Chris and I adopted an Angel Tree child through a military event for Christmas this year...we intentionally sought an older kid with a hefty wish list since we do not have children and are in a position to help make Christmas extra special for someone in need. So with that we set out to create THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER. for this child. I mean...I was all about it. I put my 'perfected' Black Friday shopping skills to the test and aimed to get as many presents possible with what money we had to give. Of course, this was mostly online shopping since we live in a small city and shopping is sufficient but not abundant.
Four days before the gift drop due date, I got a delayed shipping notification from Old Navy stating the order would be delayed...delayed past the gift drop deadline. I was beyond frustrated because I bought a ton of clothes for a price I was not going to find elsewhere, on a non-Black Friday shopping day. I spent 30 minutes on the phone with Old Navy explaining not only my predicament, but my dissatisfaction with their delivery service. Although they kindly offered to reduce the cost to only 10% of the full-price total, it still left me in a bind. The cost was not the issue…timing and the inability to find the same quantity of clothes was my issue. Again, I had “THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER.” mentality and now this was going to be harder-than-ever to accomplish.
So with 4 days left, I set out again to shop for clothes and re-create THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER. I headed to JCPenney’s to get the best bang for my buck. And although I didn’t do as well as my Black Friday shopping, I was able to get our child exactly the clothes he asked for plus a “cool” Nike outfit (I did splurge a bit on this but I couldn’t resist!).
Due to some other crazy circumstances, I found myself gift wrapping two hours before the gifts were due at social services. I got all the gifts wrapped and started wrapping the clothes only to find the security ink tags still attached to two articles of clothing...my “splurge” Nike clothing. At this point…I yelled out to God, “I’m just trying to create THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER. over here…what gives?” I was frustrated and felt like an Angel Tree giver failure. And honestly, I was frustrated with God because we were just trying to do something good for someone less fortunate than us. But I took my frustration, collected the gifts minus the Nike gear and headed to the drop-off location.
Sometimes God is just SO much bigger than us. I wish I would remember this during times of my frustration. Sometimes I am just the little lost sheep, completely disconnected with His plan. This was one of those times.
When we got to social services to drop gifts, we learned there were two boys (brothers!) that did not get their names on the Angel Tree and were in need of Christmas presents. And do you know one of them just so happened to be the same, EXACT size as the Old Navy clothes being delivered to my house? The moment I looked down and saw the size, I knew that Old Navy shipment was never meant for our original Angel Tree Child. God had a different, more perfect plan. And naturally I immediately jumped on board with His plan because it involved creating THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER. for not one child but three. So I walked into JCPenney with my ink security-tagged Nike gear and exchanged it for 4 outfits for the younger brother and a mini drone toy for the older one.
Sometimes we think so incredibly small compared to His plan. Sometimes we are the lost sheep in need of a shepherd. Thankfully He always gathers us up and points us in the right direction.
Many are the plans in a person’s hearts, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Lord never stop taking my small plans and making them BIG.
Christmas morning, gifts galore, and three boys,
Most of my blogs are intended for everybody, especially those who haven't had the pleasure of knowing Jesus. I (try to) write my blogs with a tender heart for those who aren't familiar with the Bible. I try to be nonjudgmental and loving in what I share and how I share it. However, today I'm specifically addressing Christian men and women. I am going to be a bit more direct with my brothers and sisters in Christ...because I'm angry. And I may lose a few friends in what I write today but my purpose is to live for Jesus not to live for others. And I have a heavy, heavy heart.
Jen Hatmaker and a few other prominent Christian leaders have come out and stated their beliefs that homosexuality is not wrong from a biblical standpoint. Although they have publicized a fancy rationale for how they came to these conclusions, I'm going to spare you my rationale of what is right and wrong from a Biblical standpoint and just go with what the Bible actually says. I figured this is the safest way to make an argument of what the Bible says. So here goes a direct quote:
1 Corinthians 6:8-11
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters. Or do you now know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Re-read it again if you will, but the bible lists acts of same-sex sex as sin...along with having idols, being an adulterer, being greedy, being drunk, being a cheat, etc. (An important note...many sins I'm in fact guilty of!) I'm not singling out homosexuality as a sin and forgetting all the other sins...I'm just saying the bible does identify homosexuality as a sin.
