When God Does the Unexpected

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February is a tough month for many of us. Right after Christmas, the store shelves start to be stocked with red and pink hearts reminding us that the “love holiday” is right around the corner.

We all want to be chosen as someone’s Valentine don’t we? We all want to be cherished, to be known, and to be loved. Instead of looking to greeting cards for expressions of love, can I encourage you to look for the unexpected expression in God’s Word?

There is a woman in the genealogy of Jesus we don’t often, if ever, recognize as being in His lineage. She isn’t listed, but she’s there none-the-less.valentines day background

We meet her in Genesis 29:16. Leah is the oldest daughter of Laban, older sister to Rachel and the first wife of Jacob. As we read her story we learn that Jacob doesn’t love Leah and never wanted to marry her. Laban foisted Leah on him, eager to be rid of a daughter described as having “weak eyes.” Her very name means “cow.” Rachel, on the other hand, was “lovely in form and beautiful” and the object of Jacob’s love and desire.

Do you ever feel like Leah? Has your heart ever ached with the knowledge that you are not the first choice? Mine has. We know when others are the favorite, or the popular, or the beautiful. We know when we aren’t. Sometimes that knowledge just hurts.

This is why Leah’s story resonates with our story.

Leah's story is our story. God does the unexpected. Click To Tweet

I am honored to share Leah’s and our story over at the Christian Community News Magazine. I hope you’ll jump over and join us there. There is a lot of great stuff here – Leah’s story is on page 14.

Love, Denise

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Called to Sing! #wordoftheyear

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Hi friends! This week I am thrilled to have Harmony Harkema joining us. Harmony is, among many other things, the inspiration behind The Glorious Table. They often give me a seat at their table as a devotional writer and I’m honored to be a part of the encouraging words they share into our communities. We are all blessed to have Harmony share her word of the year with us today!


by: Harmony Harkema

I shared a bit about my recent cancer scare a few weeks ago at The Glorious Table, but I deliberately glossed over the spiritual battle that took all of my extra time and energy during those weeks. When you have only 800 words with which to address another subject, albeit related, there isn’t room to get into the nitty-gritty of what the word cancer does to you. To your mind. To your heart. To your spirit.

When I stumbled out of the pulmonologist’s office on December 19, the day he told me I had growths all over my lymph nodes, the day he said those growths could be cancer–not likely, but still possible–I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. Yet I had to keep moving. I had to call my husband in Kenya and give him news he didn’t want to hear. I had to go home and relieve our babysitter. I had to cook dinner, bathe two small girls, tuck them into bed the way I always do.

I did all of that. But I didn’t get much sleep afterward.

The next morning dawned bright and crisp, like late October in the Midwest. The sun was warm on my face, and a persistent fall breeze sent fallen leaves, dry and brittle, dancing down the sidewalks. My preschooler had a theatre workshop, and after I dropped her off, I drove to my favorite cafe. I sat in my parked car for a bit, watching the few clouds that scudded across the blue sky. A train whistle cut the air, and I thought about how much I like the sound of a train whistle.

I don’t want to leave this, I said to God. These skies, these trees, the music this world makes. Not yet.

I hadn’t yet prayed about the possibilities, the hopeful ones or the dire ones. There was just this knot in my stomach, a bit vise-like, that didn’t want to unwind. But as I sat there admiring the late fall morning, one thing became clear to me.

When it comes down to it, what really matters is simple.

All I really want in this life is to watch my daughters grow up and to grow old with my husband.

That’s it. Nothing more.

It doesn’t really matter if I never publish a book. It doesn’t really matter if I never get to travel to all the places I’d love to see in person. It doesn’t really matter if I never lose the extra pounds I put on during my first pregnancy. It doesn’t really matter if I never run another 5K or finally finish my Masters or manage to garner ten thousand followers on my blog.

My people matter. Love matters. Time matters.

As I sat there in my car, all I could cry out was this: I want to live, Lord. Please just let me live. I just want to be here for them.

This is the kind of thing the word cancer does to a person. It drives you to your knees, it lays you flat-out on your face, it covers you in tears and snot in the front seat of your car on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday morning. I cried out this same refrain over and over for the next couple of days, in the bathroom and in the shower and as I chopped vegetables for soup. I screamed my preemptive grief into the folds of a towel so the girls wouldn’t hear me.

The enemy likes the word cancer, I’m certain of it. He will use it to drive fear right into your very core, if you let him.

Finally, I knew I’d reached a point where I had to get a grip on the fear. I had to hear from God.

I need you, I whispered. I need to know your will. Help me to hope. Help me to trust.

Prompted by God, I believe, as an answer to my cries, my friend Kelly sent me a Bible verse, and I printed it out and taped it on the wall next to my desk. I read it over and over and over again in the days that followed.

Sing, O daughter of Zion!

Shout, O Israel!

Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,

O daughter of Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away your judgments,

He has cast out your enemy.

The King of Israel, the Lord, IS in your midst;

You shall see disaster no more.

In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

“Do not fear;

Zion, let not your hands be weak.

The Lord your God in your midst,

The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness,

He will quiet you with his love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.”

(Zephaniah 3: 14-17 NKJV)

If you’re not into things like visions and the notion that God speaks to us directly, this next part might sound a little strange.

I was in the shower, praying again, and in my mind’s eye, like a movie playing, I saw an old woman, stooped and bent, walking slowly. There was a man, whom I knew to be Jesus, coming to meet her. When they reached each other, they embraced. As Jesus held her, the old woman grew younger and turned into me–a me I recognized. From this, I understood with an unexplainable certainty that I would meet Jesus as an old woman. I would not have to leave my family because of those growths on my lymph nodes.

The fear in me began to still, to settle, and slowly trust began to take over. My friend Lindsay, herself a recent survivor of thyroid cancer, told me about her own long days between tests and treatments and the subsequent waiting for results. She told me how she whispered, “I trust you,” over and over, out loud, through those dark hours. I followed suit. Every time I felt fear and doubt and that same preemptive grief try to rise up and assail me, I whispered, “I trust you.” It’s uncanny, the power of the spoken word.

On December 29 I went in for a bronchoscopy, and then five days later, I found myself once again at the pulmonologist’s office, still whispering, “I trust you.” The doctor walked in, beaming at me, and before the door had fully closed behind him, he was holding out his hand and saying, “I have good news for you.”

It took me a few weeks to feel normal again, much of which I spent prayerfully sorting out my thoughts and emotions about my encounter with the c-word. As I began to see posts popping up in my newsfeeds with other people’s words for the year, I was tempted to scroll on past. I’d just spent six weeks deep in a spiritual struggle; how could I possibly do something as prosaic, as mundane, as choosing a word to be my focus in 2017? Why did such a thing even matter? Why bother naming a year when you don’t know how it will unfold?

I sat at my desk, pondering this. Then my eyes fell on the verse taped there on the wall.

Sing, whispered the still, small voice in my head.

Sing, O daughter of Zion. 

He has cast out your enemy.

Yes, that was it. Sing. If this year was calling for a christening, a name to usher it in, a vow to uphold, there could be none better. When we emerge from the valley of the shadow, what else can we do but sing?

Welcome, 2017. You are my year of singing.

Harmony Harkema has loved the written word for as long as she can remember. A former journalist and English teacher turned editor, she has spent the past seven years in the publishing industry. A novelist and blogger in the fringe hours of her working-mom life, Harmony also has a heart for leading and coaching aspiring writers, and The Glorious Table is the culmination of those passions. She has more books than her shelves can hold, drinks more coffee than is probably good for her, and likes to unwind her brain at the end of the day by stirring something on the stove or baking whatever sounds good in the moment. A Michigan native who dreams ceaselessly about the Great Lakes shoreline, Harmony currently lives in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband and two small daughters.

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A Promise Worth Living For

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Donned in black and gold, the students streamed into the coliseum. The air was electric with excitement as they crossed the stage, shook hands with the dean, and received their diplomas. In what felt like an instant, they had graduated and moved on to “adulthood.” But I remember an equally exciting—and terrifying—day five years earlier: college orientation.

My son and I arrived at the university expecting to participate in an upbeat, energized, welcoming weekend that would infuse both of us with excitement. The student orientation team was enthusiastic as they distributed T-shirts and led the students in learning the fight song. They clearly loved their school.

Nothing, however, prepared us for the welcome speeches. Time and time again we heard, There is a lot of competition here. You’ll be overwhelmed. You will struggle. You will experience your first failing grade. My son was more than just a little intimidated by the time we left.

This university is ranked in the top five in the world for the field of study he wanted to pursue. Students from all over the world want to attend there, and the competition just to get in is tough. Those accepted have always been at the top of their class. Most of them have rarely had to study and have probably never failed a test, let alone a class. They are smart and naturally talented. So why does this university give them such dire warnings?

Because they want them to know the road to graduation day is not an easy path. It’s more like an uphill, rocky climb. They would have to dig deep to find strength and fortitude if they were going to make it.

Yet all those young people walking across the stage that graduation day, including my son, had decided to attend a university warning them about adversity. Why? For one reason: they also promise students who persevere a thorough, well-respected, marketable degree that will equip them to be the best they can be in their chosen field. Companies recruit heavily from there, and an excellent job is almost a certainty for any student who wants it.

Most students decide the promise is worth the struggle.

Is this not true for us as Christians too? {Read More ….}

Followers of Jesus must choose whether or not the promise is worth the struggle. Click To Tweet

I am sharing over at The Glorious Table today I hope you will join us over there and discover why “the school of Jesus” is worth it.


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