Faith – such a small word for such a big thing.
There’s a story in the bible where Jesus is standing across the water and calls Peter out towards Him. Peter looks to Jesus and steps out to walk on the water towards Jesus.
Matthew 14: 27-31
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
I have always admired Peter for the enormous amount of faith it took to step out onto the water, however recently I find myself wondering if Peter would have taken that first step, if he wasn’t looking at Jesus. How much faith does it take when you can’t see Jesus?
My faith has been tested, stretched, pulled, squished, poked and prodded this past year. Honestly, there are days it is hard to see Jesus at first glance through my circumstances. Don’t get me wrong, I KNOW He is there. I know He is with me. I feel him and I can see Him if I look really, really hard. But most days it doesn’t feel like I am staring across the water at Jesus, being asked to take that first step on water in faith. It feels more like I’m standing in a thick fog. In the darkness of night. And I’m blind folded. And it’s cold. And the sounds I hear alternate between being at a rock concert and the deep silence you hear when you go underwater in a swimming pool. And then there is this faint whisper in the far-off distance I'm supposed to hear. Except I can’t tell where it is coming from. And it is unclear exactly what it is telling me to do. That’s what life feels like to me. I think that voice is telling me to take a step out in faith but the sea is really violent. But unlike Peter, I can’t physically see Jesus. And yet I know I’m supposed to just step out in faith.
Having faith through the storm is relatively easy when “the storm” resembles a light drizzle on a dreary day. But have you had to have faith when the storm is violent? Really, really violent. A sustained high speed winds, pouring down rain, cracks of lightening, roaring thunder type of storm. The type of storm that is going to try to destroy your life, leaving you hoping for the lesser of two evils. My faith has been matched against quite the storm this past year. Month after month we’ve faced challenges. And each time my faith has been stretched just a bit further. First it was trusting God with our son’s birth. The “choice” we were given was to terminate or wait for a stillbirth that could put my own health at risk and inevitably draw out our pain and suffering. Any hope we had of him surviving was immediately met with the reality that we were told he was going to be severely delayed both physically and cognitively. And then came this bright eyed and beautiful baby boy – who was tiny but oh so mighty. And he not only survived but thrived at birth. Then we faced the fear of what this meant for our future. Would our child know us? Would he eat? Would he interactive with us? Would he go to school someday? We took him home with a plan to love him and celebrate the blessing of each day. And take it day by day. We had hospice in place to help us achieve a quality of life and stay out of the hospital. We did not want our baby to live in the hospital. Then we found out he was in stage 4 kidney failure with likely only a few weeks to months to live. So heartbroken and emotionally devastated, we continued to celebrate each day at home.
And then his kidney function improved and heart surgery became an option; an option we never prepared ourselves for since he was in kidney failure. (Open heart surgery and kidney failure don’t play well together – I’ll spare you from my nerdy side and omit the explanation why!) The option of heart surgery was bittersweet because it meant another difficult decision. We could correct his congenital heart condition but risk causing irreparable damage to his one small kidney. Or we could not repair the heart and watch our son suffer from heart failure. Again that whisper of a voice, in the increasingly far off distance, reminded me to have faith and just trust Him.
Like I said, faith in a storm. A violent storm. I never struggled with faith before this past year. Trusting God is easy when life is relatively unaltered or if you can live with either outcome of a particular circumstance. It’s easy to trust God through an experience, when you know once you get through the experience, you will be okay. But how does your faith hold up when you can’t see the other side of the experience or even worse, getting through the experience just means life gets tougher? Faith means trusting God no matter the outcome. It means believing that even if your baby does not survive, God will see you through it. It means believing that even if your child isn’t “normal” and has special needs, God will see you through it. It means believing that no matter how violent the storm gets, Jesus is standing across the water even if you can’t see Him. And all you have to do, is have faith.
Faith, Jesus and a storm,
Have you ever felt God was challenging or pushing you beyond your limit? A time when you wanted to tell God, “Look, you’ve got the wrong girl (or guy!). I cannot handle this.” How does that saying go again….God only gives you what you can handle. Yeah, I'm not buying what you're selling! I call bluff. So many of my burdens are beyond my ability to handle. That’s the whole purpose of God. God never gives us more than HE can handle. But more than we can handle…there are times in life, when we get WAY more than we can handle.