First a note to the LBGTQ community...I love you. God loves you. I look at you no different than any other person because we are ALL sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Sin is sin...clearly defined in the bible. But PLEASE do not miss the last part of the verse...you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Your sin is no different than any other person's sin and you are free to accept God's grace like any other sinner according to the Bible.
Now, a note to the Christians who are putting their "own spin" on the Bible. YOU are putting Christians who've decided to follow what the bible says, in a very bad place. YOU are making it harder for me to stand up for my faith because it's now YOUR interpretation (a much more "popular" interpretation) against God's Scripture and if I stand up for God's Holy Word, I'm painted as the "bad" "judgmental" or "hateful" person. YOU are supposed to be on my team and be united in Christ with me. But YOU are making me feel horrible for believing the Bible among all of my friends who are active in the LBGTQ community. YOU are dividing the Christian community instead of uniting it. And it makes me heartbroken. And it makes me angry.
I have such a tender, passionate heart for sinners that do not know Jesus...because I was once one of those people. Even within my own faith journey, there have been times I got caught up in my own sin and was not walking with Christ. And it was loving people who called out my sin according to the Bible and helped me repent and turn away. I'm okay if someone doesn't want to believe or disagrees with what the Bible says because that is between God and them. But the fact you are misleading what the Bible says is scary and a huge disservice to people in your community. So although it is not the "popular" thing to do or way to believe...I have to choose God over your modern day interpretation of His Word. It might not be easy but it's what is right. I might lose some friends but I won't lose God. I wish you would take time to reflect on what you are doing within the Christian community and just stop. I wish you would realize you can love others and still stand by Scripture.
Heartbroken, angry and divided,
As we approach the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election tonight, I am shouting to myself, "BRACE FOR IMPACT". I do not think there’s a single person in our country who would argue this election season has not been ugly. Maybe even the ugliest election to date…definitely the ugliest I’ve seen in my lifetime. I'm not going to sit here and tell you why you should or should not vote for the candidates. In my opinion, that is adding to the ugliness of the election and I'm tired of reading why "this leader" or "that friend" passionately feels one candidate is wrong. I think both candidates are lousy and I do not want either of them representing me to the rest of the world. So as I face the final results tonight, I’m bracing for the worst because I fear the worst is yet to come. However, although I anticipate a tough road ahead, I am not without faith. In fact, faith is all I have left and (I’m realizing) all I ever needed.
I haven’t blogged in awhile because life has been fairly crazy in my personal life; there have been some really tough challenges for a few loved ones and in a way it has consumed me both physically and emotionally. If I took the time to describe the last 3 months of my life, all the ups and downs and twists and turns, you wouldn’t believe it. So for the sake of time (and privacy), let’s just say life has been crazy ugly with a few shining moments of hope (like finally celebrating my marriage!). But through the crazy, I have felt firmly grounded in my faith. As I reflect on my personal life, I see so many parallels to what is going on in our country. And I’m reminded God is sovereign. He has a plan. His plan is perfect. And His plan is whole. We just have to be patient enough to wait for the whole plan to be revealed. And this is where I land regarding our country.
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 have been called according to his purpose.
I have never prayed for our country so often or so sincerely as I have leading up to this election. I mean, I’ve prayed A LOT…for the people, for the politicians, before and after debates, for voting discernment, how to vote, what to vote for, etc. And although it’s been tiresome and at times discouraging when I felt like my prayers went unanswered, I’m reminded that although my timeline ended today (Nov 8 – “Election Day”), God isn’t living (or acting!) according to my timeline. He isn’t looking at the next four years…He is staring straight into eternity. And His priority isn’t our economy or foreign affairs. His sole focus is building His Kingdom. And if I shift my focus toward Him, everything going on in our world (both in my personal life and in our country) seems a whole lot less important. Everything going on around us is just noise, distracting us from His Plan and Purpose. And although this noise is going to create a tough road, it is not a road we set foot on alone. God carries us. All we have to do is keep the faith and let Him.
