Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Hope that is Christmas

by Cindy Hester

Merry Christmas my friends. In the interest of transparency, I must confess certain hesitancy in beginning my article with this greeting. My tentativeness in doing so has nothing to do with political correctness. It has everything to do with perception.

I love Christmas. I love celebrating the birth of the Savior of our world. What I have trouble with are the melancholy stirrings deep within my soul that accompany the joy of this season. This dichotomy of feelings troubles me greatly this year.

 As a child, Christmas held such a sense of purity and excitement. I was blessed with a loving family who appropriately sheltered me from the darkness in this world. They exposed me to situations where children were not so fortunate by teaching me to share and to pray for them, but my childlike mind could not truly comprehend the stark difference in their daily way of life.

As an adult, I learned firsthand that life’s circumstances are not always “merry” at Christmas. Life in this world is hard, and troubles don’t take a day off. Often those closest to our hearts - those meant to love and protect - inflict the most pain. Even individuals with the most loving families face the reality of a broken world. Many are facing the holidays without loved ones due to the actions of one consumed with depravity. Others are facing relational issues with loved ones still here. We all find ourselves exposed to the accusations of misconduct which saturate our evening news with salacious details more suitable for the courtroom than the dinner table.

The cumulative effect of these events and general everyday stress came crumbling down upon me a couple of weeks ago. I found myself crying inconsolably for seemingly no reason. I simply wanted to curl up on the couch under a blanket and let the world pass on by. I became increasingly vulnerable to the enemies lies of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Deep in the night last week as I bared my soul before my God, He began lovingly reminding me of the circumstances of the first Christmas. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was considered an unwed mother in the eyes of much of the world. Joseph, her fiancé, had to accept by faith to believe an angel of God that Mary was a faithful and acceptable wife.

When Mary was nine months pregnant, she had to ride a donkey ninety miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors for registration in a census. That alone took an obedient heart. To top it all off, after the long, grueling journey, there was no place for them to stay! There was no shower to freshen up or comfortable bed upon which to rest. Mary went into labor and gave birth to Jesus in a cold, uncomfortable stable full of animals, and all that goes along with animals.

Political unrest also existed at the time of Christ’s birth. King Herod of Israel was just one example. He was described as ambitious, brutal, extremely successful, a man who did not like opposition or competition with family or politics. King Herod was so shaken by the wise men asking about the birth of one who had been born King of the Jews, he ordered the murder of all baby boys two years and under in an attempt to kill this perceived rival.

I got up and began reading in Luke. Despite the challenging circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth, Mary chose to receive God’s gift to her with joy. She said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” Luke 1:46-50 
In Christ’s day, shepherds ranked lowest on the social ladder. Yet it was the shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Although King Herod meant harm when he sent the Magi or wise men to find this Christ child and report back to him so that he too could “go and worship him”, God had a much different plan. “After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

God desires to impart joy to each of us. He longs to be the light in our darkest hour, and the hope for our deepest despair. When I allow these treasured truths to saturate my heart and mind, I find peace. It is because of these truths that despite the present appearance of current circumstances, I can earnestly wish you all a Merry Christmas. May each of you find rest in His gift of joy.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Monday, August 20, 2018

Ordered Steps

by Cindy Hester

Not long ago while traveling I walked into a little shop on the side of the road in Montego Bay. As we were looking around, I noticed the Jamaican sales woman about my age or a little younger watching me intently. I thought perhaps she was making sure I didn’t need any help. By the hot mess I was by the end of a long day shopping in tropical humidity, she may have been protecting the store merchandise!

After a few minutes watching me, she spoke and asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for. We began a conversation, and I found her to be warm and kind. I happened to ask her how she liked life in Jamaica. She replied that she loved her homeland and the natural beauty, however the crime rate was quite high. She spoke of the need for caution-especially at night. She went on to say she has learned to adapt. She emphatically stressed you cannot always be afraid, you have to live life. I replied saying we must trust God and enjoy each moment of every day we are given.

