Tim McGraw says he is going to live like he is dying in his 2004 hit song. We have all heard, “We should live every day as though it were our last.” Unless you are one who has been given a certain amount of days until your death, you are probably like me and cannot even begin to imagine what you would do if you knew you were living your last week, your last weekend, your last day. I know we would answer the question of, “What would you do if you knew it was your last week to live?” with, “I would spend time with my family.” “Tell everyone how much I love them.” But, I am going to be real here. While I would want to do those things, I would also want to clean out my closets, make sure anything that could embarrass me or show some unknown side of me was disposed of, clean my bathrooms so people coming over after my death did not think I was nasty, and give everyone very specific directions of what to do because, I mean, I still want to be in control, even after I am gone.

My point is, unless we have ever experienced nearly loosing our life, it is difficult, if not impossible, for our minds to even begin to fathom what we would truly do if we found ourselves living our very own count down.

I have been on a count down that I do understand. I have been saying this is my last week of… this is my last weekend of… this is my last Monday of… I am currently on my last day of walking with my God given left ankle, and on my last day of walking for several weeks. I am beyond blessed that God has been gracious enough to allow me to walk nearly fourteen years on a leg that many medical professionals said I would never walk on again. However, the pain has grown stronger than my pain pills and my ankle is too often refusing to support me. In God’s continued grace, there is now an option of a procedure that was not practiced in the United States fourteen years ago. Arthroplasty, ankle; with implant (total ankle). At least that is what my pre-op paperwork says we are doing. While this is not a procedure often done on younger individuals, and yes 40 is still considered young in this case, a very experienced Orthopedic Surgeon who was actually one of my original surgeons following my accident, told me in December we could try the procedure if the plastic surgeon approved us cutting into my soft tissue damage. Borrowing from the words of Boys to Men, my ankle “has come to the end of the road.” The plastic surgeon agreed to assist in the procedure and feels confident my skin grafts, muscle graft, and soft tissue (again, whatever that means) will be able to heal. So trusting Duke University Hospital, my team of surgeons, the all important anesthesiologists, and God; I am having operation number 18 on a leg and foot that only by the grace of God was not thrown into the trash can fourteen years ago.

I would be lying to say I am not anxious. Spending even one day unable to walk petrifies me and floods my mind with unwanted memories and emotions of fear.  But… my office is the cleanest it has ever been, I have left my co-counselor detailed instructions so that I still feel some control (you are welcome, Latrieva), and I have given those closest to me at work tissues to dry their tears of surviving weeks without me. I have cleaned out two closets and finally packed away the Christmas decorations that were in the corner of the garage. My guest bed that will be occupied by my mother for a couple weeks, has a new mattress cover and freshly washed sheets. And before I go to bed,  my bathrooms, along with baseboards, will be scrubbed. Disclaimer: if anyone comes to visit me and my house is not clean, it is totally Jason’s fault! I am leaving it clean!

Tonight, my last night, I am walking! I am pushing through pain in a gym class. I am spending at least an hour on the elliptical. I am taking Gracie for a walk around the neighborhood. I am walking. I am walking. I am walking. I will keep telling my anxiety and fears, “God has brought me this far. God has always been better to me than I deserve. Nothing can happen that God and I cannot handle.” Tonight, my last night, I am giving God praise for every step He has allowed me to take over the past fourteen years. I am thanking God that His grace is more than my salvation. His grace is my survival.

Six months ago, I was confident that God was calling me to His greater purpose for my life. I eagerly listened to what I knew was God’s beckoning. I was burning with fervor and determination. I proclaimed my new revelation of healing to my family, friends, and complete strangers over the world wide web. With assured conviction, I believed that my testimony was greater than my trials. I believed God’s purpose was greater than my weaknesses, and even my failures. While I had no idea what it was going to look like, I knew God was leading me somewhere I had never even imagined was possible for me. I was ready to be a willing, trusting, faithful vessel, and boldly fling open, with gusto may I add, any doors God led me to. I was on a mission to encourage anyone who would read, or listen to, my words. I had been reminded that I was God’s creation, and that I was endowed with gifts to be used in mighty ways. I embarked on a new, transformational journey with determination, excitement, and faith. I was not waiting or considering… I was moving!