So regardless of the election outcome, I’m holding tight to my faith. I’m going to brace for impact but not in the way you brace for a crash. I’m going to brace for God’s impact…I’m going to watch His plan unfold and be thankful for His sovereignty. Because His plan is solid and His Kingdom will be plentiful.
Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation who God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.
Election Day, faith and an impact,
We don't get to pick our family. And we don't get to pick our spouse's family. Family is simply put, a gift from God. (I know a good majority of readers are laughing or crying or both right now!) I know there are times when family feels more like a White Elephant gift than a gift to actually be thankful for. And maybe your family feels like a curse rather than a blessing. However, I promise that crazy family of yours is a gift and they serve a purpose in your life.
Last week, my sister and I were talking about dysfunctional families and how the way a family functions shapes the way children develop. And we talked about how much you learn from the relationships in your family. Forgiveness. Understanding. Patience. Acceptance. Love. So many lessons can be learned through family. We were specifically remembering huge fights we've had between us over the years and how we learned to forgive one another and then develop and maintain a relationship through the hurt. I never really thought about it in such delicate detail, but it made me incredibly thankful I had a sister to learn forgiveness, loyalty and love from over the years. I believe family serves a significant, specific purpose in our lives. The purpose of your family may be different from the purpose of my family, but each of our families serve a purpose.
Now you may be thinking to yourself, "Ashley Lucille you have no idea just how dysfunctional my family is!! The only purpose my family serves is to make my life a living hell". And you know what, you're right. I have no idea how dysfunctional your family is and YOU have no idea how dysfunctional my family is or is not. Thankfully I don't need to know the details of your family and you don't need the details of my family to realize family serves a purpose. God uses our families to carry out His purpose for our lives, no matter the depth of dysfunction embedded in our families.
That's not to say, this purpose will be without pain, frustration or a battle along the way. Whenever I'm particularly frustrated with family, I somehow find my way to the book of Genesis and read about Joseph. Joseph's life is so "complicated" it would be hard to truly capture the dysfunction without a long dissertation but I'm going to paint a quick picture of his family:
I could go on but I think you get the picture. Joseph was no stranger to the concept of a dysfunctional family. And yet a very unique thing happened in Joesph's life. God used Joseph and the experience with his family for an amazing purpose. God used his dysfunctional family to carry out His purpose for Joseph's life. Joseph was not defined by his family. His family was not an excuse for him to follow in their dysfunctional footsteps. Joseph's family was the reason he overcame so much in His life.
Genesis 45:5, 7-8
"And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you...But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."
(Note: Joseph is speaking to his brothers when he found them after they sold him into slavery. Can you hear the forgiveness and love in Joesph's tone?)
His dysfunctional family was the reason God was able to accomplish great things. Joseph ended up being a ruler in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh. Joseph ended up saving lives through the circumstances and lessons he learned from his dysfunctional family. (To understand the saving lives part, read the entire story in Genesis 37-50.)
So although we don't get to pick our families, our families also don't get to pick how God uses them in our lives. Your family may be completely functional and serve the purpose of unconditional love and support or your family may resemble something like what you might see on The Jerry Springer Show and provide endless opportunities for you to learn difficult lessons. Either way God is using your family to carry out His purpose for your life. And that makes family a gift to cherish.
Family, lessons and purpose,
I seem to be surrounded by pregnant friends or friends trying to get pregnant. And although I don't have kids of my own, I absolutely love the excitement around pregnancy and the joy that comes with being a mom. However, I find it interesting to watch mothers-to-be often contain or hide their joy and excitement until they deem it "safe" to share with the world. And while I understand the fear embedded in the many uncertainties that come with pregnancy, I wonder if fear is stealing our joy at times.
