He Proves His Faithfulness

“Everything’s okay. God’s timing is always the best. He’ll make it all work together.”

Perhaps you’ve had these words said to you. Perhaps you’ve been the one saying them. Regardless of the circumstances or your role in them, these words don’t always provide the assurance needed. At least they don’t for me.

But the moments when things are chaotic and don’t make sense…those are the moments when God is orchestrating everything just to give me a boost of faith right when I need it most.

And there is so much evidence of this being the truth.

I’ll share some examples of this from my own life to show this to be true. There’s no better story than the one you can share with kindred spirits. And there’s power in experiencing similar details that simply prove God is at work.

I’m part of a small group that meets every week. We are studying the book of Esther right now—a book famous not only because it’s main character is a woman but also because God does not play a direct role in the story. He remains behind the scenes. Esther contains gems about integrity, standing up for what’s right, not compromising and the power relationships have.

In my own quiet time in the mornings, I am studying the Armor of God. This week in particular has been about the shield of faith, how it’s meant to be a shield not only for myself but for others as well (as the shield of a Roman soldier could cover himself and one-third of a fellow soldier).

And in the last couple of months alone, God has placed people in my heart and my life to trust and treat well. It’s been like watching the book of Esther and the Armor of God come to active and fruitful life all the time.

The common thread here is relationships. As I get older and learn more and experience more of life, I become more convinced every day that God uses people in profound ways in the lives of others. And things seem so genuinely unrelated—until they don’t, until you have that feeling in your chest or your gut, that lightbulb moment telling you it all makes sense now.

That’s God. That’s His faithfulness being proved to You.

The knowledge that He remains faithful in the midst of so much turmoil is evident when happenstances that seem so unrelated suddenly start to morph into one single tapestry—like a 750-piece puzzle coming together.

One day I can be wallowing in every kind of bad or negative thought about myself, and the next day God has me talk to someone who is struggling the exact same way. When I want so badly to take the plunge, to face a fear, and I find every excuse to back out, I’ll end up reading a testimony about overcoming fear, or I’ll open my Bible app and the verse of the day will be about fearlessness. Or one night I’m recalling some painful parts of my story for the benefit of another and the next day they let me know God used that honesty to minister to them.

It’s difficult to explain the full feeling I get when I know God is walking me through this life. Because it’s not easy and it doesn’t always feel good. Because staying faithful to Him is the hardest thing I have to do every single day. Because at the end of the day it’s still difficult to have faith in a God I can’t see.

At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to be fearless. I decided that if anything ever held me back from following where God is leading me, it wouldn’t be fear. (I’ve shared this commitment on my Instagram previously.) Not long after I made this commitment, I started to get the sense that something big was coming—bigger than I would be capable of wrapping my head around. And that feeling is already starting to materialize. In very small ways, but still materializing.

And just to get to this point of seeing the smallest bit of materializing blessings I had to endure a season on empty.

And thank God I did.

God took my heart, hearing all my cries for a full life. He answered those cries by filling my heart with Himself and giving me new desires, new dreams, new goals to accomplish. And He’s proved His faithfulness time and time again every day since.

Those words I mentioned at the beginning of this post…they don’t always offer peace, but they do offer a glimpse of reality when it doesn’t make sense. Because God is truly and faithfully working things out.

Kindred Spirits in Honest Agony

At multiple times in life, every one of you reading this will be in agony. The circumstances for each of you may be different, but the feeling will be the same.

I speak from experience.

In agonizing moments, it seems there is nothing that can seemingly offer relief. You feel as if you are falling into a dark abyss and you’re not sure there’s anything or anyone at the bottom who will catch you. If you are a Christian, you probably have it stored in your memory that God is going to catch you because that’s just who God is. But this doesn’t offer immediate peace and tranquility.

The last thing you or I want to feel in these moments is absence—of family, of friends, of love, of community, of a good distraction. But loneliness, and enduring it, dominates everything. You have an entire schedule planned for your day, your weekend, and a wrench is thrown. Now suddenly going to the beach doesn’t sound so fun; instead you’re just going to take a nap (because that’s all you have the energy for) and hope that when your eyes open you have a text message or an Instagram notification. Now, instead of making something delicious and healthy to eat, you choose to find and consume every ounce of chocolate in your kitchen. And it goes on. Your actions are skewed and distracted because your thoughts aren’t following a singular track anymore. Your day no longer consists of trying to get from point A to point B. It’s more about just trying to get to a point even if it’s point Q. And trying to follow the squiggly and circling lines on the map that don’t make sense in order to get there.

