I don’t want to make an Ishmael; I don’t want to be consumed with trying to control my circumstances because it’s an impossible task that will eventually cast me into deep depression.  So I will trust you Lord, I will lay down my deep desire for change in my circumstances for your perfect timing and will.  I don’t understand it, it makes no sense to me, I don’t even see how it brings glory to You, but I will trust.  I want to see what Sara would have seen if she hadn’t made her Ishmael.  I want to see what King Saul would have seen if he hadn’t let bitterness and disappointment consume him.  I will wait on You and You will renew my strength.  I will mount up with eagle’s wings.  I will walk and not grow weary; I will run and not faint.  Teach me Lord to wait.

By Rhonda Shelford Jansen

The Pill

A villanelle

In your mouth I place the pill.
At school there is work to be done.
You must concentrate and sit still.

The teachers say they have had their fill.
He is a nice boy, not one to hold a gun.
In your mouth I place the pill.

To drug you was not my will.
you should sit at your desk, there’s much to be done.
You must concentrate and sit still.

Your body calms, your eyes grow still.
I enjoy you this way, sometimes, son.
You must concentrate and sit still.

In a world where imagination is stifled and killed.
In a school system where conforming is the prize to be won.
In your mouth I place the pill.
You must concentrate and sit still.

By Debora Shelford Hobbs 


Resentment: 3 years in a fiery furnace:

In scripture the number 3 is said to mean completeness.  Christ was in the tomb three days but arose new and complete. Jonah was in the whale 3 days; Esther and her people fasted for three days before she risked her life for the Israelites.  After three years of deep stress and resentment, the Lord opened my eyes to see my family’s responsibility in a situation where I had previously believed my family to be the victims.  I arose out of a fiery furnace forever changed.

In less than two years our family of 3 swelled to 5 members and our cars and home were suddenly too small.  We purchased our first large SUV and began praying and looking for a new house.   After two years of looking, we settled on a home that was everything I had prayed for.  It was situated in a cul-de-sac with a large yard on a greenbelt and even had a sound view.  The existing colors inside the house matched all of my furniture and accessories perfectly.  It was God’s gift to my family, tailor made for us.

The neighbors were friendly in our 5 house cul-de-sac but we were disappointed to learn that there were no children.  We were delighted however, that a little farther up the street the neighborhood was packed with families and our kids quickly made friends.  To our right, an older couple, Lucille and Jim lived one house away and seemed particularly kind.  They even helped introduce our two youngest to other preschoolers up the street.  To our immediate left lived Marta and Paul.  They were somewhat aloof but nevertheless warmly welcomed us along with the other neighbors. 

Laughing, yelling, and childish busyness followed my two youngest everywhere.   The neighborhood children frequently congregated in our cul-de-sac and yard, raising the noise level even higher.  There were many days where you could find 3 kids on the trampoline, 2 riding big wheels in the cul-de-sac, and another 2 playing whiffle ball on the front lawn.   My daughter, Jenny took great delight in filling our cul-de-sac with multi-room houses drawn in bright side-walk chalk.  To say that there was nonstop fun and chaos at our house was an understatement but the children never harmed any neighbor’s property. 

 Within a year of our moving into the neighborhood my preschoolers and their noise were driving Marta and Lucille crazy and they started showing signs of impatience and agitation toward our family. In the front yard, Marta’s grass was joined to ours with no separation and it drove her absolutely nuts when my little Caleb would wonder onto their property.  She would sometimes scream; “GET OFF MY GRASS!”  But it was pretty hard for my 4 year old to be aware of an inexact, invisible boundary since all the grass looked the same to him.  Our driveway was long and since our garage was full of riding toys, I frequently parked my car down by the sidewalk.  Several times, when Caleb, Jenny and I walked down our long driveway, Lucille and Melissa sat side by side in lawn chairs pointing and laughing at us as we made our way to the car.  It was intimidating but I did my best to pretend they weren’t getting to me and to ignore it for Jenny and Caleb’s sake.  When the kids were laughing and jumping on the trampoline Marta screamed over the back yard fence in hysterics “SHUT UP!!”   Jim was quick to hose off the sidewalk chalk shortly after Jenny’s artwork was complete and she couldn’t understand why. It didn’t help matters when Jenny told Lucille that our family believed they needed to paint their garage and that we wanted them to move so we could buy their house…this exaggerated and made up childish rhetoric enraged Lucille. 

