Peace in Prayer and Petition.

It’s the whispers in the wind that bring me the most comfort these days; those otherwise fleeting notions we often overlook. The simple gestures that seem to have fallen stale in this world. My heart and senses have been finely tuned into opportunities of missed chances and moments taken for granted, perhaps because “life is short” has rang all too true in the months past. So it seems only fitting that the verse that spoke to me this week is nestled somewhere in 1 Peter, buried beneath the weight of Christian suffrage, and snug in a letter penned by Peter to the leaders of the church.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

It’s easy to worry. If I have learned anything in the past year, its that worrying, as knee-jerk of a reaction as it is, can’t add a single hour to your life, just as Jesus tells us in Luke. And yet we often find ourselves trapped in this bog of worry that dictates our days. It sinks into our bones and makes our limbs feel heavy as we wade through our daily motions. It stifles our happiness and makes us second guess every step we take. And in a world that is sometimes full of darkness and anguish, it may seem all too necessary for our well-being as we fight against those Earthly troubles that exist.

Worry may seem like a simple task, one that we have no choice but to welcome into our daily lives. You may feel like it’s your weight to carry and although you wish you could just brush it off, it sticks and there is nothing you can do about it. But you’re wrong. While it may seem simple, worry breeds disobedience to God. It is a human emotion that can lead us to question God, asking why things happen or why he hasn’t taken our pain and stress away. While worry may seem like a part of our instinct as humans, it is an emotion of betrayal to God, the Lord and Savior who sent his Son to die on a cross for our sins and shortcomings. He sees it as a choice we make in failing to trust him and his word. And when you open the door to allowing worry to rule your days, you open yourself up a life plagued by negativity, misery, pain, and turmoil.

Does your worry outweigh your faith?

God knows of our shortcomings, and loves us in spite of our human nature to sin and turn away from him. And while we can all expect to worry in our lives, what we can’t expect is to put more energy into worrying and questioning God’s plan for us and expect him to be ok with it. Think about your most recent day; how many times did you worry, or find yourself anxious about the unknown? Did you worry about a sick friend, or stress about paying your bills? Those are natural reactions to our lives, but how many times did you truly worry about something? Now, add up how many times you went to the Lord in prayer for these things. How many times did you stop what you were doing and thank God for another beautiful day, and the chance to breathe life? If your worry outweighs your faith, if you’re anxious more than you are in prayer, it’s not just a knee-jerk reaction anymore; worry and anxiety have become a part of you.

Each time we let worry and anxiety stop us from doing something, or let the fear of the unknown hold us back, we are telling God that we know better than him what shape our lives should take. We are letting worldly fears trick us out of a lifetime of God’s will into a state of constant chaos with no end pointing up. And we are telling the Creator of Heaven and Earth that although we love him, we are not quite sure that he has things under control. Imagine, standing before our Lord and Savior and telling the Alpha and the Omega “I do love you, I am just not sure that you can handle what I am facing today God.” You don’t have to tell him, because your worry speaks louder than words to him.

But the solution to this is not to jump into everything with both eyes shut, wildly abandoning our angst, and throwing ourselves into the wind. No, the solution comes in prayer and petition to God. Worry used to rule my life. I am a control freak to the nth degree and I have completely come to terms with that. Sure, I let it affect my daily life sometimes, and there was a time when I let it come between my me and my Savior. I let my angst for my life turning out how I thought it should turn out, trump what I had been taught from a young age; that if you seek God’s guidance, you will find him. The expanse between me and my Savior left me angry, miserable, and searching for answers where I would never find them. But it also taught me perhaps the greatest lesson I have ever learned; life without the burden of worry is possible if you asked for it. I remember the point when I had been beat down by worry to the point that I found myself on my knees beside my bed. I remember tears streaming down my face as I asked God to take this burden from me, to teach me to trust in him. I remember begging for relief from my anxiety and for the chains holding me to this crippling emotion to be break free. I also remember standing up from that prayer and feeling lighter, feeling as though God was breathing new life into me as I blinked away the bog and saw clearly that he was cradling me in his hands.

Since then, my prayer has been for everyone I know and love to feel the relief I have felt since that very day. I pray that I can testify to what putting your absolute faith into God can feel like, even when your earthly senses are screaming for answers. Is it always easy? Not a chance. In fact, there are days I still feel like I am sinking. There have been moments in the past few weeks as my world shifted under my feet that I was convinced I would get swallowed up in worry. But my defense has always been my love for Christ. Every single time I feel myself worrying, I stop, and I start praying. I pray for him to take the anxiety away, I pray for his resolution to the problem I was dwelling on, I pray that his will be done in every facet my life, and I pray that he continues to help me shove away the worry as I reach for his hand.

It’s not a fail proof plan, and you will relapse into a world of worry if you are struggling to climb out of it. You will try and stumble many times. But if you seek him, if you knock, he will open the door to a life that you never knew could exist and a happiness in our Lord and Savior that surpasses all earthly pleasures. Days will be hard, but the love of God will always be there and you can lay your head to rest at night knowing that our sweet, sweet Savior has your life in his hands and there is no place you should rather it be.

Sinking Sand

I wasn’t sure what there would be left to say today. These last two weeks have left me feeling emotionally drained, numb even. Some days it still feels like a dream, like I’m watching it happen to someone else. And other days, the heartache is a raw, nagging pull that leaves me looking for a piece of daddy anywhere I can find it. Some of the hardest moments are those where my mind has tricked itself into forgetting, until a memory, a smell, or something that reminds me of him brings my conscience slamming back to reality.

Grief can teach you a lot about yourself. It is not until your heart and soul experiences overwhelming grief that you realize just how powerful of an emotion it is. If you let it, it can wreck your existence and leave you feeling empty and neglected. If you spend your days dancing around the edge of its cliff, pretending it’s not there, you will eventually suffer a misstep that sends you flailing into the very pits of its darkness. And if you fight back? You’ll win, for a bit. But your energy will dwindle and when you are at your most vulnerable layer, it will strike with a vengeance.

So how do you cope?  This post isn’t a message to those mourning, telling you that you’ll be defeated by your grief. It’s not a post to say that it never gets better and you’ll spend the rest of your days plagued with sadness. I am writing it to tell you that grief is something that you cannot manage by yourself, something that we as human beings do not have the strength alone to handle it. It isn’t something you can just push aside for another day, hoping that time will take the sting out or knock the edge off. It’s sinking sand, and the only way to survive is to keep your head above the sand.

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

For me, that wood plank that I am teetering on is made up of grains that represent my relationship and faith in our Lord and Savior, and the love and prayers of the people in my life. I can’t imagine anything more humbling than what I have experienced over the past few weeks, and throughout this journey from those that care about me. The unwavering support, concern, and love has lifted my head off my pillow on the days that I just wanted to give up. It has given me strength to stand on days my feet failed me. And it has held my hand while my Lord and Savior has carried me through these past few weeks.

I was taught to pray at a very young age. I attended Sunday school, church, vacation bible school, all of which helped ingrain in me a knee jerk reaction to pray in times of strife, and in times of need. Over the years, I have grown in my relationship with Jesus and every day we talk. Sure its praying, but I have evolved to a place in my heart where I talk to God about my worries, my fears, my pain and it’s a place of comfort for me there in conversation with him. But what I now realize is that I have never quite grasped the power of other people’s prayers until these past few weeks. But believe me when I say that I felt every single prayer that was uttered on behalf of daddy, me, and all my family. Those prayers, on their way up the heavens, reached out and touched my heart as they passed by. They provided protection from the grief, a cushion to soften the blow. They were a blast of strength when I needed it most, even if I had no idea where it came from at the time. Coupled with the love that so many people have shown us, it is so humbling to consider the effect that the support of friends, family, and those who loved daddy have had on my life.

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

So today, I say thank you to anyone that has prayed for us. For those prayer warriors who have spent hours on their knees praying for God to comfort us. For those who included us on their church’s prayer list and asked complete strangers to pray for our family, and in turn those strangers who felt compelled to prayer on behalf of us. And for those who just simply whispered a prayer when they heard the news. I truly felt every single word you uttered. I could never find the words to say thank you enough.

Sometimes it is hard to find the flower for the weeds, but if anything has come from the loss of daddy, I pray that his life was a testimony to those who may not have the love of Christ in their hearts. I hope the faith and humility with which he paved his journey with cancer speaks to each and every person whose path he crossed. And I truly think it has. I don’t know why God has laid this on my heart, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe for some of those folks who have been praying for us, this is the first time they have talked to God in a while. Maybe they felt so strongly about helping us, that they realized the Lord is there when there is nowhere else to turn, and nothing left you can do. And so now it’s my turn, to pray for all of you.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

I pray that God continues to touch your soul in a way that only he can do. I pray that if there is anyone out there questioning if they prayed enough, or said the right things, that you know without uncertainty that your prayers worked. For it wasn’t the end result that you were praying for, it was the comfort as God’s will for daddy’s life unfolded exactly in the fashion that he had written for him before he was even born. I pray for comfort for you, as you mourn the loss of a great man in your life, as well as in mine. For I know the impact he had on those he met was great, and that you are grieving with me. But most importantly, I pray a prayer of thanks to the gracious Heavenly Father, who has seen enough favor in me to bless me with each and every one of you. From the bottom of my heart, I love and am thankful for you every single day.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,” Ephesians 1:18

For you, daddy.

I’m not ready to write this, but then again I don’t think I will ever be. This past week was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, and yesterday I spent Father’s Day in a funeral home making arrangements to bury my daddy. It is only by the grace of God that I am still standing on two feet today; but here I am.

Grief is an odd thing. It comes in waves that drown you, then recedes back down into your soul, leaving behind this hazy fog that makes you question whether what you are experiencing is just a dream. But tomorrow, I know that fog will part and I, alongside my family, will have to face the truth; he’s gone. And while my heart is shattered, I can’t help but praise God for the nightmare that we experienced last week. Because in the midst of that darkness, I found the strength to do something I never thought I could do; say goodbye to my daddy.

My prayer from the beginning of this journey has been for God’s will to be done. As hard as it was to not beg and plead for him to just get better, I spent many nights lying in bed just praying that God would allow his good and perfect will to be. And that it was. He needed Daddy in heaven more than we needed him here and he prepared me for what was coming by allowing me to be with my dad the final days of his life, surrounded by the people I love most. We sat by his side, we talked even when we wasn’t sure if he could listen, and we let our hearts be known to God in the most vulnerable way. And in return he gave us the most precious moments we could have had together and the strength to say “You can let go now, daddy.”

There is nothing that can take this pain away and life will never be the same without him, but I smile a little every time I remember that my father and my Heavenly Father are now together watching over me. With that kind of love watching over me, what could I ever fear?