As I sought God’s direction, I was learning so much about myself. God was revealing powerful insights about who I am and flaming my passionate fire to fully pursue His will. I was astounded, challenged, and excited, by new awarenesses. My faith had never felt so strong and I felt a deeper relationship growing between God and I. With each new discovery, I would dig deeper into the  bible, and spend more time talking to God. One scripture would lead me to another, then another. I was longing to know more. I ordered study bibles to help me understand scriptures more fully. I no longer mindlessly listened to songs on the radio as I drove, I intentionally downloaded material that would feed me spiritually, and intellectually, as I drove from one place to another.  The holy spirit would fill me, and what began as casual conversations with family,  friends, and co-workers would become meaningful words spoken with powerful conviction. I strategically placed books, notepads, and pens by my bed, the bathtub, my car… I did not want to waste a single minute.  I was not only moving, but I was moving towards God; towards His purpose for creating me.

 

Then, I remember the day I allowed a human voice to become louder than God’s. I remember the exact day, October 17th. I turned my ears towards man and allowed my focus to shift from God’s truth to man’s opinion. The enemy found a foot hole into my mind through just a few sentences. I began to doubt myself, and foolishly, doubt God’s awareness of who I am. I questioned God’s ability to use me.  “Maybe, I did not hear God call me to anything. Maybe I should just keep doing what I’m doing, being who I’m being. I don’t know why those thoughts, those beliefs, were stirred in me, but it must have just been me. I thought it was God, but maybe it wasn’t.” Not for a day, or even a couple days, but for months, I allowed the enemy to be a guest in my mind. I didn’t just invite him in; I pulled up a chair and engaged in continuous conversations of doubt with him.

I am no novice to physical pain. It has been nearly fourteen years since the car accident. While I have been blessed beyond what I deserve every day since that night; I have not had a single day, of the roughly calculated, 4, 955 days of my life without pain.  From the moment I put my feet on the floor and attempt my first step, to the moment my sleeping medication cuts off my conscious awareness, I feel some degree of pain. The Lord graciously allowed me a period of time between 2014- 2016 when my pain either lessened greatly or my tolerance of the pain increased greatly. Either way, the majority of the time I barely noticed my physical limitations. On most days during that time frame, I would actively surpass an average non-injuried person. Blessed regardless of my physical state, it has been evident to me for the past year and a half that my pain is intensifying. My physical degression has not happened over night.  I have forced back tears, faked smiles, and honestly lied over and over again about my pain level. I have refused to admit I needed help. I have kept signs of serious concerns from even my husband and parents.  I have foolishly pushed my limits until my weakness has become stronger than my stubborn will. On October 31st, I had to condede to the pain. I had to leave work and seek medical attention. A couple days of doctor appointments and examinations visually showed the deterration of more of my bones and arthritis taking over more of my body. Now, I not only gave a foot hole to fear, I threw open all the doors of my mind, emotions, and soul and screamed, “Welcome back, fear!” I sat down right beside worry, anxiety and pity with a box of tissues. I called my husband and parents and spoke my fearful doom aloud. I not only shared my current condition, but I unloaded all my secrets of what I had been physically experiencing over the past year.

Then, I guess the devil thought he did not occupy enough of me just yet. The enemy made a way for guilt to slap me in the face. Now, I seriously cried out, “I was wrong to talk about all of this again! I claimed healing, peace and deliverance, and now I am feeling more broken than I have in years. I should have left well enough alone.” Since October 17th, I truly feel that all hell as broken loose on me. One bad report leads to another. One doctor sends me to another. One memory of guilt recalls all the guilt. One doubt propels me into a furious storm of questions. Words of man are no longer confirming my worth, confirming my strengths and gifts; they are tearing me down, or I am allowing them to tear me down. Audibly, I cried out as I drove down the road, “God was I wrong? God show me what I am suppose to do!”