Nine months after the stress began we took a two week vacation to Hawaii. When we arrived home we were welcomed with a letter signed by six neighbors telling us our kids were a bother and to keep them indoors or take them 4 blocks away to the neighborhood park for play time.  Several of the neighbors immediately apologized and said they felt pressured to sign it and completely disagreed with the premise.   In spite of the apologies, we felt isolated and afraid of our neighbor’s and anxiously wondered what they would stop at to make their point.  A year later I received a notice from the state that I was to cease my day care business immediately and was called to court over having an unlicensed day care.  I had no daycare nor did I ever have one. Fear grew in our hearts and I was actually afraid that Lucille or Marta would make a false child abuse report against me just to get rid of my kids. 

It is important to note at this point that our children never destroyed anyone’s property; they were simply a frequent, noisy and cluttered presence.  The noise wasn’t a 24/7 phenomenon as we live in a cool, wet climate with short summers so many days were spent inside. To paint the two women accurately, Marta was in her 30’s, an admitted witch and a worshipper of nature, she had no children.  Lucille was in her 60’s, a Sunday school teacher, and had no children as well.  A Sunday school teacher and a witch seems an unlikely pair but common goals can unite the most unlikely of persons.  Whether that goal was to harass us into moving or to banish us to the interior of our house, I will probably never know.  

During the second year Lucille started taking pictures of the kids playing, their toys strewn about, and of our wading pool full of children.  We knew from her behavior that it wasn’t because she loved the kids and our imaginations ran wild wondering why she was doing it.  The situation quickly escalated into the realm of insanity. Lucille in her frustration repeatedly recorded the children’s noise on tape cassette. She would then put her boom box in a window facing the cul-de-sac and played back the recordings at total distortion levels for all to hear. After a couple of years she reported to a neighbor that she had 25 such tapes.   Several times, when the kids left a riding toy on the sidewalk near her driveway, she was seen taking the toy and putting it in the trunk of her car.  To her credit, we always got missing toys back.  Police visits to our house became normal as Lucille and Jim called 911 for anything from loud children & side walk chalk to my husband and Jim hurling insults back and forth over the property lines.  The sympathetic, local police had a file an inch thick with complaints and copies of Lucille’s photos…I know, because they showed it to me. Taken together all of these actions kept us in a constant state of anxiety and anger.  We prayed for resolution but received none.

For three years the stress took a mountainous toll on my family.  Fear grew in my youngest children and anger and resentment in my oldest son, husband, and me.

To imply that we did no wrong… would be wrong.  As the trouble wore on, there were many times I said to myself  “You don’t like the noise of children, well… I’ll show you even more noise.”  And would allow more kids to come over and make as much noise as they liked, smiling to myself all the while.  If my daughter hadn’t been out with the side walk chalk for a while, rather than being relieved, I reminded her that she should go out and draw her “extra large” chalk houses again.  My husband and oldest son fell into verbal battles several times with Jim and they weren’t nice and were peppered with profanity and insults that were shocking.  Feeling justified and self righteous, we told many people about the antics of our neighbors, describing in detail just how abused we were.  Of course we were being mistreated, especially my little guys, but we didn’t need to spread the sickness.  A boiling anger burned deeper with every action taken against my kids and roared into an inferno as I watched fear take over their sweet personalities.  But paying evil for evil never pans out. 

Besides being astonished at our neighbor’s behavior and the way we answered it, the thing that disturbed me the most was that anger, resentment, and suspicion was beginning to creep into every facet of our lives. We began to distrust the motivations of good people, believing that they were always against us.   I even saw signs of it in my youngest and that was heartbreaking. 