The darkest days are yet to come as we face life without him. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we will get through this, and we will see him again one day. Until then, I will treasure every  memory I have of him and every glimpse of him I see in my own face. One of my favorite song lyrics of all time is from a country song and says “When somebody says I hope I get to meet your dad, I just smile and say you already have.” We shared a special bond because of the part of himself he bestowed to me. I loved how we could communicate without talking, and that understanding could be left unsaid because we knew it hung there in the space between us. And sometimes that space was bigger than I wanted it to be, as miles separated us. But I always knew he was only a phone call away. I have always valued every piece of me that came from my dad, and today I hold those pieces even closer than before. My only hope is that I can be half the person he was, because he was one of the best people I have ever known.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

I may be a day late, but that would not surprise him. After all,  I am always late, for everything. But yesterday I just couldn’t find the strength to post this. But today, I woke up and put two feet on the floor. The pain that had pooled in my veins while I slept rushed through every inch of my body, and my heart broke all over again. But I got up, I thanked God for another day and I let him carry me, because that’s what he does when we can’t walk on our own. And today, he gave me the strength to say, Happy Father’s Day daddy, this is for you.

 

Tony Alan Cruse – June 22, 1957 – June 17, 2017

Daddy was a man of few words, but those that he spoke left imprints on the world because they were full of knowledge, justice, and love. He was strong, on the inside and out, and served as the fortress of our family. There is not a moment of my life, looking back, that I don’t remember leaning on him. He loved his family deeply, and he was loyal to those who he cared for most and kind to those he didn’t even know. He was intimidating at first, but once you knew him, you knew a soul that loved deeper than most people I’ve have ever met.

His work ethic was unmatched, and he worked hard for everything he had. He had a knack for taking a stone and building a rock, and fixing a splinter into a bridge. His hands and boots were worn, but that’s how he liked them because familiar was his safe place and labor was his tonic. To some, land is simply an existence of nature, but to him it was a haven. Farming was leisure and though his land was not vast, what he had was his heritage and it stood for all he had done. 

He was the husband that women pray for each and every day. He put his family first, and treated his wife as the queen of his heart. He did for her all he could, and loved her to his death. He put her before himself, and saw in her what God had created for him from the start. He was the father that God called him to be, caring for his children as if his own livelihood hinged on their happiness. He taught them to trust, to love, and to labor. He showed them how to live, how to have courage, and how to be proud of who they are.

He was inquisitive, and always wants to know how things worked. He would take things apart just to put them back together. And just as he could assess the most minute problem on one of his flea market treasures, he could detect a restless heart with just a glance. He always knew when someone needed him, and he was always there when they did. He took broken things, tractors, machines and other toys, that most had written off and brought new life to them. His knowledge was not just great in value, it was tremendous in expanse, for he knew something about almost everything. Although many knew little about him. 

But what everyone who knew him could attest to was his integrity and the truth that clothed his being. He was honest, fair, and wore the full armor of God every single day. He was who he was, and to him that was enough. Those who knew him were blessed to do so, and those who loved him are better because of it. 

I love you daddy, and I will miss you everyday.

 

*Lyric from “Song for Dad”, Written by Keith Lionel Urban • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

I Will Praise You in This Storm.

As I write, I am sitting on the couch, in the darkness, watching dad sleep. It’s quiet here, no sounds of cars passing, only deafening silence. The silence is almost comforting, even dad seems at peace right now. But as if boasting the very definition of irony, it is here in the quiet that a storm is brewing ever so slightly beneath the surface of my heart and it is here in the darkness that I let the tears fall.

My heart breaks as I watch my dad void of strength and search for a way to find some myself; any shred of courage I can muster up for the days to come. But as the dark clouds swirl overhead, waves of grief fill my soul. There is nothing in life that can prepare you for the ache in your heart that watching a loved one suffer from such a thing as cancer can bring, and I can honestly say this is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But as I let the sadness churn inside of me, I know without a doubt that God is filling my heart and mind with light and love. It is only by his grace that I know I will be strong.

All day I have had these words swirling around in my head, “I will praise you in this storm.” And it was only after I had stared at my homework for the past 10 minutes without making any inclination to actually move my mouse that I felt a tug at my heart to post. It isn’t Monday, I should be sleeping, but my heart is calling me to put onto paper exactly what I am feeling. And yet those words have already been written, by someone far more qualified than I am to attempt to glorify the wonderful Savior we serve. And so at 1:15 am on a Monday night, I post these words. May they comfort you if you are hurting, guide you if you are searching, and strengthen you if you are failing.

How my heart clings to every, single word of this song.

I was sure by now, God you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away,
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say amen
That it’s still raining
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear your whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away
And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
I remember when I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry you raised me up again
My strength is almost gone how can I carry on
If I can’t find you
As the thunder rolls
I barely hear you whisper through the rain
I’m with you
And as your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise
The God who gives and takes away
And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth
I lift my eyes unto the hills
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

 

And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
That you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm

 

Written by John Mark Hall, Bernie Herms • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Capitol Christian Music Group, performed by Casting Crowns

The Tapestry We Weave.

If you had to write down your five favorite memories, what would they be? More importantly, who would be in them? Every day amidst the storm that is dad’s cancer, I am learning more and more how truly important the people and blessings in life are. But when the woes of the world are weighing on you, it is sometimes easy to forget how truly blessed you are. I love to stumble across small mementos of the laughs and smiles of days gone by, and I cling to the memories we are making now. With the technology available to us, and the camera we keep tucked away in our pocket at all times, perhaps today more than ever we are able to capture moments that we cherish and hold them close to our heart, both physically and emotionally.

But why does it seem that every time the darkness and ugliness of life threatens to darken our door step do those moments seem so far away?

The truth is, next to God and his love for us, the relationships we build in this life are the closest things we will find to treasures on this earth. And God called us to to find those treasures and cherish them.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14

We see over and over in Psalms and Proverbs instructions on the type of people to yoke ourselves to. God calls us to find those that can hold us up when we stumble, who can help us in our times of needs, and love us always. I can’t even put into words the amazing people who have graced my life. I have some of the best friends I could ever hope to have, including those I grew up with, met in school, or those who I have struck a friendship up with as I have gotten older. But perhaps what is the most stellar thing of all, is the impact that every single person I have encountered in my twenty-six years has had on me and my path.

A dear friend once described it to me as a quilt and how each person and experience we have with them is like a thread that is being woven into this wonderful tapestry that we call life. It’s a beautiful picture to paint, thinking of each person I have had the opportunity to know and make memories with, and what color thread they would be. Of course there are those thick stitches, the very fruit of your existence like your parents, siblings and immediate family. But as you branch out from that dominating pattern, you see these smaller threads start to take shape. Friends you met in school, past relationships, co-workers, mentors. Their vibrant colors bring life to the quilt. But even those occurrences and encounters that left you feeling a little broken, they are there too. Maybe they are a bit darker thread, maybe a little tattered. But all the same, they still are a very important part of your story.

There are so many amazing accounts of relationships and friendships in the Bible, but perhaps one of my favorite ones can be found in the book of Ruth. I invite you to turn to the brief book and read the story of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi is a woman who suffers great loss in her life, she has to bury both her husband and two sons. She is also living in a time of great famine. But what we see is a beautiful relationship develop for her from an unlikely place. See, after Naomi’s sons had died, her and her two daughters-in-law set out to return to the land of Judah, as God was providing for his people there during this time. But Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their home land, praying for kindness and a good life for them, as they had shown her sons. But both women wept when they were told to leave her and told her they would travel with her. But Naomi insisted that they return to their own homes, that the Lord’s hand had turned against her and all that was left was a life of bitterness for her. She wanted more for her daughters-in-law.

So one of the women finally said goodbye and started her journey home, but Ruth, the other daughter-in-law, refused. She clung to Naomi and uttered one of the most prominent verses in the Bible…

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me,” Ruth 1:16-17

Take a moment and reread that verse. What a powerful testament of dedication and loyalty from a person who wasn’t even a blood relative to Naomi. But her devotion to her friend did not stop there, Ruth even went on to provide for Naomi, who eventually called herself Mara, by gleaning behind the harvesters in the field. But what happens next is part of the magic of this book that warms my heart to the very core, from Ruth’s kindness to Naomi, she receives kindness herself. Boaz, the owner of the field that Ruth visits, reaches out to Ruth, offering her water to drink and a place with the women who work for him.

While humbled, Ruth wonders why she has found favor with Boaz, for as a foreigner in this time, it was uncommon. But what Boaz tells her is what makes this lesson all the worthwhile; he tells her that he has heard about the kindness Ruth has shown Naomi, how she left her parents and homeland to come to a foreign land to take care of her mother-in-law when she had no one else. I read this and I smile because it truly speaks to the kind of life we all should strive to live, and how kindness is always repaid, perhaps when you need it most.

As you continue your journey through Ruth, you will see how the story only gets better and ends with what we would call a happy ending. But above all else, it is the friendship between Naomi and Ruth that truly tells a story.

I encourage you, no matter what season of life you may be in, to remember those who mean the most. Cherish every second you have with the ones you care about and hold them close to your heart. Train your eyes to seek goodness in every person you meet, and be cognitive of how every single experience in your day, good or bad, is shaping your life. Things you brush off as just another encounter, those moments that seem so small, one day will come full circle and make more sense than you ever thought possible.

And those people in your life, they are weaving threads that will bind you to who you are for the rest of your days. Those lessons your dad teaches you, that will be your guiding light. The fight you had with your best friend, how you overcome will teach you things about yourself that will bond you to them for life. And even those times that it feels like your heart is breaking, those moments when it feels like your world is slipping away, those too are melting a color into your tapestry that will complete the scene one of these days.

Trust me, I know its hard to see now, but every single day of your life is coloring a world for you that you have yet to fathom. And every person that is in your life, is there for a reason. Open your eyes to the blessings you have and cling to them, they are your treasures here on Earth.

Living Life with No Filter.

As humans, it is our nature to hide our flaws and cover ourselves to prevent our vulnerability. And as we live in a world of technology, we now have the guise of a computer to hide behind as we project the image of ourselves we want others to see through social media. But what if you stepped away from the computer, striped yourself of the coverings, and stood in the presence of others as you are, with no filters…what would they see?

While the revolution that is technology has reached a climax in our current day and age that has produced incredible advancements in fields such as medicine, it has also brought with it the likes of social media. There are refreshing aspects to our time online, like keeping up with friends and sharing our lives with those who may be far away from us, but it also brings with it a devastating mindfulness of our flaws. By having the ability to broadcast every second of our lives to those whose opinion we value, we enable ourselves to find a filter to put on our life that projects perhaps a happier picture of ourselves, a healthier picture, or a more acceptable picture. It allows us to pick and choose who we are to others.

This can be absolutely devastating to our spiritual lives as that mindset tells us, I can hide the things I don’t want others to see. I can cover up the bruises and imperfections and no one will know what I hide. But the truth is, your Heavenly Father knows your heart, your mind and every hair on your head. There is nothing you can hide from him.