A medical diagnosis you can’t wrap your head around much less physically battle. A husband who isn’t who he promised he was long ago at the alter. A lost job followed by a seemingly endlessly, unsuccessful job hunt. An aging parent who needs more care than you can manage while simultaneously juggling your own family, job and life stressors. A medically complex child. Strained finances. Or even worse, all of the above! This world is full of situations where we get more than we can handle. There have been several times when I told God, “I’m at my limit. I cannot do this any longer. Something has to give and I feel like it’s me. I’m going to give out.” Weakness and doubt get the best of me.
And then I try to remember Moses. Moses is arguably one of the most influential people recorded in the Bible. He stood up to Pharaoh, led the Israelites to freedom and encountered God in very personal ways. I think of Moses and I think of holiness. I think of strength. I think of God’s plan and purpose.
I don’t associate Moses with weakness. But when God called Moses to his role and task, Moses basically told God, “Look you’ve got the wrong guy!”
Here's a little background: God is talking to Moses about the Israelites being under control of the Pharaoh. God is explaining His plan to use Moses to stand up to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites to freedom. This goes back to God making a promise to Abraham so although freeing the Israelites is a BIG mountain of a task, it is actually part of a much larger grand plan.
And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God responded to Moses with an encouraging, "I will be with you every step of the way". And yet Moses doubted…
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
God responded by literally demonstrating several miraculous signs He would perform through Moses to prove it was God who sent Moses to Pharaoh. And yet Moses still doubted, reminding God that he wasn’t a great public speaker and tended to be a little "slow" at times.
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
God responded by reassuring Moses that He would give him the words to speak. And finally Moses was brutally honest and asked God to just send someone else.
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
Spoiler alert: The Israelites were freed from Pharaoh's rule under Moses's leadership. Now the experience was not without some major mountains to overcome but God was with Moses every step of the way.
I’ve definitely had times when I have felt like saying, “Lord, please send someone else. I’m not your girl.” It’s funny how God’s plan is always bigger and more complete than mine. During life’s challenges, God doesn’t leave us to handle it alone. I’d even daresay that when we sit back and rest in God’s plan, it works out quite well. And we do prove that with God, we can get through it. We can manage it. The mountain that once stood in front of us, is finally in the rearview mirror. God uses our circumstances, our challenges, for BIG things, even those circumstances which stretch us way beyond our limits.
Challenges, mountains and rearview mirrors,
For the past 9 months, I have felt without hope. I have had more days than I want to admit where I hung onto my faith by a single thread. I have a childhood friend who has been battling cancer for two years and we often talk about how easy it is to get discouraged when you are faced with sadness Every. Single. Day. It's so hard to stay strong, positive and faithful when you feel absolutely without hope. However, it is important to recognize the distinction in feeling without hope and actually being without hope. When we trust in God, we are never without hope (even when it feels that way).
Two weeks ago my husband and I brought home a newborn son after what can only be described as a tough pregnancy. In fact, tough doesn't even begin to describe it. From our first OB appointment, fetal development was abnormal. The first trimester was filled with frequent ultrasounds followed by bad news, week after week. They would see something "abnormal" and then it would seem to improve the next week, only to uncover a new concern. At 13 weeks, we finally thought we had some good news when the high risk OB told us, "I know the first trimester has been rough but I think things are going to be much better from this point on. Based on your genetic screening, you are in the lowest category for risk of a genetic issue. You have like a 1 in 10,000 chance of an unhealthy pregnancy." Around our third trimester, we would learn our son had a genetic abnormality that occurred 1 in 50,000 live births (not 1 in 10,000). A genetic issue so rare, they don't actually screen for it. A genetic issue associated with several abnormalities, many considered life-limiting. I have never cried so hard and felt such heartbreak as the day we received this news and had to make difficult decisions on how to proceed. Just thinking back to this day is incredibly painful - it is the worst pain I have ever experienced and by far the worst day of my life.
