Choose Happiness

Our lives are like scrapbooks, memories frozen in time on pages preserved in our hearts and minds. With every breath, every step, and the passing of time, those pages turn capturing the laughter, the tears, the joy, the heartbreak, the pride and the disappoint of days gone by. Sometimes I envision it something like a dream catcher, analyzing our thoughts, reading our emotions and casting its net to gather up all the shreds of our existence to file away only to be called upon with a familiar smell, feeling, or desire.

I treasure those pages, perhaps now more than ever, as they bond me closer to the pieces of my heart that belong to those I’ve lost. But what it also does is help me become keen to those moments as they happen; my senses acute to a touch or a feeling I’m bound to treasure forever. It’s incredible to me how time can sometimes stand still when you’re caught up in a moment, how you feel like you’re surrounded by a blur of emotion as you narrow in on a memory in the making. It does my heart good to slow down and take in the aroma of a sweet gesture, the twinkle of a bright eye, or the ring of laughter. Especially amidst a world that seems to challenge any brightness that exist, threatening to extinguish it, or worse, paint it gray.

As I call upon my pages at times, I am often speechless at the caliber of memories and happiness they hold. Sure, there have been tears, fears, and struggles along the way. But the pure joy and innocence that roll off the pages remind me of how truly blessed I am. I think it’s easy sometimes to get lost in ourselves, to focus on the hurt and the pain. To revel in the disappointment and loss. But it takes effort to really stop and allow the gratitude to creep in. Perhaps it’s because when we welcome it into our hearts, we compare those sweet moments of light to the multitude of darkness we face and it stings just a little more to see the darkness for what it truly is, a valley.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

But what Matthew tells us is that where our treasure is, there are heart will also be. And while this verse is most often associated with the lesson of serving two masters, today my heart applied it in a different way. Today, I found it as a message to not dwell in the sadness, to not allow yourself to bed down in the trenches. But where your focus and attention lie, that is where your heart will find rest. So if you are experiencing loss, if you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, if stress and worry is trapping you, if that is where you let your mind wander, it is there where your life song will be.

I have so many people around me experiencing things that break my heart. Every day I am faced with a story, or a bit of news that twists my heart strings threatening to disengage them completely. And while my heart aches for them, my mind churns with how to fix it, how to make it better. And naturally so, I’m a solver. I don’t always say the best things to comfort people, I don’t always give great advice. And I mourn in the least desirable ways. But where I find refuge is solving problems. Fixing worry, relieving stress. I run on order, to-do lists, and small successes.

So as I racked my brain for a way to bring peace to those I love that hurt, this verse laid on my heart. It’s always been a favorite but today I saw it in a new form. I saw it as an invitation to extend to those I love, a challenge to search your heart and it’s landing place. I saw it as a a chance to encourage those around me to find the strength to heal inside themselves. For as the verse says to us, what you treasure your heart will take up.

My prayer today is that for each of you hurting, for each of you who feel the darkness pressing in on all sides, that you choose to plant your flag in your happiness. It’s true that days are dark, but hidden in those pages of our scrapbook are good memories, happy memories that can carry us through the darkness. And all though they may be long gone, or seem like another lifetime ago, they can act as a bridge to carry us over troubled waters. And for every hard time we go through, there is a sweet moment waiting for us around the corner. It may be small, and you may be hard pressed to see it, but it’s there.

Our Savior promises us that we will experience nothing that we cannot handle. And just as the wonder that I wish for to heal my heart, I know that what we need to truly heal is found within us, we need only to call upon it. Take advantage of a holiday that focuses of thanks and gratitude and whisper a prayer of thanks to him for the beautiful life you’ve lived. Open your heart to your scrapbook and let the pages flood you with the joy you deserve this thanksgiving. May God grant you peace to embrace today, and every day.