I have, and honestly continue to, wrestle with these fears, thoughts, and feelings on a daily bases.  Yet, stronger than my weaknesses, is the grace of God. He is lovingly correcting and guiding me. Each time my carnaility gives way to futile thinking, God steps in and supercedes my flesh. One particular day I was especially weak and I honestly spent the entire day dragging my feet through fear, anger, confusion, and feeling sorry for myself. I made it through the day at work and I despondently made my way to my car as soon as I could. I closed my car door and allowed my head to fall back into my headrest. I took a deep breathe and the tears I had forced down all day began to seep through the corner of my eyes. I was too tired to even talk out loud. I talked to God in my mind. “God, what is happening to me? This is so hard.” At this point the tears were no longer seeping, they were flooding. “God, I truly feel like all hell has broken loose on me!” My mind barely completed the thought as I felt an indescribable power rise within me. For months God has been dropping words of faith in my spirit. I had heard, “Rena’, all hell is breaking loose on you because the devil is scared of what I am going to do through you! Let these trials push you with more determination to fulfill My purpose for your life. If you were not a threat to the enemy, he would not fight against you. You have to be able to proclaim my truth at all times! You cannot only be zealous to testify of My glory when you feel good. Rena’, you have to confidently and joyfully proclaim My healing when you are in pain. You cannot just say I am merciful when your are standing, when you are walking, you have to sincerely know My grace is sufficient in your limitations.  Anyone can praise Me when they feel good, Rena’. Anyone can encourage others when they personally feel secure. Anyone can be confident in their purpose when man is telling them they are capable and worthy. I equip who I call. I have equipped you, but you have to fight if you want to see My glory.” I knew the words of faith were truth and they did sustain me, but my flesh was still pretty loud too.  I kind of listened to the words with the same attitude I have as I hear a nutritionist tell me I need to limit my carbs and increase my protein. “Yea, yea! I know you’re right… but I want to be fit and eat carbs. Lots of carbs.” On this particular afternoon in my car, sitting in a parking lot, my spirit not only heard words reply to my cry; my spirit felt the power of the reply. “God I truly feel all hell has broken loose on me!” Immediately a power sweep over me with, “Don’t worry. All of Heaven is about to step in!” I began to give God praise audibly in my car, and I immediately called my daddy to tell him what I had just claimed in my spirit. I wanted to proclaim outwardly what I had heard so clearly spoken to me. I wanted to say it over and over again; out loud! “All of Heaven is about to step in!”

I get goosebumps and feel power as I type those words. Those words are so strong, I want to give them to any of you who feel all hell is attacking you, breaking loose on you. “Don’t worry. All of Heaven is about to step in!”

I’m fighting! I am “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) When the enemy knocks at my doors with fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, I am standing behind my faith. When the enemy tells me lies, I am turning to God’s word. When I think about what I have and do not have, what I can do and cannot do, I will also know that God’s grace will be sufficient. When man’s opinion of me change and I am no longer  valuable in their sight, I will know God loves me and He will never leave me. He will never turn His back on me. When every muscle, bone, and joint of my body is weak, I will live in His strength. I am acknowledging that I am at war with powers of the darkness and spiritual forces of evil are trying to stop me, but I am alert and guarding my soul, mind and body. (Ephesians 6:12)

It was 2008 when I started responding to speaking and singing invitations with a simple, “No, thank you.”  I never gave an explanation, or at least not the true explanation, for my decline. If I felt pressured to accept the invitation, I would break out my go to excuses: “I’m busy that day.” “I’m not sure. I’ll check my calendar.” I knew as the words passed from my lips that I did not even have a current calendar to check. Searching through a full calendar for my next available weekend to speak, or checking if any after school requirements would prevent me from making it to an event by a certain time on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night; those days were over. They were exciting and fulfilling while they lasted, but I could barely keep myself moving forward. I struggled to make myself get out of bed in the morning. Some days it was a miracle in itself that I would sit in the shower and let water run over me. I used to love the feeling of being on stage, encouraging others to live life abundantly in Christ. I loved when the power of the Holy Spirit would take over my voice and use me. I loved talking to the audiences, genuinely, after service, hearing their stories and being able to encourage them. Yet, no matter how I tried, I could not recreate those experiences. By 2008, I had not only lost Carla and Christa, but by this time I had lost another normal. I had no sound man, no traveling partner, no husband. That was my last straw, so to speak. I was going to learn to be content with what was with Rena’. Encouraging myself was a full time job, everyone else was on there own. The more I said, “No thank you,” the fewer invitations I received until Rena’ the minister faded into Rena’ the girl trying to get herself through another day.

