Victoria navigates to the hurting heart with words that impart hope. Why? It’s like Philip Yancey once said: “I became a writer because I saw that writing could penetrate into the crevices, bringing spiritual oxygen to people trapped in airtight boxes.”
The spiritual oxygen Victoria brings to her readers is the healing she’s found in Jesus Christ. No stranger to adversity, she writes in the areas of spiritual/emotional healing, women’s issues, relationships, and biblical counseling as it relates to mental health. Her prayer is to help women find their personal freedom in Christ.
Victoria’s devotionals have been published in anthologies such as A Cup of Comfort Devotional: Daily Reflections to Reaffirm Your Faith in God (Adams Media), and Pinches of Salt, Prisms of Light: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories (Essence), as well as Pathways to God and Atlanta Parent Magazine.
“Faith is the supreme effort of your life--throwing yourself with abandon and total confidence upon God.”
When fear or heartache pays a visit, my natural inclination is to sink low. Left to languish, depression will have its way with me. Now, friend, depression isn’t the way to go, but I’ve been there. I’ve paid the toll. I almost ordered a tee-shirt with “Depression Diva” plastered across the front in bold, sparkly letters--but who needs to advertise, right? God understands our struggle and we don’t have to stay stuck. If you are stuck, I pray something here will minister to you.
Just turn on the news and you’re greeted instantly with life's setbacks and losses. For some of us, this reality has already camped too close to home. Divorce, financial hardship, crime, natural disasters, illness, freak accidents, mental illness, loneliness, death—it’s all around us. We need a faith that will pull us out from the wreckage of our lives and plant us back on firm ground. When lethargy infects our hearts, we need Jesus, not some feel-good sermonette. Through Him, it’s possible to turn from negativity and despair, and trust Christ for strength and renewal in the hard places. Life is full of hard places.
But if you’re like me, the first thing you wonder when a trial strikes is, "Why all these problems, Lord? What are you trying to do here?” Oswald Chambers reminds us: "God does not tell you what He is going to do--He reveals to you who He is."
God’s Sovereign ways don’t have to be crystal clear before we can accept His custom-designed journey for us. His design is to bring us closer to Jesus, whatever it takes. We don’t have to figure anything out, just quietly trust that His ways and purposes are good, and that He loves us.
They say to beat inertia, we keep our lives in gentle motion, trusting God to orchestrate His will through the daily-ness of our existence. All I know is, His grace is enough. I feel closest to Christ when I lay my burdens down.
Years ago I experienced grace when depression gripped me like a vise. Until then, I didn’t realize a chemical imbalance could nearly destroy a person’s life. There was stress, yes, and I was running on empty. Physically and mentally exhausted, my ability to cope dwindled to the point where I was bed-bound for days at a time. Thoughts of suicide came veiled as quick relief; fear raced through my veins. Folks kept telling me to snap out of it. I cried out to God – not with words, but tears. He prompted me to call our pastor. The very act of lifting that phone and punching the right numbers took every ounce of concentration I could muster. But it was a start.
Pastor M. was kind and empathetic, spoke tenderly of the Lord’s care for me, and scheduled time for us to meet weekly for prayer and counsel. Meanwhile, I began some medication that my doctor prescribed. I detested antidepressants because of the related stigma back then, but it seemed wise to help my brain function better as the Lord ministered to me through our kindhearted pastor.
That’s when I learned about Elijah. Despairing of life, the prophet Elijah lost his bearings as he ran until collapsing under the shade of a juniper tree. Not only had he run ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel (20-30 miles), but when Jezebel threatened his life, he fearfully fled another 60 miles to Beersheba, then another 15 miles until he reached the juniper tree in the wilderness. “…and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, "It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers!” (1 Kings 19:4).
That’s exactly how I felt. Lord, take me! Do something! Elijah felt despondent, and rightly so -- he was physically exhausted, for one thing. If we look at Elijah’s experience, we see that:
Elijah was a mess; so was I. We both felt hopeless. We both needed to find rest and peace in God again. We needed to relinquish our fears and remember that God would, again, make provision for us. That’s when I asked Pastor M. what I could “do” to get better. His answer surprised me:
"Like Elijah, sometimes you need to rest and be fed. Eventually, you just get up and do the next thing, no matter how small.”