From that point on, the message from the 4 different OBs who managed our care was consistent; we should prepare for a stillborn. My heart was broken and my husband and I faced many difficult decisions. Pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time in life - when you are overwhelmed by joy and hope for what is to come. It is supposed to be filled with baby announcements, gender reveals, baby showers, setting up a nursery and getting giddy over the cutest baby clothes on planet earth. No one talks about how to deal with a pregnancy that doesn't go that way. Or how to deal with the many people who congratulate you, when you start showing and want to know the baby's name, due date, etc. Do you fake excitement and hope you can resist tears long enough to get through the interaction? Do you tell the truth and be a total kill joy? How do you answer the inquiry when you tell someone you are going to delivery next week and yet you barely look 6 months pregnant? It's a very sensitive situation to navigate, especially while simultaneously coping with your own grief. It's just tough. And painful. And you feel hopeless. What do you hope for when your child surviving means a life of potential pain and suffering? Do you hope for a stillborn? Do you pray for that? Do you pray for a miracle even when your faith feels like it is held together by a single thread?
Thankfully that thread, and a lot of encouragement from friends and family who have suffered in similar ways, helped me find joy in the darkest of places. I submerged myself in Scripture and prayer - often asking Jesus to spare our son's suffering and somehow use the situation for His Glory. I asked for perspective that would bring me joy. I learned to be thankful for the journey and not focus on the outcome. God helped me find joy in little moments. For example, the first time I felt him move - I realized there are tons of mommas who struggle with infertility or their pregnancies never reach the point where they feel their babies move. So in a way, I thanked God for that experience and I soaked up every single time I felt him moved. I learned to be thankful because so many women never experience what it feels like to feel their baby move. Some mornings I would spend an extra 30 minutes in bed just being still and feeling him move and thanking God for that moment. God taught me (and is teaching me) to live in the moment - not focused on the future! I quickly realized that if I allowed him, Satan would steal every ounce of joy out of the miracle of life I was experiencing. He is a master thief.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.
I still have to remind remind myself daily not to let Satan steal my joy...because he does. Satan will steal every ounce of joy you have in life, if you let him. Resisting the steal is the challenge. Remembering God will give you a full life (full of joy, full of grace, full of love) even when circumstances are horrible is really tough. But it isn't impossible. All you need is faith.
I believe our son's birth to be a miracle - the look of shock on the doctors' faces was proof enough for me. Our son has many obstacles to overcome based on his medical diagnoses. And honestly, if I spend time thinking about each and every diagnosis, I quickly feel my hope fading. But we were told he wouldn't survive birth and he did! So we are taking it one day at a time and considering each day a blessing. We are choosing to have joy despite Satan's every attempt to steal it. I choose faith every single day....and although it may take effort, the joy is worth the effort. I know there will be days when my faith may wither to a thread but thankfully a thread of faith is all God needs to get us through tough times. So find your thread and hang on.
A thread, hope and blessings,
I always considered everything we go through part of God’s Will for our lives. Up until this point in my life, I’ve been able to rationalize every good or bad experience as being in alignment with God’s Will. I’ve lived with a very simplified understanding of Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I considered the idea that "God uses things for the good of those who love him" and "His Will" as one in the same. This simplified understanding of Romans 8:28 has always got me through the tough times. Until recently. I am in a very tough season in life. I feel very much in the middle of serious spiritual warfare and I am having to dig deep to find fight left in my heart, mind and soul. And in doing so, I’ve come to a newfound perspective on why bad things happen in life.
I realized tough times are not God’s Will for our life. God created us to live in perfect harmony, in the Garden of Eden. He intended our life to be nothing but rainbows and unicorns (or coffee and chocolate – you get to define your own version of paradise and then God's version will always blow up your version and be SO much better!). It was the free will He granted us, that brought on our pain and suffering from sin. He didn’t intend for us to struggle. He didn't plan it this way. The bad things we experience are not His Will. In Matthew 6:9-10 we are taught to pray “Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” His Will is carried out in heaven and we are taught to pray for His Will on earth. His Will doesn't naturally exist on earth among the sin, the pain and the suffering of this world. Jesus reinforced this understanding in John 18:36: Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” He uses things of this world (pain, suffering, tough times, etc.) to bring His Will to earth. In the big picture, His work is not done and His Kingdom has yet to come to earth. The pain and suffering we endure, is not what He wants for us. But He does save us from these tough times.