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Wishes of Wonder

We laid my sweet papaw to rest this past week. It was a tough day, to sit there in the seat meant for my daddy, trying to be strong for my mom while the memories and emotions of his funeral flooded over me. It’s been a tough year, there’s no doubt about that and there’s moments when I truly think my heart is so fragile, that if the wind blows one more gust of hurt my way, it might shatter. But then there’s days I feel numb, like whatever breath of emotion that generally circulated through my body has left in one big gush.

But as I stood there by the casket saying goodbye, I looked around me and saw family hugging one another and telling each how much they loved them, clinging to each other’s shoulders, and wiping away shared tears, and it struck me; there is nothing that brings people together quite like tragedy. I was overwhelmed with wonder and amazement at how such a precious moment could exist amidst such hurt and despair.

In the days leading up to the funeral, I kept repeating my spill about how although it had been a tough year, I was looking forward to the fresh start around the corner to those who ask how I was. And in the back of my mind I kept thinking how much I needed Christmas and the holiday season this year. The months surrounding and leading up to Christmas have always been my favorite. I love the cold weather, I love snow and I love how the season just seems a little bit more magical. Besides, it literally combines four of my favorite things; Christ, shopping, decorating and eating. I kept telling myself if I could just get through those two days, I could go into Christmas mode and everything would be alright. At the time, I think my game plan was hide in the spirit of the holidays and face the music afterwards.

But on the drive back from the funeral home one day, I propped my feet on George’s dash and got lost in my one of my favorite magazines, The Magnolia Journal. It is one of the few magazines I truly read from cover to cover, so as I read Joanna’s opening letter, I had to laugh. The theme of this issue was wonder, and finding the time to truly enjoy the magical moments of Christmas with the heart of a child. The pages were full of ways to transport yourself to those years when just the twinkling of Christmas lights could brighten your day, when the smallest dose of Christmas magic could get you through an entire year.

After the funeral, everything that had been swirling around in my head for the past week suddenly made sense. What my heart needs to heal from this year is a little wonder and God knew I would need help seeing it, so he brought me to this crossroads at just the perfect season of life, the Christmas season. Besides, what other time of the year is quite as magical as Christmas time? Even though the world is literally darker, the darkness is alive with twinkling lights, joyous Christmas music, love and laughter, and the holiness of our Savior.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 2 Peter 1:3

You see, Christmas is a time that no matter your beliefs, no matter your circumstances, and no matter what you believe, everyone simply believes a little more at Christmas time; that there is joy to be found in our lives, that there is hope for the despair we see all around us, and that miracles and wonder do exist around us. And as God speaks to us through 2 Peter, he tells us that everything we need to live a godly life, a life pleasing to him and one laced with survival for us, has been provided. He has given us the very tools we need to make it through anything. And perhaps, one of those tools is wonder. He has given us the ability to see miracles if we look, to see happiness in pain, and to love one another through each and every day. He allowed me to see the the wonder I needed as I was mourning the loss of one of the most important men to me.

And just as he has given us what we need to survive, he has also given us what we need to heal. The very thing that can take away the sharp pain of death every time we breathe the breath of life when those we love take their last, can be found nestled beside the pain in our hearts. So in times like these when days seem long, and just a little darker, perhaps Christ gave us the ability to dig a little deeper and find the wonder in our hearts to brighten the darkest part of our lives. After all, it is his birthday season and what better time to enjoy true peace then with the birth of the Lord and Savior of our lives.

So this Christmas season, that’s what I will do. I will dig a little deeper, past the pain and the hurt, through the lingering numbness to find that ember of wonder that I know exists in my heart. I will cling to it, I will nurture it, and I will find ways to let it shine all season long. I will take the time to appreciate the magic of this holiday season, and to let magic dance in my eyes through the twinkling lights. I will give this season to others, and in turn heal my own heart as I am blessed by their thankfulness. I will cling to the moments I am surrounded by friends and family and revel in their love and light, taking small pieces of it with me through the rest of the year. And I will remember above all else, that so many years ago, my Lord and Savior came to this Earth as a small child and brought with him the salvation of my life. And that’s truly all I could ever need in life.

