“Dear sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

 ~ James 1:2-4

At our Spring Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Joy, one of our ladies shared how God granted her joy in the midst of a difficult journey. “For as long as I can remember I have dreamed of being a doctor. So in college I earned high grades and diligently studied for the MCAT exam.  I was devastated to learn the news that my scores were too low to even be accepted into any schools. And to add to my sense of failure, my test scores did not improve and then I learned  that I had to wait 2 long years to reapply. I felt defeated,  mentally and emotionally exhausted, and my joy was gone. Why had my efforts failed?  After much prayer and wise counsel, I realized that God hadn’t taken away my opportunity but had just given me more time. He had gifted me with 2 extra years. This gift of time allowed me to save money as well as complete a Master’s Degree. Somehow my ‘struggle’ was turned into an opportunity to find joy.

Two years later I was overjoyed to receive the news of my acceptance into medical school!  I felt so blessed to finally have the opportunity to fulfill my dream of becoming a physician. But the transition to another state was very difficult.  Everything was brand new. I felt all alone and medical school was very challenging. Perhaps you have heard of the term imposter syndrome? That was me my first 2 years in medical school. I felt like I was pretending to be something I was not. Not only were classes a daily challenge but my relationship with my longtime boyfriend was disintegrating. I was an emotional and physical wreck, having doubled in size from all the stress. I was at another low point, discouraged and defeated.  How and where could I find joy in all of this? Once again I had to consciously choose to hang onto anything that would bring me joy.  Slowly over the next year God began to restore joy through the love of my friends and family.

Today I work as a medical resident and  am being challenged and tested yet again. I am working an unimaginable number of hours, without even time during my busy days to use the restroom or take a break. At times I feel under appreciated and devalued. Even harder is dealing with the daily burden of breaking bad news to my patients.  I recall recently delivering the news to my 30 something patient that she has stage 4 terminal cancer which will likely take her life within the next year. How do I find joy in the midst of all of this?

As in all my other dark times, I remember that I needed to take time to stop and reflect. And so one day at work, despite having a morning clinic session and a full patient load, plus a multitude of other tasks,  I decided to take my wheel-chair bound patient into the healing garden. We sat outside for nearly an hour, just enjoying the sun on our faces. He was so grateful to get out of the confines of his room and have a sense of something normal again. His smile and authentic gratitude reminded me of why I wanted to go into medicine in the first place.

James 1 reminds us that our struggles are actually “opportunities.” So each day I am making an effort to view my difficulties as opportunities–opportunities for joy and growth.  Hopefully I can turn these newfound opportunities into helping me develop into an even better friend, sister, daughter, partner and physician in the future.

What struggles are you currently facing?

How can you consider these struggles as “opportunities” for joy?

 

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful. I know that full well.” ~Psalm 139:15

I was born and raised here in Los Angeles, where my dad was a television writer and producer.  I remember all the cancelled vacations, as well as long days and sometimes months that my dad wasn’t home. I even recall overhearing my parent’s arguments at nights when I was supposed to be asleep. . As a result, I began to blame “Hollywood” for the toll it was taking on our family. My plan after graduation was to move to Oregon and become a music teacher and never live in Los Angeles again.

Looking back, I don’t remember praying and asking God about my plan – I just jumped into it assuming I knew myself well enough to decide my own future. It was three years into my music degree that I began questioning, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I on the right path?” And I began to feel God pointing me in a different direction.

This crushed me. Music education was my identity. I had always loved teaching music, and had been told that I had a lot of potential as a music educator. So, with some resentment, I took the first courageous step to drop the “education” part of my major and finish off a much less demanding general music degree.

I suddenly had more time to explore other interests so I quickly joined the student leadership team of my college Christian fellowship. Being on this close-knit team, I learned how to read the Bible, developed an incredible love for and reliance on prayer, and ultimately tuned in to hearing God’s voice. For the first time, I was becoming someone who could say yes to Jesus every time He called me.