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:1-5

I am currently diving into a study by one of my favorite Christian authors, Angela Thomas-Pharr, entitled “Redeemed.” In one of her sessions, she was talking about selfies and social media and she said something that struck a chord with me, “living life without a filter.” As I worked through the rest of the lesson, I circled back to that phrase and sat on it for a bit. What did that mean to me? As a professional in the world of marketing and public relations, social media is a part of what I do. I am continuously learning and soaking up any knowledge I can about a piece of technology that is ever-changing. I am always strategizing, calculating each move I make on Facebook, Twitter and the likes as to how it will represent the brands I am a part of. And then I looked at how much time is spent by myself and others each day, creating just the right post to capture the attention of the people we follow. How much time is spent picking out just the right photo filter on Instagram to mask imperfections in our photos, from our photography to the glimmer of chaos that is caught in the frame. But what would happen if those filters suddenly disappeared, and we were left with just the raw film of what is taking place in front of us. Would our world look differently to those who see it through social media?

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in building this brand for ourselves online, that we forget who we are on the inside. That we allow our desire to please mankind to separate us from our Heavenly Father. In truth, the opinion of man will give us nothing but a belief in God, and striving for his kind of perfection will give us eternal life.

As humans, vulnerability is naturally a scary thing. We are inclined to protect ourselves and hide our hearts from the rejection or distaste of those here on Earth, a desire that came to us from our ancestors of the Garden of Eden. If you visit Genesis 3 in your Bible, you will read the account of Adam and Eve and how their disobedience to God led them to the knowledge that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves and their shame, and even hid from God. Our sinful nature is reflected in that of the first man and first woman put on Earth. God being a gracious ruler gave us free will, he gave us the power to choose to love him or choose to sin against him. That is why Adam and Eve were able to disobey him and because of it, were forced out of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. And today, we still struggle with the same temptations that they did. We are surrounded by influences that force us to judge our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and others. We are constantly gaging how we measure up to others and completely ignoring the glaring reminder that God gives us that we were made in his image. Rest on that a moment.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The Lord of Lords, the God of ALL creation took his time and made you specifically in the image of himself. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God created any other living, breathing thing in his image. Only male and female.

How special are you that the Creator of Earth wanted you to be like him, the very definition of perfection?

And yet we struggle to accept ourselves, to accept others. We spend time staging just the right look, just the right pose, in just the right setting to fit the brand we want for ourselves that we think is pleasing to our fellow man. But what happens if you strip away those filters, and you are left with the raw film of your life. What does it look like? Are you happy with the stripped down version of yourself?

If you were forced to take a candid picture with no filters, and write a true, honest caption that represented your life, what would it say?

Maybe you are reading this today and you say, you know what? I am happy with my life. I have a great family, I have wonderful blessings in my job and home. I am happy right where I am and would show anyone that life in a moment’s notice. My question to you then would be, what if Jesus was at your door? In the midst of the chaos you don’t post on line, when you have had it with the day before you, you feel defeated and are at your absolute worst, the Lord and Savior shows up at your door. What would he find? Would you find a servant living their life as best they can for him? A Christian praying for peace and guidance in an upside down world? Or would he find a human that has strayed from their Heavenly Father, just trying to make sense of things and keep up a façade that makes everyone believe you’re ok, because you’re supposed to be ok?

Or maybe you are reading this today and tears are streaming down your face. Maybe you are sitting there saying, “I’m lost.” You recognize that you have strayed away from your Heavenly Father and have been working for men, not for him. That the happiness you just can’t seem to find is because you’ve been chasing the wrong joy. You’ve been looking for fulfillment in the things this Earth tells you should make you happy instead of filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with prayer and his word.

Whichever category you fall into, it is ok. God loves you regardless and he wants to help you. He doesn’t care about that blemish on your face, or the extra pounds you have gained. He doesn’t care that there is a scar on your body from where you took out your frustration on yourself. He doesn’t care that there are bruises, physical and emotional, on your body and in your heart because of the evil of another person. All he cares is that you love him and you want him to be in your heart.

Now I am going to ask you to do the one of the hardest things you will ever be asked to do. Take just a moment of your today and peel back all those layers. Delete those filters from your life. Scrub away every mask you have painted on in the name of survival. Now look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you? Is that person who you want to be?

I will tell you exactly who you are, you are a child of the Creator of everything. You are loved by God, who is the Alpha and the Omega and he is yearning for you to rest in his love. He is craving your desire to follow him and he is standing right there beside you, just waiting for you to give in to his glory. Let him take you, and make you new. Let him erase the past, and provide you with a future that is brighter than you can ever imagine. I can promise you that when you have a relationship with the Lord and Savior, no human attention or approval will match the tremendous joy that fills your heart, mind and soul. You are perfect in his eyes, let him love you.

“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.” Ephesians 3:17-19

In Loving Memory…

Death hurts. Not for those who pass on, but for those of us who are left here picking up the pieces of a shattered heart, trying to figure out how to move on. This week I sat beside one of my very best friends with tears streaming down my face, trying to find the words to say to comfort her as she laid to rest one of the most important people in her life.

But sometimes there aren’t words. Sometimes there is a just a feeling of loss and despair that you can only acknowledge and offer a shoulder to cry on. I remember when I got the text message of the news, I was at work and completely shocked. I stood over the phone where I expected to see just another notification from my favorite store and instead read one of the most heartbreaking text messages I have received in my 26 years.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

If you had told me ten years ago as a high school junior that she and I would be facing the things in life that we are now, I would have chosen not to believe it. I would turned my head and pretended that such heartbreak didn’t exist and that the worst thing we would ever experience would be the woes of teenage love. Yet here we are, saying goodbye to people we love, along with so many of our friends. And had we known, what would we have done? Would we have lived our lives differently? My heart clings to the fact that our Lord and Savior knew our teenage hearts , and he knew what was ahead for us and he let us live our innocent lives, all the time preparing our hearts for what would come. Because what I would have believed had you told me this ten years ago, is that we would be here for each other through all the hardships in our lives. And what I know now is that God is our Savior, our ever-present help in times of need. And it is only through his love and salvation that we can lay our head down at night.

Wednesday I wanted to cry, I wanted to sit down right there in the middle of the floor and break down. But I didn’t, I sat my phone down, I took a deep breath and I walked away. But as I did, I started praying for my friend, for her family, for their loss, and for their comfort. I started praying for strength to help her through this, and grace to handle it in the way God would have me handle it. And I ate a little more ice cream that day, because the world just seems a little easier to handle when you have ice cream in your belly.

People always say that time heals, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe each day that we live past the hole left in our hearts from loss, especially a daddy-shaped hole, we learn that we can still wake up everyday, put one foot in front of the other, and make the most of what we do have. The Lord gives us an amazing strength when we need it most, it is the love of God that holds us up during times of grief. And I saw that in full force at the funeral home as I saw the strength with which my second family carried themselves through one of the hardest days of their lives. And I know that it is only for the love of God that they were able to do that.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Mourning is something that there is no recipe for making it easier. There is not material things, or vice that will allow us to move on faster or easier. It’s an ugly process but we have the Creator of Heaven and Earth to lean on during those times. He can’t take the pain away, but he can hold you, lift you up, and find a way to remind you of the life your loved one lived. And the life that my best friend’s dad lived was a glorious one. He was blessed with a beautiful family, enough love to build a bridge to the moon, and most importantly the grace and Holy Spirit of God. The only sadness he had at the end of his life was that he couldn’t do more for the Lord as his time here on Earth was cut short. What an amazing testament of a man he was. And because of that, the ones he left here on Earth know that his heart is shining with the love of God in Heaven today.

At this stage of my life, I don’t have the knowledge to write about how to make it through grief. What I do know is that the only reason I am able to pick myself up after things like this is because I have my Lord and Savior close to my heart. But I was reminded of perhaps one of the greatest hymns of all time that speaks to the true purity of a heart of God and is the best representation I could come up with to honor someone that I thought so much of. It comes to mind from one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever experienced from a man who attended Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He told of his battle with cancer and his decision to be at peace with whatever happened to him. He played the most glorious performance of this piece that I have ever heard on the piano and it struck my soul. I can’t think of more fitting words to honor those we love who have passed on. So, I pray today for my dear friend and her family, and I leave you with this beautiful tribute. Share it, cherish it and remember it, because this is the life he now has. May God bring us even a taste of the peace he has.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4

In loving memory of Garry Caswell.

It is Well with My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul

Written by P P. Bliss, Gloria Roe • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Warriors of Christ.

When your heart is in turmoil, it feels like every day you fight to see the sunshine peek through the clouds. Sometimes it can feel like you’re scratching and clawing your way out of a hole you’ve stumbled into, only to feel the land give way beneath you. But what we sometimes forget as Christians is we are fighting for our lives every day, regardless of the situations we find ourselves in.

God has called us to be his children, but we must work for that honor every single day. 

I think as Christians, we often get hung up on the idea of life on Earth. We strive to achieve Earthly standards of accomplishment like wealth, career achievements, and personal relationships. We put so much stock in the things that satisfy us now, that we sometimes forget that this is not our home. We are so distracted by the things around us, that when tragedy strikes, we often find ourselves lying on the ground wondering how we got there. As my family has experienced first hand the devastation that a disease like cancer can deliver, it seems that my ears are more in tune to the number of times I hear people question why things like cancer, death, illness, and tragedy happen. You hear people talk of the goodness of a human, their service to others, and the love in their heart and how it simply isn’t fair that such a person has to suffer through such terrible things.

But what my heart is constantly drawing me towards is the promise in the Bible that our days on Earth will not be easy. In fact, we find the pages of our Heavenly Father’s beloved book packed full of verse after verse encouraging us to move forward in the hard times, to stay strong in him when we face suffering. Our love letter from Christ tells us that life will be hard, even more so because we are cloaked in the Heavenly spirit. But what we can lay our head to rest on is the promise that for whatever suffering this life may bring, our Heavenly home will satisfy a desire in our heart we have yet to uncover and the immensity of the happiness we will experience there will leave whatever sufferings we encounter here on Earth in the dust beneath our shoes.

Instead, what we should remind ourselves is that every single day, we are fighting a battle for our eternal lives. We are facing our demons, Earthly woes and things we cannot even begin to understand in our quest for an eternal seat at the Father’s table.

And what that battle requires is preparation. It doesn’t call us to weep about our troubles, or cry out for an explanation. It demands that we take refuge in the love of God and allow him to carry us when we cannot go on anymore. This week it was laid on my heart to simply talk about staying strong on the battlefield of life and training everyday to handle whatever life throws at you. I encourage you to spend your days seeking the guidance of God through scripture and prayer. If you train your heart each and every day, you will be better equipped to handle anything that is thrown your way. You will be in tune with your Father and have that foundation to lean on when your foes fall on you.

In my quest for a way to write just what was churning around in my mind, I stumbled upon yet another prayer from the book of Psalms. And like Psalm 23, this too was written by David. In this Psalm, David is crying out to God in a moment of trouble, asking for his help and his guidance. We see this vulnerability from David as he is fleeing for his life from Absalom. What this Psalm holds for me, is a prayer to God in the midst of a storm that although the Earth is shaken, and although the enemy seems stronger than ever, I know that my God is there with me, fighting alongside me.