I invite you to surround yourself with wonder this Christmas season, surround yourself with love and allow your heart to heal amidst the holiness of our Savior and the celebration of his birth. And together, we will start fresh come the new year. Blessings to you and yours, may this be the best holiday season yet.

 

I Choose to Pray

My friends and family sometimes laugh because at any given moment, I typically have no idea what is happening around me, as far as current news is concerned. You won’t find a news station playing on my television, and when there’s controversy and negativity in my news feed, I keep scrolling. I’m not choosing to be ignorant, or trying to be selfish. I’m choosing to believe that in spite of the thousands of things trying to convince us otherwise, I still believe there is beauty in this world. I’m choosing to pray.

I believe that for every day of darkness, there is a sliver of sunshine peeking through. I believe that for every heartache we experience, there is laughter waiting around the corner. I believe that for every mountain we face, there is a God who is greater than it all and who loves me beyond anything I could ever imagine. And he wants to love you too, all you have to do is say yes.

I could write another post about seeing the good in people, or I could talk about pushing the darkness away. But sometimes there is no better way to hear something then through a song. And this happens to be one of my favorites. It spoke to my heart this week and I hope it does yours as well. It’s a beautiful world we live in folks, we just have to remember that and continue to pray for it.

Beautiful World

All the noise and the voices are screamin’
What they have to say
And the headlines and sound bytes are givin’ me
Demons to hate
And the man on TV
He tells me it’s ugly
But if you ask me
It’s a beautiful world
It’s a beautiful world
There’s tears and there’s fears and there’s losses and crosses to bear
And sometimes the best we can do is just to whisper a prayer
And press on because
There’s so much to live for and so much to love
In this beautiful world
Say what you will but I still believe
It’s a beautiful world
It’s a beautiful world
And I know (I know)
I’m not dreamin’
I just choose (choose) to believe it
So I hate that I sometimes miss what’s right in front of my eyes, oh
And I know at the end of my road I’ll be wantin’ more time
Just another sunset
One more kiss from my baby
A smile from a friend
In this beatiful world
It’s a beautiful world
Yeah, it’s a beautiful world
Say what you will, but I still believe
It’s a beautiful world
Yeah, it’s a beautiful world
Oh, it’s a beautiful world

Songwriters: Brett Beavers / Dierks Bentley / James M Beavers
Beautiful World lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

In the Beginning.

 

It is always interesting to me the things that people rally around. The simplest of task, the smallest event, and suddenly our population is united like never before. Even amidst a civil struggle, something as ordinary as the moon and sun causes everyone to stop what they are doing, lay down their dissents, put aside their differences, and join together for a remarkable event.

I’ll be honest, the eclipse hasn’t really been on my mind. It’s been in my news feed and in my everyday conversation with the people around me, but it’s just not something that has struck me like it seems to have the rest of the world. But what has been on my mind is how people can be so infatuated with an event such as the eclipse, and be so struck by its remarkableness that they are willing to drive great lengths, pay astronomical prices for a “good seat,” and even make a vacation out of the event and yet still, there are folks who don’t believe God exists. That, to me, is the most astounding part of all.

“He counts the stars and calls them each by name,” Psalm 147:4

If you google the definition of an eclipse, NASA gives the following example:

An eclipse takes place when one heavenly body such as a moon or planet moves into the shadow of another heavenly body. There are two types of eclipses on Earth: an eclipse of the moon and an eclipse of the sun.

A heavenly body. I loved that this is how they described the moon, Earth and the sun. In fact, that term is commonly used to describe any planet, star, or celestial body. It may seem like I am splitting hairs, but I’ve always found it interesting how so many things that we come across have reference to the Bible. God’s word is used to define, or determine all kinds of things in our everyday life, yet there are those who still need to be convinced that God exists, that our world was created by our Heavenly Father.

