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Sun in the Afternoon

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I never liked avocados until I was pregnant with my daughter. The mushy consistency and seemingly bland flavor that threw me off for my first 29 years of life became a nonsensical, passionate craving.

I chose to say my wedding vows in a breathtakingly beautiful and shockingly scarlet dress. My unusual choice fit my personality for many reasons including my not so humble opinion that red makes me look amazing, and white does nothing for me.

I spent my junior year of college living in London where month by month God slowly began to transform me into the woman I am today: a woman deeply passionate about serving God and serving others.

And truthfully, I want the people around me to know these things.

Not everyone. But at least a few people who have knowledge or connection with the stories that form my past. Not so much because the stories are so important, but rather because knowing the stories mean people more deeply understand me.

Back in the days when I used to think about the type of man I would marry, I hoped that my future husband would be from a huge extended family. My dreams envisioned being part of the connectedness I associate with numerous, closely-knit relatives. My childhood occurred remarkably far away from most of my extended family. The connections were few and far between. Those visits made me wish harder that in my married life, family wouldn’t be something far off but rather something next door or across the street or down the road.

I got my wish. Numerous aptly describes my husband’s relatives. The only problem is that they live far from us just like my own family. Between our two families, we literally connect to a map of the world as our blood relationships span states, countries, and continents.

With relatives in so many far-flung locations, the importance of community becomes increasingly evident. So in this context, my husband, my daughter, and I strive to put down roots in the city we have lived in for less than a year. The process feels like a lazy flowing stream, slowly moving, and I wish for the speed of a mighty river. I long for deep roots. I long to be known. I long for a network of friends that are like family to us. I long for people who know about my recent avocado love, my red wedding dress, and my life-changing year.

At our farewell party in Cape Town prior to our move to Charlotte, North Carolina, I glanced around at the people present who had become connected to our lives. Despite challenging beginnings, the end result was the sweet realization that we were known and we knew others; the sweet realization that our lives intertwined with the lives of those around us. During our time in Cape Town, we tasted the edge of what it feels like to live in a community that is our family.

Less than a year later, we try to recreate what we had. Or, rather, build afresh in the aftermath of upheaval, resulting from even a much-desired move.

Several months ago, a massive storm dominated and destroyed during the sleeping hours of our town. The city awoke to trees horizontal to the ground, branches in the roads and roofs ruined. Morning showers and debris reminded everyone of the chaos from the night before. As I cautiously drove through intersections without working traffic lights and roads strewn with broken branches, I heard the weatherman on the radio report the storm had passed, the showers would end by late morning and the sun would shine that afternoon. It didn’t seem possible looking around at the falling rain and remnants of the storm, but the radio said with confidence the sun would shine.

This journey feels like that storm. Those cyclonic first few weeks in Charlotte moved violently through our lives, and the morning has come where the storm has moved on. The remaining downpour is gradually shifting to sprinkling showers and by the afternoon, the sun will shine. The sun will shine!

I think after nine months, I can glimpse the beginnings of shining sun. In moments of clarity, I see what it might be once the lingering rain subsides and the afternoon sun bursts forth. I imagine children who are like sisters and brothers to my daughter and friends who are as comfortable in my kitchen as I am in theirs. But some days I wish this sense of being deeply rooted in a community already snugly fit in each corner of my soul. In these moments, the grey rain clouds settle back in my heart, and I imagine this desire isn’t possible. Not even close.

The process seems to inch forward and then move a centimeter back. Every inch forward hints at what God is building in His time. Every centimeter back reminds me we aren’t there yet, and I wonder if I will even know when “there” arrives.

During those two years in Cape Town, God engraved the words of the Psalmist on my heart: “God sets the lonely in families.” He created our Cape Town community that became like our family. Not immediately, but in His timing. So in this new place, we take small steps forward as we have become part of a church, joined Bible studies, hosted social events with our new neighbors and friends, and participated in community groups. And I take baby steps back as I reflect on my grey moments and realize so much of my story is still unknown.

Yet, truth reverberates in my head: God sets the lonely in families. Families are created, communities are built because the Master Builder intentionally places people together. I can trust that God is at work because I serve a triune God. As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He defines community. Brick by brick this same triune God is building our community and setting us in a family. In time, I will see in the faces of friends who know my stories and whose stories I know, the mighty and powerful hand of God.

The storm clouds have passed, and we are now living in the midst of the remaining showers. I know the sun will shine again in its full God given glory. This longing for deep connection is more than possible. It is the very nature of God. One day, perhaps soon, or perhaps in the far off future, I will awake and realize we are entrenched and intertwined in a community that is our family.

I may not fully realize when the afternoon sun starts shining. I will, however, know it shines by the grace of my God who loves community and family.

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Patrice Gopo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and her daughter. She enjoys glimpsing God’s divine hand in the everyday moments of life. She is passionate about writing, community, justice, and poverty alleviation. Each year that passes she is amazed to see how God connects these passions in ways she could never ask for or imagine.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Sun in the Afternoon

by Patrice Gopo time to read: 4 min
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