Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coping With Loss And The Holidays Part I

Today, I'm happy to introduce a guest blogger, my sister Teresa Alfieri. Her story is the first of a three-part series on coping with loss of a loved one and the holidays that I shared during the 2011 holiday season. Grief during the holidays overwhelms everyone at some point, so I decided to re-run the series this year. I hope you will be blessed by these messages.
Welcome Teresa and thank you for sharing from your heart! 
Christmas came four months after my husband Sal died. I believe I was so thankful he was no longer in pain that I did not begin to process his death until then. Christmas was his favorite time of year and those who knew him, knew he was very sentimental, emotional, and had a big heart. He was often referred to as a “Big Teddy Bear.” Sal loved surprises and was like a child on Christmas morning anxious to open the presents. 
This is why the grief was so overwhelming that first Christmas. I felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t escape from the pain that had a grip on my heart. I decided one night during the week before Christmas that I would get in my car and just drive away. Then, rational thinking stepped in, and I amended the plan to drive 40 minutes away to O’leno State Park and visit the place Sal and I had enjoyed so many times in the past. 
When I arrived at the park, I sat in my car for a long time, fearful to go by myself into the woods, but more fearful of what would happen to my state of mind if I did not. I wrestled with the fear and then set off to hike. I savored happy memories on this first of many trips to the woods. My brain stopped racing with the sadness, and I felt rejuvenated when I was through. The pain did not go away, but I began to work through it. I became angry any time I saw an elderly couple holding hands and the realization would come to me again—I would never grow old with this “Big Teddy Bear” of a man. All the dreams we had shared had been wiped away when he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. 
Throughout my life, I’ve had a strong faith, knowing that God was with me. There were times I would sit by the water in the woods having serious conversations with Him, asking the same questions over and over. “Why?” “Why does a loving God allow any human to suffer the pain that Sal did?” I had very profound thoughts during that time that scared me; thoughts about the life after. I believe it was part of the healing process and growing in my faith. 
Music was another part my healing. I became familiar with YouTube and the availability of Christian Contemporary music. Casting Crowns “Praise You In This Storm” became my daily mantra.
Where was my family during this time? They were right there trying to console me. I appreciated their love and concern. But the pain was too great to share with them. I needed my God, the God who is so good to me, to walk me through it, sometimes holding my hand, sometimes carrying me in His arms.
Now, several years later, the pain has become less, perhaps more tolerable. When the Christmas season arrives with all its sights, sounds, and smells, I may always have those feelings of loss. But now they do not consume me. My faith continues to grow stronger. I know God is in the air I breathe, not just available during loss or crisis, but walking with me, daily.
My advice to others grieving during this Christmas season is to find some sort of activity you enjoy and take God with you on your journey. Take it from someone who has been there—He helped me walk through the pain!
~Teresa Lynn Alfieri
“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Psalm 107:28-29
Praise Report:
Courtney’s MRI last week was even better than the ones she had in September and July, according to her oncologist. Please continue to lift her up in prayer as she battles cancer. This is a note from her Caring Bridge site:
We just wanted to thank everyone for praying for Courtney especially on Wednesday. God answered our prayers once again. Dr. Peters was very happy over how her MRI looked and again said that the cavity where the tumor was has very defined borders, and a small contrasted area they saw below the cavity, appeared smaller than what they saw on the last MRI. They are leaning toward believing that the area is scar tissue from the previous radiation. Dr. Peters was thrilled to see Courtney looking so well.
We have so much to be thankful for and so appreciate once again the answered prayers. He truly does have Courtney in the palm of His hands! Our next MRI at Duke will be in late January. We are looking forward to going through the holidays with a positive report behind us and being able to relax a bit and enjoy Addison [Courtney’s 18-month-old daughter] this year at Christmas. She loves looking at the Christmas trees and decorations and we know she will enjoy opening presents and getting new toys.
I don’t have anything to add to those inspiring words from Courtney’s family! The permanent prayer list is above. Would you take a moment to say a prayer for those listed? The holidays are a tough time for families with loved ones battling chronic disease. 
Cassie and Jesse

Also, Sgt. Jesse McCart continues rehab as you can see from the photo on the right. As I get updates, they will be posted on his page above.

God bless,
© Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks


“Rejoice in the Lord always…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4, 6-7

What a powerful promise! The peace of God guards my heart and mind. Is there a better reason to give thanks this year?

Years ago, when my husband and I started out as newlyweds, we pinched pennies and barely scraped by from paycheck to paycheck. We had a little black-and-white TV that picked up random channels through its rabbit ear antenna. Meals were often scant and gas for the car a luxury.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Despite the fact that thirty years of hard work and God’s blessings lifted us from that economic situation, I never forget the tough times. Like Paul, I learned the secret of being content despite my circumstances. It is a contentment born from dwelling in thanksgiving with my heavenly Father.