That ministered to me. I began to believe that God would, indeed, give me the strength to do the next thing. Pastor M. prayed that God would undergird me, protect me, encourage me, and fill me with His peace. As he prayed for a ray of hope, I cried. I could hardly muster energy to crawl out of bed those days. I didn’t care about food. Yet that very next morning I decided to make a piece of toast for myself. Like Elijah, I needed to get up and eat. Call it a simple act, but I sensed the gentle movement of God’s grace behind it. Making toast gave me hope. It was a small beginning, but a beginning, nonetheless. “Lord, I trust You. I don’t understand why it feels so dark, but I put my life in Your hands. Show me the way out of this depression.”
God's grace met me again and again. Yes, I got some counseling. Yes, I took some medicine. But the single most meaningful thing I did was cry those tears to the Lord in my helpless state. The Lord is good at translating tears. He guides us rightly when we call on Him. By inclining my heart towards Him, God began to blow away the dark clouds. I learned to take better care of myself physically, and how to nourish my spirit with His Word. I let His Word take root in me, build me up, and transform my life by renewing my mind. I had trusted Him with certain things; now I wanted to give Him my whole heart.
And so Abraham taught me to ‘go out,’ trusting God no matter where my faith journey took me. Elijah taught me that when I’m fearful, anxious, or weary, I can always find peace and rest in Christ. But to leave the land of inertia, sometimes I just need to ‘do the next thing.’ Remember that old saying? That God doesn’t move parked cars? Maybe if we slip our gear from “park” to “drive,” we can be like Abraham. We can trust that God knows exactly where He’s leading us even when we’re not familiar with any of the approaching landscape.
Beloved friend, whether we cry inwardly or outwardly in our inertia, God hears and moves to answer. May the sweetness and power of His grace meet you exactly where you are today. Call on Him. Then say goodbye to inertia.
©2007, Victoria Gaines
"Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you,
I fell into temptation with a bag of peanut M & M’s.
While I polished off the bag, parenting memories came back to haunt me. For years I tried to shield my kids from the ill effects of junk food.
"Empty calories won’t nourish your cells," I said. So I planned, and shopped, and cooked nutritious meals. I was right proud of myself, too, in that motherly, protective way. Until the day I woke up with heartache, loneliness, and an empty nest.
Times like these find me wrestling with a big bag of Spicy Doritos. To eat, or not to
eat--that becomes my question. Don’t get me wrong. I still believe what I told my kids. But given the right amount of stress, I’m prone to snack. Does one bagel here and there really matter all that much? Maybe not. But if I stroll down the path of biscuits, brownies, and burritos, my jeans hug me a little more than necessary. I asked God to enlarge my territory, not my waistline. Well, no sense blaming Him for something I did to myself.
The Lord showed me something. Food will never meet my deepest inner needs, and my deepest need is always spiritual. Lord, forgive me. Deliver me from all excess, and free me, particularly, from this ridiculous bondage. Right now, I turn to You.
I’m back on fresh garden salads, fish and lean meats, veggies, fruits, and filtered water. An aging gal, I tell myself, needs to nourish herself at the cellular level. God is good, and He is better than chocolate. You have the word of a former chocoholic.
Because it doesn’t take much to load us down. Life is stressful. Grief and heartache have paid way too many visits to my friends. Misery may love company, but there’s no peace in company like that. If we suffer from spiritual malnutrition, we’ll lose heart quickly.
Ah, but know this! In this world we have nasty toxins and terrible tribulations, but Jesus has overcome the world. The junk of this world drains us. People disappoint. But Christ came to feed us, and to give us life--abundant life in the valley of the shadow of death. How is that possible? Words can’t describe the way the Holy Spirit works within us once we confess our sin and invite Him in. He’s not a formula to follow, or a person to imitate. We simply need His life living in us. To know Him is to rest in Him.
And so we encourage each other to partake of the Bread, broken for us. He will nourish and strengthen us for the journey home. This is not once-and-for-all nourishment. We need Him daily…moment by moment. That’s what I want my children to know.
In a junk-filled world, Christ sustains us until that day He brings us home to banquet. Jesus is our Daily Bread. Eat, grow, abide in peace.
My prayer is that my children and grandchildren would learn to feed on Him rather than the junk of this world. Jesus will give them what this mother cannot. This article is dedicated to them. I love you.
P.S. Please don’t snack on Doritos.
Lord, this very moment, I pray for the reader who comes here, looking for something of substance. We live in a junk-food world, but in You there is life, nourishment, peace. In You, there is protection for our very soul. In you, there is hope and sustaining power. You are near to the brokenhearted and the malnourished. Be thou ever near to the woman here whose heart is hungry for thee. Amen.
