by Pat Cocuzza
I'd like to begin my praise story with; I am a breast cancer survivor of 16 years. I say this right away so that you won't feel sorry for me because it is past history.
Prior to 2002, I had begun a closer relationship with God. I had been attending bible studies and realized how much God loved me and how important He is in my life. So when I was told that I had breast cancer, I admit I was shocked and afraid. I pleaded with God to let me live, I wanted to see my grandchildren. It was too soon. Though that afternoon was full of fear and uncertainty for myself and my family, the day was over and a new day began. My life had not changed. I still got up made breakfast and continued my day and the next and so on. I thank God that I had people in my life that I turned to for prayer and support.
God was and is my strength.
God is always there waiting for me to realize that I can always turn to Him. "So be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you or abandon you." Deuteronomy 31:6
Right after I was diagnosed, I was at a church service and one of the readings were Psalm 103:1 and 3 "Let all that I am praise the Lord with my whole heart. I will praise His holy name. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.” I felt God was letting me know He heard me.
It has been many years since and my relationship with God has grown. Spending time with Him in prayer and attending bible studies has increased my joy and faith in God and my Savior Jesus Christ. One of my studies and book that I read was the "The Circle Maker" by Pastor Mark Batterson. I learned to circle my family and friends in prayer for their redemption, health, protection, etc. One of my prayer requests was to be blessed with grandchildren. My faith and trust continued to grow through my prayers and time spent with God. The first prayer asking for grandchildren was in 2002 when I was diagnosed and neither of my sons were married. When I prayed again asking God to circle them with blessings, protection and health and praying for a grandchild, God answered my prayer. Within a year of my prayer requests, I was blessed with the announcement that I was to be a grandmother and my grandson was born on January 1st, 2017.
God hears our prayers and answers in His time. I had learned trust and patience.
One final note on God answering prayers. My father's name was John. He passed away when I was very young. I thought it would be nice to have the baby named John though I never mentioned this to my son and daughter-in-law. They told us of their decision to name the baby Ian Tyler when we were vacationing together. When I returned to work I told my friends the baby's name was Ian Tyler. We decided to look up what the name means. Ian is Scottish for John. And the name Ian means a gift from God. What overwhelming joy I felt when I heard this. To know God hears us and answers our prayers. Only God can grant our prayers when we are faithful and if it is for our good. Isaiah 30: 18-19 "So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him so He can show you His love and compassion for the Lord is a faithful God."
Have you had a time in your life that you had to put your trust in the Lord and patiently wait for His answers? Have you experienced God's answers and was it the answers you wanted or needed? Comment below.
What is your Assignment?
Have you ever been called to do something in your life that ROCKED YOUR WORLD?
EVER. When you were little, a teen, young adult or now? EVER? Has something happened to you that you had no control over that changed your life forever?
Did life happen to you, the life you didn’t plan for, expect or want? Some of the things that come to mind are;
- job loss
- you thought you’d have a child by now
- expectedly become a widow or divorced
- sexual abuse
- health issue
- single longer than you thought you’d be
- or are you a single mom, something you didn’t expect
- rejected by your mother
- rejected by your father
- your church disappointed or judged you
- betrayed by your husband
- maybe you betrayed your husband
- maybe you have experienced lose from someone close to you
All of these things could rock a woman’s world. They could bring consequences, shame, guilt, sadness, depression, anxiety, pain, suffering. We don’t expect any of these things to happen but they could, they are the reality of life. Suffering and pain are real and they happen. Christians are non-exempt.
I’d like to challenge you, through the lens of Mary’s story to consider your own story and your assignment.
This is Mary’s story:
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. For the word of God will never fail.” Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth and says: Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. Story from Luke 1 (I added the bold).
God’s assignment on Mary’s life was to have a baby, our Savior, while she was still a virgin and engaged to Joseph; (a story for another day).
What options did she have? Would she have taken them and gone out of God’s will for her life? How would she be able to handle the unknown? What would everyone say? Did she feel shame or fear?
There’s no mention of her mother or father in this story to support her. Was she alone in her assignment? How would she be supported financially?
Would she become homeless? Friendless? Hopeless?