Am I painting a picture of chaos? That’s the goal. Because that’s what it feels like to endure agony alone.

I am a huge advocate for community, a strong one at that. One who makes an effort to know you, asks you the tough questions, helps you grow. But I’ve learned and observed something new.

My generation is very into feelings behind actions—doing what feels right, getting a job that feels right, making choices that feel right, enduring changes that feel right, maintaining relationships because they feel right. And it’s also very into the reality that life throws curve balls that mess with us on deep levels—our identities, our morals, our values, our goals, our faith. We’ve learned much about mental health and every professional who has any experience or background in this topic knows experiences must be processed. So if someone is coming out of a traumatic experience, it’s important for that person to let the pain be felt in order to process it and heal from it.

But is this idea of allowing pain and agony and anger to be felt biblical? And if it is, how is it meant to comfort us when we already have strong communities around us comprised of real, living people instead of simple words they left behind for us to read?

I live alone. My closest family members are over an hour away. My best friend is also over an hour away. I have a small number of people I will go to when I’m in internal chaos. They’re the people I’m comfortable around, the ones who have fearlessly broken through every wall I defensively put up, the ones I trust, the ones who are my kindred spirits. Having those people who are similar to me makes the chaos bearable.

But when those people are unavailable, what am I supposed to do? Their lives don’t stop when mine is in chaos. Yes, I have my heavenly Father; I can talk to Him, but when in chaos my thoughts aren’t focused. So I find something one-track to stay my mind on.

I read my Bible.

I have kindred souls in the Bible, books I can read that assure me what I’m feeling is not new, as these writers (Ruth, David, Jeremiah) also experienced the same thing. And they never held back in their conversations with God. Which gives me even more assurance that God wants me to be honest with Him. This means that all the mental health professionals are right who encourage people to feel the full weight of everything traumatic that has happened to them. And even more important, it’s biblical to do so; if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have the honesty found in Psalms and Lamentations.

Both books are filled with agony and pain and sadness and desperation. David, multiple times, cried out to God wanting and demanding to know where He was! David felt alone, and the One whom he thought would be near felt miles and miles away. So he cried out!

Never once does the Bible record God being fed up with David’s shifting emotions, Jeremiah’s mournful laments, Ruth’s grief and desperation. If anything, it brings Him joy to know that His children are being honest about how they feel, what they’re going through. Yes, He already knows and understands your pain (Hebrews 4:15), but He wants your honesty. And when you can’t form the words to tell Him, He has given you His Word filled with accounts from people who encountered the same pain.

So when you’re in chaos as I am on occasion (it seems to happen too often) be comforted in knowing you’re allowed to feel the full weight of your circumstances. And even more important than that, you have a Savior who wants to comfort you and kindred spirits in His Word who have already gone before you. There should never be any shame when the fire is intense and we feel left to bear it alone. Cry out! He’s listening! Don’t be ashamed to ask for someone to listen to you!

Faith That Stands

I think it’s normal for a young person to adopt Jeremiah 29:11 as their favorite or life verse. I was no different. Until I got to college. My life verse then changed to something a bit unexpected, but it has proven true in every huge moment in my life.

Hebrews 10:23—“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

This verse was written in gold letters on my graduation cap in 2015. And it has been written in ink across my left shoulder since this time last year.

When I got “He who promised is faithful” permanently written on my body, it simply seemed like the right thing to do. Obviously, it’s my favorite verse and I already know God is faithful and keeps His promises, so why not write it down where it can’t be erased? Well, a year later, I now better understand my reason for wanting the tattoo and I know His faithfulness in a whole new way.

Let me explain.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents are both strong Christians and they did everything they could to teach me and my siblings what it means and looks like to follow Christ, have faith in Him, love Him as He first loved us. I took to faith early on in life and it became real for me when I was around 14 years old. Suddenly the old beat up Bible on the shelf that was designated as mine was interesting. Suddenly the words written there were worth reading, the verses worth memorizing and writing down on pieces of paper, sticking them all over my bedroom walls and door. Suddenly prayer was something that came naturally to me. Suddenly I enjoyed going to church for more reasons than the mere fact that I would see friends there.

Time advanced. I grew older. My relationship with Christ grew deeper. I noticed that the world I live in can cause a lot of damage to that precious relationship. I knew I would have to protect it if I wanted it to survive. Scripture (find the right Scriptures) told me faith was the key to everything. Life, with all its challenges and joy and sorrow and happiness and tears, would not make sense without faith in Christ to carry me through.

