Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Grateful Heart

Rest. This was our prayer going into the summer. We longed for rest. And we were also eager to discover abundant life. What these things really meant we weren't sure, but our hearts were begging for them. As I write to you mid-September, I can say with a full, grateful heart that these desires and prayers have been answered beyond what we could have imagined. Andy and I are praising God for a wonderful summer... one that's taught us about true rest and how to embrace the abundant life more completely. 

Thank you for continuing to pray for us. We need those prayers daily and know they carry us onwards in faith.

This summer we spent weekends poolside in Cobourg with Andy's family or lakeside in Muskoka with my family... and boy did this hot summer call for swimming opportunities! Although I couldn't fully submerge due to radiation and surgery side-effects, I absolutely loved floating in my comfortable lounger with iced water and a good book. Ah! The best. We love being with our families, so weekends were always highly anticipated.

We also attended two beautiful weddings, enjoyed two getaways to Niagara-on-the-Lake (where we share many dating memories), crossed off most of our summer bucket list including a picnic at Bayfront Park, kayak at my parents house, a Jays game, become a regular vegetable juicer, take Andy sailing for the first time on Lake Ontario, try out a list of new Hamilton restaurants, go to a Shaw Festival play, get drenched on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, see a War of 1812 reenactment, lots of family/friend time, etc. Needless to say, we made the most of our summer! Of course there was lots of down time mixed in with these activities… just sitting on our front porch, playing a board game or curling up together for some Netflix. I learned how much activity I could handle and scheduled visits around naps/resting throughout the day.

During the weekdays with Andy at work, I was able to fill my time with wonderful people and things. My sweet, servant-hearted Mom was over most mornings to help me get started with breakfast, routines and housework amidst my morning nausea. I was able to visit with kind friends each day from near and far, spend two full relaxing weeks at the cottage (a few days with my high school girls - a cherished summer tradition), eat pizza with my former youth leader Karen and "her girls", film a 100 Huntley Street documentary in our home, email back and forth with some wonderful former students of mine, participate in a few women's Bible studies with ladies from my church, continue our bi-weekly prayer girls nights, keep in touch with my new and now dear friend Lyndsie who I met through Pink Pearl, share some thoughts on suffering at Hughson Street Baptist Church, read a bunch of books, keep up with my embarrassing TV guilty pleasure (the Bachelor franchise) and journal away in hammocks, on the dock or on my couch.

Two major summer 2016 highlights, aside from weekends with family, was my 28th birthday party on my parents lawn and our miracle Bahamas vacation with dear friends! It meant so much to have so many loved ones, young and old, celebrating together on a beautiful July evening by the lake. I’ll never forget that night and just how loved I felt. Then there’s the miracle trip we were praying so much for. It was undeniable that God’s hand of blessing was over all the details of that trip… from my health being stable enough to even go, to literally watching tropical storms pass by our beach house but not touch us, to running down to the beach to swim with a wild dolphin that randomly showed up to play for half an hour of blissful hilarity, to a precious time of encouragement with my prayer girls on a beautiful private island, to a stunning double rainbow on the last night reminding us of God’s promises. There were many moments where I was so overcome by thankfulness that tears of joy came freely. Wow. It truly was a miracle trip and a gift from God to us all.

To see more of our summer pictures, click on @jcbayer for my Instagram feed.
And even now as I share all these summer memories with you, tears well up as I’m reminded of what an incredible summer we’ve had and the overwhelming gratitude in my heart. Andy and I feel so rich in relationship, blessed with an incredible summer of memories and grateful for God’s undeniable kindness to us.

