Point of Focus

by Rebecca D. Higgins

The dome light in the car was the only illumination that penetrated the early morning darkness as I reached for my hiking gear. Zipping my jacket against the crisp October air, I inhaled deeply. The aromatic traces of last night’s campfires built by backwoods campers mingled with the spicy scent of pine and pungent earthy aroma of leaves and moist sand. As I swung my backpack onto my shoulders, I caught a glimpse of stars through the treetops and paused to savor their increased brightness in a setting far removed from the distracting glare of streetlights and traffic. Gripping my hiking pole in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I started down the trail. My goal was to traverse the two-plus miles from the trailhead parking lot to Auxier Ridge to see the sunrise over Red River Gorge in eastern Kentucky. The small beam of my flashlight illuminated only a few feet in front of me as I kept my eyes downward, focused on the path. I was thankful for the steadying presence of my hiking pole that kept me from tripping on protruding roots and rocks and sprawling across the path—or worse—over the edge of the yawning ravines beside which the trail meandered perilously close in places.

The early morning quiet was broken only by the sound of my hiking boots tromping the beaten path, the occasional scurrying of an animal through the underbrush, and–as the trail began to climb–my rhythmic, heavy breathing brought on from the exertion of the hike and carrying the heavy backpack weighted down with camera gear, water, and trail snacks.      

Sometimes in life like my early morning trek, we find ourselves stumbling alone in the dark. Setbacks of various kinds find us teetering on the edge of a precipice—loss of loved ones, loss of a job, loss of health, loss of financial stability, loss of trust, loss of dreams. Life doesn’t always go the way we thought it would. It takes us instead down a path we never imagined and never wanted to travel. The dark seems to engulf us and we keep our eyes turned downward on the losses and the obstacles that litter our path and try to trip us.

As my wayward thoughts mingled with prayers that October morning, I glanced up and saw that the sky had begun to lighten as it does in those moments just before dawn breaks. I stopped right there on the trail to shift the focus of my attention and my camera upward to the horizon as the sun peeped over the ridge, silhouetting the timberline that had been scorched by a forest fire just a year before.

In many ways that early morning hike in 2011 is a metaphor for some life experiences. Over and over again during personally difficult times–dark nights of the soul, if you will–God has used my interest in photography repeatedly to redirect my focus and teach me lessons about life, faith and walking with Him . . . even in the dark.

I shared in my introductory post on this blog that photographer Dorothea Lange is credited as saying, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” For me, it is an instrument God uses to transfer my focus from an obstacle-strewn trail through a dark valley to the light of His love and grace. I am not a trained, professional photographer by any means, but God has used the art form to help me to see the world through new eyes . . . to observe beauty in the ordinary . . . to stop to appreciate and capture moments that in our busyness we too often ignore or simply fail to see. Photography has allowed me to see things from a different perspective and in doing so has afforded me with treasured moments of peace even in the midst of some of life’s storms. However, it’s not the photography that has done it, but the intentionality of keeping my eyes open to observe the world the Father has created and to bask in His grace and care. It has prodded me to hike woodland trails, to sit in quiet on mountain ridges and beside the ripples of creeks, to appreciate the delicate beauty of a butterfly’s wings, to bask in the warm glow of a sunset, to watch the morning fog lift off of the river, to search in the tree canopy for the bird that has blessed the morning quiet with its song. And whispered through those moments I have tried to capture have been the reminders, first from the Psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God”; and then the words of Jesus himself as He spoke to the storm: “Peace be still.” As I peer through the viewfinder of my camera and select the point of focus for each shot, I am reminded that it is not just a photographic journey I am traveling but a spiritual journey as well, and that the central focus of my attention must ever be on Jesus Christ.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace. (Helen H. Lemmel)

Sometimes our experiences and insights in painful and vulnerable times are not for ourselves alone but are meant to be shared for the purpose of uplifting others even though that isn’t always easy. While many of my observations in this blog are a collection of personal reminders–a journal of sorts– it is always my prayer that in my sharing them, you will be encouraged wherever your journey may find you. For those who may be traveling through a dark valley, may you join me in finding motivation to adjust the focus ring of your heart on the things that matter most, and pray to see instead of the darkness, pain, and loss, the light of God’s love and grace. May you be reminded as I have been that you are dearly loved . . . by God himself. You are not alone. He travels the pathway with you.