Sin never stands still and nor can we put a cap on it.  It always grows and always puts it roots into every area of our lives until we dig the sin out, roots and all.  I knew where it was coming from but was unwilling to put my self-righteous pride aside; to humble myself and make things right as best I could.
There were numerous times that I would hear that little voice “Go talk to the neighbors and try and work things out.”  My quick, self righteous response to that would be “Why should I be the one to apologize?  We are the victims here; she should talk to me.”  The final time that voice came to me was one Sunday, after church.  I stood in the kitchen nonchalantly thumbing through my bible when I came upon Job 36:13.  
The Godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them they do not cry for help.  They die in their youth.”      
I had read the verse before and in fact it was underlined in my bible.  I had arrogantly applied it to my husband and would pray for him with the scripture in mind.  That day as I read, the eyes of my heart opened wide and I realized that I was the one the verse applied to.
It was pretty humbling to say the least. I could physically feel the blood drain from my body at the realization that I had huge resentment in my heart toward my neighbors, and that meant that I was Godless. 

I was so humbled by the knowledge that I said “Lord… Ok… if you want me to talk to Lucille and apologize, I will.  I don’t have the guts to call her, but I will go outside to work in my garden for a while and see if she comes out of her house.   I am asking you to bring her outside if you really want me to talk to her and apologize for my resentment.” 

Please understand that Melissa was gone by now, as she divorced her husband a year earlier and her husband had never participated in any of the behavior.

I grabbed my pruning shears and headed out the front door. As I rounded the corner of my garage, I heard Lucille’s garage door go up and out she came.
I quietly said “Ahhhhhh, OK Lord, you obviously want me to do this.” …A deep breath…pounding heart …and…. “Lucille, can I talk to you?”

It had been so long since we had spoke, that she jumped when she heard my question. Nevertheless, she tentatively answered “Ok.”  I walked over to her property line and said “Lucille, I want to apologize for the resentment that I have had in my heart toward you and Jim, it is wrong, and I also apologize for the rest of my family’s resentment and hatred toward you as well. I was just reading my bible and the Lord convicted my heart of our behavior and I am so sorry.”

She said “I accept your apology but… you know, just yesterday I was going to call the police; the kids were …”  I put my hand up and said “Lucille you and I will never agree on how to raise kids, so I think we should stay away from those conversations.  If my kids damage your property or are rude to you in any way, please inform me and I will take care of it, but if its noise or kids playing in the cul-de-sac, then we are going to have to agree to disagree.” 
She said “Alright and we are sorry too.”  I told her that her apology was accepted and the conversation ended.

A load lifted off my shoulders like nothing I had ever experienced.  I felt free and even had a new compassion for Jim and Lucille.  I finally admitted to myself and my family that we could have brought this to an end a long time ago but I was too busy standing on the belief that it wasn’t our fault, that we were only victims in this and completely blameless.  Boy was I wrong.  It was stubborn rebellion and resentment that lived in us and I hope the lesson learned stays with me forever. 
God always calls us to bigger and better behavior and isn’t real worried about whose fault a circumstance is.  He wants us to be concerned about our behavior and walk blameless before God and man to the best of our ability…regardless of what someone may do to us. 

It has been years since, Jenny is 20 and Caleb is 18.  We are still neighbors and still friendly with Jim and Lucille.  Unfortunately, after we settled our differences, they went on to harass the neighbor whose house sat between theirs and ours.  They were a couple that had their first child shortly after we moved in.  Unable to deal with the stress, they moved away before working out the problems. 

God taught me that nothing in life is about us.  That we are truly servants and are called to reconciliation as much as it depends upon us.  I regret that it took me 3 years to get over myself and my kids but learned lessons that I will never forget.  Maybe we should have moved away after a year of the stress but it just didn’t work out that way.  Instead, we have learned valuable lessons about trying to nip a situation in the bud.  If that’s not possible, then perhaps moving is the next alternative.  But the story went differently for us and it became a battle of wills.

In God’s perfect time, he opened my eyes and brought us out of the furnace. Much waste and chaff was burned away from my mind and heart. I learned that I had a heart of not only resentment but judgment too and boy could I be vindictive. I’ll never know why I didn’t believe “vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.” But God knew those strongholds were in my heart and that He had a work to do in me; a cleansing.  That fiery furnace left an unknown, darkened part of my heart clean and pure and I will forever be grateful.