I know I pose a lot of questions, but I can’t help to think about them. I’m being honest. What would I have done?
Mary was a sinner, Romans 3:23, but God still shows his mercy and extends his favor on her. Mary needed a Savior just like each of us. She glorified and worshiped Jesus her Savior over her position as the mother of her Savior in verse 47: “My soul rejoices and praises my Savior.” She acknowledged Jesus as Savior, worthy to be praised and worshiped. Even in uncertainty.
Mary trusted God in her assignment.
The scripture says she was confused and disturbed. She didn’t understand the fullness of her future. It was probably shocking! But in her confusion, she was calm, faithful and obedient.
Mary trusted God in her assignment.
She had faith in God with her future even though she didn’t know the whole story.
This was something out of the ordinary which resulted in something extraordinary.
What we know about God:
God knew Mary before the foundation of the world for this assignment; Psalm 139:16
God provided confirmation for Mary through her cousin Elizabeth’s acknowledgement of who she was
For God, nothing is impossible – his word can never fail
God will show mercy from generation to generation who are in awe of him
God cared for Mary and provided for her
God’s grace has been with me every day with my health. He’s sustains me not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. I trust God with my future and acknowledge the merciful miracle which he granted me which I will share at the annual retreat on March 16, 2019. I’ll tell my story then.
Now, this is Christmas and I want us to end on a note of joy and hope.
A Savior was born.
Jesus Christ is our Savior.
As we think about Mary’s story and legacy as it relates to our own assignment, we can rest in knowing that God will give the mercy and grace to endure it. I don’t know how. But I have to go on his promise, vs. 50. Whatever God has called you to, he is in it with you. He loves you and knew you before the foundation of the world was created. He knows every unborn child just like he knew his own son, Jesus. John 17:24
God said the Word would become Flesh. And it did. God sent us his son Jesus who had an assignment:
- To heal the brokenhearted
- To proclaim freedom to the captives
- to comfort those who mourn
- to give beauty from ashes
- to give joy for mourning
- the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness
If God has given you an assignment, he will bring you through it. Relying on the Truths of God is where our hope is. God is Provider, Merciful, Love, Gracious, Caring, Healer, Omniscient.
“Instead of your shame you shall have double honor. Instead of confusion you shall rejoice in your portion. Everlasting joy will be yours”
Jesus is our hope.
We can trust the same God that Mary did in all of our circumstances.
We are not called to understand everything. God tells us that his ways are not our ways. We don’t see things the way God knows them to be. Isaiah 55:8. God sees the whole picture. He sees it and knows all of our circumstance from afar and from before the foundation of the world was created.
Emmanuel means God is with us. He’s with you.
Will you trust God with your assignment?
Merry Christmas and may our very alive and real God make his presence known to you in your assignment.
I have to admit that on a daily basis I always wonder what struggles or challenges I will be facing next. With fight and survival skills learned from a very young age, I have not had an easy life. I am the oldest child, oldest of my cousins, and a single parent. I have always found myself protecting, caring and putting everyone else and their needs first.
"My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.” Ezekiel 34:6
There are so many hills and valleys that I have had to overcome, but the latest knocked me to a place I thought I would never survive. About six years ago, I started losing everything that meant anything to me. It started with a fight with family I have not spoken to since, a second divorce that led me to leaving behind my home and community I grew to love for ten years, and dropping my only child off at college for the first time. As a tough, strong and independent woman, I kept telling myself ‘I got this, just another hurdle and fight I will have to overcome!’ Little did I know that I was also turning my back on the God that I knew who had always protected me.
Four years later, I lost my job that I absolutely loved and thrived on. This is when it all came crashing down. I had already felt alone and as though I had no purpose in life as I used to. I was no longer a mother, wife or daughter on a daily basis, and now I had no job to support my child and myself! Getting out of bed every day became difficult. As a strong woman who already has issues with anxiety and depression, I was ready to give up, as I had no fight left in me. I did not feel wanted or needed by anyone. I searched and searched for a job, love, purpose and joy, only to find anger, emptiness, and loneliness at the end of each day. This was something I had never felt before!