I went so long without much of a challenge, I got lazy, naively believing that I was untouchable. And then college started. College held the most challenges I had encountered up until that point. I had to learn to be strong and faithful. And through the challenges I learned more about myself, about my Savior and about our relationship. And I knew instinctively from that point on that I wouldn’t be happy in life unless I could somehow combine the importance of my faith with everything else—career, family, relationships, etc.

It had to be the center of my life, the center of everything. Without it, I would be lost.

After graduating I learned that college was easy compared to the real world. During my season of being a recent graduate with next to no real prospects on the job front, I would sit in my room with my Bible open and think, Wow, things are certainly never going to get easier, that’s for sure.

Over the last nearly three years since graduating, God has allowed many different challenges to intersect my path. And these challenges…currently I’m having a hard time believing that anything could top them. It scares me to believe that someday I will endure deeper heartache and pain. So the question I am asking right now is this: How do I strengthen my faith and rely on God, whom I should have faith in, when I feel like I don’t have any faith left? And where does this leave me?

Something I need to keep in mind is there isn’t any way I can know what God is doing right now, or what He had in mind when every single trial began. Furthermore, there’s no way He fell asleep on the job. He didn’t get tired and take His eyes off of me and then suddenly couldn’t find me. And even more important than that, He would never want me to deny the range of emotions and feelings I have right now or the reality that none of them make perfect, complete sense to me all the time. I need to remember that honesty with Him is and will always be important.

So what is my reality right now? The feeling that the deep and abiding relationship I have with Christ is not nearly as potent as it should be. Why? Because I am having a hard time trusting Him. This is a tough conundrum to have because where faith is, usually trust is close by. But while I believe and have faith that Jesus is real, that He came to die for my sins, was buried, rose again, ascended to heaven and is coming back again, I am having a hard time trusting Him with myself.

Now it’s not a matter of believing He hasn’t proved Himself to be trustworthy; He always has, always does, always will. It’s more about the current circumstances I find myself in, the reality that the feelings brimming over in my heart, are so intense and telling me that I need to keep everything close to the chest, even from God.

I am having a hard time believing that He can heal me and redeem me.

As I write this, though, I have come to a few realizations:

  1. God started the redemption process in me a long time ago, and even when I don’t feel it, He’s redeeming me.
  2. For someone who enjoys depending on feelings, it’s hard for me to have faith when faith has no feeling. This is the second season in my life where faith has felt particularly difficult, all because the strong feelings from the previous joyful season have faded and difficulty has taken its place.
  3. When trust is difficult, you have to keep trying and doing it anyway. In the last five months I have had so many new relationships take root in my heart and each one of them has served a huge God-purpose in my story. Without me even realizing when it’s happening or even how it’s happening, God uses multiple people throughout my day to encourage me, to show me that I can trust them, I can trust HIM. After all, He has brought all of these amazing, strong, Godly women into my circle.
  4. Telling my story for the benefit of another is relieving. Multiple times in the last month God has presented numerous opportunities to share my story or simply be honest about something, and every single time the answer has been, “I’m going through that too.” What better way is there for me to work on my trust in God than allowing Him to remind me I’m not alone? What the enemy used to isolate me, God is using to build a community of trust, revealing a bit more of His grand purpose for me every day.

So my conclusion is this: Faith doesn’t always bring good feelings, just like the process of getting a tattoo. Sometimes I’m genuinely down about something, genuinely can’t shake off the funk I’m in, genuinely worried about someone, genuinely trying my hardest to pray with faith, and it’s hard to do. But this feeling of having such frail faith isn’t going to last forever, just like the pain of getting a tattoo is temporary. God continues to teach me these trials and frustrations will make my faith even stronger for tomorrow. And at the end of the day, I have stronger faith and a beautiful reminder of it. Though the trials ahead I’m sure will only get harder as I get older, that’s okay. Because my faith stands.

Where’s Your Armor?

Let’s talk about the enemy, particularly why he seems to be so interested in God’s kids.

At the very end of 2017, I was on a plane coming home from Texas. I had spent Christmas with my family and I was making my journey back with my fur child, Lottie. It was a long day (I’m not exaggerating at all. If you were one of the few who I talked to that day, you know how stressful it was). But when you’re on a plane there’s little to do. The ground and all its stress-causing problems are thousands of feet beneath you, which means your mind can wander to different things.

I took this opportunity to write in my journal. And instead of writing a normal journal entry that would likely turn into a long prayer/conversation with Jesus, I wrote out some things I was thankful for in 2017. Then I turned my attention to what I wanted to accomplish in 2018.