He does something incredible through our suffering. First, He reminds us to seek His Will and not worry about the future. Matthew 6:33-34 "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." And then He overwhelms us with His love as a reminder that He wins the war and whatever circumstance you are facing, is just a circumstance. It is just one battle in the war. The love and peace that Christ brings us on earth, is God’s saving grace during the tough times. Tough times aren’t from God. They aren’t what He intended for us. But He doesn’t leave us to face them alone. He uses them to not only shape us, but to show immeasurable love for us. I’ve always struggled to understand how people get through tough times without leaning on God but I have realized it has nothing to do with leaning on God. We survive tough times because God loves us. We don’t lean on Him; He picks us up during our pain and suffering and surrounds us with peace, love and comfort. And this is what people miss out on when they do not have Jesus through the tough times on earth. They miss out on feeling the love and peace that is very much part of His Kingdom. They miss out on seeing the hope that His Will is yet to be done and when His Will does come to earth, the pain and suffering will be no more. Our hearts will no longer cry out in pain and we will no longer face tough times. We will only know love and peace. He uses the unimaginable, horrible things that happen to us, to remind us of and show His love for us. And He reminds us there is hope in the midst of unimaginable pain and suffering.
For those readers who are suffering, really struggling through something you cannot see or comprehend how you are going to survive through it, remember God will pick you up and overwhelm you with love, hope and peace. All you have to do, is let Him.
Love, hope and peace through tough times,
When I read books about the Holocaust, I’m horrified. I’m heartbroken. I’m left empty. I feel the same when I watch movies or read stories about slave brutality before and during the Civil War or the way people with black skin were treated before, during and after the Civil Rights movement. That part of our history is horrifying for me. It's embarrassing. But I realize it is our history.
And this part of our history is still very, very real to me. I live in a state where the confederate flag is still part of our state flag. I live in a state where I recently went rafting down a river and the drop off location was under a bridge – to which the tour guide said, “Yeah they hung a black man from this bridge.” I. Am. Not. Kidding. I was shocked. I was embarrassed the tour guide even felt comfortable saying those words.
I understand the Civil War is our country’s history and there are many historic figures who were considered heroes in the context of their place in history (for example Robert E. Lee). Hitler was also considered a hero to many, many German soldiers during WWII. And yet, I do not believe you will find statues in Germany honoring or remembering Hitler. In fact from what I’ve heard, society is pretty darn stern about not promoting any part of that horrific history. The history is not forgotten however it is kept in the past. The country of Germany is pretty hell bent on making sure history does not repeat itself and takes an active role in preventing a repeat of the horrific hateful crimes of the WWII era.
And yet, we are struggling in America with our history. More specifically, we are struggling to learn from history and leave it in the past. We do not seem to be fighting against the urge for history to repeat itself, but rather some people seem to be holding so tight to our past that we cannot see it for what it was…horrifying. Some people are trying to keep this hate alive. And what is even more terrifying is there are some people using Christianity as an excuse to keep this hate alive.
Well history helps clear up God’s take on the whole division based on race/religion/ethnicity/lifestyle/etc. matter…history that dates all the way back to the days of the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus. (How's that for some history?)
Ephesians 2:14-16, Ephesians 4:31
“For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. By his death he ended the whole system of Jewish law that excluded the Gentiles. His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups. Together as one body….Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
Let me be clear about the loving God I serve…He doesn't support hate. And I don’t believe He would want us glorifying things which represent hate, even if only to a portion of people.
I also think we need to keep perspective. We are fighting over a STATUE (or a flag). People are dying because of an argument over a statue. A statue that in some regards glorifies hate. How did we get to this point? We are so far from where we should be as a society…it overwhelms my heart. I’m horrified. I’m heartbroken. I’m empty.
A statue, a flag and a broken heart,
For the first time in what seems like forever, I woke up with no "to do" list. After almost two years of wedding planning, I can finally say "I'm done". After three weddings, there is absolutely no denying we are married now.
I haven't blogged in quite a while because I have struggled to find the right words to describe my emotions. Although the last year of my life has been filled with tremendous joy on a personal level, simultaneously I have watched so many friends experience unimaginable loss and the weight of being surrounded by loss, pain and suffering, has broken my heart.
Two weeks ago I watched my childhood best friend marry a pretty cool dude. The last time I had seen this friend was at her father's funeral 3 years ago. In a way, her wedding helped remind me that God is able to bring us through loss and tough times to a place of joy. She has battled multiple sclerosis since we were 18 or 19 years old. Life is tough for her. But she is tougher than life. And despite a devastating medical diagnosis, the loss of her father and a few other stumbling blocks along the way, she is still embracing life. There is still so much joy in the midst of her circumstances. And this little profound realization, is what I have forgotten over this last year.