"What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go in search of the one that is lost? And if it turns out that he finds it, I assure you and most solemnly say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones be lost." Matthew 18:12-14
This is when God started knocking on the door…
“Are you going to come back to me, Candy”
“Are you going to stay with me, Candy?”
“Do you see and hear me, Candy?
“Where is your faith and love in me, Candy?”
I was later introduced to a Christian counselor and invited to a Her Life Speaks retreat simultaneously. The day of the retreat I did not know what I was walking into or why God had me there. From the moment I walked through the doors the women at the retreat were so loving, welcoming and nurturing to ME, a stranger. The message that day was to connect your heart and mind to feel His love, presence and to know Him.
It was as though God was speaking directly to me. A few weeks earlier I had said to my best friend, ‘It does not seem like my mind and heart are on the same page or that I matter to anyone”. She watched me as the tears ran down my face.
I realized later that by attending this retreat, God showed me everything HE wanted me to see and hear in HIS perfect timing. After the retreat I joined one of the small groups that Her Life Speaks was having. I cried the moment women welcomed me with a hello and a hug and any time a testimony was shared.
I kept telling myself, I want to be like them. I want God to finally get me through tough times and never look back. Why do I keep getting junk thrown at me? Am I not worthy of being loved? I surrender! These ladies prayed for me, they loved on me, they made me feel like a daughter and sister. They helped me connect both my heart and mind back to God and to see how he was with me and guiding me all along. I just wasn’t paying attention.
Today, I still wake up and most times feel alone or unwanted but then I turn to The Lord. I am learning who I am in God’s love! ** Who are you? Loved? Worthy? Daughter? **
God is within her, she will not fall
By, Mari Noruzi
Recently a friend told me that I’ve lost my joy, and I should get my joy back. This made me sad. My heart sank, I felt angry and confused. The enemy looks for instances like this to cause division and take us away from God. We get stuck in the muck of anger, hatred, envy…This grieves the Holy Spirit, but it pleases the enemy! The enemy strives to destroy our joy, our vision- he is a thief and a liar. He is happy when we are disconnected from God. However, God wants us to be joyful. We experience peace and joy in loving and forgiving each other. I feel we have a choice.
Proverbs 12:20 says “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy.”
We gather joy from spending time with God in prayer and reading His word. God wants us to have His joy. So, I prayed and spent time with God. I felt the Lord was telling me to forgive, empty the yuck in my heart and do a spring cleaning of my soul. Spiritual warfare is all around us, our souls have to be cared for by asking the Holy Spirit to enter into our heart and fill our soul with God’s love, peace and joy. Forgiveness is key!
I prayed to the Lord for guidance and to open my heart and eyes. God had my ears listen to sermons and songs which contained forgiveness, soul care, spiritual warfare, peace, love and joy. All confirmations for me! I love how the Lord talks to us, and very short after I decided to write this testimony on joy (and happiness).
According to the dictionary happiness is defined as “emotions experienced when in a state of well-being, joy is a state or emotion of great happiness.” To me, happiness comes and goes, but joy stays with us. Happiness is based on happenings or when things are going well: being happy. Joy is a beautiful and good feeling in our soul produced by the Holy Spirit: having joy. The word joy appears eighty-eight times in the Old Testament and fifty-seven times in the New Testament. Below are scriptures containing the word joy that spoke to me:
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Hebrews 12:2
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness and Faithfulness.” Galatians 5:22
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17
Joy is the second fruit of the spirit. It is a choice that God gives us- Do we seek the Lord through His word and prayer and so receive His joy in our soul? What gives us joy? Does our perspective need to change and our gaze and focus to be placed on Jesus? We should be joyful and encouraging others to be joyful as well, not taking their joy away by letting them down, discouraging them, hurting them, etc. Our ego needs to be kept in check. Selfless giving and service to the ones in need bring joy. Not just saying but doing, and being consistent in our deeds. Focusing on Jesus Christ and not on things of this world keeps us joyful. I end with the words in the lyrics of For King and Country’s new release called JOY:
“Though I walk through the valley in the shadow of night, oh with You by my side, I’m stepping into the light. I choose joy- The time has come to make a choice, and I choose JOY.”