Psalm 147:4 is only one of the many verses in the Bible that tells of God’s awesome power. Every chapter contains evidence of his creation, his masterpiece which is everything in existence, including you and me. It all begins in Genesis, the first account of how God created everything we know as our world in six days. Let that sink in a moment. Our Lord and Savior spoke everything (the seas, the land, the animals, the sun, the moon, the planets) into existence. His power is so great that he gathered up dust from the Earth and formed the likes of mankind. There is no superhero, no Greek God, nothing that can compare to his awesome power.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land,” Psalm 95:4-5

For me, there are two things that today we are reminded of. One is that the mighty God we serve created this event that is so remarkable. As you are watching the eclipse today, I pray that He is on your mind. I pray that as you stand there, watching this event take place for what may be the last time in our lifetime, that you remember that story in Genesis, how he spoke this world into existence. And in that matter of speech, he not only created the Earth, the moon and the sun, but he created this event we will experience. He created a world so profound that it mechanical works together with these two other heavenly bodies to hold our world into place and to keep it thriving every second of every day. But what strikes me even more is that the same God that is responsible for the eclipse, and every other remarkable event we will ever experience in our life, that same Savior created you. And me. And not just that, but he created us in His image. We are created in the image of the Alpha and Omega, the one who spoke our world into existence. I pray that you remember that every time you look in the mirror and think you may not look the way you think you should. I pray that you remember that every time you get discouraged and think you may not be good enough.

But most importantly, I pray that you remember that every time you look into the eyes of another human being who may not share the same belief as you, or who may not practice the things you believe in. God created us all in his image. He created the Earth, and everything we know and see. And it was good.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:7-10

 

 

Praying for an Understanding Heart.

As a society, it seems that we have become desensitized to cruel acts and hurtful words. We are faced with a live stream of unbearable acts taking place every day, through social media, technology, and personal encounters, to the point that our souls become calloused and accept the hatefulness as a norm. But yet we wake up every morning in a world that screams for acceptance, even louder than the day before, amidst a generation that demands respect.

A few days ago I found myself corralled to the back of an elevator, playing that miserable dance of balancing personal space and just balancing. As we dropped 25+ floors, I gazed around at the individuals who joined me for the ride. There were folks of all ages and genders, their style varying from business casual to “I just traveled a few thousand miles in the clouds and I am ready for a nap.” But we all had one thing in common, we had a place to be. But in those few minutes that we were all forced to stop, and stand side by side in an elevator, there was a whisper of chit chat that took place among the passengers.

We chuckled about general comments regarding the safeness of the elevator from the guy who found himself nose to nose with the door. A male and female in the corner struck up a conversation about what she did for a living, as the group worked together to help shuffle people on and off the elevator. And even in the early morning fog that surrounded my mind, it was astounding to me that for those brief moments, there was nothing but kindness that filled the hearts and minds of those people. They didn’t judge one another, they didn’t discount common courtesy and compassion for their own desires. They simply coexisted with their fellow man, making the most of the situation they were in.

It stirred my heart to experience a moment of just simple kindness. Sure, there was no earth shattering event that took place. And no, it wasn’t a feel-good moment you would hear about on the news. It was the saving grace of being human displayed in its most pure form. So why, if it’s so easy to just be kind to one another, are we living in a world where kindness is treated as a useless human emotion that only exhausts your efforts and gives you nothing in return?

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” Luke 6:35

As servants, God calls us to be kind to one another. He calls us throughout the Bible to put others before ourselves, and even to turn the other cheek to those that strike you. He praises the man who lays down his life for a friend, and pronounces distaste for those soaked in greed and concern only for themselves.

So how does a world that our most High created fall so far from such a simple emotion?

Sometimes it feels like everyone around me is in survival mode. Like they are the way they are because they think that is what it takes to make it in a cynical world. It hurts my heart to see the hatred, the greed, and the total disregard for something so miniscule as kindness that is exhibited by my generation. A hardness that has filtered down from one generation to the next. It seems that with each turn the world makes, we fall farther and farther from God’s example.

There are countless examples of kindness in the Bible, words and parables about how we should act as Christians. But what is sometimes harder to find is how to deal with the hatefulness of our fellow men with grateful and understanding hearts. After all, one can only turn the other cheek so many times before they are covered in bruises and battered beyond recognition.