I have a friend who has miscarried more than once in the past; she lost a baby late in pregnancy and hasn't had a baby survive through delivery. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult her pregnancy journey has been. It's been hard enough to watch her live it. My heart breaks for her. And I cover her in prayer regularly. However, I have watched her transform her pain and loss into hope and it has been absolutely amazing. She's pregnant again and she refuses to let fear of losing another baby steal her joy in the experience. I rarely catch up with her outside of social media, so I'm not even sure she realizes how incredibly inspiring she is to others. I've shared her story and her journey with friends struggling through the same fears. She posted their pregnancy test results the day they found out. She said every day counts for them so they were basically breaking the rules regarding waiting to tell people. They waited in the past and it didn't impact the end result for them. So they are taking a different approach and it has been beautiful to watch. They've shared excitement in every step of the journey and although I imagine they do hold onto fear of the unknown, she's not letting that steal her joy. I wish all my pregnant friends could come to this realization and not hold back the excitement and pure joy that should come with having life form inside you. Heck, I wish my non-preggo friends would realize how often we let fear steal our joy in everyday life. Because at the end of the day, bad things are going to happen. The great news is there is nothing that will happen in this world the Lord will not see you through. He will be your strength and perseverance through the bad experiences And its how we persevere through the bad times in life which make the greatest impact.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you, He will never leave you nor forsake you.
This is a great reminder for all of us. If we live in constant fear of the many "what ifs" in life, we lose out on enjoying life. So cast your fears to the Lord and soak up the journey. Celebrate the here and now and leave tomorrow, well...for tomorrow.
I should probably add a small disclaimer that I have no idea what it feels like to lose a baby or lose a child. I don't even know what it feels like to be pregnant. However, I've stood by many friends who have miscarried and I've cared for many dying babies in the hospital setting. And there is an unique heartbreak in putting a dying baby into the arms of a mother or father when your entire job is to make their baby better. So I confess, I'm writing these thoughts from a tender place of observation and not personal experience. For those parents who have gone through this horrible experience, I understand fear is very, very real to you. I'm just sharing an outsider's perspective and admiring one mother who has seemed to conquer her fear to live out her joy.
So don't miss out on the joy and excitement in life waiting for something bad to happen. And to my many pregnant friends...I am praying for you on this beautiful journey.
Pregnancy, babies and bundles of joy,
It's been an incredibly emotional week in the wake of losing a friend to a drunk driving accident. Yesterday I was a crying mess. I cried as I tried to work. I cried in the car. I cried at Walmart and Petco. Tears even ran down my eyes as I tried to fall asleep last night. The emotion of the week definitely got the best of me. Tears of sorrow and tears of anger.
Last night another friend from childhood summed it up best with a Facebook post reading "With one bad decision from a stranger, her future was taken from us in a heartbeat. I've been sad and hurt but more than anything I've been angry. Angry at a stranger." This describes the roller coaster of my emotions this week; emotions that have landed on anger. I'm angry at this stranger who stole her life and I'm angry at myself for the times in my past I was behind the wheel of a car and shouldn't have been. And I'm broken hearted because Caroline had so much living left to do.
However, my friend continued his Facebook post by reminding us we need to try and forget the drunk driver so we can elevate the memory of Caroline. The lives she touched (she was a teacher) and the fact she always marched to the beat of her own drum. And he is 100% right (Thanks Tom!). I've let myself focus on the evil in the situation and if I focus too long on this stranger, I'm going to lose the memory of Caroline. I'm going to miss the lessons she taught us. If I let anger dwell in my heart too long, the stranger wins. Evil wins. And evil never actually wins in the end.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently from him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more, though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.
Sometimes I have to remind myself evil doesn't win in the end. I mean, I know that and I read that in the bible but I don't always live that out in a confident spirit. We are surrounded by evil people and evil things and it's so easy to get lost in your present circumstances, whatever they may be, and lose sight of the hope we have in Jesus. It's easy to focus on the evil but when we do not make a conscious effort to shift focus, we run the risk of anger and bitterness taking up residence in our hearts.
And Caroline would never have allowed anger and bitterness to permanently reside in her heart. She always moved on. She always moved forward no matter the setbacks. So I'm following her lead.
Tears, memories and hope,
Yesterday a friend I've stayed in touch with since Kindergarten died. A drunk driver hit her early Sunday morning. The news media refers to him as an "alleged drunk driver" however he has a prior arrest history including a DUI so I think we can drop the "alleged". A drunk driver killed my friend.