Psalm 3

“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’.”

People often say that when it rains, it pours. And oftentimes we find ourselves in a situation where it feels that as everything is crumbling around us, the very floor beneath us seems to be failing as well.

What are your foes? Are you struggling with temptation, are you facing an illness? Maybe you are fearing for your life literally, or you can feel yourself losing a grip on who you are and who you want to be. Does it feel that your back is against a wall?

And in those times, as we find our world straying farther and farther away from God’s word, it seems that when we walk through valleys of hardship, we must also dodge the contagiousness of negativity and doubt.  I think that David was experiencing this very same thing all of those years ago. He was in a bad place, he was fearing for his life, and it seemed that the foes were too many to count. And undoubtedly he had a host of people questioning his faith in God and why he would end up in such a situation when his God should have delivered him. But although he is questioned, and although he is challenged, David knows that his God is near. As should you.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lordand he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”

David speaks to the power and strength of having God as your fortress, equipping yourself with his word and his grace to face your biggest threats. He knows that it is only because of God that he is able to lift his head up and move forward in the wake of hardship. He also trust that God will help him through, giving him the strength and the will when he has neither to continue in his battle. As Christians there will be times when we simply can’t go on, that is when Christ picks us up and carries us. He gets us out of bed in the morning and lays our heads on his armor at night. And because of his glory and his love for us, we should never fear whatever it is that we face. Even death. For we have the creator of Heaven and Earth on our side, whom shall we fear?

“Arise, LordDeliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.”

It is with this verse that I like to imagine David laying down his worries at God’s feet and asking him to arise and deliver him. Have you ever been in a dark place, or struggling with a mound of fear and finally come to the point you knew you couldn’t face it alone? As Christians, we can lay down our ego, we can say “I give up,” and we have a Heavenly Father that is ready and willing to go to battle on our account. Some days, we won’t be strong enough to fight, but with a personal relationship with God, on those days he will be near and he will deliver us.

It’s easy to give up when your heart is so full of angst and worry, when you feel like your back is against the wall and your life as you know it is crumbling. It is easy to feel that there is no hope for your situation, or that you won’t survive what it is you face on your battlefield. But what is even easier is crying out to the glorious God and Savior and simply saying, “I need you.” Then we are able to fight side by side with God. And I pray that if you find yourself in this battle, that you would push away doubt and the need to understand this life and call upon the strength of the Lord’s armor. We will never belong here, therefore we will never be at peace here. We will face battle after battle in the name of the Lord. But we will always have deliverance in Christ alone, and we will have a Heavenly home waiting for us that far outweighs all.

Days of Doubt.

I’ve struggled with what to write about this week. Not because of writer’s block or a lack of content, but because I have battled with how to put on paper exactly what has been laid on my heart. My dad has prostate cancer, a very advanced form of it, and right before my eyes I have watched a strong, healthy man suffer not only from the disease itself, but from the treatment. There are so many loved ones in my life who are either battling cancer or watching someone they love fight and it breaks my heart. I struggle for words every day to say to them and to my family to comfort them.

What do you tell someone who’s life has been ripped out from underneath them like a rug when they get yet another dose of bad news? How do you remain positive for them but be respectful of the fact that their heart is literally breaking in front of you?

And while it seems that every human instinct in me should be questioning why such a horrible thing is happening to people I love and care about, good people, instead my heart seems to draw closer to the Lord every day. It is so hard to explain to people how I can keep my faith, because the last thing that crosses my mind is to question God’s will. In fact, the question that is constantly on my mind instead is what do people do who go through these things and don’t have God to lean on because they don’t have a personal relationship with him? As I searched my heart for answers, I continued to pray to God for strength, for myself and for those I love. And that’s when Psalm 23 crossed my mind.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” – Psalm 23

The magnitude of comfort that this Psalm brings is me indescribable. I have heard this preached, and taught, and recited since I was little and yet never has this passage meant more to me than now. I often describe the Bible, as many people do, as Christ’s love letter to us as Christians. Imagine sitting down and putting into a book everything that you ever wanted to tell or teach your children. How incredible this piece of literature is, as it is Christ’s personal instructions to us as to how to live life and survive whatever may come our way.

This Psalm in particular, to me, is so stripped down and honest that it resonates with my soul. Here is how I break it down and keep in hidden in my heart.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Wow. To take this line and apply it to your life really reveals the life Christ called us to live. The Earth is our physical home for now, but we do not belong here. God has destined us for a far greater home with him in Heaven and in this verse we know everything we need to know about life with God. Though our egos and our human nature demands that we have worldly possessions, though we judge our success by our things, and our value as a person by the opinions of others, this verse tells us that if we have God, if we allow him to lead us through life, we will be ok. God has provided us with everything we could possibly need to survive and thrive with him. We lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.

For me this part is twofold. One, this part of the passage says to me that God will satisfy every need we have if we allow him to be Lord of our lives. The Psalm as a whole equates God to a shepherd and us as his sheep. As a shepherd, he knows what is best for us, he knows how to help us steer clear of harm’s way and he will always provide for our physical and spiritual needs. We all know those people who seem to be constantly searching for something in life, they never feel fulfilled. They buy Earthly goods, or seek the companionship of others, thinking that it will leave them filling whole. But in truth, that fullness can only be felt when we put our trust and hope in God. He will provide for us in a way that no one else can.

This part of the passage to me is also God’s way of saying he knows what is best for us and sometimes that means lying down in green pastures. As humans we are driven to fix problems, to control situations and often times it is a true struggle to just be still. But that is what God calls us to do in certain instances in our life, to just be still and let him work. Just as a shepherd will give his flock rest as he prepares for the remainder of their journey.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This right here is the most precious part of the entire Psalm to me. God promises us as Christians that no matter how hard things are, no matter how absolutely terrified we are, he is always there. There is nothing in our lives that we should fear, or worry about. Not even the evil things of this world or death itself, for if we are living in the glory of God, he will protect us and lead us through the hardest and most difficult times of our lives. For me, this is the passage I want to repeat every single day to my dad, and to those around me who are suffering as well. There are dark times in our life, God never promised there wouldn’t be. He equates those times to the valley of the shadow of death, teetering on the edge of the demise of our physical being, and yet there even still he remains with us, guiding us with his light and his staff until we can make it to the other side of that valley. But what may be perhaps the most difficult thing about this, is sometimes that outcome, that ascent from the valley is not what we want. It is not the answer we search for. But what it is, is God’s will for our life and it is far better than anything we could have ever planned ourselves.

He knows every single second of our lives before we are even born and much as a storyboard is laid out for a movie, he knows what scenes come next. Take comfort in the fact that our all-knowing and ever-present God knows what lies ahead and he knows exactly what lies beyond and he will get us there, one way or another. We only need to trust him and take comfort in his presence.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Again, the Lord shows us that we will encounter enemies, whether physical or spiritual. There are beings and things that will drag us down and threaten our spiritual well-being around every corner. But he is quick to show us that not only will he help us merely survive those times, but he will provide everything we need to go through them and then some. We can compare the description of “preparing a table” to laying out a feast for us. He will not merely provide a slice of bread to keep us moving, but will fill us with all of our desires.

Anointing our head can only be described as a Biblical practice that was used to honor and dignify a person. God does that for us by allowing us to live a righteous life through him. Despite what evil and darkness we may find in our lives, God always promises a robe of white and a life of goodness and mercy if we trust in him. So much so, that as described in the Psalm, it will run over and burst from its container. For me, this is every time I read his word or worship him through song, I truly feel like my heart may burst from how much happiness and true love he gives me. When I think about the people that have been placed in my life and the impact they have had on me, I feel full to the brim.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

And our final promise from God is what we can expect from a life with him, if we trust in him with all our heart and lean on him, goodness and mercy, love and protection, will always be a part of our lives. He promises strength for the times that are hard, and mercy for when we fall short. The house of the Lord to me in my relationship with him through the Holy Spirit. Because I accepted Christ so long ago, his spirit has been within my heart, guiding me and protecting me. The fact that I will have that for every day to come is what helps me pick myself up and put one foot in front of the other, each and every day.

God never promised that our time on Earth would be free from suffering and pain. What he did promise was eternal strength and love through him at all times, especially those days when we need it most. He promised fulfillment and satisfaction in everything through him. We must only seek him and his will to fill the fullness that we are programmed to yearn for. And not only will God provide for us, he will give us more than we deserve. Not in physical worldly possessions and measures of happiness, but in every Heavenly desire our heart, mind and soul can crave.

Some days are just hard. There are times I just want to stay in bed, cover my eyes, and lock the world out. I want to be selfish and run from everything that threatens my happiness. I sometimes feel like the world is closing in on me and the heaviness of the weight I carry is suffocating me. But in those moments of doubt, in those seconds of anger, my God is always with me. He is whispering in my ear, “Be still child, for I am here to comfort you, to love you, and to guide you through.”

God loves you, and he understands that we struggle to grasp his grace and goodness. He gets that there will be days of doubt. But he calls us to never let those emotions win, to fight against them with the grace and love he has tucked away in our hearts. I encourage you, when you struggle to find your way, pick up your Bible and remember this passage. For our God is an awesome God and his word is true and good.

He will never, ever forsake you.

Love Without Abandon.

I’m a dog person, it’s no secret. If we are friends on Facebook, fellow Tweeters on Twitter or connected on Instagram, you know that my feeds are full of pictures of my fur children. I have two dogs, one little and one big. They have their own unique personalities but the one thing they have in common is that they love their momma. As I type this blog, my Doddle is literally resting his head on my shoulder.

Being a dog mom has taught me a lot, it’s given me patience and showed me that if I can make it through the puppy years, I can raise a child one day. But the most important thing that my sweet boys have taught me is how to love. It may seem strange to think of an animal that doesn’t speak our language or share our belief system as the perfect symbol of how we should love, but I truly believe that the love a dog shows is the purest love and the closest we will ever get here on Earth to knowing the true immensity of God’s love.

Let me explain.

My pups meet me at the door every time I come home, and their excitement is uncontainable. They are wagging their tails, licking my toes, and doing their very best to get my attention and let me know that they are so happy to see me. Our doodle is one-year old, and Andy my shih-tzu mix is only three. I remember their younger year very vividly. I got frustrated a lot and let’s face it, I still lose my temper with them now and again. But you know what? No matter how loud I yell at them, or how many times I get angry with them, they are always right back at my feet, begging to be loved.

As sad as it is, we see it all the time in the news. Every time a new animal neglect case comes up or animal cruelty pictures surface, those gruesome photos depict the face of a poor dog who loved its owner despite their cruelty and shortcomings. We see a heartbroken, defeated animal learn to trust a human again in such a short time. We see a puppy who gets a second chance with a new family and falls in love with them all over again. It seems that no matter what this world does to these defenseless babies, they bounce right back and learn to love in spite of it all. We could learn something from our furry friends.