About halfway through my senior year, my mom told me that a family friend of ours in LA, Karen Covell, was looking for a new employee for her ministry Hollywood Prayer Network.  Now, just to make the irony clear, one thing I had definitely never done in my life was pray for Hollywood. So I took a few months to think, talk, and pray about it. Through my prayers, I felt like Jesus was telling me there was no way I could avoid this call. He was telling me to go. He was challenging me to go back to LA and serve his people in Hollywood.

Psalm 139 reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator. In this process, God was encouraging me to let go of the image I had created for myself. Learning to rely on God’s image of who I am allowed me to courageously give up my self-made path for His perfect plan.

As I now serve in Hollywood ministry, God continues to teach me more every day about courage.  I have learned that God often gives me smaller things along the way so that when it comes time for bigger risks, I am so used to trusting and taking leaps of courage that I am ready to take on a bigger challenge. It took courage for me to give up my path and accept God’s. And now I can see that it was Jesus who was giving me courage during these moments of small yes’s, proving over and over that trusting Him in my weakness is courageous.

Where do you need God’s courage this week?

How will you trust God’s plan instead of your own?

“When life is heavy and hard to take, Go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear.”

~Lamentations 3:27-28

At our Summer Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Hope, Ayanna Anene shared how God brought hope during her move to LA. victory“During my last year of college in Philadelphia, I became close friends with a fellow student who had recently given her life to God. Her shining example of a life set ablaze for God left a major impact on my life and influenced my decision to recommit my life into His hands shortly before my college graduation. I began to boldly pray about what would happen after college asking God to close every door that was not for me, and open the door to His best.

After applying to over 50 jobs, I was rejected by nearly every one! Then, one day, my brother sent an email for a position in Southern California. Living on the West Coast was not included in the roadmap for my life, I thought.  As it would happen, I was asked to interview for the California-based position and within a few short weeks, I received a job offer!

I decided to trust that God heard my original prayer, closed many doors and opened only this one. I thought to myself, this is either totally God, or I totally missed it. I trusted that even if I somehow misread the situation, He would be there to take care of me.

As I prepared to uproot my life and move across the country, something in me sensed that I was entering a new chapter. However, I had no idea that I was entering one of the greatest seasons of trials in my life. My first few weeks and months of living in LA were challenging as I was physically distant from friends and family members. That coupled with being in a foreign environment and having limited transportation launched me into a season of deep loneliness and depression.

In the midst of this dark season, a favorite passage in Lamentations encouraged me to patiently “wait for hope to appear.” As I waited for hope, I started to see signs of hope all around me. I like to call these signs “God’s winks.” These winks affirmed that I was not alone. Some of God’s winks came in the form of vivid dreams filled with His promises that had not yet come to fruition in my life.  Other “winks”that assured me of God’s presence  came in the form of street signs where I lived. Residing on “Providencia Street” and “Victory Blvd” reminded me of His divine providence and that I could always find victory in Him.

Seven years later, I realize that my story does not have a tidy bow of finality or a “happily ever after” ending. Each day I must intentionally slow down and fully appreciate the tokens of hope that God sends my way. There are days when I don’t feel hopeful or joyful but at those times I strive to appreciate the many “winks” and reminders of His presence. Through it all, I am learning to wait for hope. “

Where in your life do you need hope?

How will you look for God’s “winks” this week?

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up;  you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my  ways. ” ~Psalm 139: 1-3

 

At our Spring Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Faith, one of our ladies shared how God granted her faith in the midst of a difficult time. “10 years ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer and I became pregnant with my first child. For the next 3 years, I was overwhelmed with medical visits for my father: the oncologist and surgeon, chemo and radiation, nursing homes and hospitals. At the same time, my daughter was born with eczema and was covered with rashes from head to toe. She felt itchy and uncomfortable all the time so we went back and forth to pediatricians and dermatologists. Lacking sleep day after day was my new normal.

