Two Extremes

From our forth floor balcony at Panama City Beach, my husband, my daughter, and I watched the waves roll in and the waves roll out. We could have gotten mesmerized by the rhythmic sight and sound, but it was a different kind of evening on the white sandy beach beneath us. Several boats with blue swirling lights were driving back and forth in search of a young 20 year old who had gotten pulled away from his friends by a riptide. His panicked friends and accumulating spectators lined the shore in hope.

At 11 pm, the search was over, the young man was found. A thriving life ended, and inexplicable grief began.

Only 24 hours later, same balcony, same white sand, same rolling waves. Yet, what we witnessed on this perfect sunset-evening was a young man, dressed in khaki and blue who had set up a twinkling "marry me" sign in the sand. He waited for his sweetheart, and sure enough, she came. He bent to one knee and asked the question that young girls dream of. When they embraced, the condo balconies erupted in applause.

At 7pm, the search was over, the boy got his girl. His anxious thoughts stopped. Uncontainable joy began.

To be honest, I'm not sure what to make of the two extremes, the high and the low of it. I'm still processing the waves of emotion on both ends.

My only consolation with the young man who was swept away so suddenly is to think that Jesus himself was with him, saying, "Come with Me to a better place." There is a better place, I hope you know...maybe that's why I'm writing this right now...to tell you there is a better place than this life, and Jesus will take each of us there if we believe in him as our Savior. Yes, He saves us...from messes, from chaos, from riptides.

My genuine hope for this young, engaged, very happy couple is that they will walk with Jesus in the land of the living. Maybe that's why I'm writing this right now...to tell you that you don't have to walk this life alone, and that Jesus will help you in each moment and in every relationship. Yes, He helps...in the happy and in the hard.

We will always have the extremes...the high waves of over-the-top-joy as well as the low undercurrents of knee-buckling sadness.

Life and death and everything in between. The hope is this: Jesus is in the midst of it all.

Maybe that's why I'm writing this right now...to tell you that Jesus is in your midst...and to tell you to hold His hand in your extreme.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

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Thursday, July 15, 2021
By Chris Baxter

Does God Hear Me?

I'm slowly unpacking my thoughts from the Colorado trip I went on with my husband Mac about two months ago for our 31st anniversary. We splurged for a few nights in mid-April and went to the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs. Wow, it was f...a...n...c...y, way more than we knew!

While there, a wonderful thing happened while I was out on a long walk taking in the rugged beauty of the Colorado mountains. Mac had a fishing adventure, and it was way too cold for this southern girl to go alongside, so I stuck around the hotel grounds for the morning hours.

Speaking of cold, after biking some and walking some more, I was more than ready to go inside. The hotel offered one fireplace-lounge after another on several floors, and I already saw myself curled up with a book in one of these inviting spots. As I walked along briskly, I told myself, "Just get there, inside, warmth, ahhh." Meanwhile, someone's voice gently interrupted my bee-line mentality. A middle-aged woman who was touring the historic hotel and grounds asked me from a distance, "Excuse me, do you mind taking my picture?" With the large pond, the old hotel, and rugged mountains in the background, it was definitely a great picture spot, so I responded with a "Sure!" (If she had known of my picture taking inability, she would have waited for the next passer-by.)

 I walked toward her; I was cordial, but I was also quick. Bottom line, I was cold. I took her picture, and I took it again and again, to cover my bases.

Then I left her alone.

As I walked away from her and toward the nearing warmth, I couldn't ignore the nudge in my spirit. Hmmm, was I supposed to say something more to this lady? Unable to shake this thought, I confessed and prayed, "Lord, if you had something more in mind, please bring her back around."

     

Fast forward a couple of hours. After a hot shower (and praying a few more times the above prayer), I then meandered my way to a random fireplace lounge. Sitting there by myself, I texted a picture of the cozy scene before me and sent it to my adult kids, letting them know that I was doing quite fine at the moment.

After turning the pages of my book for a bit, I looked up to simply stare at the crackling fire and get lost in it.

But that's not what I saw.

Wow! What do you know? It was the lady...who was by the pond...now, sitting right in front of me.

Does God hear my prayers? Yes, oh yes, he does. Obviously it was his will to answer my prayer with, "Ok, you asked, so I'm bringing this woman back around to you."