But what may be the most rewarding thing ever about being a dog owner is their ability to love endlessly without expecting anything in return. Sure they like to be loved on, they are hearty eaters and enjoy the occasional stroll through the park with you. But they demand none of it. They would love you the same if you both sat day in and day out in one spot and never ate again.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

The greatest commandment that God ever gave us in the Bible was to love; to love Him with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And yet as humans, this is often one of the most difficult task for us. We are quick to judge others, we are afraid to expose our hearts and we hide behind walls that prevent us from loving unconditionally. And we are skeptical. We are threatened by anything that presents itself as pure love. We are quick to discount it, and toss it out of our way because it scares us.

Whether it is in a relationship with a significant other, a second chance connection with someone who hurt us or basking in the light of a potential love, we often run and guard ourselves from hurt. I sometimes wonder if it is that exact reason that often times people stray from the church and God’s love because they just don’t quite get how someone as awesome and powerful as God could love them, and forgive them and keep on loving them through all of the bad and the good. But the truth is, he does. Our God is an amazing God that loves us no matter what we do.

Do your reservations about love hold you back in life? Is it holding you back from the relationship with your Lord and Savior that you crave?

The Bible itself tells us to guard our hearts, they truly are important. But for us that typically means hiding our hearts, and containing them from the cruelties of this world. But I encourage you to not let the state of our world, or the hurt you’ve experienced keep you from a true relationship with God. Open your heart to him, only there will you find the peace and comfort you crave. The truth is, each and every one of us have a God-shaped hole in our heart that is yearning to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And if you have been holding God at an arms length, scared of what that love may feel like, you my friend are missing out on one of the greatest things we will ever experience. God’s love can change not only your life, but your eternity.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35

And perhaps what is often times even harder than the immensity of love, is giving something so dear to you to someone who has done you wrong. But even so, God calls us to not only love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors, he calls us to love our enemies. If we are so guarded against love from those we care about, it may seem impossible to love someone we despise.

As Christians we have something that no one else has; the perfect role model. God is the very definition of perfection and his love is the purest and most real love you will ever experience in your life. He loved us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to be crucified on a cross, ridiculed and beaten, just so that we could have the choice to live free of sin. God himself said it in John 15 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is exactly what Jesus did for us. I encourage you as Christians to look to the example of your Heavenly Father to love one another.

How are you holding back from giving your love away to those in your life?

Have you had bad experiences with love in the past? Were you done wrong by someone when you had just opened your heart to vulnerability of truly falling in love? Or maybe you had your love taken advantage of by a family member or friend and you were left feeling scorned and exposed. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you today to not let that experience keep you from experiencing one of the greatest gifts God has ever given to us. There is a hole in our hearts that is perfectly carved out to hold the love that we will carry with us through our lives here on Earth. God intends for us to find fellowship and companionship with our brothers and sisters on Earth through friendship, a church family, a husband or wife or even the joy of a pet. What he didn’t intend for us to do was take a gift so great as love and find a hole in the ground and bury it so we never have to be hurt by it.

So if you are on teetering on the ledge of falling in love, jump in with both feet.

If you are cultivating a new friendship, open your heart and soul to that person.

If you are married to the love of your life, cherish them and tell them how you feel every day.

If you have children, encourage them to love without abandon.

If you have a furry little head resting on your shoulder, give that sweet puppy kisses every day.

But don’t stop there, share your love with others by doing things out of love. Don’t do things because you feel obligated, or because you have to. Do things because in your heart you feel that small tug that says “this is right.” Look for ways to do small acts of kindness for others. And when you experience one yourself, find a way to pay it forward. If there is anything that we can do as Christians in a world so full of hate, it is love. You have no idea the amount of power you have sitting right there in your chest. If we open our hearts and let the love that our Heavenly Father gave us poor out into our everyday life, we can change the world.

I pray that every day you would pick up your Bible and read this verse. Memorize it, put it on a post it in every room of your house and carry it in your hearts. Live this verse, practice this verse and share this verse with the world because nowhere will you find a more perfect definition of how we are called to love one another…except maybe through the eyes of a man’s best friend.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

A Glowing Ember.

Forgiveness. What a mighty big word. But what is even larger than the implications that word carries is the responsibility it carries for us as Christians. Last week we talked briefly about anger and the gasoline that it can be.  While we touched on forgiveness, we focused more on the actual act of getting angry. As we settle in and set our sights on forgiveness and what that means, I want to look at a definition.

em·ber

/ˈembər/

noun

a small piece of burning or glowing coal or wood in a dying fire.

Now I want you to close your eyes, and use your imagination on this one. Imagine, you started a fire in your fire pit in the backyard and you’ve long since quit feeding it kindling in hopes that it will go out soon. The smoke and bright orange flames are long gone, but what’s left it a handful of ash with a small glowing ember in the bottom of the pit.

But is this fire a dying fire, or one just starting?

You could walk away from that ember now and if you’re lucky, it will go out and all is well. Or you could stroke it a bit by slowly breathing oxygen on the ember, or maybe feeding it a small log. It could slowly grow back into a raging fire if you want it to. But what if you walk inside the house, grab a bottle of lighter fluid and flood the ember with accelerant? That ember will quickly become a full fledged bonfire, lighting up the night. If not taken care of it could quickly escalate out of control.

Bu what if you put it out?

What if you grabbed the water hose and dumped a bucket of water on that ember? You would likely see a ton of smoke and the absence of its glow when the smoke cleared.

Now imagine that ember represents a grudge you’re holding onto against someone.

Maybe you’ve quit feeding that fire a long time ago, you don’t let things that person does or says affect you in any way. Maybe they have apologized and you all seem to be on sure footing again with your relationship. But deep within you, you know that there is still that ember burning ever so slightly. What you choose to do next, could change the course of your existence. Forgiveness is a powerful thing when we let it be.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13

It’s so easy to hang onto anger, to let it linger in our lives until we convince ourselves that the person we are angry with owes us. It is easy to store the hurt from a wrong that has been done to you in your heart and pull it out as a trump card when the situation is right. But as Colossians shows us, God calls us to forgive. No where in the Bible does it speak of holding grudges, getting revenge or collecting on debts from those who have done you harm. In fact, in this very verse, we are called to forgive as God forgave us. Wow. What if we looked at our current resentment that we have against our brother or sister in comparison to the ultimate price that Jesus paid for us on the cross? How does whatever that person did to you compare to what Jesus endured while he was painstakingly beaten, shamed, tortured and slain for our sins. For the sins of us, people who didn’t even exist yet. How do the two compare?

You may think it seems silly to compare these two things but what we can pull from this verse is that no matter what we do in our lives, no matter how many times we pull away from God, screw up, or disappoint him, he will never not forgive us. No where in the Bible does it say that if you sin 10 times you will be forgiven, but if you sin 11 he is done with us. The God we serve is a loving, and forgiving God who takes us back with loving arms every single time we do wrong. So who are we to hold a grudge against someone who is merely human?

It is easy to tell ourselves that this is comparing apples to oranges, but the truth is that God has never called us to do something that he himself, or his Son has not already endured. Just as the verse tells us, God is asking us to be merciful with our fellow man and to forgive them each time they wrong us just as he forgave us and continues to every day.

In Luke 17, God even takes it a step further telling us there should be no end to our mercy for others.

“Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Luke 17:4

We must forgive our brothers and sisters each time they fail us. Every time they come seeking our forgiveness, we must give it them.

So what happens if we don’t forgive one another?

Let’s revisit our scene from earlier. Obviously pouring water on that ember is the equivalent of forgiveness. We completely smother any grudge or resentment we have for the one we are angry with and extinguish that bitterness. But what happens if we don’t put it out, but just walk away from it? This is basically letting it go, right? Wrong. Sure, that ember could extinguish itself with time. But what if it doesn’t? What if a whisper of air comes flowing by and breathes a little bit of life back into the ember? What is a snide comment, or reminder of their wrongdoing cross our path? That ember will get a little bit brighter and a little bit bigger, slowly growing until it’s once again a raging flame. We often hear people distinguish between forgive and forget. I truly believe that to forgive someone, we must forget what they have done to us. We must move past whatever is grounding us to our anger and seek the Lord’s guidance to forget and forgive.

What about the lighter fluid?

Have you ever been so fed up with someone and their ways that you explode with anger? That you give up on them, express your feelings of anger in an uncontrollable way and then let that anger consume you for the rest of the day, putting you in a terrible mood to the point you are snapping at those who weren’t even involved? That our lighter fluid. Allowing ourselves to give into anger, to give into holding that grudge and harboring bitterness. When we do that, we are letting it control us and drive our actions until we don’t even recognize the person staring back at us in the mirror. If you let it, anger and bitterness can wreck your world, just as quickly as a campfire can turn into a forest fire. One that is unstoppable and headed straight for everything you have ever known and loved.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

Your Heavenly Father is calling you to let go of any resentment and anger you hold in your heart. He is standing right next to you holding a bucket full of water saying, “Put it out, child.” Will you  listen? I encourage you to pray this prayer if you are seeking freedom from the bitterness you carry with you.

God, I come to you now as a sinner. As your child who has let you down so many times and accepted your forgiveness 100 times over. I come to you asking for your help and your strength to let go of the bitterness in my heart. Help me to move past the anger I have stored up, and step out of the past into a future that is rid of the darkness that comes from letting anger rule my life. Forgive me for being so slow to forgive my brothers and sisters as you have called me to. And God, help me to see those that I am angry with as flawed children of God just as I, myself am. And God, help me to pray for those I have turmoil with, help me to pray for their weaknesses and their missteps and help me not only forgive, but to forget, right here, right now. I lay my bitterness down at your feet God, take it and make me whole again.

Fire and Gasoline

Don’t lose yourself in anger. It’s gasoline. You can burn it as fuel, or you can use it to torch everything you care about…

I have always been an avid reader, for as long as I can remember my heart has always been happy to curl up in the sunshine with a new book. The only thing that has changed since I have gotten older is the number of pages have grown. In high school, I was blessed to have a librarian that was almost like a second mom to me. She would always recommend books to me and I never hesitated to jump into whatever she suggested. And while I had favorites, there was no book that I read that had a more memorable line to me than the one above written by Karen Marie Moning. Words have always spoken to me and I used to keep a little notebook full of the song lyrics that I loved. It would just be a simple line from a song but something in them spoke to me. That was how this phrase struck me.

I’ve mentioned it before but we are merely human. Anger is a large part of our DNA for the most part, whether we like it or not. Just as easily as we can become sad or excited, we can get angry. But as for all human emotions, it’s not about the emotion itself, it’s about how you deal with it. And Karen was right, if you let anger consume you, you are pumping oxygen into an ember that is eventually going to erupt into a flame. But the thing with this flame is, it will turn into a raging forest fire before you can blink an eye.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

The book of James tells us a lot about how we should behave as God’s children and in the verse above we see that anger does not produce the actions that God desires from his children. Does this mean that you can never be angry again? Not at all. In fact, God knows that we are human, he knows that we are susceptible to sin and human desires. All that he asks of us is that we approach those things with a loving heart full of his word and if we have that, he will guide us through how to handle things like anger.