Cloudy Days

by Rebecca D. Higgins

One of the features that I like about Facebook is that each day it pulls up memories of things you have posted on that date in previous years.

This morning in the midst of the turmoil of the Covid 19 crisis, I was reminded of a beautiful truth as I read a memory from 2015.

March 26, 2015

The last couple of mornings as I drove to work, I was privileged to be a front-row observer of spectacularly beautiful sunrises.

This morning was a different story. The rain had already started when I stepped out of my apartment and headed to my car. As I merged onto the interstate, the clouds were heavy and dark, and the rain poured, greatly limiting visibility. But then I saw it! A glance to the east revealed a glow through the clouds where the sun was still rising as it does every day. It was a beautiful reminder that even when the storm clouds are darkest and dump rain on our lives, the sun is still there. The storm won’t last forever, and we WILL see the sun burst through the clouds in time.

If you’re facing a storm today, just know that the SON is still there even if the clouds seem to obscure Him momentarily from your view. Trust Him in the dark, and you will once again see His Light burst through the clouds to guide your way.


In Remembrance

by Rebecca D. Higgins

Study Scripture: Mark 14:10-26

It was just family and a few long-time family friends who stood on the knoll to commit my grandmother’s body to the ground. My minister uncle conducted the graveside service and invited any of us who so desired to describe our special memories of Grandma. Those moments were intensely meaningful and sacred to our family as one by one we began to share: “I remember . . . .”

As I stood there surrounded by my loving family, my mind moved backward over the preceding days to the night she died. As ten of the family members circled her hospital bed and sang her into heaven, I intentionally burned the memory on my mind—who was there, the positioning of each person in the circle, the songs we sang, the moment we knew she had slipped from earth’s ties into the presence of her Lord. Why go to such lengths to imprint those moments on my mind? I wanted to remember.

In His final night with His disciples Jesus must have wanted them to do much the same thing. As He gathered the Twelve around Him to observe the final Passover meal with them, He no doubt gazed around the circle, peering intently at the countenances of the group and thought of their development over the three years of being with Him and of how far they yet had to go. He knew that before the night was over their bravado would falter and all would forsake Him and flee. So in those final moments before His Passion, He impressed on them the urgency of remembering that night.

I hesitate to compare the importance of remembering the Last Supper with my memories of my grandmother, because that final meal had such sacred significance—not for nostalgic sentiment, but as a means of grace. But one thing they have in common is the aspect of remembering.

There are places I cannot go without thinking of my grandmother. There are certain activities in which I participate to keep her memory strong.

And that is somewhat the idea represented behind observing the Lord’s Supper. It is to be done to help us to remember. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19c)? Just what are we supposed to remember?


Protestant Communion Elements


The broken bread and poured-out wine is a strong visual symbol of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. He was broken so that we might be made whole. His blood flowed freely so that we could be set free from the bondage of sin. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it was possible to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper unworthily—that is, to participate in the ceremony commemorating Christ’s death without fully participating in the life of Christ that frees us from the entanglement of sin.


Communions to me are among the most intimate moments in my relationship with the Lord. They are times to contemplate His overwhelming love for me that sent Him to the Cross. They are times to bow humbly before Him and thank Him that because of His willingness to go to the Cross, I can now go before God himself. They are times when I look back and ponder on His provision and presence in recent months and throughout my life.


Scripture records that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was faced with the seemingly impossible task of feeding the multitudes. But on both of the occasions recorded, He was more than enough to meet the need. He did it by breaking the bread and fish and distributing it to the hungry crowds until all were satisfied.

Evangelist Jimmy Johnson told of a time many years ago when he took a group of teens to a little church in northern California to minister in special meetings during Easter week. God moved in a powerful way as they visited in the community, passed out literature, and held preaching services each evening. By Friday night something incredible had happened. The teens had won the pool hall owner and his wife to the Lord, and true revival had swept the community.

On that Friday night before Easter, the group gathered at the church to have a communion service. They arrived to find the place packed. Some of the teens sat on the floor so the community people could have seats, but even then, there were still some individuals who had to stand. As the ministers began serving the bread and the juice, they were horrified when they quickly ran out of the elements. They did not have enough to serve the entire crowd. What could they do? Instead of allowing the circumstances to defeat the sweet spirit in the church, they were able to use the situation to highlight the sufficiency of Christ. He never runs out! He’s always enough! He’s there even when you’re not aware of His presence! He’s all we need! The elements of communion might not be enough, but Jesus Christ is!