All of a sudden, her eyes lit up, and she grabbed my wrists. Excitedly she shouted, “Are you a Christian?!?!” I said yes, to which she responded, “I knew it! I just knew it! I could feel a difference as soon as you walked in the store!” It turns out she had just been praying for encouragement and had asked God to speak to her in some way to remind her of His nearness to her. She said that whenever I walked into the store, she felt a sense of kinship. She went on to say she did not frequently find many individuals who spoke so freely of their faith. She held up her arms displaying the chill bumps resulting from the immediate answer to her prayer. 

We talked a while and discussed salvation and God’s promises in passages of scripture from the New Testament. She spoke about the dark spirit that infiltrates her country. Then in her beautiful Jamaican accent she said “Grace...grace is a blessing. Were it not for God’s saving grace I wouldn’t be here.” She hungrily continued talking about the Lord with me. I couldn’t help but be amazed at how she had put scripture to memory and at the spiritual insight she shared about those scriptures.

When I got ready to leave, she gave me a warm hug. As she did so, she quietly, and somewhat desperately, asked me to please pray for her and for her country. I couldn’t help but wonder what struggles she faces each day. 

She walked me out of the store, and as we walked away she yelled, “My name is Rose. I will be looking forward to seeing you the next time you visit my shop in Jamaica. If for some reason I don’t see you again here, I will see you in heaven because we are sisters in Christ! I will be calling out your name until I find you!” 

I left in such amazement of how God works in all areas of this world. I left with a love for the people of Jamaica and desire for God’s grace to be upon them. Please pray for Rose and for her country. Someday I pray I will have the opportunity to introduce you to her in heaven. I have no doubt we will meet again to remember our special encounter that day in a little shop in Montego Bay.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Poem for Bear
By Maw Maw Cindy

My dear little Bear who sleeps soundly and tight
So peaceful and trusting, your cares free and light.
I give you these blessings to hold all your life
To keep you through times you face earthly strife.

I bless your bright eyes with visions of hope
To brighten your darkness with no need to grope
At things this world offers as fool’s gold - no worth
To steal what God’s promised from your very birth.

I bless your sweet mouth to speak words of truth
From God’s Holy Word you learn from your youth.
These truths crush the lies the enemy sews
Don’t let them take root, these lies are your foes.

I bless your soft hands with God’s loving touch
To share with this world, it needs Him so much
With strength and compassion and healing inside,
Let God use your hands and in His love abide

I bless your cute feet to be steadfast and sure
His feet took the nails that keep you secure
When sometimes you stumble, and losing your way
He draws you back close, He won’t let you stray.

I bless your whole life with eternal joy
As life takes you forward my sweet baby boy.
Remember I love you, deep down to my core
Live life with abandon, in Him free to soar.

Friday, August 11, 2017

True Freedom

by Cindy Hester

A couple of weekends ago while relaxing in Galveston with family, I happened to walk into the living room of the condominium where we were staying just in time to hear my nine year old grandson singing his heart out along with Toby Mac. He had no idea anyone was around, so he was giving it all he had singing from deep within his heart. The joy was palpable, especially when he got to the chorus. “When love broke thru, You found me in the darkness, Wanderin’ thru the desert, I was a hopeless fool, Now I’m hopelessly devoted, My chains are broken” - at which point he raised his arms to heaven joyfully breaking his wrists free from invisible chains. I could barely keep from shouting.

I had read an article earlier that week about how at one time the circus trained elephants to stand in place by latching a metal collar around an ankle, and chaining the collar to a stake in the ground. While still small, the stake held strong against the baby elephants’ attempts to break free. During the struggle, they would experience painful cuts which served as painful reminders of the consequences of such attempts. Once an adult, due to the elephants’ size and strength, they could have easily released the stakes in the ground. However, painful response learned as babies kept the adult elephants bound by a shackle that in reality held no power over the animal.