For me, I look no further than King Solomon to find the inspiration I crave to continue to wade through the darkness and weight of the world we know. While at first glance, there may seem to be no connection to Solomon and the desire to be kind, it is in Solomon’s request that we find what we are searching for. King Solomon came to the Lord in search of something. He didn’t ask for riches, he didn’t crave gold. He sought wisdom, and the desire to do God’s will in his work. When the Lord appeared to Solomon after his sacrifices to his name, he said “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” It was then that Solomon, in all the humility he could muster, placed himself at his Lord’s feet and ask for an understanding heart.

How often do we go to the Lord in prayer, asking for him to help those we love who are sick, praying for peace with a decision we are trying to make. We ask for the promotion at work, or the relationship we crave to come to fruition. But how many times do we sit down, place ourselves at the Lord’s feet and ask him for understanding?

This is a heavy question, and can be a personal journey That is why I invite you to read about Solomon in 1 Kings, Chapter 3, look to his example to find hope and strength in the Lord. For because his request was for that of wisdom and understanding, the Lord blessed him tenfold with riches and the desires of his heart. For he gave him what he did not request, because of what he requested.

“Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” 1 Kings 3:9

But what I really pray that you do today is think. Examine your heart and your mind for understanding. How do you treat others? How do you fight back when the world takes a swing? Do you throw a punch yourself, or do you lay down your desire to smite and instead seek to be the a light in a dark world.

It is easy to find a way to show kindness to a stranger. Sometimes we can even figure out how to forgive transgressions of our friends and foes. But often what proves to be the hardest part of showing kindness as Christians is having an understanding heart. We are so quick to expect the worst of people, to judge those who surround us in protection of our heart, that we often show hatred without even realizing it. Instead, we should be pleading with our Heavenly Father, that in times such as these, that we can see each and every person put in front of us as he sees them, a person he molded from the very dust beneath our feet. An individual that he chose a path and a journey for as he breathed life into their lungs.

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that our waiter or waitress is terrible at their job when they forget our drinks, or mess up our order. But next time, make the effort to ask them how their day has been. You may find that they wrestle with demons comparable to your own, and just happen to have to come to work and put on a smile amidst them.

It is easy to assume the person who cut you off was only thinking of themselves or is a selfish driver. But perhaps you should pray for them, they may be struggling to see the road through tears in their eyes. Their world could be shattering as you both drive down the interstate.

It is easy to yell at the person on the phone for not giving you what you think you deserve, or to berate them and tell them they don’t know how to do their job. But who knows if they are sitting on the other end of the phone, second guessing themselves for the hundredth time today because you aren’t the first person to put them down. They may be watching their self-confidence dwindle to a pile of soot every day, soot that stains their every move.

You see, this world tries to show us that there is no beauty in it. It attempts to prove that kindness is gone from this Earth. It will beat us down until we give in, and grapple for hatred and hurt to guard our vulnerable heart. But the Lord calls us to be his children, to fight for kindness, and beauty, and joy. He asks us to be the light in the world. He asks us to forgive, to not judge, just as he doesn’t judge you for a lifetime of sin…but instead gave the most precious thing to him to die so that we could be saved.

Choose kindness; today, tomorrow, and always.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” Colossians 3:12

Treading Water.

I don’t know about you, but I have had periods of time in my life that I feel as though I am simply surviving. Like the motions I run through every day are just fabricated from muscle memory and are a facade for the place where my heart truly dwells. It’s in these times that the world feels the biggest; like a canvas of the sea drafted from turbulent waves and hidden perils, all painted a pleasing hue to hide its true nature.

And its only in times of peace that I can look back and pinpoint those moments when I was simply treading water. And I’m shocked to say that even as a nasty under current of grief swells below the surface, threatening to pull me under at any point in time, right now, I feel peace. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that that serenity comes from being right where the Lord wants me.

