“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?

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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/

 


Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-11

At our Spring Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Courage, Leslie Carcamo shared how God grew her courage through struggles of being born with Spina Bifida. Here is an excerpt from her testimony:

“My story of courage begins even before I was born. When my mother was 4 months pregnant, God began to infuse her with the courage that she would pass on to me. The doctors insisted that she have an abortion because they were convinced that I would never walk. My mother persisted, however, and on April 25, 1989 I was born with Spina Bifida. Out of the 3 types of Spina Bifida I was diagnosed with the most severe type. Minutes after I was born I was taken away from my parents for my first surgery.

During my teenage years I became very frustrated with myself which slowly descended into a dark depression. I even questioned my existence. Although I never suffered from bullies, I was my own bully. I constantly told myself: “I am not good enough.” I was in and out of the hospital for surgeries and often missed a lot of school.  1 Corinthians 12:10 says “…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” I believe that in moments of weakness and hopelessness we collide with God’s strength and find courage. These “collisions” have helped me to break through a mindset of defeat and ignited a belief in God’s promises for my life.

In 2011 I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication-TV Production. Today I drive a car which many (including myself) thought impossible and in 2015 I went to Malaysia for 3 months to study Ministry.  I now realize that my true limitations are not physical, but in my mind. After many surgeries, I have been left with physical scars on my body which are a constant reminder of God’s strength and power at work in my life. Most of all, I am learning every day how to hold onto the courage my mom passed on to me 28 years ago.

Where in your life are you facing insurmountable obstacles?

How can you rely on God’s strength and courage in the midst?

On coming to the house…they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” ~ Matthew 2:11

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Three wise men traveled afar to bring three specific gifts to the baby in the manger. These gifts were chosen based on who Jesus would become.  Gold, associated with Kings, pointed to Jesus as the King of Kings. Frankincense, an oil used in Jewish worship and anointing, demonstrated that Jesus is worthy of worship. And Myrrh, a perfume used in burial, foreshadowed Jesus’ suffering and death.
 Jesus calls us to bring ourselves to Him as a gift this Christmas. However, the experiences we’ve had often makes as feel as though we are unworthy to be given as a gift. Maybe we even feel like our life is like a 5 dollar white elephant gift. But perhaps this is what Jesus is planning. An exchange, where we bring something  broken or worthless in hopes of trading for something better?
Isaiah 61 says:
I will bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
 
This Christmas, let us exchange what we have for what God is offering. In exchange for our sorrow, let us unwrap His gift of joy. In exchange for our pain, let us receive His comfort. And in exchange for our fear, let us open the gift of peace.
 
Which of God’s gifts do you need this Christmas?
 
How will you unwrap His gift today?
 

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”~ Psalm 34:18

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At our Fall Hope4Hollywood Ladies Tea: Stories of Faith, Veronica Garcia shared how God grew her faith in the midst of struggles with a broken heart. Here is an excerpt from her testimony:

“I turned the big 30 this year and I told myself I wanted to do things I’ve never done before. I’d been single for 10 years, which is crazy to believe but that’s how long I prayed to God that I didn’t want another break-up and broken heart and would just prefer to wait for my next boyfriend, my husband-to-be. It wasn’t until February this year that I ended up meeting online a really awesome and sweet guy. According to his profile, he was a follower of Christ and we shared a common love of music, art, the outdoors and food! He did the right things that impressed me right away by calling me, pursuing me and even taking me out on a proper date. Soon after, just two months into our relationship, my boyfriend broke up with me. This was a very hard hit because from the way things were going, I really believed it was heading for a possibility of marriage some day and he had expressed those things as well. So I was left feeling really confused, angry, hurt and crushed.

I started taking morning walks by myself and during those, God and I had many conversations. I kept asking, “Why did this have to happen? Why did I even start dating? Why did you bring him into my life to end this way?” I was tempted to carry the label ‘unwanted’ with me but I knew this was a huge lie from the enemy. A lot of mornings I felt like God wanted me to pour out my heart and my questions while I remained silent. Some mornings I just walked and played worship songs. I wanted to let those words wash over me and position me back in a posture of worship. One afternoon, I listened to a song that so intimately spoke to me as the words felt so familiar to my situation:

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again
by Danny Gokey

 

You’re shattered like you’ve never been before, the life you knew, in a thousand pieces on the floor.
And words fall short in times like these, when this world drives you to your knees.
You think you’re never gonna get back, to the you that used to be.
Tell your heart to beat again, close your eyes and breathe it in.
Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace.  

 

Then I started hearing God, not answering the why questions but just telling me to open my eyes and see what He would do around me. I felt God tell me that it was finally time to come out of my pit of sorrow and start proclaiming life back to my heart, my mind and my soul.”

Where is your heart breaking today?

How can you ask God to help you heal your broken heart?

Devotional Contributor: Veronica Garcia  https://veronicagsuazo.wordpress.com

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” ~John 14:27

word_peace_in_sand_187143Peace Be With You. Shalom. As-Salaam-Alaykum. These greetings show that Peace is central to the life of faith. However, we live in a world where the threat of violence both locally and abroad has become the norm. Recent events have left us wondering: Is peace even possible?

In John 14:27, Jesus promises to give us His peace. The peace Jesus offers will ease our troubled hearts and calm our fears. However Jesus’ peace is different from the world’s, because He calls us to go beyond personal peace to become peacemakers. In other words, rather than just seeking peace for ourselves, He calls us to share the peace we find with all who seek hope. In light of the perpetual violence we see again and again, we must remember that peace is powerful. For it is His peace that has the power to not only change our lives, but also the world around us.

What peace has God given you?

How will you share this peace with others today?

 

 

 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” ~Ephesians 2:8-9

AGR6CMBIn Ephesians, Paul explains grace as an unearned, “not able to work for” gift from God. As a gift, grace needs to be received and opened. God’s grace has the divine power to rescue and save us, not just eternally but daily.

However, the world gives us mixed messages about grace. Author Max Lucado writes in his book Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine, “We talk as if we understand the term. The bank gives us a grace period. The seedy politician falls from grace. We describe an actress as gracious and a dancer as graceful. We use the word for hospitals, baby girls, and pre-meal prayers. We talk as though we know what grace means. But we’ve settled for a wimpy grace that never causes trouble or demands a response” (7). This week, let us take time to receive God’s grace. Let’s embrace grace.

Where in your life do you need to embrace grace?

How will you share this gift with others this week?