By Mary Giraldo

Every new year it seems the inevitable happens, reflections of the year passed and thoughts of the new year to come.  As 2017 approached, I found myself not only reflecting on one year passed but several.  I’ve always known that the best thing to come out of my dad’s arrest 12 years ago was mine and his relationship with Christ.  Had that not happened when it did, I’m not sure how I would have navigated the hardships of parenting, struggles of marriage and MS and cancer diagnoses.  In my moments of weakness and despair I was always reminded that His strength is made perfect in me (2 Corinthians 12:9).

 

I can recall a time when I engaged in a back and forth discussion with God about how I appreciate His confidence in my strength and fight, but I was tired of it all and I truly was not as strong as He thought.  As you can imagine I didn’t win that argument.  My struggles did not go away, but every day God gave me just what I needed when I needed it.

 

Through the years I’ve learned that our loving God would not allow my hurt to be in vain. I’ve come to learn that every trial and struggle has been used as part of His bigger plan for my life; He was strengthening and refining me for His work, to set forth and do exceedingly and abundantly more than I could hope for or imagine.

 

Every so often I’d hear God leading me to prison ministry and I’d tell Him politely, “no thank you, that’s not what I was thinking”.  I felt very comfortable in our relationship to tell Him no, knowing He’d still love me; after all He’d come to expect it.

 

I am constantly praying for His will in my life to be done, that I would listen to His still, small voice calling me out to move further than just being a wife and mother.  James 1:22, says But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, I was listening for His voice and His leading, but that’s where it would end. I’d twist and turn in any way possible to avoid the uncomfortable paths that He was clearly setting before me; fear kept me from moving forward and simply saying yes.

 

My Yes

 

And then the day came, I took His hand and finally said yes.  Our very own GFC Hope Rising is the prison ministry that God led me to.  Almost two years ago when my dad was released and we picked him up from Hardee Correctional, I never thought I’d step foot back on prison grounds, but in October I found myself face to face with the tall barbed wire fences once again.  The opportunity arose to teach classes at Hernando Correctional, an all women’s prison.  This was my moment and like Peter, Jesus wouldn’t be able to show me I too could walk on water with Him. God had been preparing me for such a time as this.

 

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned through the hardships in my life is perspective.  When you’re diagnosed with what is perceived to be incurable or when physical freedom is stripped from you, looking at things from God’s perspective gives you the hope for brighter days ahead even when sorrow and despair fill your days.  The laughter and joy my family were still able to maintain during our prison visits and the smiles that greet me when I show up to teach a class at Hernando Correctional remind me of what I‘ve already learned; joy is possible in the darkness, God’s hope is very real and most importantly God truly can work ALL things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Prison ministry was certainly never a part of my plans, but I’m so glad I said yes to God’s plans and let Him do what He does best and take the lead.

 

What conversations with God have you been avoiding?  What will your “yes” be this year?

By Carrie Roden

 

 

What is it about January that makes it seem like a fresh start is actually possible? I mean, there isn’t anything magical about flipping the page on the calendar, and we are fundamentally the same people on January 1 that we were on December 1. But year after year, people who would never begin an exercise program, start a new diet, or finally try to get organized on December 1, resolve to start fresh in January.

 

There is just something within us that feels hopeful that when the old year passes, so will the old us. I love hearing friends’ and family members’ resolutions and those who choose one word to focus on for the upcoming year, and I love thinking about the possibilities of a new year. But we all know that almost as consistently as we make resolutions in January, most of us break them shortly thereafter. We lose focus or become discouraged, and too often February 1 finds us the exact same people we were on January 1, just feeling a little bit more like failures.

 

So what are we doing wrong? Why do we keep repeating the pattern of starting fresh, failing, giving up, and feeling discouraged? Maybe the way we make our resolutions isn’t working. For example, each year I typically think through which areas I am most dissatisfied with in my own life, and then “resolve” to become a completely different person in that area. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Maybe it starts with me being the source of the “resolution.” Maybe I’m not qualified to decide on my own what I need to resolve to be or do. So this year, instead of making resolutions based on what I dislike most about myself and trying to become someone else in that area, I’m asking the Lord to show me where He wants me to grow. I’m inviting Him into the process and then I’m going to respond to what He shows me.

Fresh Start

This process isn’t quite as simple as writing a list of resolutions, and it’s definitely a little scarier, but I also know I can trust God to help me do what He has asked me to do. Maybe I would like to become a well-organized, meticulous housekeeper, but the Lord is actually asking me to grow in the area of submitting my emotions to His control. Maybe I’ve decided to save for a dream vacation, but God is actually calling me to plan for regular date nights with my husband.

 

One thing is for certain, because God has purposes and plans designed just for me, He already knows how and where He wants me to grow. But true to his nature, He will not force His will on me, and I am free to spin my wheels on my own. But if I invite Him into my fresh start, He is sure to meet me there and invite me to grow where He purposes.

 

Maybe God has already shown you where He’s calling you to grow. Maybe you even have someone you look up to that excels in that area. If you’re like me, it’s easy to identify the change you need to make and then decide to simply become someone else in that area. For example, if I want to read more in 2017, I might decide I will adopt my friend Becca’s reading goals. I want to develop a more powerful prayer life, so I decide to become my friend Misty every time I set about praying. I want to improve my fitness level so I decide I will run just like my friend Kristin. I mean, these are inspiring women worthy of emulating. What’s the problem? By the end of the year, I should be the most well-read, powerfully-praying marathon runner around.

 

Except we all know it doesn’t work that way. When our resolution is to become someone else, even in just one area of life, we are automatically setting ourself at odds with the One who uniquely created us, so we are pretty much doomed from the beginning. God didn’t create me to become Becca, Misty, Kristin, or anyone else, but rather he has a specific purpose and plan for my life, so their standards and goals probably aren’t the ones He has for me.

 

So does “being who God created me to be” mean I get to prayerlessly watch TV on my couch guilt-free all year? Not quite. There is no doubt that the Lord wants all of us to grow up into the plans and purposes He has for us, and rarely does that involve living every day like it’s the week after Christmas. In fact, those people we admire can definitely provide inspiration and may be able to offer encouragement, support, or even accountability, but they cannot become our measuring stick. The only standard we are held to is His, and thankfully He measures us through the lens of grace and more grace.

 

So as you begin this new year, don’t forget to invite the God who made you into your new beginning. Lay down your own list of resolutions long enough to listen to and respond to His invitation to grow. Look for sources of inspiration and encouragement, but don’t let them become your measuring stick. He has a specific purpose and plan for your life, and He is willing and able to help you live it out.

 

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” – Jeremiah 29:11-14 (MSG)