I think so many times in our lives, we come across a person that just infuriates us. Maybe that person is a family member, maybe it’s an ex-spouse or someone you have dated. Or maybe it’s someone you are forced to see every day because they work at the same place you do. And we get mad at them for different reasons. Sometimes their beliefs are different than ours and maybe they aren’t shy about voicing them. Maybe they go out of their way to make you feel bad about yourself, or make themselves look better than they are. Whatever the reason is, they just make you mad. And often times as humans, we try to suppress that anger, to the point of letting it smolder right below the surface. But all that ends up doing is building up so much anger and pressure that one we day we erupt and explode. At that point, the anger is free flowing and words and accusations come tumbling out before we even realize what we’ve said.

And sometimes, once that eruption happens, something terrible happens. We feel better. And so the next time we get angry, we just let it all go until the next thing we know we are looking into a mirror we just punched because we dropped a cup of coffee on the rug. And sometimes, we hide that anger in our hearts to the point that it drives our other behaviors. It turns us bitter, and distrusting and makes us into a person that we never thought we would become. I’ve been in those shoes, I’ve let my anger become a torch and I woke up every morning full of anger and went to bed every night cuddling with hatred. I was miserable. I heard myself lashing out to the people I loved and I saw myself pushing away everything I cared about. But in that moment, for me the anger was worth it. I wore it like a cloak and let it become a part of my skin. Until one day, I woke up exhausted from it all. I was tired of the turmoil taking place in my heart, and I was tired of fighting. I was just tired. Just as I did with every other time I felt like I had fallen off the track, I dropped to my knees and I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for God to take away the anger and the resentment, the bitterness and the hatred. I prayed for the people I thought I hated. I prayed for the people who had hurt me. And something amazing happened, it was like God took that cloak and plucked it from my back and all of a sudden, it was daylight outside.  There was sunshine and blessings in my life that wouldn’t allow me to hide in my hatred.

That moment is one of the ones that I think my Heavenly Father for the most because it taught me a lot about myself and my relationship with him. It showed me how dark a path without Godly love is and I truly believe that if I had stayed on that path, I would have wound up a very different person from what I am today. But even more so, that moment taught me to trust in God more than I ever had. It taught me not to worry, not to stress and not to get angry because he was in control of everything around me and the ground I stood on and all I needed was him. There was nothing that anyone could do to me to take that away and I started to look at people in a different light. I started to feel sorry for people I once hated, I started to understand that somewhere in that person was a longing that they couldn’t fill and didn’t even realize they needed to. That their lack of love and faith in God was what was driving them to do things that angered me. So I prayed for those people, and I still do today.

I also realized that life is too short to be angry. That holding a grudge may get you the last word, but it will leave you feeling empty and misunderstood. Now, when I have those moments when I would love to be angry or get mad about something, I stop and ask myself, is this really worth ruining my day over? It never is. Unfortunately sometimes I still do, but the recovery time is much shorter.

Does this resonate with your soul? How do you express your anger? Do you let your anger fester and smolder or are you quick to blow off steam?

Every person is different in the way they express their anger. And as humans that is natural. But what the book of James is trying to tell us is that anger can sometimes drive us to do things that God doesn’t approve of.

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8

God knows that by giving into our anger, we are opening ourselves us to be vulnerable to things such as rage, malice, slander and bad language. What he calls us to do is handle that anger we experience as a child of God. He doesn’t call us to get revenge, he doesn’t call us to tear someone down with our words. He calls us to turn the other cheek, literally.

I think for me that is the one of the hardest things about being a Christian, is constantly being beat down by those who are not children of God and standing there with a smile on your face and taking it. Sometimes you find yourself on the receiving end of that anger and you just want to fight back. You want to let go and give them a piece of your mind because after all, that’s what they are doing, why can’t you? But as Christians, we are called to turn the other cheek. And God makes that pretty clear in the Bible that it doesn’t matter how terrible the thing they are doing to you is, you are to turn the other cheek. Story after story in the Bible talks about these servants of God who are faced with opposition and anger from those who did not know God or approve of the beliefs that they had. We hear about how they were tortured or beaten, held captive or slain. And yet we find it so hard to just simply walk away from a person that is trying to tear us down.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there is anger in life that comes from a wound that is so raw that your insides are screaming for you to get liberation. There are people on this Earth that endure so much more pain and hurt from other people that I couldn’t even fathom it. But what we have that the person standing over you holding the stick doesn’t is a Lord and Savior that is ready to step into the ring as soon as you are ready to tag him in.

If you are suffering from anger and rage that stems from something that is too much for you to bear, I encourage you to seek out guidance from someone who has been trained to help you deal with that. I encourage you to find a pastor, or a professional who can walk you through how to heal yourself from years of pain. But if you are someone who just seems to find yourself quick to anger, I invite you to do a little soul searching. What is it that sets you off so quickly? Is it a certain person, or a certain issue? Whatever it may be, get a grasp on it and really try to understand what it is about that thing that makes you so angry. Then I invite you to take that and talk to God about it. Let him know that you recognize that this thing is controlling you, that it is forcing you to let loose a fire that you can’t control. Tell him you are ready to put it out, once and for all. And then I encourage you to listen for that sweet, sweet voice of our Lord and Savior to tell you how to handle it.

I also encourage you to find little ways to deal with your anger. One of my favorites comes from a book that I read long ago, I’ve already shared that quote with you. Another comes from a devotion I did as a college student. A husband was talking about the fights he had with his wife and that one day he just decided to see her for what she truly was, a child of God. He spoke about how viewing her that way made it almost impossible to be angry or say harsh things to her because that person that stood in front of him was someone that God specifically created. Someone that God knew every hair on their head and breathed life into their very chest. That is something I have tried to do ever since and I promise you, it is so easy to let go of anger when you think about things that way. It has allowed me to let go of a lot of bitterness and hate that I didn’t even know was in my heart.

Human beings have a way of hurting one another like nothing else can, and the closer you are to someone, the easier it is to break their heart with your words. So I encourage you, the next time you find yourself in anger, take a moment and see things from God’s perspective. Take a breath and ask yourself, is whatever I’m angry about really worth striking a match that you don’t know if you can put out? Anger is gasoline, how will you chose to use it?

A Mere Whisper in the Wind

Many of us have been taught from a young age that when you are searching for answers or seeking guidance, to pray for God to send you a sign. This is such a loaded statement because who are we to know what is a sign and what is something we are interpreting the way we want to? Many times the desires of our heart drive what we see and what we hear. One of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible is that of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. This story is packed full of lessons that are cloaked in the narrative of one of God’s greatest messengers. Elijah is an interesting character in himself, for we can relate to his life very much so as humans. While we do not deal with quite the same trials and tribulations that he did, and our triumphs are of a different colors, the ups and downs of this prophet’s life are the same as the ones we face today. I encourage you to explore the entire story of Elijah, but for today, let’s focus on his time on the mountain.

Elijah, in trying to fulfill the will of God in his life, was faced with turmoil and trouble, resistance and heartache. He was tired, he was frustrated and he didn’t know what else to do. But the Lord reached out to him:

“The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13

This isn’t a piece of scripture you see on a sign in someone’s house, and it’s not going to be a meme on Facebook. However, the message it sends to Christians is so loud to me and resonates with my soul. That’s why, as I mentioned above, it stands to be one of my favorites. See Elijah was in a period of wavering faith at this point in time. We’ve all been there. We are human and we fall short of the glory of God. So in times of hardship, we often back away from our faith and search for something more physical or permanent to make us feel better. And while those worldly things may offer immediate gratification and temporary relief from our woes, the strain of wavering faith is nothing compared to emptiness without Christ.

It’s hard, even as a Christian, to completely and utterly trust in God to deliver you from a time that is so trying that your body just wants to lay down and give up. We go through things that challenge us, things that beat us down until we feel like even with God we can’t get back up again. For some it’s the weight of problems you are currently facing. For others, it’s a constant resistance throughout life that at some point you just feel like you have to give up or lose yourself in the process. And in Elijah’s situation, that weight was his faith and his devotion to delivering the message God was calling him to deliver. This perhaps is the greatest challenge of all, to keep your faith when the call to action of that very faith is what is causing your suffering. God tells us in the Bible that it will not be easy for Christians that we will struggle and often be persecuted for our faith. And while we know that he paid the ultimate price for us, we are human and selfish and sometimes we just don’t think we can go on. That is exactly where Elijah was. He had just had his life threatened for the work he was doing, and the work he was doing was appearing fruitless and quite frankly, he was done with all of it. But the Lord came to him, in this most trying time and told him to go out on the mountain, that the Lord was about to pass by. So Elijah, being the faithful servant he was, pulled himself back to his feet and obeyed this command. What happens next is incredible.

The scripture says a “great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord.” Imagine, the worst storm we’ve ever had, then intensify that. We are talking a wind that is so strong, that it has the ability to tear pieces of rock from the mountain, to take rocks that no man could ever even begin to lift, and shatter them. We equate power with God, so this earth shattering wind sounds appropriate for such a higher power, right? But the Lord was not in that wind.

The next line says that “there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.” We know from experience that earthquakes are next to impossible to prevent. They can’t be stopped, we simply have to ride it out and pray that we make it through. No matter what procedures we put in place, there is only so much we can do to simply protect ourselves from this horrific event. One that shakes everything you stand on. And fires are devastating and have the ability to wipe out what would takes months to build in a matter of minutes. They can tear through a town without slowing down. Sure water can help fight them, but sometimes even that is not enough. There couldn’t be a more appropriate vehicle for the one who created the Earth, right? Wrong. The scripture tells us that God was in neither of those. But what comes next is the kicker, the line that gets me every time I dive into this chapter.

“And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”

Three great, intense, and powerful forces of nature and yet Elijah found God in a whisper. So many times we look for these earth shattering, show stopping signs from God to tell us which way to turn and yet we often forget to listen for the whisper of his voice. We are so busy waiting on the search and rescue crew to coming sweeping in on a helicopter that we sometimes find ourselves drowning when all the while there was a boat sitting next to us.

What fork in the road have you come to that you have been praying for a sign from God to lead you? Think back, was there a whisper in the wind that you could have missed?

It’s human nature to fall down, for our feet to falter and for us to lose sight of our faith in times of trials. God understands that, and that is what makes him so amazing. Time after time, his grace finds us on our face and picks us back up and dusts us off. He is forgiving and takes us back every time we stray away. But what we have to do is learn to not just wait and look for the signs and miracles we think should come, but rather train ourselves as children of God to look for the whisper in the wind. One way to do that is by reading our Bibles, learning the scripture and holding it close to our hearts. This is a verse that I personally cling to when I feel my physical feet failing me. We must look to his word for the answers to our questions, and listen to his voice to find what we seek. It won’t always be a search and rescue team, it may not even be a boat at all. Maybe it’s just a life vest to keep you afloat until God picks you up and takes you to the place where he needs you most.