This year, as I review my reasons to be thankful, they may be similar to yours—family, shelter, food, employment, good health, and ministry. My list hasn’t always included all these things, nor am I guaranteed it will be the same next year.

But do you know what I’m most thankful for?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31b-32, 35-39

I’m most thankful that nothing can separate me from the love of my Lord and Savior.

Dear God, we come before your throne with grateful hearts, overflowing with the love you’ve shown us through your Son. Despite the hardships we’ve encountered this year, thank you for the many blessings you’ve given us. Thank you for always being accessible and consistent in your love. Thank you most of all for the salvation you’ve provided through Jesus. In His name we pray. Amen.

For as long as I shall live
I will testify to love
I'll be a witness in the silences
When words are not enough
With every breath I take
I will give thanks to God above

If you have a prayer request, please leave it in the comment section or email me privately confidential requests. Also, if you'd like to share a praise report or something you're thankful for, I'd love to hear it!

Courtney, a young mother battling a cancerous brain tumor, will have her two-month follow-up MRI today to check the effectiveness of treatment. Her last two MRIs have been clear. Please lift her up in prayer as she travels to Duke, has the procedure, and then meets with the oncologist for results. She is also having a side effect to the chemo that has successfully treated her cancer up to this point. Pray that her body will fight this so she can continue on the treatment.

The permanent prayer list and updates on Sgt. Jesse McCart are listed above. If you’re interested in sending him or another injured soldier a card, the addresses are also listed on his page. The holidays are difficult times for people chronically ill or who’ve been seriously injured. They greatly appreciate any mail received.

Happy Thanksgiving!


©Laura Hodges Poole

Photo courtesy of free clip art

Monday, November 19, 2012

Count the Costs

Count the Costs

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?... So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:28, 31, 33 (NKJV)

Jesus is pretty clear in this passage about what it takes to follow Him. He doesn’t sugarcoat the consequences of being His disciple. Since Jesus’ resurrection, Christians have been persecuted and martyred worldwide. In modern America, we’ve erroneously embraced the idea that we’re immune to such persecution. This has changed within the last few years. Christians are a minority, and our beliefs are ridiculed as old fashioned and intolerant. Though expected to show tolerance to groups who hold different belief systems, we’re not shown the same tolerance.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, God’s nature is consistent throughout the Bible and history. He established the definition of marriage between one woman and one man in Genesis 2:24 and reaffirmed in the New Testament in Matthew 19:4-6. God established the definition of murder in Genesis 9:6 and the consequences therein. Yet marriage is being threatened in this country while we wink at the legal murder of 3,000 babies a day.

It doesn’t stop there. Collateral damage exists in the form of defining a viable baby. Do you realize most states have an age of viability for pre-term babies they will extend “extraordinary medical care?” You might be surprised how many weeks this is and which politicians have pushed such bills. 

The legal right to an abortion is not really about protecting women's choice, folks. The women seeking abortions are afforded choice but not the mothers who fight for the life of their pre-term live babies.

These are examples of social issues impacting society, the church, and our future as a nation, as well as slow erosion within the body of Christ supporting basic Biblical principles.

The day after the U.S. Presidential election, as I spent time in prayer, God spoke to my heart about a new blog. He gave me the title, “Count The Costs.” I logged onto Google blogger to register it and the URL was available. The blog’s mission will be to highlight and discuss social issues and current events within the framework of Christianity.

I opened this post with Jesus’ words. As Christians, we must count the costs of how we live, what we model for the world, and the battles we choose to wage. No matter how involved you are (or aren’t), the costs continue to mount for Christians and society.

Please consider stopping by and checking out Count The Costs next Monday, November 26, as we go live. We’ll begin with a two-part series, “The Consequences of Idols in the Church,” by Mike Gonzalez, Senior Pastor of Columbia World Outreach Church in South Carolina. If you are inspired by what you read, please consider becoming a follower or email subscriber. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

A Word of Encouragement will remain the same with weekly prayer posts and occasional writing tips/encouragement intermixed with fun, lighthearted posts like Lessons From Mayberry and Lost? Not Me! Or the time I shared about the death of a childhood friend in The Two Michaels

Meanwhile, I’ll return on Wednesday with a Thanksgiving prayer post. If you have any prayer requests you’d like me to share, please email those to me.

God bless,

© Laura Hodges Poole

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Now What? - 3 Ways to Persevere

Water of Life

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Revelation 22:1-3

I’ve heard much despair from folks over the last week about America’s moral, economic, and spiritual condition. What do we do in the face of such despair? Give up?

Certainly not! This country was founded on the premise of perseverance.

So what does perseverance mean to Christians as we move forward?