Then, in July of the freshly slipped away year of 2017, I began to hear God’s voice calling me again. I don’t know if God quit calling me or if my own will had denied His invitations until they, too, faded away. However, I know that I clearly heard Him saying to me now, “I am not finished with you! I am about to do a new thing in you, something greater than you have ever thought you would do. Allow me to complete you. It’s time to use everything I gave you for my purpose.”

Isaiah 43: 16-21 (NIV) This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

Sunday, December 31, 2017, I had the privilege of singing and speaking from a church platform that I have stood on many times, in different seasons of my life. Third Promise was no stranger to this stage. I spoke to that congregation sitting on a stool when I was physically unable to stand following the accident, and I had declined invitations by this church until they stopped extending me the opportunity. A few months ago, I reached out to an always supportive member of this church to let them know that I was booking events again. A couple weeks later I received an invitation and without even looking at a calendar I said, “I would be honored!”

It was beyond powerful to me, personally, to stand on that same platform at this time in my life and tell of God’s faithfulness. Through every season, with my friends beside me, my ex-husband at the sound booth, and when I stepped foot in that church and on that stage physically alone… God was with me! As I walked back and forth across that stage, my heart was overwhelmed with God’s constant love, mercy and grace.

I encourage you to read Isaiah 43. Then, read it again and again! Hear God tell you personally, “Hey I’m still God! Your circumstance can, and will change, but I am the Lord. Remember what I have done for you in the past? When you thought there was no way, didn’t I part the waters? Didn’t I make a way? Remember my power is always greater than your circumstance. Give enough thought to your past to find a renewed faith in Me, NOW… today! However, do not allow your sight of today, nor your vision for tomorrow, to be eclipsed by former things. I am God! Your current circumstance does not scare me. Trust me. I am doing a new thing, and if you will allow me to, I’ll do a new thing in you!”

Ephesians 3:16-21 (NIV) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul praised and continued to witness when he was in chains; in prison. I want to be like Paul! My Lord is great, gracious, merciful, and faithful. He is my joy, when I laugh and when tears flood down my face. He is my healer, when I am healthy and when I sick. He is my peace, when I am certain and when I cannot see anything but my current circumstance. He is my healer, when I feel good and when pain overtakes my body.  He is my rock, whether I am sitting confidently beside Him or faithfully clinging onto Him crying out for protection and refuge. He is my strength, when I am successfully checking off my to do list, and even more so my strength, when I cannot even think straight to form a to do list.

Paul gave witness, testified, preached, lived faithfully, and encouraged others while his physical body was in pain, he was in captivity, and his future was uncertain. He continued to proclaim God’s sovereignty and justice, when he knew he did not deserve what was happening to him over and over again.  My reference bible states that Paul wrote what is often referred to as the “prison letters,” the books of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, in 60-62AD. He had no intention of writing to me, Rena’ Keith, in the year of 2017;  yet, as I read his letters over and over and over again, it is as though he was writing directly to me.