By Rhonda Jansen

The Power of Kind Words

While waiting in line to pick up my kindergartner from school I made a mental list of the tasks still needing to be accomplished and cringed at the thought of taking my three and five year old boys grocery shopping at Safeway.  On occasions grocery shopping brought out the imp in each so I quickly decided to make the shopping trip a fast one.

Happily climbing into our well-worn minivan, Sam enthusiastically told me about his day.  I interrupt the chatter to explain that we were heading to Safeway before going home.  My announcement was received with animated protests because he never liked going anywhere after school.  His brain was exhausted from all the hard work kindergarten required.  Resorting to bribery, a parent’s best friend, I promise him a Hot Wheel car if he could have a good attitude while we shopped.  This worked and off we headed to the store.

I parked our well-loved minivan as close to the front door as possible, hoping to minimize the chance of a parking lot disaster.  I proceeded to unhook the boys from their car seats then supervised their super-hero like jump to the parking lot.  Holding hands, one boy on each side of me, we attempted a straight path to the store’s poster covered front door.  Sam pulled with all his weight to the right then crosses in front of me to bug his brother.  Jackson, being a little imp himself, tried to maneuver behind me to touch Sam.  I stretch out my arms like a cross-beam to hold them apart and keep marching towards the front door and the corralling benefits of a shopping cart.  I place Jackson inside the cart and instruct Sam to walk beside it while holding onto the smooth rim of the basket with one hand.  This will keep him busy and within reach, hopefully, and it worked for a few minutes.

It’s amazing what a five year old arm can reach while holding onto a shopping cart with the other.  In just a few minutes unwanted items were indiscriminately being tossed into the cart and therefore at or on Jackson.  This brought laughter, protests, and screeches, along with several items being tossing back out of the cart.  I stopped our merry, little, chaotic, parade and took several deep breathes. My boys did know how to behave in stores, I knew somewhere in their little boy minds this knowledge existed.  However, at this moment it was being pushed back into the dark depths of their gray matter.   I deliberately situated myself between the boys so we could have a quiet, three way, very serious, eye to eye talk; in which I threatened taking away the prized Hot Wheel car if they could not act like gentlemen. I then reminded them what gentlemen acted like. Their eyes were locked on mine with the deep understanding that mom was upset.  Both little heads bob up and down swearing to an oath of good behavior.

We resumed our shopping.  Jackson seated in the cart and Sam walking next to it with one pudgy little hand clamped around the rim of the cart. All was close to quiet for a while.  Then, I unwisely turn my attention to the meat frig and ponder the labels, could I afford the select or choice steak?  Should I buy pork instead of beef?  What is the price per pound?  Sensing my thoughts in the distant land of budgets and meat, Sam seized the moment and attempted to climb into the cart along with Jackson and assorted groceries.

A husky little voice yelling “Sammy NO!”  Interrupted my thoughts and I turned to see Jackson standing amid the bread, fruit, and canned goods, with his hands firmly pressing against the top of Sam’s head.  Sam had one knee over the rim of the cart with his belly, chest, and head tipping down into it.  Here his head met with resistance from Jackson’s strong little arms.  I now had a three year old standing in a shopping cart, pushing with all his might against the head of my five year old, who is half in and half out of the cart, both feet kicking in the air.   This is not good on so many levels.  Holding my breath for fear I might erupt like Old Faithful, I lift Sam out of the cart, sit Jackson back down on the mangled groceries, and sternly threatened their sweet little lives, telling them to say goodbye to the prized Hot Wheel car.

I had noticed several women giving me that, “lady get your kids under control” look, and that “your kids should act more like mine” self-righteous look coming from women who were not even shopping with two little boys, or who were shopping with two little girls, bows in their hair, shoes clean, knees of their pants spotless.  I ignored them all, I needed to survive this little excursion and so did my boys.

We resumed our positions and headed for the checkout stand ASAP, trying to avoid eye contact with other shoppers.  Feelings of inadequacy about my parenting were swirling in my mind amid thoughts of Prozac, Valium, or a glass of wine.