“…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13

God tells us flat out in his word that he will never forsake us or give us more than we can bear. No matter how defeated we feel, God knows our limits and he knows our strength…because he is both of those things to us. He tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that he will provide a way out of life’s hardships and he will help us endure it. So I invite you to take all of that time that you spend worrying, all of that time you spend trying to find your own way out of the darkness, and use that time to learn God’s word, pray to our Heavenly Father, and wait for the whisper in the wind.

Isn’t it incredible to know that the Creator of Earth, the God of all things, the Alpha and the Omega needs only a whisper to show you the way? What a mighty God we serve.

 

Walk Blind in Faithfulness.

You often hear people refer to children when they are trying to describe a feeling or an emotion. Perhaps it is because children represent a pure, unbiased vision of what raw human emotion is. Their perception is often untouched by life and its hardships, by politics and prejudice, but rather is stripped down to the very emotion that God created when he formed Adam from the dust.

What qualities do you miss the most when you think of your childhood innocence?

For me, it is the blind faithfulness. The ability to forge forward without a plan, or a care in the world, knowing that whatever happens, you will be taken care of. The amazing thing is, God has given us exactly that. I sometimes think the Bible is so much easier to understand if we just look at it through the eyes of a child. After all, that is what God is calling us to do, to put our faith in him and allow him to lead us where he wants us to go. So put on your Mickey Mouse sunglasses, your plastic princess crown, or whatever it takes to get you there and let’s look at today’s verse.

“For we live by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:7

Woah. Terrifying right? But to a child, this is the core value of how they live their life. Although some may be too young to understand that there is a Lord and Savior, he has blessed them with this vulnerable spirit that trusts that someone will take care of them. Sometimes that someone is you; their mother, father, brother or sister. Their aunt or uncle, babysitter or teacher. But sometimes that person is God, and they don’t even realize it.

What would happen if we stopped trying to feel our way through life, looking for those markers that the world tells us exists, and just starting living by faith?

Think about it. God calls us to, metaphorically speaking, close our eyes and just start moving forward and trust that when we open our eyes again, he will have delivered us to the place we are meant to be. I sit here in awe of how great our God is just from simply writing that statement. There has been so many times in my short 25 years that I have laid awake at night wondering where my life was going. What was I going to be when I grew up? Where would I live? Who would I have to spend the rest of my life with? Would I have anyone to spend the rest of my life with?

In those instances, God called me to only be still and let him go to work in my life. There were times I listened and things turned out better than I could have ever imagined. The perfect example of this is my husband. God has truly blessed me with an amazing, Godly man to spend my days with. I look back on prayers I prayed when I was alone and it brings tears to my eyes to think that today that very person I prayed for sits right across from me at the dinner table every night. And you know what? He is better than I could have ever imagined. He has qualities I never even thought to pray about, but that God knew I would need the day he created each of us for the other. And every day God’s plan for our lives continues to evolve.

But there were times I didn’t listen. There were times that I was impatient, and selfish. There were times I thought I knew what I needed more than he did. But you know what? I quickly discovered that I was wrong. It’s no secret I am a headstrong person, I am driven to the point of driving other people crazy when I set my mind to something. I think back on so many stages of my life that I approached things with that headstrong attitude, only to be knocked back down to my knees, praying for God to show me the way.

So what causes us to be so stubborn?

We are scared.

There were so many times in my life that I was scared out of my wits at what was happening in front of me. I saw my life moving forward at an alarming pace and I felt like I was just holding on for dear life, praying for a stop sign.

The truth was, God had a plan for me and he was delivering me there.

Other times I felt like I was trapped in a corn field and everything around me looked familiar and yet strange at the same time. Like I was frozen in time, not moving forward and not moving backward. It terrified me. Was there something wrong with me that everyone around me seemed to be making progress, but here I was back at my dead end trying to make sense of it all?

The truth was, it just wasn’t time for me to move.

But no matter why we are scared, God is always with us and we are exactly where he wants us to be.

Isaiah 41:10 says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Maybe things feel like they are spiraling out of control for you. Or maybe your life has become frightening still. Either way, hear me when I say that no matter where you are, God is there and he is the strength in your will. My advice to you is pray without ceasing for God to show you which way to turn, pray that he will lead you the way you need to go and he will deliver you.

We don’t like change.

It is human nature to cling to what we know, that which makes us secure. Again, children are a perfect example of this. They long for security and a constant in their life. They cling to schedules and repetitive days. But as adults, as mature Christians, we are called to go where God takes us. Everyone knows the story of Jonah and the whale. If you do not, or if you haven’t read it in a while, I encourage you to pick up your Bible and flip to the book of Jonah. It is not a long book, and is a light read, and has a blatant way of showing us just how important it is to follow God’s call for our lives.

Many people keep their toes on the edge of the water, scared to fully jump in and immerse themselves in the faith of God’s love. But the truth is, until you take that leap of faith, you will always be unhappy. You will be searching for more, all the while being tethered to whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Is there a decision in your life right now that you need to make that will take you out of your comfort zone?

Often times it is in those most pivotal moments of our lives that we feel closer to God than ever before. Maybe it is because sometimes they leave us feeling like the rug has been ripped out from underneath us. When you fear change, always remember that God is an ever present help in your life, he will always be there for you to rest your worries and sorrows on. Lean on him during times of change, look to him and trust that he knows exactly what he is doing with your life. Open your hearts to what he is calling you to do. That tug in your heart is his way of telling you, “Come child, it is time to move.”

We have expectations.

I know it sounds crazy to think of going through life with no expectations, especially coming from someone who just described themselves as being driven. But that is exactly what 2 Corinthians 5:7 calls us to do, to leave behind any idea of what our life would look like, or what the world tells us it should look like, and walk blindly in faith, knowing that what is meant to be, will.

This is never an easy thing. I am a self-proclaimed control freak and the thought of walking blindly and unprepared anywhere literally makes my palms sweat. But Jesus’ love in my heart is stronger than any human quirk I may have and so in times of decision or stress, I often feel myself take a deep breath, whisper a prayer, and I can physically feel the tension release between my shoulder blades. There is something to be said for feeling like someone else is handling the big stuff.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where often expectations come from other places than ourselves. They come from family, friends, and even perfect strangers. It seems that somewhere along the way, the world has painted a picture of what a “normal” life should look like. What we should be doing at every stage of our life. At every age I can remember the stress of worldly expectations and as I grow older, they never leave, they just simply change.

What worldly expectations are weighing on you today? What is the world telling you that you should be doing? Give it to God.

I encourage you to take a moment now to spend some time with God. I know its cliché, but kneel down by your bed or a chair, get comfortable and talk to God about what you are feeling.  There is something about humbling yourself before him that really allows you to let go. Let him know that this life is bigger than you, that you can’t do it by yourself. That whatever you’re facing, whether it is that scares you, makes you uncomfortable or just feels like it is not enough, that you know he is there with you, strengthening you to take on whatever it may be. And then I want you to give that to God. Whatever “it” is for you, give it to him today. Lay it down at his feet, even if you have physically write it on a paper, fold it up and lay it on the floor in front you, give it to God. Allow him to lead you to the place he desires you to be.

Now the last thing I want you to do is this:

Imagine your perfect life, imagine if you were exactly where you wanted to be right now. Not where the world wants you to be, but where you want to be. Got it?

Good. Write it down in a journal, or on a slip of paper and keep it safe. Open it in three, five or fifteen years. I promise you that where you are then, is better than you could have ever hoped for it to be.

 

When Darkness Comes…

The world can be a dark place.

You know that moment when you wake up in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black in your bedroom, and for a split second, you panic? Whether you’re scared you overslept, or you remember something you had forgotten the day before, that heart wrenching panic exists, if only for a brief moment. These days, with the shape that our world is in, I feel like with every new day that I walk through, that darkness follows me. I feel like with every new story I read, or every new video I come across on Facebook that speaks to the sheer evil that exists, is a weight added to my feet, dragging me down into this darkness, to the point that I feel as though I am suffocating.

What darkness have you experienced today? What tragedies and crippling heartbreaks have you experienced?

It’s funny that for my first post for a blog entitled “Shining Son” I would write about darkness. As a Christian you are naturally drawn to the light, and when the light isn’t there, you panic. You want to replace evil with kindness, you want to replace disappointment and distress with faith and grace. You want to tidy everything up until it is a pretty picture of salvation, just the one we think the Bible paints for us. But the truth is, the world can be a dark place. And every day, I find myself asking, can there be any more evil on this Earth? And now with the multitude of communication channels that exist, we are faced with the horrid events that just makes you question the humanity of people around every corner. If you stop and think about it, it can swallow you. You can almost feel a weight bearing down on you, threatening to consume you in the all too familiar darkness. And I’m human, sometimes I let it bear me down. Sometimes I want to walk outside and scream at the top of my lungs, hoping maybe someone, anyone will hear me and wake up to the reality that is our world. But every time I feel that weight, I also feel a tug in my heart. I feel a warm glow radiating from my heart that lets me know that everything is going to be ok. People laugh because I sometimes live by the philosophy that ignorance is bliss, but when it comes to the evilness of this world sometimes it is the best policy. It helps to push away the fear, the anger and the disappointment and pretend it doesn’t exist. Pick up your Bible and drown yourself in His word.

Psalm 27:1 says “The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?”

God knew that our days here on Earth would turn darker. He knew that mankind would struggle with sin, he knew that from day one. Take comfort in the fact that he not only anticipated it, he sent his Son, his one and only Son, to die on a cross so that we may have the chance to escape that sin. But he also knew that even that would not be enough for some. He knew that some of our brothers and sisters would succumb to evil. He knew that the threats that exists today to the goodness and kindness of people would grow stronger every day. And he knows that one day, that evil will prevail. But that, my friends, is when he will deliver us from this Earth. Verses like Psalm 27:1 were put in the Holy Word for days when you feel the burden of sin and evil raining down on you. It is for the days that it just doesn’t seem like there is any good left on this Earth.

Sometimes I like to imagine God sitting in his rocking chair on a front porch somewhere, staring out over his beautiful creation and writing in a journal all of the things he wants to tell us when we finally meet him. I imagine him whispering to himself, “Things will be hard child, there is no doubt about that. But I will always be here for you,” as he drafts verses like Psalm 27:1. Much as a parent or guardian yearns to protect their child, God will always protect us. And no matter what circumstances we find this world in, the one ever-present joy will be in that our Holy Father, Lord of all is the King and Ruler of this world. And no matter how bad, or how dark our days may seem, he is there.