Everyone who grew up with Caroline is remembering her exactly how they should, as a shining star. A spunky, confident shining star. It's really hard to believe how quickly her light went out. And since a drunk driver stole her light from us, naturally every friend is asking others not to drink and drive. However, I have to wonder if people mean "please don't drink and drive" or "please don't drive drunk" because our society has a strange way of distinguishing between these two phrases. Public service announcement folks: there is no difference. They are one in the same. I learned this on my first date with my husband.
I'll never forget my first date with Chris. One of the things that first attracted me to him had absolutely nothing to do with his stunning good looks, his gentlemen charm or the fact he is a fighter pilot. Oddly, it had to do with the fact he had a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving and he wasn't afraid to put me in my place on the matter.
We met for a lunch date, just a simple burger and beer and then walked to a local brewery for another beer. When I went to get behind the wheel he boldly stated, "This isn't a dig at you but I'm not cool with drinking and driving." To which I responded, as many Americans would, "I've only had two beers." "Yes and that is two beers too many," he replied. He was right and he wasn't afraid to let me know. From that point on, we called a Taxi, Uber or walked whenever we went out and had a beer or cocktail. And this is the way it remains for us now. One of us stays sober and I mean actually sober.
I never went out with the intention of drinking and driving. Although extremely unfortunate, in America it's socially acceptable to have a drink and drive as long as you don't drive drunk. However, the line between these is so thin, it practically doesn't exist. I'm not sure why in the United States the "DD" is usually the person who drinks the least, instead of the person who doesn't drink at all. Are we not capable of having a good time without having a drink?
And for whatever reason, we worry most about getting pulled over instead of the real risks of ending someone's life. When we get behind the wheel to drive after having "just a few" drinks, we never think about the very real possibility of killing someone. We never think about the real possibility of killing an elementary school music teacher who was so bright, it's hard for family and friends to imagine life without her. We only think about ourselves...what will happen if I get a DUI? We are so small-minded we do not consider the real possibilities and consequences of our decisions. The consequences of having a drink and driving.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.
To think back over the times I probably shouldn't have been behind the wheel and think I risked killing someone every time I was in that circumstance, is scary, horrifying and embarrassing. And painful as I mourn the loss of a friend. It drives me to seek forgiveness from God and above all else give God thanks for protecting others from me over and over again.
I'm embarrassed to admit it took over 30 years and a rather crucial conversation between my now husband and I for me to redefine drinking and driving. The definition of drinking and driving is exactly that..having "a" drink, yes even 1 or 2, and getting behind the wheel. End of story. And as sad as this sounds, this was a big adjustment for me and took time for me to get used to (It's humiliating for me to admit this now but it's the truth). However, I'm so thankful to know I learned this lesson before I hurt or killed someone. Unfortunately, others haven't been so blessed. And it's times like these, when a friend has lost her life, I wonder why God protects some and not others. I have to believe God uses everything for His glory and good will come out of suffering (good in the God-sense not the human-sense). I believe this but it doesn't make the pain any easier.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24
"I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything" - but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
I'm challenging you to not only make a commitment against drunk driving but make a commitment to not drink and drive. Support others around you who choose to go out and not drink because they are driving. There's something wrong with a culture in which we have to explain why we aren't having "one beer" when we say "I'm the designated driver." Let's commit to change that.
A commitment, a DD and Caroline,
To the many friends whom birthdays I've missed over the past five years or to the handful of people who I owe a "thank you" card for a gift or celebration, my sincerest apologies. The truth is, I feel like I'm finally coming up for air after five long years.
This past month is the first time in I don't know how long, I actually remembered extended family and friends' birthdays. And although gifts and cards may still be delivered late, it is the first time since I started graduate school back in 2011, I even remembered them. (#winning #finally) These past 5 years of my life have been a whirlwind. Between advancing my career, finishing my doctoral degree, moving several times and working through a few personal struggles in my life, life has been overwhelming, to say the least. And I wonder how many people have looked at me and thought, "Geez she's not very thoughtful or thankful. What an ungrateful (insert foul language)." And to the folks who may have felt this way, I'm so sorry. I wasn't ungrateful, I was overwhelmed. And sure, I wrote all the birthdays in my beautiful, over-priced Erin Condren life planner but sometimes your day-to-day life is too busy to even look at your planner.