Dear Rena’,

God chose you in advance and He will make everything work out according to his plan (Ephesians 1: 11). I pray that your heart will be flooded with light so that you can be confident in the hope of He who has called you. I pray you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power (vs. 18, 19). God’s glorious, unlimited resources will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Keep trusting Him with your heart and the roots of His love which grow from the depths of your soul will keep you strong. Remember how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love for you is. Rena’ you cannot be complete, you cannot experience the fullness of life without the power that comes from God. You cannot do anything within yourself, but He will accomplish more than you could ever imagine through you if you believe in His mighty power (Eph. 3: 16-20). Rena’, don’t forget what really matters. Do not allow your circumstances to constrain you from growing in knowledge and understanding of God’s truths for the purpose of your being. The same God that gave me the understanding and authority to defend and confirm the truth of the Good News during my own imprisonment, my own uncertainties, my own pain… is the same God who will give you confidence to boldly speak God’s message without fear of what people think of you or what may happen to you during your tomorrows. When doubts arise in your mind and spirit, be encouraged, motivated and stedfast in your faith, knowing that chains did not stop God from doing His work through me, and nothing is going to stop Him from doing His work through you (Phillippians 1:7-12). Your weak, mortal body is no limitation to God (vs. 21). Learn to be confident in what you have. Learn to live in every situation, regardless of how you feel, your circumstances, environment, situations, other’s opinions, doctors’ reports, man’s comments. Rena’, you can do everything through Christ who strengthens you. Do not worry about what you have or do not have, what you can or cannot do, God, who takes care of you, will supply all of your needs. (Phil. 4: 10-20). Rena’, be strong in the Lord and His mighty power! Put on the whole armor of God. His truth will defeat the devil’s lies. His righteousness will protect and strengthen your heart.  When the devil attacks your emotions, your self-worth, your confidence; you will remain confident in His love for you. Put on the shoes of motivation. Motivation to continue to proclaim the true peace that is available in God. Hold up your shield of faith. You are seeing the devil’s attacks, his setbacks, his doubts, his temptations, but by faith you still believe in your ultimate victory. Secure your helmet of salvation and rebuke the devil’s attack on your mind. Don’t you dare doubt God, His grace, His healing, His purpose, His power! Sharpen your sword, Rena’. Study God’s word, His truth. Feed your heart and your mind with truth and hope. Don’t just look at your sword. Don’t just shine it up and display it. Use it! Every lie the enemy is telling you can immediately be stuck down by the truth of God’s word. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and persistently pursue God’s plan. (Ephesians 6:11-18). Rena’ stop worrying. Pray. Tell God what you need, thank Him what what He has done, and accept with peace that His ways exceeds anything you can understand. His peace will guard your heart and mind if you just LIVE IN Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

Rena’, remember my chains and hear me proclaim, God’s grace is always sufficient. May God’s grace be with you (Colossians 4:18).

Sincerely,
Paul God’s chosen apostle who knows it is possible to praise when imprisoned, proclaim when in pain, believe without understanding, trust without sight, accept what is when it is not what is desired, hope when in bondage, dance in spirit while physically unable to move, sing victoriously when beaten down, and fully live in God’s grace not circumstances.

……………………………………

While I am not in prison, no one has beaten me, and I have no shackles holding me to a wall, I am writing this entry  from an undesired position. It’s 8:35 am on a Thursday morning as I type these words. I would normally be walking by my co-workers and students with a smile and a cheerful, “Good morning! Make it a great day!”  However, on this particular occasion, I am sitting in a chair that I struggled my way to by pulling, propping, hopping, sliding, nearly crawling, but not walking.  There are growing numbers of times when I cannot take a step. Not a single step. My foot refuses to work. Currently, I have made it to this chair and I am looking at the cane I was recently forced to purchase. Tears are soaking the collar of my shirt. I am uncertain of what is physically happening to me and what my future will look like. I sit here with a broken and weak heart, mind and body. Momentarily, I sink into the cushions of this chair, I release a sigh, and with a tear soaked face, I feel defeated. Just when I start to feel sorry for myself, faith steps in! As I release the muscles in my neck, surrendering to my pain, my head falls and leans towards the table beside me. Though my physical vision is blurred by tears, and my spiritual vision is blurred by flesh, my eyes see that my bible is within my reach and the holy spirit prompts me to pick up my sword and fight!

2 Corinthians 1: 3-11 
“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort – we get a full measure of that, too. When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it. We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. 

God’s power is not limited by my weakness, nor is it limited by yours. In fact, His power is greatest in our lives when we are at our weakest point. He is faithful at all times. It takes no extraordinary love, no sacrifice, to praise God while we are standing on top of our mountains. It takes no strength beyond any average capacity to boldly proclaim God’s mercy when our bodies are healthy. It requires no faith to walk when we can clearly see the path before us. But, when we can cry out from a place of weakness, captivity, pain and brokenness, “My God is great! My God is merciful! My God is faithful! My God is gracious!”… when we can proclaim that which we cannot see, trust what we do not understand, and surrender to what is greater than any of our desires… then God’s glory, His magnificent, marvelous glory, is revealed to us.

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