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.

 

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.

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