However, despite how wonderful each of these activities, plans and summer adventures have been, they could have easily come up empty had they not been drenched in God’s presence. This is what I’ve been learning about rest and the abundant life. Then a day before we left for the Bahamas, this is was what my devotional read…
I remember saying one summer, "What I really need is a trip to the ocean." So I went to the beach, but the ocean seemed to say, "It is not in me!" The ocean did not do for me what I thought it would. Then I said, "Perhaps the mountains will provide the rest I need." I went to the mountains, and when I awoke the first morning, I gazed at the magnificent mountain I had so longed to see. But the sight did not satisfy, and the mountains said, "It is not in me!"
What I really needed was the deep ocean of God's love, and the high mountains of His truth within me. His wisdom had depths and heights that neither the ocean nor the mountains could contain and that could not be compared with jewels, gold, or precious stones. Christ is wisdom and He is our deepest need. Our inner restlessness can only be pacified by the revelation of His eternal friendship and love for us. 
- Margaret Bottome (found in "Streams in the Desert," a beautiful devotional full of comfort and truth compiled by Mrs. Charles Cowman)
And isn’t that the key?! True rest and true abundant life are rooted in God, in Christ alone. Without Him, yes, we still can experience all the fun things in life and find great success in this world… but, if we’re honest with ourselves, we end up restless, tired and empty.

Solomon, a man in the Bible who made it his goal to experience all of the pleasures this world has to offer including riches, empire-building, sex, celebrations, wine, good food, etc. came to the conclusion that “everything is meaningless.” In the end, the best pleasures the world had to offer came up empty. Solomon reflects with these words, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11.

Contrasting to Solomon’s experience is Paul, a man in the Bible who suffered greatly because he believed in God and wanted to share it with others. His life circumstances were far from the luxuries of Solomon’s; instead he spent a large part of his adult life in jail. However, Paul’s main priority in life was to know and glorify God. In doing so, he was able to encourage other believers from his dank prison cell with these words, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13.

So you see? The key to the abundant life, the key to true rest is found only in God. When we seek the pleasures of this world or the best life circumstances, we often experience them and are left with an unexpected emptiness. We thought that _____ (job, trip, person, house, etc.) would fulfill our hearts desires and give real purpose. But after all our efforts, we come up empty-handed, our hearts pining for more.

The abundant life is knowing God. Jesus came to earth and died in our place so we could approach God freely, saying, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10. The true, fulfilling, life-giving, rich abundant life begins when we accept eternal life through Christ as our Savior. Jesus defined the abundant life for us, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, who you have sent.” John 17:3. It’s all about knowing more and more about God by reading His words in the Bible, being in His presence through music and nature, talking and sharing about His work in our lives and praying to Him to build connection and relationship. The more we know God, the more we experience the blessings of peace, grace, wisdom, love, hope, strength, comfort, etc. And these gifts, gifts directly from our Heavenly Father, have sustenance and satisfy beyond comprehension.

So as I reflect on our summer full of wonderful “pleasures in this life” including fun adventures off our bucket list, delicious meals out, lakeside cottages, backyard pools and a beautiful trip to the Bahamas, I am only truly satisfied and brimming with deep gratitude because all of these things were saturated with God’s presence. He was my portion each day. He was my strength, peace, joy and hope. He has been the song of my heart.

This fall, with a CT scan tomorrow and results/decisions for continued cancer treatment the next week, we choose to continue walking forward with God. It’s not a hard choice, because He has shown to us over and over that His rest is deeply satisfying and that the abundant life He wants us to experience is full of goodness and purpose. With your continued prayers and love, we take Paul’s reminder into this next season of unknowns, Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things… And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:2,17


  1. We continue to ask God for a miracle. You have truly been given a purpose in life. Your words have been so powerful and you will never know the impact they have. Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. God bless you and Andy ."never will I leave you, nor forsake you" You are not alone.

  2. Thank you for taking time to write about your journey and be a witness/testimony to others. You truly do as Psalm 105:1-4 say's "O Give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord, and his strength, seek his face evermore." God is using you..take heart!

  3. Thank-you for these words. They are exactly what I need, as I too have just had a scan and received results. Thank-you for reminding me that God is faithful and that He will carry me through. Love to you! Tanya

  4. Hi Julia. You continue to amaze us all with your will, your strength and your faith. Wanted to share a little story. My Mom has stage 4 Melanoma and we were at Juravinski having a treatment. While she was having it I showed her your interview with 100 Huntley Street. My Mom is 84. She watched it intently. Then she said "she's very strong isn't she?" I said yes. She said "she has a very strong faith doesn't she?" I said yes she does. Then my Mom closed her eyes and we prayed. You gave her strength. You are truly a beautiful and amazing person. Praying with countless others for God to bestow a miracle upon you. xo


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