To let you know, when I saw her sitting there, I was taken off guard and got really nervous! I'm an introvert. Talking to strangers is not my thing! But, the deeper "thing" is that I knew God brought this woman to me again, and so I needed to follow through. By faith, I moved to the chair beside her and started with, "Hi".

And I smiled...warmly this time.

We engaged in small talk, introducing each other. I fumbled with my words somewhat, but pressed on. I ended up telling her about what just transpired (taking her picture, regretting not being more friendly, my prayer, and now the two of us sitting in this "random" place). I also boldly/fearfully told her I was a Christian writer, and gave her my card (that I had by faith put in my pocket just in case God answered my prayer). I told her about my website and the online ministry called Soul Sisters, both designed to encourage women in God's word. She received my card and my kindness with a hint of curiosity and...that was that.

The amazing thing is, the next day, Mac and I went about 20 minutes away to tour the Garden of the Gods, a vast array of red rocks that one can wander through for miles. As we were coming out of the visitor center, guess who caught my eye? The lady by the pond, by the fireplace, was now by the garden about to walk some trails.

I yelled her name as if she were my childhood friend! Ha, I think i might have scared her a bit, but we both laughed at yet another chance meeting. We chatted again, and I merely stated, "Wow, this is more than a coincidence."

God heard me, and he answered me, not once, but twice.

And I'm still praying for this lady...now, by name.

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Friday, May 28, 2021
By Chris Baxter

Two Words can Change Everything

I was talking to a young friend of mine about our common struggle; it's called the "fear factor." Sometimes this unchecked emotion can be immobilizing, or it can even make you run in the opposite direction from where you know you are supposed to be headed. As we were discussing some of life's overwhelming decisions that certainly do come down our paths, I told her that I've learned, especially in difficult, doubting, or daunting times, to live by these two words: in Christ. The simple whisper to my soul of the words "in Christ" motivates me to take the next step, to say the next word, to write the next post, to move the next mountain.

As believers, we all struggle with something, but we don't have to be overcome by it, losing our true selves in the fight. Let's remember just who it is that abides in us! When we do, everything can change:

In Christ, fear changes to confidence.

In Christ, confusion changes to peace.

In Christ, doubt changes to faith.

In Christ, no self worth changes to full purpose.

In Christ, weakness changes to strength.

In Christ, selfish living changes to selfless giving.

In Christ, discouragement changes to hope.

I could go on and on. When each of these fleshly tendencies mentioned above are invaded by the life of Christ, his powerful glory fills our weak flesh. Your drab mindset and gray heartbeat change to a radiance that doesn't belong to you, yet is graciously given to you... in abundance.

In Christ we become fully alive!

What about you? What unchecked emotion needs to be swallowed up in Christ? Let his Spirit overcome your fear, your dismay, your confusion, your self worth...

Faith first; your feelings will follow. Keep stepping forward in Christ.

The truth is, when you live by these two words, not only will you benefit from this choice-change, others will want what you have; they will desire ...Christ in them.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:7

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Thursday, March 11, 2021
By Chris Baxter

Pray like Hannah

Do you want to enrich your prayer life but just need some guidance to do so? I have written a devotional called Forty Day Journey of Prayer to help. Each day is meant to both encourage you in God's word and also reveal God's heart concerning his desire to hear your unique voice. Below is a sample day from the devotional in which we see Hannah pouring her soul out to the Lord...

Day 16

 As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk…But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:13-15

For the full story, please read 1 Samuel 1:1-20.

The story of Hannah is most likely a familiar one to all of us. She was married to Elkanah, but was unable to bear children. She longed for a baby, and waited and waited for one to come, but to no avail. So, she prayed.

Was this fervent praying that we read about in the above passage the first time Hannah had prayed over her heart’s desire? No, I don’t believe it was. Scripture says that year after year she was provoked by Peninnah, who was Elkanah’s second wife. (Imagine that situation!). This woman was able to bear children, and taunted Hannah tirelessly. Hannah had lived in this distressing environment fora long, long time. I would bet that all that time, she prayed fervently for a child.

After reading and thinking about this passage, pondering what to write, I heard the gentle whisper, Pray like Hannah. I thought of that simple sentence and realized just how powerful it was. Let’s look and visualize how she prayed:

She, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. (1 Samuel 1:10)

She was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving… (1 Samuel 1:13).