I think as Christians, it is really hard to deal with tough times because we are supposed to have hope in God and that often translates to the non-Christian world as always being "happy" or "with joy". And although I am first a Christian, I am also well, human. And as humans try to navigate the tougher times in life, we need to remember it is okay to be heartbroken. It is okay to ask God tough questions and be confused when He answers. We aren't going to understand it all and that is okay. We aren't meant to understand it all. So with this context, I'm going to share a blog I wrote several weeks ago but didn't have the courage to share. I hope it serves as a reminder that even Christians get upset, confused and dare I say angry at the circumstances in life. And we can stay grounded in our faith and still ask God really, really tough questions. So here goes...
Sentiments from a Broken Heart...
It's been raining all day. And not just any rain; gloomy, dreary rain. And at the moment, I can't help but feel the rain is a reflection of my soul.
Most of my blogs carry hope and joy and (hopefully!) inspire others. Not today. Today you just get me. For the past several weeks, my soul has been overwhelmed with heartache. For the second time in my life, I have really asked God "Why?". There have been so many prayers to God asking how this is His plan and why so many people in my life are suffering. A couple of weeks ago, a childhood friend announced she is battling stage IV cancer at the young age of 33 (just turned 34!). She is a new mom. A brand new mom. She is my age. We grew up together and literally went to school from Kindergarten straight through college. Our pasts are similar and if I had to guess we share similar dreams, aspirations and hopes in life. I cannot even begin to imagine how her conversations with God go...but I know her battle has impacted my conversation with God in ways I don't even want to admit out loud. My faith does not waiver but my mind certainly has a million questions.
Today I realized the majority of my free freetime was spent checking in on friends who are having a hard time. (To my friends who are having a hard time, I am not complaining...I will always be here for you. I'm just at a loss with God as to why so many of you have to suffer right now.) I have a list of prayer requests written out on my wall so throughout the day I am reminded to cover people in prayer. When I can't sleep at night, I cover someone on my list with focused prayer. And although some of my prayer requests are simple...please encourage so-and-so or help me make wise decisions related to this issue or that issue, the majority of my prayer requests right now are hard core. Praying to comfort a friend who lost her father, praying to heal serious scars another friend got from an abusive relationship, praying to keep my many, many pregnant friends safe and healthy, praying for two mothers who lost their children this past year, and praying that a childhood friend overcomes a horrific battle with cancer that no new mother should ever have to face. It just doesn't seem fair that so many people are suffering and battling and hurting.
As I went through my list of friends to "check in" with them and let them know I am praying for them, I couldn't help but have a heavy, heavy heart. Life is so cruel. And there are just so many things that do not make sense to me. So many times over the last 6 months I've asked God "How is this Your plan?". And I've wondered how other Christians handle overwhelming sorrow. I've wonder if I am just too weak.
I love the book of Psalm for one reason...it makes me realize that I'm not the only who struggles with God's plan for their life. This long book in the bible is host to so many heart cries that resonate with me at the moment.
How long LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death and my enemy will say "I have overcome him", and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD's praise, for he has been good to me.
Despite the sorrow in my heart and through the millions of questions, I will trust in God. I will trust in His Sovereignty and the beauty of His plan. And although there is tremendous suffering now, I hold out for the overwhelming joy that is to come one day.
Rain, sorrow and delayed joy,
In the spirit of wrapping up 2016 and starting fresh, I owe my readers a blog on repentance (see #lovethesinnerexperiement from last summer). People, Christ followers and nonbelievers, find it challenging to think about "accepting Jesus" with a simple prayer, having your debt paid and having the freedom to go on and just keep sinning. And that is the problem. Trying to understanding grace and the free will of man and sin. But the concept of salvation and repentance is a lot like New Year resolutions.
Let’s say 2016 was a horrible year for you and you were just hanging on to the fact a new year was right around the corner. When the clock struck midnight on December 31st, a magical transformation did NOT occur. At the stroke of midnight nothing actually changed but you and your mindset.
This year I am setting out to be more intentional in my actions. I feel like I’ve settled into a routine of bad habits. Habits primarily centered on distraction from the things in life that are important. I feel like I’m looking down at my phone more than I am looking out at the world. So I’m attempting to disconnect from all things electronic and reconnect with God and people. It’s a simple resolution but completely reliant on self-discipline and my ability to change.