Interrupting my quick exit, a lady who looked ten years older than me, with shoulder length brown hair and kind eyes, deliberately walked up to me and with a soothing, kind voice said “I know, I have boys too, it gets better and easier in a few years.  Hang in there.” then she continued down the aisle.

Her words flowed over me like a gentle breeze; my shoulders relaxed a little.  Her kind, non-judging eyes lifted my spirit and a small smile creped across my face.  “Thank you” I replied, and continued towards the checkout stand, my mood a little lighter.  My boy’s lives a little less threatened.

Kind words of encouragement from a total stranger touched my heart.  Rather than judging us, she gave us mercy; her words eased the self-condemnation I had placed on myself and my questionable parenting skills.  It is twelve years later as I write this and the memory of her kind face and gracious words are as clear to me as the day it happened.

Lesson:  Never hold back kind words and unmerited mercy, they are powerful.  Kind words will work in the life of another in ways that only God knows.

Proverbs 12:25 NIV
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

By Debora Shelford Hobbs

Never, Never Give Up

At 17, Joseph’s life was good.  He was a child of wealth, his father’s favorite, and he had big dreams that one day he would be a mighty leader and his entire family would bow down to him.  He frequently shared his “foolish dreams” with his older brothers and it angered them. The dreams fueled the fire of jealousy in their hearts and contempt grew to the boiling point.

Joseph’s brothers were out in the fields tending the family’s sheep so Jacob sent his youngest son to see how the brothers were doing.  As Joseph approached, the brothers hatched a plan that would silence the arrogance for good.  They stripped Joseph of the beautiful coat their father made for him and threw him in a pit. They sat around pondering what they should do with their little brother when a caravan of slave traders came by.
In an instant, they decided to sell Joseph into slavery and tell their father that his beloved son had been killed by a wild animal. 
In a single day, Joseph found himself without his freedom, without his home, without those he loved, and betrayed by those that should have loved him. Can you imagine what he must have been feeling as a 17 year old boy?

Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, Captain of the Royal Guard. 
There he made the best of his terrible situation and actually prospered as a slave.  God was with him and he eventually became supervisor over Potiphar’s house, overseeing and managing all of the details pertaining to the household and other slaves.
Joseph came from a privileged family and was far above imagining that he could ever be a slave.  Remember his dream?  He was going to be a great ruler…a king…I wonder how silly he felt as he remembered that dream?  Did he spend his time feeling sorry for himself and wasting his energy hating his brothers?  Did he focus on trying to convince his master that he was wrongly sold or that he was really a privileged youth?  If he did, he didn’t do it for long.  He got on with it, focused on being the best he could be in his lowly situation and God blessed him with leadership and administrative skill in Potiphar’s house… as a slave.

Joseph was good looking and Potiphar’s wife lusted after him.  He resisted her advances even though she repeatedly coaxed him.  Joseph explained to her that he couldn’t dishonor his master by sleeping with his wife. But his words of honor fell on deaf ears and one day she caught him by his robe and said “lie with me.”  He resisted again and ran away but in his escape she stripped him of his robe.  Screaming hysterically that Joseph had tried to rape her, others in the house ran to her rescue.  Joseph was immediately thrown into prison and his already sad circumstances became far worse.
In a single day, Joseph fell from being manager of a great Egyptian household to being arrested and thrown into prison…for doing the right thing. 

Did Joseph give up and fall into depression and discouragement?  Did he shake his fist at God and say “If you loved me, you wouldn’t have allowed this to happen!”  If he did, he didn’t do it for long.  He got up, dusted himself off and made the best of his even worse situation.  He had gone from a rich, favored son, to a slave, and now to a prisoner. And in all, he was innocent pawn…a victim. 