(Hannah said), “I have poured out my soul before the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:15)

What if we all prayed like Hannah? Can we? One thing it requires is time. Hannah went up to the house of the Lord (v. 7). We too must make a deliberate choice to set aside time and go to the Lord. Also, Hannah was vulnerable. She wept before the Lord, pouring out her distress and her desire. She was so involved in her praying, she forgot everything around her. Unashamed and unhindered, she prayed.

This morning, once again, I felt the gentle nudging, pray like Hannah. In the quiet darkness, I stood up--not sure why; I just did. I recited my prayer list in my mind, but at the same time, I poured it out from my heart. I talked to theLord about all the things that I had committed to Him. I just kept talking with a small whisper. Lifting up my hands, I kept pouring it all out. The beautiful thing is, I know I was heard. Peace flooded in.

I cannot fully understand the mystery of prayer, but I can understand the command to doit. I will never be able to explain the reason for the “no’s”, the “wait’s”, or the “yes’s”, but I can trust His sovereign plan to answer in His right way, and in His right time. For Hannah, after years of a seeming “no”, the cry of her heart became a “yes”. Let this encourage you.

In your journal write down the name Sovereign Lord, and then write your prayer list underneath. Today, find some time and space to pray like Hannah. Take your list before the One who hears and honors your heartfelt, soul-bearing cries. Don’t give up. If He commands us to pray, there is a reason for it.

For further reading and journaling write down any words that encourage you: Exodus2:23-25; Psalm 142:1-2

Dear Lord,

ThankYou for listening to us! Hear our cries, O Lord. We lift up all our requests toYou in earnest knowing that we have been heard. We trust You to work. We thankYou for Your peace. Amen

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Monday, February 15, 2021
By Chris Baxter

GIVE: Tips in dealing with Seasonal Depression

A couple of weeks ago, on a cold dreary day, I was cocooned in a blanket on my couch for my usual Saturday afternoon nap. With college football on in the background and my little dog nestled at my feet, I couldn't help but feel the oncoming winter, not outside my home, but inside my soul. As I lay there, I was talking to God about it, saying, "O God, here it comes...that old familiar gloom that I'm going to wrestle, off and on, for the next several months. Please GIVE me something to help me move forward in this season."

Wrapped in my blanket, he unfolded a plan.

Before I go further, I want to empathize with all of you who deal with depression of some kind. And also, I want to ask for grace from those of you who do not. A way to explain a depressed spirit is to compare it to a rainy day. When it's raining outside, one cannot say, "It's not raining." Likewise, someone who is dealing with depression, is indeed depressed. To say, "Get over it", is defeating on many levels.

We may not get over it, but with God's strength, we can function in it. Just like opening an umbrella, putting on a rain jacket, and stepping into galoshes all help shield us from physical rain, these steps below can help you and me when the gloom creeps in.

Here is the unfolding that took place as I lay listening to the Lord. Its outline is the acronym GIVE:

G--Give yourself grace, one day at a time. Do what you can do that day. Also "G" stands for these things: Get sleep--so important! Get dressed--I mean that spiritually first. Spend time with the Lord every morning and let him speak truth into your heart. God's word is my life-line. I need him to reroute my thinking EVERY morning. Also, Get dressed physically. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Simply freshen up. Get out of your PJs (even if you're putting on other comfy clothes). Here are your options: Get up or Give in. Choose to get up, and with grace, inch forward.

I--Initiate. Physically, do something productive. One day it may be as small as clearing the kitchen sink of dirty dishes; another day it may be to write a book! Again, grace for each new day. Also, Initiate relationally. Send one text that asks someone how they are doing or how you can pray for them. Or, make a phone call. Or, meet someone face to face. Think about somebody else rather than yourself. Get "willfully lost in the rain" by praying for dozens of people you know and love. Your choices are: Initiate... or isolate. Today, choose to Initiate.

V--claim Victory "in the rain". The grey clouds may not stop rolling in and spilling out, but you can choose to be victorious as it pours. This is where my faith in Christ becomes my stronghold. HE is with me always as my closest Companion. I am never alone. He is light and love inside of me through his Spirit. His grace and strength move me forward no matter how I feel. In the rain, I can and I will rejoice. Victory in it, or victim of it. Ask the Lord to help you choose the former.