See when you set New Year resolutions, you are the one that changes. You set out to “change” for the New Year, to be different going forward. And you turn from your ways. You start working out or eating healthy or start getting up earlier…whatever the “resolution”, it involves action on your part. And it often involves slip-ups and subsequent “carry over” resolutions to the next year. You might try and fail so you try again the next year. And occasionally you conquer a change and it sticks.
This is what happens when you accept Jesus as your savior. You are motivated (by the Holy Spirit) to change, to turn from your old habits. You are motivated to try to live like Christ lived. And sure, you may slip up and sin but you keep on trying again and again and again. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you are perfect. In fact Christians are far, far, far from perfect. Being a Christian means you accept God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and try to follow in Christ’s footsteps in the same way you try to make (and stick to!) a New Year resolution.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness in intended to lead you to repetance?
So when I wrote about separating the sin from the sinner last year, I wasn't trying to convey that everyone has a free pass to sin. Your love and commitment to Christ, provides the drive to keep His commandments. You come to Him broken and trapped by sin, He frees you and gives you a reason to try to avoid sin. You won't always avoid sin because you are still human. However, Jesus provides a reason for you to continually seek Him and turn your back on sin.
And when people debate different sins and say things like you have to "repent" from your sins, I think what they really mean, is that if your commitment to Christ is true you will aim to repent and turn from sin. It doesn't mean that if you fall back into sin, you lose your salvation; sin has a powerful hold on us at times and can be very hard to conquer. But it does mean you claim Christ and recognize the power of sin, the need for salvation and the beauty of grace.
Grace, redemption and New Year resolutions,
I feel a bit guilty because so many of my friends and family have had a horrible 2016 and are counting down the minutes to kiss this year good riddance. And although I've gone along with these sentiments out of respect for those suffering through 2016, deep inside my heart, this has been one of the best years of my life.
I got married this year...twice actually. Once in Vegas and then celebrated again in the most- amazing-wedding-ever in North Carolina. I got married to a man who has taught me more about love, life and relationships than I thought possible. Life is just such an adventure with him and I can't wait to see where God takes us in the future. I moved twice this year and traveled more than in previous years. We got a puppy and my old dog Reese is still kickin'. (Reese and I have a deal that he is to live until at least the age of 14. I'm glad to report he is holding up his end of the deal.) And I realized true friends remain friends regardless of the distance put between them. I love my tribe!
Although lots of amazing & exciting things have happened this year, there's been way more going on behind the scenes to make this year so great. If you've followed my blog since it's inception, you already know I'm big on New Year resolutions. Next week I'll post 2017 resolutions but today I'm living in the moments of 2016. My resolution this past year was to dedicate more time to prayer, to learn how to be a prayer warrior and to use prayer in a powerful way. And I can't believe everything God taught me through prayer this past year. Prayer has strengthen my faith in God more than ever before and I have a different outlook on life through the lens of prayer.
This time last year, I was getting ready to get married, move to a different state and quit a stable job to start a contracted position without guarantee of a stable income. I started seeking verses about God's plan for my life and claiming them as my own through prayer. God provided more than I needed this year and definitely threw some curve balls to drive His point home, like when we moved to Mississippi unexpectedly. When this news broke in our lives, I was so thankful to have a remote-based job that didn't require a resignation and subsquent search for a job when I needed to move (again). That "unstable" job God provided me, also allowed me the flexibility to drop everything and go be with my sister when she experienced a life crisis and needed help getting things squared away. Clearly, His plan was much better than mine. Thankfully, I spent extra time in prayer learning to trust His plan.
I also asked God to bring people into my life that needed prayer -- and this proved to be an overwhelming experience. God brought many different people into my life but one friend stands out in my mind. A relatively "new" friend of mine was accused of a serious crime and underwent a life-altering investigation. And yet God heavied my heart to pray for her. As the investigation continued, I actually didn't know if she was guilty or innocent but for some reason that didn't seem to matter. Whenever my mind wandered in that direction, I felt God sternly reminding me "I didn't ask you to judge her, I told you to pray for her". So I stopped thinking about her innocence or guilt and just prayed for her. Several months ago she asked me, "Why have you not judged me through this experience? I've lost so many friends and relationships with my family over this accusation and yet you barely know me and you haven't judged me." My reply was simple "It isn't my place to judge you. God told me to pray so my only job is to pray." For months I covered her and her family in prayer and just last week she was cleared of the accusations and life is slowly returning to normal for her. I know her journey has been tough (that's probably a huge understatment!) but I also know God has been with her every step of the way. And I learned, when you ask God to bring people who need prayer to your life, He delivers in a BIG way.