The moments of darkness aren’t recorded in Joseph’s story but since he was a man, he must have had some.  Did he laugh bitterly at his childish dreams?  Did he really believe that God was with him? Did he wonder “How could it possibly be God’s will or God’s love to do this to me; why has God abandoned me?  Look how hard I’ve tried in spite of all the misfortune…look at my good and overcoming attitude.  Why is God allowing things to go from bad to worse? I could have slept with Potiphar’s wife and never been caught and would still be in charge of the house wearing fine clothing and ordering the other slaves about.  What good was it to do the right thing…it landed me in prison…in a dungeon?  Thanks a lot God.”

If Joseph had these thoughts, they didn’t hold him back for long.  It’s recorded that God was with Joseph and he prospered in prison.  The warden saw his attitude and abilities and put him in command over all the prison.  He only answered to the warden and the warden worried about nothing with Joseph in his service.  Joseph was now receiving administrative training at an even bigger venue and he could have never known that God in His sovereignty knew exactly what He was doing.

Eleven years after Joseph was sold into slavery by his own family, Pharaoh’s Chief Butler and Baker were thrown into prison because they had angered him.  One night they both had dreams and were troubled by them.  Joseph heard the dreams and gave each their interpretation; The Butler was to be restored to his position and the Baker was to be killed.  In three days, the events took place exactly as Joseph had stated.  When the Butler was released, Joseph asked him to remember his case to Pharaoh and to beg for his release.  But the Butler forgot about him.

Two more years passed. Joseph had been in his lowly situation for 13 years; he was now 30 years old.  Did he still trust God? Had he given up the hope of ever being free and seeing his family again? Did Joseph laugh even more bitterly when remembering his youthful dreams?  Because of what happened next, it leads us to believe that even though he must have had some dark moments, he still trusted and humbled himself before God. Joseph still had hope.

Two years after the Butler was released, Pharaoh had a dream. It was a dream that no one in all the land could interpret and Pharaoh was very distressed.  It was then that the Butler remembered Joseph and Pharaoh summoned him.  Joseph interpreted the dream; Egypt was heading into 7 years of great abundance followed by 7 years of intense famine. He warned Pharaoh that Egypt must store up much during the years of plenty to endure the devastation of the coming famine.  Pharaoh chose Joseph to administrate the process and put him second in command over all the land. 

Joseph had 13 years of training in administration, running first a wealthy home and next, a large prison.  God had prepared him for this task in a most unlikely way.  And…in a single day, Joseph realized all his boyhood dreams after faithfully walking through his trials for 13 years. 

For those that are unfamiliar with the story, Joseph ruled with wisdom and was blessed by God.  Two years into the famine his brothers came from Canaan and appeared at his throne asking for food for their starving family.  Joseph recognized them immediately and had to leave the room because he was so overcome with emotion; he wept deeply.  He did not reveal his identity right away but after much maneuvering had his youngest brother that he had never seen brought to him as well. When all the brothers stood before him, Joseph revealed his identity and his brothers were terrified.  Joseph’s (paraphrased) merciful retort was “Do not be afraid.  What you intended for evil, God intended for good. Do not be distressed and angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.  There will be five more years of great famine.  God has sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”  He kissed and wept over his brothers.
Joseph moved his father, brothers, and their families to Egypt and because of his position was able to provide all their needs during the terrible famine.

What if Joseph grew weary mid way through the 13 years and simply gave up hope?  He likely would have lived his life out in the prison, never knowing what great things God had in store for him.  He would never have been in position to save and provide for his family.
During the 13 years, Joseph surely had dark moments and may have wrestled with God just as his father, Jacob had.  But his absolute, unconditional forgiveness and ability to see God’s big picture is evidence enough that in each devastating situation he ultimately walked in the victory and complete trust of his God. 

God is sovereign. You have not been abandoned.  We must humble ourselves before our God in submission knowing that His timing is best.  He trains us through trials to ready us for bigger and better things so we must learn from each and every one of them.
Don’t give up. You will never know what God had for you and what your destiny was to be.

Joseph suffered for 13 years, perhaps your suffering has been longer;  Look then for ways to prosper longer…Keep walking longer…Look for character development longer…Hold on to your dreams longer.  You never know what God is training you for, so don’t quit. 

 You can read the story of Joseph in Genesis, chapters 37 – 50.

By Rhonda Shelford Jansen