By April Sliwak, Executive Director
I’m super excited to be studying the women of the Bible this season in Her Life Speaks. These women each had a story and a life full of circumstances that are no different than ours today. These are women who were disobedient, faithful, prayerful, generous, beautiful, sexually abused, widowed, adopted, chosen, depressed and sick. God’s providence is among the stories that we read and we’re left with a picture of who God is, what he capable of doing, and her final legacy in that story.
My favorite story is of Queen Esther. I love her for so many reasons. But more importantly, I love her because of her willingness to abide in what God was calling her to do without her realizing it at the time. God used her circumstance, her gifts and her position to further his purpose.
Here is my edited version of the book for Esther. I highly encourage you to go and read it in its entirety. God is never mentioned once within the 9 chapters but his presence is ever present:
1. GOD IS IN CONTROL OF ALL EVENTS
God orchestrated the dismissal of Queen Vashti to make room for the teenage orphan, Esther; unaware that the events that were taking place in the kingdom were going to change her life and the Jewish people FOREVER.
2. GOD IS THE CREATOR
God gave Esther the gift of BEAUTY. God used beauty so that the king would fall in love with her and choose her to be Queen. God used beauty for HIS glory.
3. GOD GIVES FAVOR
God gave favor to Esther numerous times in the story to advance his purpose.
4. GOD HONORS PRAYERS AND FASTING
God honored Esther’s prayers and fast. The call to pray and fast shows Esther’s faith. Her act also shows her confidence, conviction and leadership because she is the one who suggests it to her guardian and cousin Mordecai. His response is the popular verse: “And who knows, but that you have come to your royal position for such time as this?” Esther believes in her passion for something and is willing to accept the risk of its outcome.
5. GOD IS THE PROTECTOR
God protects the brave Esther when she goes to visit the king unannounced.
6. GOD IS IN THE DETAILS. HE’S INTENTIONAL ABOUT EVERYTHING
God allows circumstances, like the king’s insomnia to promote Mordecai.
7. GOD’S PLAN IS FULFILLED
God orchestrated the opportunity for Esther to tell the king about Haman’s plot to annihilate the Jews and to tell the king that she is Jewish.
God uses her position for his purpose.
How can we relate to Esther’s story from 2400 years ago to our lives today? God used a young Jewish girl with beauty to change the world. She grew up without a mother. She grew up without her father.
Think about who you are and your upbringing; were you raised by a single parent, or a guardian? Were you adopted, like Esther? Were your parents divorced? Does your birth order make you the way you are? What is your age now, your race, where you grew up? What were your experiences? What were your circumstances?
Think about your gifts; leadership, servanthood, speaking, writing, faith, creativity, kindness, giving monetarily, task oriented, detail oriented, gentleness? How can God use your circumstances and your gifts to fulfill his purpose?
Ephesians 1:4 & 11 says this: “God chose us before the foundation of the world… having predestined us to adoption… being predestined us according to the purpose of Him who makes everything work out according to his plan.” This was true of Esther. It’s true of us.
God is limitless. He can use any event in your life to advance his plan. Do you have a vision for something that will bless, encourage or further the kingdom work?
Right now, you might be contemplating a vision. What’s holding you back? If you removed that very thing that hinders you, what would your vision look like? Envision that for a moment…
Ten years ago, when God gave me the vision: “older women share their stories with younger women”, I executed our first retreat sharing testimonies. I didn’t know then that I was IN God’s plan at the time. But 10 years later God shows us the purpose of the vision: Her Life Speaks!
As believers, God calls us to his plan and purpose. This is your time. Your time in history to make a difference. It can be an act of kindness, forgiveness, or to serve and volunteer, or cast a vision and LEAD!
God’s providence is here. Now. It’s always here. In every circumstance.
On October 20 we will be having a workshop. We’re going to talk more about what your purpose and we’re going to make our own personal mission statement. Won’t you join us?
FOR SUCH A TIME IS THIS YOUR TIME!
Are you contemplating a vision now? I’d love to hear about it!
Her Life Speaks is all about Her testimony, Her life, and who God is in Her story. Here we write our stories in hopes of helping other women find their relationship with Jesus Christ.