I could list many more examples of situations I prayed over to God and the amazing way He answered my prayers but instead of sharing my examples, I'm challenging you to ask God to show you the power of prayer! But I'm warning you, be ready to stand in awe.
The power of prayer to calm, protect, comfort, and change is beyond words. I've learned to study God's word and claim His word in my prayer.
1 John 5:14, 15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of Him.
So as I reflect on 2016, I will remember a great year of prayer followed by tremendously blessings like an amazing husband, awesome experience and a crazy puppy.
No matter the circumstances of your 2016, I wish you a very Happy New Year. And thank you for reading my blog for yet another year.
Love, joy and prayers in 2016,
I’ve started thinking about the saying “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” and it just doesn't seem like an appropriate description of Jesus or Christmas anymore. I think it makes Jesus seem small and seasonal. And in my heart, Jesus is just so much more than a reason for a season. For me, He is just the reason…the reason for, well, everything.
Several weeks ago I streamed a sermon when a pastor challenged his church to learn whom Jesus was without using the Bible. The pastor explained that if someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, it is highly improbable he/she believes the Bible so using the Bible to explain Jesus is an act of futility. And as I listened to this pastor use non-biblical references to provide evidence that Jesus was born, died and then lived again, I started to think about who Jesus is to me on a personal level rather than according to the Bible. So I asked myself “Who is Jesus to me?”. And in fact, Jesus actually asked his disciplines the same question:
Matthew 16: 13-15
When Jesus came to region of Caesarea Phillipi, he asked his disclipes, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”
I accepted my salvation through Jesus at a very young age and grew up being taught about Jesus. And although I’m grateful for my upbringing, I think every adult has to explore their faith and determine who and what they believe independent of their parents and upbringing. Honestly, I didn’t explore my faith until I came across people in my life that didn't believe in Jesus. There is truth to the statement “faith like a child” because believing in Jesus is easy when your parents tell you what to believe and life is relatively simple. As a child grows and is exposed to "life" a.k.a. pain, loss, troubled times, adversity, etc., faith becomes much more challenging. As an adult, I had to dig deep to figure out what it was I believed (as opposed to what my parents believed) and why I believed it. And after digging, studying and reflecting, Jesus remained at the center of my faith. And as life gets tougher and I experience more adversity, I find my faith only growing stronger. And I find myself wondering how people make it without faith in Jesus.
Jesus is my hope. He is the reason I get through every single day despite the circumstances around me. When I look back on my life (so far), it is like looking at a puzzle. I see individual moments, like puzzle pieces, that made no sense when I experienced them but become perfectly clear and beautiful when I reflect back on them. I see a beautiful story unfolding that would be simply impossible if left only to chance. The only explanation for the story of my life is Jesus. I don’t need a Bible or a history book to explain who Jesus is because I feel comfort, guilt, grace, love and joy directly from Him. And I know that no matter what happens this side of Heaven, I always have my hope in Him.
He is the reason why when I experience loss or pain or suffering, I ask Him to use it for good. I ask Him to use it to bless others. Because I’ve learned we have only one hope in this world and that is Jesus. And if you allow him to use all the positive and negative experiences in your life…if you allow Him to use the gut-wrenching pain we experience in this world, He will do amazing things to only grow and strengthen your faith. And you will find not only hope but comfort. As long as your hope is in Him, there is nothing that will steal you from the shelter and refuge of Him, King Jesus. And after the road comes to an end, you will be in His Glory. And if the comfort and love I’ve felt from Jesus, is just a glimpse of what His Glory will be like, that I can’t wait to see Him face-to-face.
So although Jesus is the reason for the season to many people, to me He is just my reason. And I can't think of a better reason to celebrate not only at Christmas but every single day.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Hope, joy and a very Merry Christmas,
Just a few reflections about everything God is teaching me in this life...a journey deeper into His purpose for my life.