Any time I look back on a year of my life, I like being able to say that I’ve learned a big lesson, gone to a few new places, experienced deeper relationships and grown in my faith. And even though 2017 was difficult in many ways, I accomplished something in each of these categories. Looking forward, I decided that 2018 would be the year I become a conqueror, and this would mesh together every single category from above.

I spent a good portion of 2017 in fear, and as I sat in my slightly uncomfortable aisle seat on a long flight back to San Diego, I told God that I didn’t want to be afraid of anything anymore—including grabbing ahold of the great things He wants to give me. I will conquer fear in 2018.

After about an hour of writing, I closed my journal. I had written down an entire page of goals for the coming year, and I was excited to see how God would stretch me.

Well here’s the not so funny thing about fear: it’s a tool in the enemy’s belt. If you’re like me, then you’ve struggled with fear, that sinister whispering voice in your ear telling you that you need to give up, you’re not worth anything to anyone and you’re better off simply bowing out of the fight. Imagine the chaos you’re causing for the enemy when you decide that you’re going to take away one of his best weapons.

Within about a week after I set my main goal of conquering fear, I was sitting down on my couch early in the morning, drinking a cup of coffee, when I felt it. A stirring started in my chest, and I could sense the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me that it was going to be a difficult year. But like a fool I didn’t take the moment to pray for strength. I simply acknowledged what God said and moved on with my morning routine. And I didn’t think about that moment again until a couple of weeks ago.

Around the time this feeling came and went, I began a study called “The Armor of God.” It’s a workbook that goes through the book of Ephesians, specifically examining chapter 6. The writer of the workbook, Priscilla Shirer, does a good job of giving her readers a reality check. I can practically hear her sass as she tries to snap her fingers in front of my face to get my attention, as if she is saying, “Uh, hello! Girl, wake up! The enemy is out there, he’s real, and your armor is nowhere to be found!”

The first week, it was a good reality check to have. But things didn’t click until the second week. This foreboding in my chest that I felt, and this reality check to remember the enemy is real, is why I felt God telling me this year would be difficult! What else could I expect when I declared that fear would never be an issue anymore? Of course the enemy is going to scramble for new tactics to get me back under his control!

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks (more accurately, here’s what I’ve relearned in the last couple of weeks).

  1. A Christian with his or her armor on is a force to be reckoned with. The seven individual pieces are powerful tools, but when they are all combined they form the spiritual, biblical defense needed to live in this world—and live in a way that brings people into the fold of God’s family.
  2. The enemy knows us. For as long as we’ve all been breathing he has gathered intel on all of us, learning what our weaknesses are, sharpening his tools and striking at the first opportunity he gets—and he keeps striking. But he’s a liar, he’s deceptive. He wants us to believe that the abundant lives God wants us to have—the kind of lives Jesus came and died to give us—isn’t attainable.
  3. When we understand our own weaknesses and strengths, we begin to understand that we have the armor right there, ready to be used. For me, I realized one of my weaknesses—therefore one of the enemy’s greatest tools to use against me—is fear. I decided to fight. And immediately, the attacks began. At every turn since setting my goal and declaring to God that I would follow Him with fearlessness, the enemy has lobbied every attack he can think of. It’s been a fight every day, but I refuse to give up.
  4. I can give up, I can run scared, but it wouldn’t do any good. Not physically, emotionally, mentally and certainly not spiritually. Why? Because my armor doesn’t protect my backside. Retreats are not covered. I continue to fight. And God has already promised in His Word that the enemy has been defeated. I just need to follow Christ every single day, choosing to strengthen my faith and dependence on Christ.

It’s not easy to be a target, but understand this. It’s even more difficult to know that God has amazing plans for all of us, but we’re almost always too afraid to grab them. And if you desire to grab them—if you desire to further God’s kingdom, grow in your faith, love people better, change your ways, open your heart, have a better attitude, conquer fears—then rest assured knowing the enemy is going to work overtime to get you to give up and run away.

But also rest assured that your armor is already prepared for you. Just put it on, and fight. Don’t run. Don’t be afraid. It isn’t easy, it isn’t simple, but it’s WORTH IT because to God YOU’RE WORTH IT.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

Peace & Rest, Faith & Works

I have a standing appointment every single day. During the week, it happens right after work. I come home, I feed my dog, I do any dishes that need to be done, then my standing appointment comes.

It’s 30 minutes of uninterrupted time as I take my dog Lottie for a walk. Some days I spend the 25-30 minutes just listening to music and walking to whatever beat is coming through my earphones. Other days, I spend time thinking and praying. The last couple of weeks have been filled with a need for peace. And something that has brought me comfort is I know a lot of people who are in the same boat.