So many times, our human nature gets the best of us and we give into persistent emotions like that of impatience. We find ourselves fighting against the current, thrashing back towards the shore, when all the while God is calling us into the waves. It’s terrifying to not know exactly what lies ahead, and it’s easy to want to stay in our comfort zone, with the water at a safe level. We plant ourselves on the things that we are sure of, and yearn for the predictable to find its ways to our feet, like a seashell washing up on shore. But just as anyone who has ever struggled against the current knows, the more you fight it, the more challenging it becomes to keep your head above water. Sometimes the best decision, is to simply give into the current and wait for the stillness that follows. For it is in that stillness, that we find our opportunity.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:24-28

If you google the definition of treading water, it will tell you that it is a basic technique, a survival skill at best. But what it also tells us is that treading water is a skill that is most often times used before one learns to swim. I can remember moments in my life when I thought I knew exactly what I wanted, and I pursued the desires of my heart that I thought I needed. I thrashed towards them like they were a prize island situated just under the horizon. But as I expelled all of my energy trying to move towards some fleeting goal, I fought against waves that engulfed me, trials and tribulations that set me back around every corner. At first, they fueled my drive, propelling me forward each time I was pulled back, the energy of the challenge filling my lungs. But after fighting, and thrashing for so long, I was just exhausted. And defeated. It was only then, when I was at a true loss for what to do next, that I eventually looked up and realized that all the while, I had simply been spinning in circles. That the progress I thought I had been making was just a thinly veneered shade of confusion.

You see, all of us are guilty of setting aside our desire to seek God’s will for our lives to pursue something we thought we needed, or something the world has convinced us that it’s time for us to have. We have these mile markers we feel like we have to meet, or these earthly things we are convinced we have to have. And all the while that we are spinning in circles, treading water, God is patiently waiting for us to stop, take a breath, and look up. It’s hard, especially when you have a picture in your mind of what you think your heart desires. It’s hard, especially when you have people all around you telling you what you should be aiming for. It’s hard. But maybe, maybe it’s just simply exhausting because we are wasting our efforts on a basic skill like treading water, instead of focusing our energy on a more efficient way to get where we need to be. Maybe we just need to learn to swim.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

His good, pleasing and perfect will. There is no reason to be scared of the unknown, or frightened by the thought of simply drifting out to sea, because the Lord and Savior is your guiding light. If you are fighting so hard for something that just seems impossible, maybe its time to stop and look up.

Is what you are fighting for the will of your Lord and Savior, or a desire planted in your heart that falls short of the glory of God?

God doesn’t expect us to read his mind, nor did he create us to have the omniscience that he beholds. He calls for us to turn to him, to seek him and his perfect will. And sometimes that even means being completely still. Talk about terrifying. There is a storm brewing in your heart, the waves are tossing you around like a rag doll, but you’re supposed to just remain still? Sometimes that is exactly what God calls us to do, to be still and come to him in prayer and petition for his guidance in all walks of life. But the stillness doesn’t mean a deafening silence, or loneliness, it means clinging to God and waiting for him to show you your next move.

So how do you pass the time in that stillness? You swallow up his word with every fiber of your being. You read and labor over the love letter he has provided to us like a map to the treasures of your heart. You pray without ceasing for patience, and faith, and you trust in him to show you the way. And then you simply float, face up, riding every wave that comes your way. Because hidden somewhere in the folds of those whitecaps, there lies an opportunity that can prepare you for your future in the Lord’s embrace. With every wave that washes over you, one is bound to take your breath away and change your life.

God, I come to you know discouraged and defeated. I feel as though I am treading water in my pursuit of _______________________ and my heart is hurting. Help me to turn to you, to give you my desires. My prayer is that you would exchange those for your will for my life. Help me to seek your will in all that I do, and to be patient, for your it is in your time that you will reveal yourself. God, thank you for carrying me when the waves get rough, cradle me now as I wait for your call. Shed light upon whatever path you would have me travel, and give me strength to be the child you call me to be.

Amen.

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