E--This is very practical: Eat well, Exercise regularly, Enjoy a wholesome hobby. Quite frankly, I really don't like eating healthy foods, ugh. I'm trying to develop a taste for broccoli and other green things, but chips and chocolate will always be my favorites. In the aging process however, I'm much more aware of the adverse effects of unhealthy eating. Therefore, I'm inching forward in the nutrition department. Concerning, Exercise, just do it, says Nike. Pick something; anything is better than nothing. I walk with a friend and we pray together; this has been transformational for me in numerous ways and I highly recommend it to everyone. And then, Enjoy. What do you love to do? Make room for this activity (or non-activity; for example, I enjoy my Saturday afternoon nap, "watching" football with my husband.) Eat well, Exercise, Enjoy or... escape into unhealthy alternatives. Again, ask God to help you choose the former.

On that cold dreary day in November, I rolled over inside of my cozy blanket on the couch and thanked God for his detailed Counseling session. (To think, it was free!) And then a little later, I decided it was time to get up. I went to the kitchen and cleared the sink of the dirty dishes...claiming absolute victory, in the rain.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020
By Chris Baxter

An RN's Testimony of God's Faithfulness

As some of you know, my daughter Emmy, is an RN on the Covid floor at Vanderbilt hospital. Today I want to share a post that she wrote for Soul Sisters Ministry concerning her "word for 2020" which is "faithful." May you be inspired and encouraged:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful”  Hebrews 10:23

When asked to write a post about 2020 my first reaction was, “Really? I’m not totally sure you want to hear what I have to say about it haha!”. But the more I thought on it, the more I realized how cathartic for myself writing this post would be; and more importantly, a huge testament to God’s character.

I would first like to share a journal entry I wrote at the end of December 2019. At this time, I was already struggling with the intensity of my very first job as a nurse on a Cardiac Medicine Stepdown Unit at Vanderbilt. I was only about three months in, but I already felt the emotional and physical toll this field can take on someone. This is what I wrote:

“Ruth and Esther…women of faith! They did not have easy lives, so why do I expect one? What is it about human nature that shies away from hard work. We crave easy, we crave no stress, no pressure. But without pressure, how would God mold us? Ruth and Esther pressed into the molding. They listened to the counsel of those around them, older than them, wiser than them. I long for that in my life Jesus. To be a woman of faith is to obey you even when it is scary, when it’s hard. I’m so resistant to change Jesus, I pray I would not be resistant to your voice. Jesus, help me not to allow fear to guide my actions”.

After writing this entry, I began reading through and studying the books of Ruth and Esther. Looking back now, I can see so clearly how the Lord was faithfully preparing my heart for the year to come.

2020 has been a big year for me, I got married as well as dove headlong into my first year of nursing! Mid March was when things really turned upside down. Amidst wedding planning and night shift, I was told that my unit would be going from the Cardiac Medicine floor to the Covid floor…yikes! This was a scary time. And to be honest with you, it still is. Each day that I go in to work, I walk in not knowing what kind of condition my patients will be in. Some days it seems as if people are healing, making a quick recovery; other days I have individuals whose hands I’m holding as they take their final breaths.

Through it all I can hear the Lord saying to me as He once said to Esther, “For such a time as this.” Each day I choose to go into work with the confidence that this is where the Lord is calling me right now. Without his faithfulness through this year, I would have given up so many times. His presence alone is what has sustained me. Everyday, with every patient, he renews in me a desire to bring to them His tender love and healing.

God has also been faithful to me through my new husband. What a joyful gift he gave me in him! Up until one week before our set date, we were unsure if we were going to be able to have a wedding haha! But because of God and his faithfulness, we were able to have the most beautiful weekend surrounded by friends and family as they celebrated our union together. Over and over again, God has shown me his faithfulness through Kyle and how well he loves me.

Lastly, I want to share a song that has become very special to me this year, a great reminder of God’s faithful goodness! It’s called The Goodness of God, here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvSuGyJQ6oM

Dear Jesus,I pray that each day you would open my eyes to see how you are being/have been faithful to me. I pray that I would trust you even when it’s hard, and that I would be confident that you will equip me with your strength. Thank you for making me brave even when I feel as if I am not. Thank you for your goodness.

Amen

For further reading: Esther 4:14; Ruth 2; Lamentations 3: 21-23

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Monday, November 2, 2020
By Chris Baxter

Daily Prayer

Know Him

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:11

Dear Lord, The more we know you the stronger we become in you. Give us a heart's desire to read your word so that you can enlighten us into all of who you are as we walk out our days. For your word brings LIFE. Help us to know it, believe it, and live by it. Amen.