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Genesis 6:22

Keep building. Noah built the ark while warning those around him of their impending doom. Much like today, folks didn’t want to hear about society’s moral decline. No one listened to Noah, but it didn’t deter him from fulfilling the directive God gave him. Whatever your ministry is, keep working. God has a plan for its success and those touched by your work.

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Keep praying. In order to bring spiritual revival to this nation, believers must stay on their knees. Lift up the President, Congress, and local leaders, whether on city or county councils or school boards. Ask God to soften their hearts toward His message as it relates to both their professional and personal lives. Pray for your fellow citizens that all may “come to a knowledge of the truth.”

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 3:1-2

Keep speaking. Whether your ministry is written or verbal, continue to spread the message God has given you. Our country needs spiritual awakening and not just among the lost. Christians should seek to discern God’s message through prayer and His written word. For those who think the Christian’s character should morph with societal changes, God’s character hasn’t changed from day one. That’s our model. As you read through the Bible, God’s nature is consistent from Genesis to Revelation.

America has been blessed abundantly by God’s mercy and grace. We mustn’t be lulled into complacency and believe there’s no end to His patience for moral and spiritual decline while evil flourishes around us. The great city of Nineveh is a good example that this isn’t so. They repented after Jonah preached to them. God forgave their sin and continued to bless them. Less than two hundred years later, Nineveh returned to its sinful ways, and God destroyed them.

The LORD has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: “You will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.” Nahum 1:14

God kept his word. He always does. And I praise Him that we can count on His consistency.

According to the NIV Student Bible, “The greatest city in the world became a pile of rubble overgrown with grass. Both Alexander the Great and Napoleon camped near it but had no idea a city had ever been there.” (p. 966)

God is a fair and just God, but every nation and individual has a finite number of chances to repent and change their ways.

If you’re one of those in despair, I encourage you to have hope. As believers, we’ve read to the end of The Book. The Story starts and ends the same—in a beautiful garden. What lies in between is the path that leads to God’s mercy and grace.

Regardless of what happens in the immediate or long-range future of this country, God is on His throne. Now, more than ever, perseverance is imperative.

I still believe in your faithfulness
I still believe in your truth
I still believe in your Holy Word
Even when I don’t see
I still believe

A permanent prayer list is above along with updates on Sgt. Jesse McCart, the American soldier we are praying for. If you haven’t done so, would you consider sending him or another soldier a postcard encouraging them? Addresses are listed on the page, also. If you have a prayer need, please list in the comment section below so others can pray, or email me confidential requests. I'd love to hear from you!

Update/New Request:

Courtney, a young mother who has battled a cancerous brain tumor, will have her two-month repeat MRI this month. Her last two MRIs have been clear. She will continue chemo and MRIs for a year.

Pastor Benarji Kumar of True Light Ministry – There has been flooding in his region of India. He’s working to get clean water and supplies to people in great need. His own health hasn’t been good. Pray that God’s hand will be upon him as he ministers to others.

Would you take a moment to offer a word of prayer for these needs?
I will be launching a new blog in addition to this one on November 26. I will post more information soon about the content and mission of “Count The Costs.”


© Laura Hodges Poole

Photo courtesy of free clip art.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

I woke up on Election Day in the United States praying as I do every morning. I prayed for God’s will to be done and that it would include electing the candidate most likely to bring our country out of its moral and economic abyss.

Then God spoke in His quiet way to my soul, as He sometimes does. Yes, prayer is conversation. It should be a two-way street. The problem is—we often don’t hang around long enough to listen after we’ve talked. J

This is the message I received while meditating with Him.

What we need more than economic healing is spiritual healing. Often life has to get even tougher before this happens. Revival comes when people are at their lowest spiritually and economically. Sometimes hearts are stubborn. When everything is stripped away, then people seek God’s face. It is through brokenness healing comes.

There’s no guarantee, no matter who our President is, that we (individually or nationally) will enjoy great prosperity.

I’m not a prophet, nor am I saying God gave me a great revelation. I’m sure He has spoken this to many folks over time. If you live long enough, you experience hardships that drive you to your knees.

As I wrote this, I didn’t know the outcome of the election, but you know what? God did. He also knows the future of this nation. As believers, we should continually seek His will for our lives.

I’m generally optimistic about the future—mine and the United States. But not because my candidate won or lost. Because God is still on His throne. Because only God has the power to heal. Because God will restore in His time—when His people and those who thumb their nose at His sovereignty bend their knees and yield their hearts to His will.

Only then will this nation’s greatness—and broken lives—be restored.

Please take a moment to pray for those on the prayer list and soldier Jesse McCart. If you have a prayer need, feel free to share so I and others can pray for you. I’d love to hear from you.

Now is the season for healing
Deeply we need to see, God's mercy revealing
Where we have fallen from his ways
For we know he gives hope to the humble.


© Laura Hodges Poole