©2007, Victoria Gaines
"In the Lord's work, a dry eye reveals a dry and hard heart. It is only as the tears flow that the heart is opened up. How strange that what is in the heart finds its exit through the eyes."
Lung cancer ravaged my father’s body and left a frail man afraid to cry. Eight years ago, while I kept vigil beside his bed, Daddy drifted into a morphine slumber. During his wakeful moments, we both avoided saying the things that might cause either of us to cry….until that one particular morning. When Daddy woke up, the birds were singing outside his window. I would soon learn about the sacrament of tears.
I brought Daddy a warm washcloth, some hot coffee, and pulled my chair closer. Daddy grabbed my hand. He called me beautiful, and thanked me for being there. Then he broke my reserve by saying simply, “I love you, Vicki.” I tried to choke back the tears, but failed. Those liquid tracks down both of my cheeks gave testimony to the loving ache in my heart. Daddy was dying. We’d been separated much too long by a difficult family issue, yet God was knitting our hearts together through grace and forgiveness. Words I thought I’d never hear were finally spoken. As I bent over to hug my dear father, he began to sob. It was so sad and healing all at the same time. For the first time in both our lives, we talked about what really mattered.
Daddy always thought that crying was a show of weakness. Now we realized how utterly weak we both were, and our tears communicated something powerful. Cancer may have taken my father’s body, but it did not take my father’s soul, for Daddy experienced a miraculous breakthrough of faith in those last days. I joy in knowing that angels ushered him safely into the Savior’s presence, and that Daddy now has no more tears in heaven.
Whatever the reason for our tears, the Man of Sorrows understands. Precious is the healing that flows through the sacrament of tears.
My Daddy taught me that.
"Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay closest attention" (Frederick Buechner).
©2007, Victoria Gaines
"There is probably no service we can render other persons quite as great or important as to be listener and receiver to them in those moments when they need to open their hearts and tell someone their story."
Several years ago, I stumbled across a wonderful little book at the local Goodwill. For 50 cents, The Normal Christian Worker by Watchman Nee changed an area of my life. Or rather, the Holy Spirit did.
Nee’s little book stresses Christian characteristics necessary for ministry and everyday life. He touches on diligence, stability, discipline, faithfulness, restraint in speech, and being loyal to truth. But the chapter on being a good listener hit me between the eyes.
Sometimes I hear with my ears, but not my heart.
Have you ever poured out your thoughts to someone only to realize later that they never quite heard you? Few people listen well. It's easier to dispense platitudes, nod, or interrupt with our own stories before the other person has a chance to share their burdens. But listening is the best gift we could ever give a friend.
When someone turns to us for help, Nee says we need to discern three things:
Listening is not easy. Things distract us. And so we want to keep a quiet heart before God and call on the Holy Spirit for discernment. It’s also another area we must die to self.
Yes, sometimes we grow weary of laments. Maybe we’ve been there, done that, and blurt out what we think a friend needs to know. Or we don’t understand the grief journey, so we recite scriptures, or better yet, offer another book to read. Like our dear husbands, we sometimes try to fix a problem before we fully understand it.
"Or from the very outset we pay scant attention to what they say to us, because we are so impressed with the importance of what we have to communicate to them, that we are just waiting for an opportunity to break in and take up the role of speaker again, hoping, of course, that they will prove good listeners," writes Nee.
We’ve all done this. But we can serve the God we love by learning to listen well.
Let’s pray for loving, compassionate hearts. Sometimes the only thing I can offer a friend is a hug and my tears. But Jesus ministers through gestures of compassion. Listening from the heart fosters not only growth in ministry, but in friendships, marriages, and the relationships with our children.
The quote from Nee that nailed it for me was this:
"Our hearing is not sufficiently acute. If we cannot hear what people have to say to us, how can we hear what God has to say?"
To listen better, Nee does not leave us clueless:
For the sake of Christ, we become servants of others instead of indulging in our own feelings all the time.
May the Lord change the way we listen and why we listen. This happens only as we abide in Him. Then, when others come to us, His Spirit gives us the inner clarity to discern well and minister to the need at hand.
“…and to become good listeners the Cross will need to operate deeply in our lives to deliver us from the self-absorption that makes us deaf to the concerns of others. A deep work of the Cross in our lives will produce an inner quiet that will make us patient listeners.” ~ Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Worker
Lord, speak, for your servant is listening.