Often, we as humans are held bondage by such learned responses. We need the knowledge of our reality and strength in Christ to understand those restraints hold no power over us. I know from personal experience, however, that even after we realize we can pull the stake from the ground; it takes the power of Christ to sever the metal collar, chains, and stake we drag around after breaking free from the hold of the ground.

 Still others escape the physical prison holding them hostage yet continue attempting to function while still bound in chains - much like a prisoner who masterminds his escape yet his hands remain chained together. The prisoner may escape the prison, but until someone breaks him free of his chains, his ability is limited.

 I know what it is like to be bound by chains, even after escaping the prison of abuse. It has taken the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s matchless grace to break the chains of worry, anxiety, shame, guilt, inferiority, and hopelessness I carried into my new life. The old devil still comes around trying to slap that collar around my ankle and pound that stake back into the ground. However, by God’s grace I have learned to recognize his manipulation and lies. I have learned to run to my Father’s truth in order to refute the lies with which the enemy attempts to keep me grounded and in place.

You see, our Heavenly Father designed us for freely given, unconditional love and grateful obedience. Forced, ingrained restraint was never his plan. He wants to see us sing with palpable joy of how our chains are broken because we have personally experienced His grace setting us free. If you long for this freedom, it is yours for the asking. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him should be saved.” John 3:16-17

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

That Wonderful Hot Mess Called Motherhood
by Cindy Hester

Moms, are you ever guilty of measuring yourselves against a standard put out there by the world that is impossible to meet? I am not sure why we are so hard on ourselves. I mean after all, anyone who watches the news or pays attention at all to the world around us can see enough evidence of shortcomings to go around. It is often so easy to pass judgement on another mother simply because it makes it just a tad easier to deal with our own inadequacies –real or perceived.

If you are at all familiar with my writing, you know I love to write humorous stories about my Mom. The reason is not to make fun of her. It’s actually quite the opposite. Mom has a genuine approachability that touches the lives of others by putting them at ease in her presence. She understands the power of being able to embrace and own up to her humanity. Because of this quality, many women have found comfort and acceptance in her presence.

Mom has learned to find the humor in even the most difficult of situations – especially those related to parenting. This is a strength I greatly admire. Although she has developed this wisdom more in her later years, every so often I still hear her speak of how she failed us kids in one situation or another. The amazing thing is I remember no failures on her part. From my perspective, all I remember is a loving Mom who was doing her best to bring up four quite challenging children in a less than perfect world. (Okay, I was the challenging child, but it makes me feel better to include the other three.)

Trust me; I have and I still am providing my children plenty of anecdotes to share about their Mom. Like the time I was stressed from trying to meet too many challenges at once and forgot to put the car back in drive after realizing I was stuck out a little too far into the street at a stop sign. I was taking college courses studying between providing rides to after school activities and helping with my children’s homework and class projects. This particular afternoon I had just picked up my daughter from band practice (actually it was flag practice with the band.) The kids were tired, hungry, and grumpy. It was in the middle of a teaching moment about the importance of getting along with one another that I finally saw the opportunity to pull out onto the main street. I put the petal to the metal, but instead of going forward, I slammed into the poor woman behind me.

Understandably the woman got out of her vehicle angrily shouting things I cannot repeat. Embarrassed and defeated, I got out of truck, insurance information in tow, attempting to tell her how sorry I was between sobs. She paused as she caught a glimpse of three big sets of eyes staring at her from the back window. Taking in the hot mess that was me at that moment in time, she looked me straight in the eye, put her arm around my shoulder, and in a deep southern drawl said, “Girl, you gotta’ let somethin’ go! I know from experience that you need to get you some help with all of these things you are juggling or you’re gonna’ lose it!”

This woman had no idea just how much was going on in my life at that point in time. She may never know how much her direct words of wisdom and understanding meant to me that day. Thankfully there was no major damage to either vehicle, and I left the situation comforted, understood, and with a new friend.