Some of the most memorable and meaningful communion services don’t always take place in stately cathedrals as Dr. Rich Eckley so aptly illustrates. On a church canoeing expedition with a group of men and young boys, Rich had taken along the elements to serve communion at one point on their trip. However, as so easily happens on canoe trips, the supplies in the boat got wet and the bread was ruined.

When it was time to observe communion around the campfire, the only thing they had to use was one hamburger bun. Rich shared with the group from Paul’s epistles about the body of Christ and how young men and older men can learn from each other. Each person has a part to play in building and edifying others in the body. Rich then took the hamburger roll and broke it symbolically to represent the broken body of our Lord. But as he looked around the circle of approximately 35 men and boys, he realized that one hamburger bun really wasn’t enough, so he said, “Listen, guys, I want to caution you—don’t take very much. Make sure everyone gets a piece.” He then handed over the two halves of the roll to be passed around the circle.

When everyone had broken off a piece of bread and Rich had collected the halves, they appeared to be almost as large as at the beginning. Rich looked around the campfire and noticed that each person was holding a tiny crumb of bread in his hand. The lesson to be learned from that hamburger roll was this: each individual around that fire had thought about the person to whom he was going to pass the bread, and each person wanted to make sure that his neighbor had a piece. Rather than breaking off a large chunk, they all had thought of others first.

That is the way it is to be in the body of believers for whom Christ died.


I have two specific communions that stand out in my memory for similar reasons.
The first was at an international women’s convention for my denomination. For several days those of us in attendance had been stirred and challenged through workshops and special evening rallies. The convention culminated in a Sunday morning worship service to be concluded with the observance of the Lord’s Supper. As I waited to partake of the elements, I looked around at the diverse races and cultures represented in the gathering. When the minister gave us the cue, the entire group partook of the elements in unison as one body. Suddenly, I felt hands behind me embrace my shoulders as someone whispered in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re my sister in Christ.” I turned to look into the beautiful face of a lady from Guyana. Though the color of our skin was different, and we hailed from different countries and cultures, we were united because of the sacrifice of Calvary. We were both part of the family of God.

The other communion that comes to mind took place in a football stadium with thousands in attendance. It, too, was an international denominational gathering. However, it was not my denomination. As I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with my fellow believers, I was reminded that it is humans who get hung up by barriers of gender, race, culture, and denomination, but Christ “is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier” (Ephesians 2:14a), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).


There is a country cemetery just outside of Baraboo, Wisconsin, that contains the gravestone for my grandmother. I could go there and know that the piece of granite marks the site of her earthly remains. But I can’t do the same with my Lord. While the Scriptures record that there most certainly was a grave, they also proclaim the wonderful news that it is empty! When I observe communion, however, I don’t just think of an empty tomb. I visualize a rough, blood-spattered cross on which Jesus gave His life for me. For without the Cross, there would be no Easter; but without Easter, the Cross would be meaningless.

What do you remember when you observe communion? Take some time today to reflect on the Lord’s Supper and commit to live your life in such a way that it clearly proclaims, “Lord, I remember.”

(This article first appeared in Teacher Helps, Spring 2000, Volume 8, No. 3, Published by Wesleyan Publishing House, P. O. Box 50434, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-0434.)

Carry Me

by Rebecca D. Higgins

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God” (Psalm 15:1-2a NIV).


“CARRY ME!” I looked at the trusting eyes and outstretched arms of my two-year-old second cousin Michelle; and without hesitation, I did what she asked. When I saw the frailty of Michelle’s leukemia-ridden body, there wasn’t anything that I wouldn’t have done for her.

It was summer 1975, and my family was in South Carolina for a few days of vacation with relatives. On this particular day, we had taken Michelle and her grandmother to visit a distant cousin. While the adults chatted inside the house, my sister and I entertained Michelle with a game of hide-and-seek in the yard. But Michelle’s weakened state caused her to tire easily and prompted her request to be carried.

Suffer the Children resizedLater, in the car, as Michelle’s childish voice sang the words, “Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong,” I thought how true it was for Michelle.