After a 3-year battle, my father passed away. The year was 2010, during the deep economic recession. The company I worked for went through significant management changes and I had to find another job. I still remember the day I was making funeral arrangements was the same day of my final job interview. It was such a difficult day.

With a young child, a new job and my husband starting a new business, I was stressed out. And yet I wanted another child. Getting pregnant was yet another stressful journey. I was relieved and excited the day I finally saw the “+” sign on my pregnancy test. My happiness only lasted for 4 short weeks, as I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy. I made the decision to accept an injection to terminate my pregnancy. Even though it was a logical and necessary choice, I had a strong sense of guilt.

Feeling the loss of my father and my baby, I also had chronic sleep deprivation, hormones running wild and constant work stress. I lost my appetite and motivation to do anything. My marriage was put to the test. My mind was foggy and the voice in my head got louder and louder, shouting only negative thoughts. I felt like I was going to lose everything I treasured and that my world was about to collapse. I had this fear and anger inside me that felt like a low-grade fever. Finally, during a session with my marriage counselor, she told me: “you’re suffering from depression.” This realization confirmed that I had to do something or I really would lose everything.

The dictionary defines faith as, “Complete trust in someone or something.” My faith at this time was “head knowledge” that God existed and had a plan for this world and maybe even for me. However, because of my circumstances, my depression and my struggle with guilt, shame and fear, I often thought that God was disappointed with me. So, I spent many years ignoring the small voices from my body, my heart and the Holy Spirit. I had been trained to “march forward” even though I was hungry, tired and hurting. I had learned to keep pace with the world, not with God.

During this time, I was comforted by the words of Psalm 139 which reminds me that God sees and knows me, even my thoughts. This truth gave me the courage to reach out for help. After much counseling, exercise, a new part time job and taking courses led by Hope4Hollywood, I am in much better shape physically and spiritually. I’m much closer with God.

It has been 6 years since I lost my baby. I can’t say I’m completely out of it, but for now, I’m better. My faith has grown to see that God’s plan for the world does include me. His love is so full and He wants to share that with me. I have come to understand that God seeks to bring good out of the hardest situations of our lives and will use all situations to bring us closer to Him.

What darkness are you currently facing?

How can you take God’s help in the midst?

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.”~ Lamentations 3:22-23

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At our Winter Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Faith, Blanca Silva shared how God granted her faith in the midst of a difficult time. “My story of faith began just after I had filed for divorce from my husband who had struggled with addiction for 20 years.  I was the single mother of two boys, 4 and 15, and had been teaching at a school I enjoyed. One morning as I walked into the school office, my principal handed me a stack of letters that I was to send home with students stating that I was being laid off along with 2,000 other teachers. At that moment all I think about was about how was I going to support my children without a job. I remember setting the letters down in front of me as I was teaching a lesson. Throughout the day I kept looking at the letters and wondering what I was going to do.

Soon after our notice had been given, one of my colleagues and I were discussing our pending unemployment. At the end of the conversation he promised to refer me to any open positions. After the summer, I received a phone call from the principal of his school offering me a long term substitute position. I kindly replied, “Yes, that would be great, but when would you like to interview me?” He answered, ”There is no need to interview you –the job is yours he has highly recommended you.” I was hired that year as a long term substitute knowing at the end of the school year I would face unemployment.  However, the last week of school the principal informed me that he had made several phone calls to allow me to keep my job for another year. He explained that although he had never done this for another teacher and it was not District approved, he was willing to fight for me to stay. A week before school started, I received miraculous news that I had been re-hired. For the next 3 years, my principal continued to intercede on my behalf and helped me to get my status restored as a permanent teacher, a status I still enjoy today.

Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us that our God is a faithful God whose mercies are new every morning. For four years, I battled fear and uncertainty about my job stability. Every day I would face anxiety and have to fight off the lie that God was not with us and had left us. But graciously God granted me faith to believe that He was going to provide for my children and a way for us. Focusing on God’s faithfulness in the past now helps me to find faith in the uncertainties I face every day. ”

Where in your life are you feeling fearful?