Moms, we need one another. I watch as my daughters-in-law struggle to meet the demands of motherhood in today’s world. I see stories of mothers on the nightly news whose sons or daughters have taken on a life they would have never chosen for them. I have watched my own Mom struggle through watching me make mistakes that undoubtedly broke her heart. I have felt the many prayers she has lifted to heaven on my behalf and on the behalf of my children, and I have seen the results of those prayers. To be perfectly honest, I still fight carrying the guilt of the many mistakes I made as a Mom and a Step-Mom.

Today I feel the need to reach out to Moms of all ages and backgrounds with a word of encouragement. The common bond we hold is the love we have for our children and the hope to which we cling for them to experience goodness in their lives. This hope is not in vain because is there is a God who loves and cares for our children even more than we ever could. He not only wants them to experience goodness, He created them for this distinct purpose. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I also want to remind each of you that goodness in the lives of our children often comes at the culmination of a learning experience. That learning experience can be painful for them and for us. Whenever I find myself watching my child go through such a time, I am reminded of the wise words of that woman years ago. It does me no good to worry and fret. It does neither of us any good for me to attempt to control or “fix” the situation. I have ”gotta’ let somethin’ go”. I have to release my child and his or her situation into the hands of a loving God with far more wisdom than I could ever obtain. He is incredibly able “to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:13

Finally, I want to inspire each of us to find the humor in the many “mistakes” we make as we are learning to become the Moms God wants us to be. The love we show our children far surpasses meeting any standard the world gives us to measure up to. None of us has the wisdom on our own to be the perfect Mom. We must learn to simply bring our hopes as well as our disappointments and failures to our Heavenly Father seeking His will and His forgiveness. Be honest and real with one another, and “bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Messenger

by Cindy Hester

As I sat straightening my desk before leaving the office, a dear friend and co-worker stepped in my office with a handful of paperwork. I gazed in amazement at the smile on her face. The hat she wore looked appropriately fashionable and exceptionally flattering on her.

After a few minutes of small talk, our conversation took a more serious turn as we began discussing her treatments. She shared the most difficult part for her was the sheer exhaustion and lack of energy she was experiencing. She went on to describe her frustration with finding it difficult simply to function - especially the days right after treatment.

On one such day, feeling the need to get out of the house she decided to drive to the store. She pulled into a parking spot. Her energy completely spent and her spirit totally frustrated, she leaned her head against the steering wheel. Tears flowing as she fought back the urge to give up. She felt so alone and discouraged.

Out of the corner of her eye she became aware of a man watching her. He appeared to be an employee of the store, so she paid little attention. A few minutes later, he had made his way over to her car and gently tapped on her window. Armed with a kind smile, he motioned to a piece of paper in his hand. On the paper he had simply written, "Your hair?" She wiped her tears and in response mouthed the word "chemo". He turned the paper over to write another message. Compassionate, understanding eyes watched as she read the words, "It will grow back," and with a smile he walked away.

A sense of renewed hope saturated her depleted body and soul. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had used this willing human vessel to share His message of strength and hope when she most desperately needed it.

We are placed here on this earth for a specific purpose for such a time as this. Our broken, fractured world needs the message of hope that we as children of the living God who have been saved by His matchless grace have been given to share. Resist the temptation to hold back out of fear when God places it on your heart to act in such a way that blesses, encourages, or uplifts, someone He puts into your path. You may never know the incredible impact of God's powerful love through your obedient act of Spirit-led courage.

"Lord, transform my heart to love like you. Give me Your eyes of compassion to recognize souls in need of a reminder that You love them beyond measure. Help me to be a vessel that reveals Your true existence in the simplest of miracles to bring about the greatest of change. I I ask these things in Your matchless name, Amen."

“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7

The Hope that is Christmas

by Cindy Hester Merry Christmas my friends. In the interest of transparency, I must confess certain hesitancy in beginning my ...