Life is tough sometimes. And we each carry a different burden and deal with our burdens differently. It is easy to judge or think ill of someone for not living up to a societal or personal standard when you are looking in from the outside. However, when you are forced to walk a similar path, all of a sudden you understand. And if you are like me, you seek forgiveness for all the times you didn't understand. Or the times you judged someone for not living up to your standards. And you realize, standards don't actually matter in life. People matter.
It's a silly example compared to what I've dealt with the last five years and an even sillier example compared to the burden some carry right now. But when I went away to college and came home for weekend visits, I remember some of my friends being upset because I didn't spend enough time with them. I struggled to balance time with my family, my boyfriend's family and friends in the short 48 hours I was actually in town. Some of my best friends really struggled with it until they were in the same situation and realized "the struggle IS real." It's hard to balance the demands of friends and family - and maybe a few of us still feel this way. Family and friends put demands on you and you just feel like you can't keep up sometimes. These struggles seem so incredibly small to the load I've carried in recent years but it's a simple example of how looking in from another place, positions you perfectly to judge without empathy. Each person copes with life's load differently and you know what? I'm incredibly grateful we all cope differently because we learn to manage our life from one another. If we all dealt with situations or stress or struggles the exact same way, we would likely not cope well at all. So although the differences between us give room for judgement and hurt feelings, if we embrace a spirit of understanding we might find ourselves stronger in the end.
A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.
I'm so thankful the Lord weighs our heart and intentions and not always our actions. I would be in BIG trouble if God judged me on etiquette and/or follow through. How great would it be if we let go of all these standards and went about our lives believing others have the best intentions, even if they miss the mark occasionally (or for 5 years in a row). What if we lived being understanding of others and allowed the Lord to judge their heart and intention.
Happy Belated Birthday, a long Overdue thank you and a forgotten congrats,
I'm loving the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Go Team USA. Swimming, diving, gymnastics, beach volleyball...and all the other sports like handball - I mean, everyone deserves a chance at winning a medal, right? Last night I decided I would love to win an Olympic medal doing something...just not sure what that "something" is. And then I was reminded, I'm probably past my prime. However, if there's a 41 year old gymnast competing then maybe I have a chance.
Hold up...NO. I do not have a chance. And do you want to know why? Because I lack the motivation, determination and perseverance it takes to train like an Olympian. (Not to mention skill but even if I had the skill of Michael Phelps, I still would not be an Olympian.) Watching the Olympics is so much fun because it's the "Facebook version" of what it means to be an Olympian.
The (mostly) good times. In the not-so-good times, I would fail. I can't motivate myself to get up at 6a to run for 40 minutes every day or stick to a 12-week half marathon training plan. So no, I will never be an Olympian. (Excuse me, I need a moment to accept this...)
Okay, I'm over it. I will never been an Olympian. I'll never be "the best of the best" this side of heaven. However, being the "the best of the best" is relatively meaningless when you consider heaven. Those 20+ Gold medals around Michael Phelps's neck are meaningless after life on earth. His true identity, your true identity and my true identify will be revealed someday. And you either identify in Christ or you don't. That is all that matters. Steele Johnson and David Boudia did a great job highlighting this in their post medal-winning olympic dive interview. Check it out:
Let me stop and shout out a big "AMEN". I've never been prouder of two American Olympians. As I was searching for the link to this video clip, I learned they have given several interviews like this one in competitions leading up to the Olympics. And as interview video clips go, people across the world have butchered them for standing and speaking out about their faith in Christ. We praise the gay athlete for being true to his identity and celebrate Bruce "Caitlin" Jenner's ability to identify with his/her self...but we have a problem with two Christians identifying with Christ!?! The comments on the video clips are horrifying and heartbreaking. There is no quicker way to offend me and break my heart than to offend Christ or another one of my brothers or sisters in Christ. I don't use my beliefs to berate others and I certainly do not like when others do that to me. However, I know that my perseverance is in the hope I have in Christ. And I know that HIS love and sacrifice are so great that He even forgives and takes in the 'haters' posting on the video link, if they so choose to identify in Him.