How can you ask God to replace your fear with faith this week?

 

 

 

“My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in weakness.

~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

At our Spring Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Grace, Alison Stein shared how God’s grace gives her daily strength.

“When I was in my 20’s I was in an unhealthy relationship which led to an unplanned pregnancy. 7 months later, my boyfriend’s friend came over to visit. Although I had never met this friend before he asked to share “the gospel” with me. At first I was resistant, but then agreed. He began to share Scriptures with me. I held onto his every word. I prayed with him and right then and there I experienced a large weight lifted off my shoulders, and felt light as a feather. From that moment on I felt like a whole new person, Christ became my new focus in life.

My son Kai was born on Sept. 13, 2009. What a blessing it was, God had entrusted me with a beautiful and healthy baby boy, to love, teach and to raise as a child of God. During what should have been the most enjoyable time of our lives, Kai’s dad fell away from the church. He continued living a reckless life and no longer wanted to marry or spend time with his son. Kai’s dad is currently in prison with no custody or visitation rights.

God made this child of mine very advanced in his years, opinionated, very much a people person that always craves human interaction, active and awesome in all sports, the list goes on. There are days that I cringe when I get the call or text or note from his teacher letting me know how he was misbehaving, I automatically worry that it’s because he has no father, or that I’m not a good role model all of the time, or I’m not spending enough quality time with him.

1 Corinthians reminds me that God’s grace makes up for my weaknesses. When I feel exhausted or defeated I remember the truth and that is God knows where I work, God knows how He created my son, and God knows what I am capable of handling even when I think it is a couple pounds over the limit. I’m not going to sugar coat things and say my life is easy by any means but as a believer I can have peace and comfort knowing that God’s grace furnishes what is lacking in my life due to personal weakness. Knowing that God is not asking me to do anything that he is not willing to accomplish through me is my greatest source of encouragement.”

What area of your life do you feel weak?

How can relying on God’s grace give you strength for today?

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

~ Ephesians 4:32

IMG_0393At our Spring Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Courage, Mary Taylor shared how God challenged her to forgive. Read her courage in action:

My brother Jamie was three years older, and loved to shall we say, annoy me. Despite growing up in the same house, we never learned to talk, to share, to help each other. We were strangers who occupied the same camp, with an unspoken truce drawn. I felt a true sense of loss and regret.

Fast forward a few decades where we each had one child yet rarely saw one another. Then in 2012 Jamie developed throat cancer. My four other siblings were unable to be with him, and I was 2,000 miles away. That left me out right? Well, no. The Lord ever so gently laid it on my heart that I was the one to go, saying, “This will be blessing for you.” “God, how could this be a blessing for me? I questioned out loud. “Because you have always wanted to know your brother better.”

One night a few weeks later as I helped Jamie into bed, I realized that his shoulders that once were so broad and strong, were now bony. The little boy who had once teased me was now scared, sad, quiet, and dependent on me. I held him close as we both cried. As each day passed, I could feel the change happening more and more–we were seeing each other through new eyes. I wasn’t a stranger any more, I was his sister who could pray and laugh with him again.

Ephesians tells us to be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Jesus did. I realized that when Jamie and I let go of the past we discovered that tenderhearted feeling, that positive force of God called forgiveness. I learned that His grace was sufficient for us, and it will be for you too. Trust Him.

Who do you need to forgive?

How can you rely on God’s courage to take steps towards reconciliation?

~In July, Mary Taylor delivered a eulogy for her brother Jamie who passed away.

You can read more of Mary’s stories at her website: theschoolmarm.com

~Learn how to take practical steps of forgiveness at our Fall Forgiveness Journey beginning Sept 10. (Join us in person or via Skype) More info here: https://hope4hollywood.com/current-study/