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Devotion from Jessie (from January of this year in the Reader Chat):

Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Psalm 51:8

I’m not very good at looking back. I like to look ahead. Looking back depresses me.

But I saw in another author’s group where she asked her readers to name a blessing from 2021.

You know what came to my mind immediately? Ha. My mom’s death.

I couldn’t write that, so I didn’t write anything.

I almost didn’t write this today. First, because I know I’m just one of many who lost someone this past year. And not everyone is where I am. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.

Also, It’s only been four months. Maybe I’ll feel differently a year from now.

But, really, no matter how I, or anyone else, feels, God is the same yesterday, today and forever. His Truths never change. And one of those truths is that He uses trials in our lives to refine us, to prune us, to make us better. To draw us closer to Him.

Standing at the edge of a new year, I honestly don’t know if I’m a better person today than what I was a year ago. I hope I am. My goals and plans (and resolutions : ) from last year and the ones for this year were all crafted with that goal in mind – I don’t want to be the same person a year from now as what I am today. I want to be better. A better wife. Better mother. Better Christian. Better prayer warrior. Better at being kind, gentle and considerate. More thoughtful. More generous. More willing to give up my way, my “rights”, myself.

Man, there are so many areas where I want to grow.

God knows this. He also knows that sometimes, the best way for me to bear more fruit is for Him to prune me some.

Now, we have about 10,000 blueberry plants in Pennsylvania. Every year you should prune about 1/3 of the oldest branches off. You get a bigger, healthier crop this way.

Watson and I actually had an argument/discussion about it one year. He didn’t want me to prune the bushes. He saw all the branches lying around as branches that wouldn’t bear fruit in July. But when you prune, the berries that remain are so much bigger and the plants healthier. After I pruned them, we had a bigger crop than we did the previous year.

Most of the time pruning hurts. It truly feels like pieces of us are being cut and taken away. That things we love are being stripped from us, usually while we are trying with both hands to hold on to them. I remember times in my life, on my knees with tears in my eyes, lifting my face toward Heaven and saying, “God, what more do you want from me?” feeling like He’d already taken more than I could stand to give.

I’m guessing most of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We feel wounded. Tender. Broken.

Psalm 51:17 says: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Now, David wrote this after God took his infant son because of him committing adultery with Bathsheba. He’s really talking about being broken over our sin. (Wow. We really don’t get broken over our sin today, do we? We get offended that someone would dare to call it sin. That’s a whole other story.) God was chastening David for his sin. That still happens today. But I think a lot of times the trials that we go through are like Joseph’s trials – not because we’ve sinned, but because God wants to grow us so He can use us.

And the principle is the same – He’s not necessarily punishing us, like He was David, but He wants us to respond to our trial by turning to Him with a broken, contrite spirit, fully trusting that He will care for us, fully okay with God getting glory from whatever is happening, even if it means our hearts or lives are broken.

In verse 12 of that chapter it says: Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;

David had faith that God would heal his broken heart and give him joy once more.

It’s hard to have faith like that when you’re weeping, broken and wondering how much more God is going to require before He says, “enough.”

But that’s the sacrifice. The difficulty of turning away from our own, overpowering feelings, and turning to God and offering him our brokenness. “Use me, God. Use my pain for your glory. Use the jagged pieces of my life to show your power and might.”

And that’s the next verse: Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

That’s the whole point of our lives.

We tend to want our lives to be about ourselves. Our ease and pleasure. Our happiness and hopes and dreams and desires. Seeing them fulfilled.

But God wants our lives for himself. For His glory. For His pleasure. That’s where we truly find our happiness and joy – in God.

God knows this, of course. And He uses trials and hardships in our lives to drive us to Him. After all, when things are going well, we think we’re strong, we think we’ve got this; we feel like we don’t need Him.

And that’s really what happened to me after Mom died and why I would say her death was one of my biggest blessings of 2021.

It drew me closer to the Lord. (I knew as soon as I read her text saying she had cancer everywhere that I couldn’t handle it on my own.)

It showed me, in a real way, the power of prayer.

As I felt God’s presence beside me, felt His peace and knew He was keeping His promise to never leave me nor forsake me, my faith and trust in my God – the one I’ve believed in all my life – grew in ways I can’t explain. I have peace and assurance and JOY in my soul that wasn’t there before but is a direct result of knowing God held – and is still holding – my hand, just like He said He would. That alone makes Mom’s death an incredible blessing.

It took away much of the fear and mystery of death. (Hey, if Mom can do it, I can do it too. Also, Mom’s waiting on me in Heaven. : )

I saw the goodness of God in so many small gifts. Just one monetary one – She died on August 25th. I spent most of August sitting by her bedside, caring for her. I didn’t write a word, didn’t touch my ads, didn’t do much of anything with my author business. August was my highest grossing month in 2021. I told someone I wish God would do the marketing all the time, because He’s awesome at it. Seriously, that solidified my faith in ways I can’t even explain. I left everything to take care of my mom, and God took care of me and everything I left. Man, it gives me chills just thinking about how good He is to me.

I…hesitate to say this, but I don’t want people to think everything surrounding Mom’s sickness was rainbows and pink ponies. We had the normal family drama. Someone made some hurtful accusations about me and someone else stood and yelled and swore about it – insults and threats – as my mom lay dying in the next room. Someone resurrected some old lies they used to tell about my boys. You know. My family inflicts pain on my heart and makes me cry just like yours does to you.

You know, I wasn’t angry at that at the time, and I’m still not. I’m not gonna lie, it hurt and still does. But I feel a lot of sadness for that person and their problems. I also feel baffled, because I look at them and see someone who claims to be a Christian, but hasn’t grown at all in their Christian walk in the last twenty years.

That thought makes me look at my own life. Have I grown? Can people look at me and tell that I’m not the same person I was twenty years ago? Have I deliberately worked to be closer to the Lord? (The first thing to do is to read the Bible – which is the post I really wanted to write. : ) That, to me, is what my Resolutions are always about – it’s a new year with no mistakes in it yet (AOGG – ) and what can I aim for? What habits can I cultivate that will get me where I want to go?

I want to start this year with my eyes on Jesus, implementing things in my life that will bring me closer to Him and point others to Him as well.

So, yeah, I didn’t reach any of my writing goals from last year. It kind of fell apart on me. So, I’m gathering up the fragments, giving them to God and asking Him to bless what remains. I’m going to do what I know He wants me to with all my might and see what beauty He can make out of the pieces of my life.

Like David, in Psalm chapter 51:15, I will say: O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

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