Every day when I am faced with how truly corrupt and sinful our world is, I keep this verse close to my heart. I keep it where at a moment’s notice, I can pull it out and recite it over and over again until that shadow of darkness that I feel creeping over my shoulder subsides…or at least hangs back a few feet until tomorrow.

Let’s break down the verse.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…”

This is where you ask yourself, is the Lord my light and my salvation? It utterly pains me to think about the people on this Earth that are going through these dark days without the Lord Jesus in their hearts. Every time I attend a funeral, I stop and ask myself, if I did not have hope and faith in Jesus Christ, how would I ever deal with such a tragedy? It is heartbreaking to me that there are people who carry the weight of this darkness on their shoulders, going through every day of their life believing that there is nothing that can change it. The truth is, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, there will always be a way to change it. You simply turn your face to his blinding light and let it wash away the fears and the pain. If you’re reading this and you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, please hear me when I say that there is a way to change the darkness. There is a way to stamp it out. All you have to do is acknowledge that he is Lord of your life, pray to him to save your life and come into your heart and live for Him and Him alone.

Romans 10:9 says “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I invite you to reach out to someone close to you that can mentor you and show you what this verse truly means. Ask them to help you find the light.

For those of you who have given your life to Christ, take a moment and pray to him and thank him for his glory and his grace.

God, I give you this moment of my day to say thank you. Thank you for speaking to my heart and guiding me to your light. I am forever grateful for the day I gave my heart to you and I pray that you will help me to continue to grow and develop as a Christian each and every day. I want to strengthen my relationship with you and live your will each and every day of my life. Amen.

“…whom shall I fear?”

Our world has consistently praised those resilient athletes and leaders that grace the cover of Sport Illustrated and Time Magazine, those that in the face of devastation, or adversity, rose above it to conquer their goals and dreams. We often wonder how someone could ever find the strength to do such a thing. And yet right in front of you, you have a personal love letter from your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that is telling you, who should you fear? There is not a person, not a thing, not an obstacle or a tragedy or ANYTHING in this life that you should fear. There is someone who can literally take every scary, frightening thing in this life and flick it away with a wave of his hand. How awesome, how immense does that feel to read that? Let that soak in.

What are the things you fear most in your life? What are the things that wake you up in the middle of the night, stricken with panic? Write them down.

Now I want you to take the piece of paper you wrote those things down on, and I want you to wad it up like you would something you are going to toss in the trash can. Now throw it away. Literally walk to your trash can, and toss that ball of paper in. That is what our Lord God does with our fears. He takes those fears from the weight of our shoulders, and he tosses them behind him into the dust. He is the Creator of this world, and because of that, he is greater than ANYTHING we face. He is more than any fear we have. If you like superheroes, think of God as the greatest superhero of all time, walking beside you each and every day, holding your hand or lifting you up to carry you when you need him to. There is NOTHING that can touch you, because you are His.

“The LORD is the stronghold of my life…”

In the Bible we read about the times of war and how armies would surround their towns and their bases with large, strong walls to keep the enemy out. We read fairytales about castles surrounded by moats to protect the royalty from danger. We equip our own homes with security systems, each one better than the next, to protect ourselves from whatever may try to harm us. God is all these things and more. He is the stronghold of your life. That means that he is that safe place that we read about, dream about and hope for. He is where we go to find comfort and peace, to relax and know that we are cared for and we are watched over.

The easiest thing I can equate this to is a newborn child. We all know, whether we have been parents or not, that a newborn baby will often cry when it is placed in a crib or laid down. But the moment its caregiver picks him or her up, they are comforted and the crying subsides. That person is a safe place for that baby. Their arms, coddling their small frame and wrapping it up tight, gives them security and peace. If a small child can understand this, why can we not? God has his arms wrapped around us daily. He has gathered us up to himself and he holds us there every day of our life. We often look for ways to protect ourselves or guard our belongings. God has surrounded you and I with the biggest force field you have ever seen and He alone is our protection and our stronghold.

“…of whom shall I be afraid?”

When you look to the definition of being afraid, you see the phrase “feeling fear or anxiety; frightened.” But it also says being “worried that something undesirable will occur or be done.” Not only does God take away our fears, he takes away our worry. He gives us the opportunity to walk through each day with our eyes focused on him and the confidence that we are forever in his care. I told you I’m human, I worry everyday about what this world will be like when I have a son or daughter, what evil they will encounter in their lives. But God calls us to leave that worry and anxiety behind when we come to Him. And we do this through faith. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is literally God’s definition of faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

This verse tells us that by having faith we are putting our confidence and assurance in the fact that God’s willing and able to take care of us.  We all hope to be safe and protected, to feel secure and content. God can give us that. And although we can’t see him, and we can’t see the shield he has placed around us and our hearts, it is there and it is stronger than you could ever imagine it is.

The truth is, thought the Bible often paints a beautiful picture of what a relationship with Jesus Christ is like, the Bible spoke of dark days. But it also promised us eternal light for those who believe. So today, I pray that when you feel that darkness, when you witness that darkness, that you will remember this Psalm. Hold it dear in your heart and let it guide you. Because alone, the darkness is deafening, but through God, the darkness is behind us and we hold tight to a light that will never be put out.

The Greatest Hero.

For over 150 years, this solemn and hallowed day has been observed to honor those whose lives were lost for the freedoms that we experience in this great country. But why today? Why are the brothers and sisters of the military who have laid down their lives not on our mind every single day as we enjoy what we have come to know as “rights” in our freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the ability to worship freely? But what rights would we have if blood had not been shed?

Stop and think a moment about what this holiday truly stands for. We are honoring individuals that are a part of our country who have literally lost their life in battle, some by choice, some by devotion to their responsibility as a citizen, for you and me. Strangers. Sure, those in the military know that they are fighting for the ones they love. But they also are fighting for people they don’t even know, every day. And in some cases, people that don’t deserve their selflessness. They put their lives at risk, watch brothers and sisters fall, all so that we can enjoy the luxury of the life that we live each day. For me, this is a sacrifice that I can’t even begin to comprehend and literally sends chills down my spin to think about.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  John 15:13

Jesus tells us that there is no greater love than someone who is willing to lay down his life for that of another. What a living testament our members of the military are to us, as they truly exhibit the kind of love God intends for us to have. Today, and every day, I pray that those who are lost are on your mind. I hope that you grieve with their loved ones, and honor their memory. But I also hope that you show your gratitude and the utmost respect for those still serving, that you take time out of your day to walk over to a man or woman in the military and say “thank you for your service.” What a small token of gratitude to show someone who has vowed their life to protect our country, a country full of people they barely know that they love and fight for every single day. Each and every one are heroes, living and breathing superheros.

But I can’t let this day pass without honoring the ultimate superhero, Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is hard to wrap our minds around his greatness and the true valor of his existence. But just as our military men and women are dedicated to protecting our great land and all of us who are a part of it, Jesus came to this Earth for that exact same quest, to save each and every one our souls.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

God loved us so much that he willing gave his son, his one and only son, to come to this Earth to pay the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus’ battlefield was much different than the ones fought on today, but his fate was the same as so many of those we honor today. He died to save us.

We are so far from the violence and horrors of war that sometimes it is easy to forget what the men and women of the military go through. And we are centuries removed from the story of Jesus and the cross, and so sometimes we can’t feel the connection in our hearts to the sacrifice he made. But the Bible recounts for us what Jesus went through on the day he was crucified. It tells us that before he even was taken to place he would take his last breath, he was beaten and bound. The guards of Pilate twisted together a crown made of thorns and placed it on Jesus’ head where I can only image the pain that he felt as the thorns ripped through his flesh as they mocked him, clothing him in the color of royalty and beat him as they pretended to honor his status.

He was then treated as a common criminal, forced to bear the intense weight of the cross on which he would be crucified. He carried the cross as far outside the city as he could bear before the weight became too much for his tattered body to support, and a man from Cyrene was seized and forced to bear the weight for him, as they dragged him to the ‘The Place of the Skull’. Once there, the cross was set and he was striped of his clothing, his beaten body was naked as nails pierced his hands, stringing him up for a mocking crowd. A sign was placed over his head, ridiculing the title they claimed for him. When he asked for a drink, he was given a sponge soaked in vinegar, bitter to the taste. All the while, the crowd and guards mocked him asking where his Heavenly Father was, and why he was not ripped from the cross. I can only image that God wept for his son, just as Mary did.

Before he gave up his spirit, Jesus made one last plea for those who tortured him. He said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The next day, the guards came to break his legs and finish the deed, but instead they found that he had already passed and instead pierced his side.

These passages from the Bible destroy my soul, and make my heart physically ache for the one I call Lord. The pain, and mockery he endured as he was crucified for no crime of his is heart wrenching. And each and every strike of his face, and breaking of his flesh was done for you and for me. He was murdered in the most gruesome way for us, people who were yet to be born but had been cursed to a life of sin before breathing air on this Earth. Jesus died so that we could live.

Today, I invite you to honor those who have lost their lives in protection of our freedoms. Extend a hand to those who have received news that someone they love would not be returning to them and grieve with them. Say thank you to those who continue to fight for us everyday, without any of the recognition they so bravely deserve. But most importantly, I pray that you do this every day that you are able, not just today because no words we say will ever be enough to express the gratitude for a lost life, but what we can do is honor them with our actions.

And if you are a Christian today, I invite you to meditate on the pain and suffering your Lord endured on a cross so many years ago. Thank him for what he gave for us, so that we could have the chance to escape the punishment of sin. And examine your actions and see that you are honoring his sacrifice by living your life in a way that honors him. I pray that every day you are reminded of the love that your God has for you, and that his love surrounds you in your times of need. You are loved, so much so that God gave his only son so that you could be free of the chains of sin.

And if you read this today and have never committed your life to God, let me tell you that his sacrifice was for you too. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or the things that you have done, God tells us that anyone who confesses with their mouth that God is their Savior will be saved from eternal damnation. Jesus died for you, he endured a gruesome death to allow you to remove that blanket of sin that weighs you down every day of your life. If you would give your life to him, you would be renewed with a light that will guide you all your days. You will be filled with the Holy Spirit that will carry you through all of the hard times. You will experience a life you never dreamed of, because of God who loves you so much. Don’t wait until tomorrow, I cannot think of a more fitting day than this as we honor some of the greatest heroes of our time to dedicate your life to the greatest hero of all time. Will you love him today?

God, I thank you for blessing us with those who are so like you in that they would lay down their life for our great nation. I pray today that we would honor their memory and remember the sacrifice they made. I ask for peace and comfort for those who remember loved ones today, those who have grieved for a loved one who never returned from battle. And I pray that you surround those currently fighting with your love and shield and be with them each and every day. And God, thank you for loving me in spite of my flaws. Thank you for giving your only son, so that I may be saved from the curse of sin. Forgive me for straying from you in any way, and letting my heart get far from your grace. I can’t imagine the pain Jesus experienced and because of you I never have to. Thank you for being my hero, today and everyday. I love you and I honor you, for all the days of my life. To you be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.