It was then that it dawned on me what Christ meant when He said, “Unless you become as little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He wants us all to have the simple trust of a child that recognizes her own weakness and who relies solely on a greater strength.

I haven’t forgotten that lesson in trust, and so I often whisper, “Lord, I’m weak, but You’re strong, so . . . please, carry me!” I rest assured knowing that I am sheltered in His loving arms.

Thought for the day: Trust is surrendering ourselves completely into God’s arms without trying to get down and walk on our own strength.

(This devotional first appeared in Light from the Word, Fall 1989, Vol. 38, No. 1., published by Wesleyan Publishing House, P.O. Box 50434, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250.)

Christmas Decorating: True Confessions

by Rebecca D. Higgins

On November 30, I pulled the Christmas tree and decorations out with good intentions of creating a warm, cozy Christmas atmosphere in my apartment. But I have a confession to make! My tree didn’t get decorated until yesterday—December 22! Oh, I put the tree together earlier, but when I tried the lights, the same problem that seems to occur most years had happened once again. Seemingly half of the lights were dark. I really am beginning to think that to entertain themselves in the box after they have been put away each year they have “fight nights” until it literally is “lights out” for the losers!

Christmas tree lights

At the time of discovering this light problem, I was too busy and distracted by other things to be bothered with trying to track down the bulb that caused others to go out or to go to the store to buy replacements. I finally got around to trying to do the latter this week. Guess what?!! Stores are completely sold out of strands of white Christmas tree lights the week before Christmas. If you want icicle lights for the outside of your house, you can buy those. If you want strands of the large colored bulbs like we used to have when I was a kid, you can buy those, but nowhere—and I mean nowhere—could I find strands of the miniature white Christmas tree lights!

At this point I seriously considered taking my tree apart and putting it away, but the truth is I love Christmas decorations too much to do that. So yesterday, I found the strands of lights that had the least amount of burnt-out bulbs and figured a way to put them on my tree so that it wouldn’t be noticeable. I marked a section of one strand in which the bulbs were burnt out. That section got stuffed into the center of my tree in the back (since my tree stands in a corner and not in a front window). Once the lights were on in a way that looked okay, I proceeded with the rest of the ornaments. The ones that are my favorites were put on the front of the tree, and some that have become scratched and don’t look as nice joined the burnt-out lights on the backside of my tree.

I was reminded as I performed this Christmas subterfuge of just how much we behave this way in life. We hang the best of ourselves out where people can see just how wonderful we are—our list of do-good activities, our gifts, our amazing social media status updates– while stuffing the burned-out lights and broken ornaments in the back corners where we hope no one notices. Those are the parts of our lives that are an utter mess. (As I typed the previous sentence, my fingers accidentally typed “lies” instead of “lives.” Hmm, maybe my fingers have a point!)

So, why, you may ask, am I writing about this on Christmas Sunday? Couldn’t I have found a more Christmasy, cozy topic on which to focus my attention? The truth is, this IS about Christmas. As much as we try to hide our mess from others, it is into the mess that Christ came. Our beautiful crèches and Nativity scenes clean up and sanitize Christ’s birth, but He was not born into a barn that had been creatively converted by a makeover team into a beautifully, rustic living space. Next to the manger on which His young mother laid him, was the manure and urine of the animals that sheltered in the stable. The rough shepherds who were his first visitors didn’t scrub in and don sterile hospital gowns, gloves, and masks. Dirt from the Judean countryside was caked under their fingernails, and the ripe odors of the outdoors and animals clung to their soiled clothes.

That description of Jesus’ arrival is just one of the ways that God shows us that Jesus came into the mess of our world to make it right. He doesn’t want us to attempt to hide our mess and sin from Him. It’s a futile activity! Though we may on occasion have some success in hiding such from others, He sees and knows us–nothing is hidden from Him! The Christmas message is that into that filthy, unholy mess of our lives stepped a righteous and holy Savior—One who can take what is broken and make it whole, One who can take what is shameful and offer pardon and forgiveness, One who can take what is dark and make it light.

In Romans 8, Paul writes about this transformation. The Message paraphrase puts it this way:

“God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored. But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans 8:3-11 MSG).

And, that, my friends, is really “Good News” this Christmas! So, from one “mess” to the rest of you messes out there, Merry Christmas! We have a Savior—Jesus Christ, the Lord!