Therefore we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character, hope. And hope does not put to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, I may not be an Olympian but I've got something better than an Olympian medal. I have a Savior in Christ, who IS my identity. Don't be defined by something this side of heaven, identify with Christ for He truly is "the best of the best" eternally.
Medals, Olympians, and Christ,
I've been silent on the blog for quite awhile now. Honestly, I have struggled to find words to describe the heartache I feel for our world right now. Each morning I wake up to news alerts on my phone reporting another violent event in our world. A killing spree in Orlando, cops targeting black lives, people retaliating against cops, an explosion in France, a bombing in Kabal, a coup in Turkey....another day, another tragedy. It's been a constant in life.
Meanwhile I'm over here just trying to write a blog series dedicated to separating the sinner from sin, a blog dedicated to loving those different than you, those with sins that look different than your sins. Love the sinner, hate the sin. And yet I found myself at a loss for words because it seemed hate was winning.
And then we have the 2016 Presidential election and just American politics in general. Hate is so woven into our political landscape it is hard to find truth in anyone's political platform. Compared to the hate and violence occurring across the globe, our political hate is...I guess it's just petty. However, it is so ugly and grotesque, it really discourages me. I'm tired of seeing hate towards Democrats. I'm tired of seeing hate towards Republicans. I'm tired of seeing hate towards Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. We are all to blame for the mess we are in and step one just might be ceasing all hatred and finding some way to unify. However, this hate is nothing...NOTHING... compared to the lives being lost across our world.
This overwhelming feeling of hatred is interfering with my ability to find the words to motivate and inspire others in their faith. And honestly (in a spirit of transparency), there have been moments where I feel hopeless and discouraged. However...I am finding hope. In Isaiah.
Who's Isaiah you ask? Isaiah was a prophet in the Old Testament and he wrote a rather large, complicated book in the bible. It's one of those books I hope my pastor doesn't teach from because I fear I will immediately 'zone out' in confusion. It's just so confusing and historical in nature but I recently decided to put my big girl panties on and tackle it. Yep, I'm really reading through Isaiah. It takes me several days to understand a single chapter at time but I'm slowly working my way through it. Let me be clear about my expectations for the book of Isaiah. I thought I would find a bunch of boring history and read about predictions that have since then come true. And although I do have to sift through history and I use about 3-4 other books to understand each chapter of Isaiah, it has given me hope in the midst of our current world. God's timing of leading me to the book of Isaiah is nothing short of perfect (Note: it took A LOT of motivation because the Old Testament just isn't my bread and butter. It's more like soggy, moldy bread to me. Sorry God. This girl will always love the New Testament). Well apparently moldy bread is exactly what I needed. It's how I have found hope for our country and hope for our world. The book of Isaiah is rescuing me from discouragement.
Why? Because Isaiah (at least part of it) was written during a time when the people of Judah and Jerusalem were far, far from God. The first several chapters of this book alternate between descriptions of judgement and descriptions of blessings. If you read only the descriptions of judgement, you would see many similarities to our world. The deep rooted evil and the hate was equally, if not more, palpable in Judah and Jerusalem. But the Lord promised to wash away the filth and cleanse His people. He sent Jesus to save them (and us!).
Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7
2. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.
6. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Jesus returned to earth to save the people from darkness. And to save US from our darkness. And His reign is forever. The peace is everlasting. So although it feels like hate is winning...it is not. Jesus is still our King. The darkness of this world will eventually fade away and we will have a peace that surpasses our understanding. His grace is enough.
So here's my advice....don't let hate win. If you have faith, stand tall in your faith and realize hate doesn't win in the end. This ugly, horrific battle we are in right now...has already been won. There's no room for worry. There's no room for fear. There's only reason to trust God and honor the hope we have in Him.
"...If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all."
Violence, elections and HOPE,
Just a few reflections about everything God is teaching me in this life...a journey deeper into His purpose for my life.