©2007, Victoria Gaines
“God is a specialist when the anguish is deep.
His ability to heal the soul is profound…those who rely
As life unravels, disappointment grows. Pummeled repeatedly, we’re trapped in our own pain. Emotions dictate mood. Anxiety takes aprisoner. We fret. We weep. We lash out. When our popcorn prayers hit the ceiling, we think it’s confirmation that we’re all alone. We’ve bought the lie: God doesn’t care one whit about me, or what I’m going through.
And so goes the deception.
“The good news of Jesus Christ is that He wants to bring healing and freedom to those parts of our hearts that are wounded and deceived.” ~ Jeff Olson
Unable to deal with the drama of my own wounded heart, I’ve sometimes opted for other avenues of comfort. Relief is where you find it, the world says. But food binges, shopping, excessive pampering, hobbies, and frivolous entertainment bring temporary solace at best. We waste money on pleasures while growing restless. Why? Because pseudo-comforts will never cure what ails us.
“It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way,” some psychologist said. And it seems our flesh clings to worldly mirages out of desperation. We hate discomfort. It feels unfair when trouble shows up at our door. If something hurts, we anesthetize it or run from it. Hiding underneath the weakness of our smile is often a hurting woman, critical and deeply disillusioned with God. Dare we admit this?
Let’s not only admit it, but wake up. A spiritual crisis opens the door to greater healing if we let God in. Instead of allowing disappointments to reinforce our faulty notions about God, we can ask Him to show us what’s really happening in our hearts.
As we submit to Him, old hurts and disappointments that misled us in the past will start to resurface. “God brings the truth of previous letdowns and wounds into our awareness—or at least creates enough of a stir within our hearts to get our attention,” says Jeff Olson, in his article, When Disappointment Deceives. This is a good time to invite Jesus into these unhealed areas and let Him show us the truth about ourselves. Only Christ can help us see more clearly the lies we’re holding on to--lies about ourselves, about life, about God. Christ breaks the stronghold of the lie when we recognize it for what it is and stop believing it. That’s why it’s important to saturate our minds and heart with truth.
Has someone tried to speak truth into your life lately? Maybe your pain was so loud, you couldn’t hear it. A moldable, submissive heart will listen to God when He gently reveals the ways we’ve wrongly responded to our disappointments. He never condemns, but gently guides us back on track when we confess our unbelief and wrong responses. He pinpoints the deception so we can renounce lies that keep us in bondage and halt our spiritual growth.
Is something holding you back? Let these beautiful verses wash over your heart:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord,
The Lord is faithful. But healing doesn’t spare us from future disappointments. Our adversary’s modus operandi is deception. Satan preys on the wounded heart, looking for opportunities to sow discouragement and unbelief. Not only does he attack our emotions, he snares us with lies that match our disappointments. Guard your heart, and know that “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Life is hard. My flesh gets the best of me when I forget about the Cross and all that Jesus did for me. His own peace was never contingent upon escaping death. Neither will I escape my earthly trials. But in Him I find peace and joy to face tomorrow.
“The disorders and sorrows in my own life, whether attributable solely to my own fault, solely to somebody else’s, perhaps to a mixture of both, or to neither, have given me the chance to learn a little more each time of the meaning of the cross. What can I do with the sins of others? Nothing but what I do with my own---and what Jesus did with all of them---take them to the cross. Put them down at the foot and let them stay there. The cross has become my home, my rest, my shelter, my refuge.”
Before this earthly life is spent, we’ll have trouble and plenty of it. But God cares. With each new trial He longs to impart more of Himself but we’re the ones who hold back. Here’s a timely quote from sweet Elisabeth Elliot, saintly mentor to many:
“If we are ever called to great suffering, how shall we bear it if we have not learned to share willingly with Christ our small ones? How shall we manage to save others if in little common ways we are bent on saving ourselves? Jesus could not do it…Neither can we.”
And this, from Streams in the Desert:
“The most deeply taught Christians are generally those who have been brought into the searching fires of deep soul-anguish. If you have been praying to know more of Christ, do not be surprised if He takes you aside into a desert place, or leads you into a furnace of pain.”
Lord, you did not hold back one thing from me, but gave Your own life. Forgive me for thinking you don’t care. Take my heart, my life, my dreams--and be glorified in and through my trials. Thank you for the grace on which I stand, and for working in my heart right now. Amen.
©2007, Victoria Gaines
A Whisper in Winter