Yesterday evening as I walked around my apartment complex, I enjoyed the gray and somewhat puffy clouds in the sky. The way the sun was coming through the atmosphere and the light was hitting the clouds was created a warm glow. Rend Collective was being piped into my ears. At one point I looked up and noticed the sunset. I can’t say I notice many sunsets these days (sad) so when this one caught my eye I spent the rest of my walk gazing up at it every few seconds. Creation sings praises to the Creator–that was the only thought in my head for a while. My God made that sunset, and He made me. And knowing me, He used that sunset to bring peace in my heart for just a few minutes. Peace–because it’s high in demand and far too many feel it’s in short supply.

I think something every person is after at one point or another is peace. The gift of peace when your circumstances are out of control is so valuable. When I receive it in a time of need I treat it like fine gold, it is precious. Sometimes it comes in a moment of darkness and I have to hold onto it for dear life, and enjoy it, because soon life’s struggles will come rushing in once again, pushing every ounce of peace back out. And still other times, I think we long for rest, a somewhat deeper peace where we don’t have to worry about anything. But biblically speaking, peace and rest are different. In Hebrews 4 we are told that rest is coming in eternity; it is not attainable on earth. However, peace is. Just this week alone I have found and relied on multiple verses to cling to when my peace is in such agonizingly short supply.

Here are just a few of them:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” —John 14:27

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:6-7

“For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” —1 Corinthians 14:33

“Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” —James 3:17

“The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.” —Isaiah 32:17

If Jesus Himself told the disciples in the gospel of John that He would leave His peace for them, obviously peace is something we can attain here on earth as we wait for eternal rest. God Himself is peace, and He freely gives it to us when we need it. And peace is a characteristic of a believer as we know from Galatians 5:22-23 and Ephesians 6:14-15. It is meant to mark us as His children.

So what does that mean? What should our lives look like in any situation we encounter? Do we have to work for peace? Or have works to have peace?

Here is the answer: You do not need works to have peace. Period. Simple as that.

Peace—like His grace, like His salvation, like His love—is a gift. It cannot be worked for, it cannot be earned. If it could be found apart from the gift God offers, people would be running around like crazy trying to find it. And the fact that it is offered by God, a perfect God and a loving God, means there is absolutely nothing that can be done to dole out the worthiness that would compel Him to give it. A perfect gift offered by a perfect God can never be earned. And the more it is worked for, the farther away it gets, and the more you will ultimately need it. It is going to be an exhausting life trying to earn what has already been given.

Now the application. If I, a child of the King, have been given the peace of God and I trust in Him, how am I supposed to set myself apart? mark myself with peace? make my works reflect the peace I have? Because something important to remember is that peace is not because of my works, rather it fits with my works. And James tells all believers that faith without works is dead, which simply means that the outward expression of our faith should be a result of what’s always being transformed inwardly. So what am I to do?

Seeing as I get the most fulfillment from the people in my life, this means I must maintain peace in my relationships. I want my life to be reflective of peace. When my people are around me, I do not want them to feel any ill will, any hostility, any harm. No turmoil. I want them to feel like they have been listened to, and like they may have problems but they are not the problem. And I want them to understand when I pray for them I only pray for the most abundant blessings for them. I want them to have an amazing life as they pursue Jesus with everything they have.

That means offering prayers for the people in my life regardless of what they have done or how they have lived their lives. It means loving them with my words and actions, working my hardest to give them a safe place where they can be themselves, giving them a listening ear, offering a hug, praying diligently for them. And when the occasion calls for it, being a silent friend in the midst of their turmoil, simply being a presence to remind them they are not alone.

I’m sure I fail every single day at maintaining peace. But part of the peace God has given me includes the strength to get back up off the floor and keep trying. Do not underestimate how much God loves you and how He so desires to bless you with an abundance of peace, and eventually your eternal rest will come. And please remember that although your life should be marked by peace (part of the outward works you do to show your inward faith) the peace that is offered is not because of your works. It is a gift. Accept it.

Stress or Peace? Which Do You Prefer?

I can answer that question easily. I prefer peace. But lately I have been asking myself if I choose peace.

The last week has been stressful. I wish stress could adequately describe the extent of turmoil I have felt, but it does not. Stress takes both a physical and mental toll on me, and in turn it takes an emotional and spiritual toll. It begins in my head when my brain processes a stressful situation and soon it manifests itself with either a raging headache right in the center of my forehead or a stomach ache that makes even sitting down uncomfortable. It then turns emotional because it frustrates me (I tend to cry when I am frustrated and at my wits end), and then it turns spiritual because I can focus on nothing else except the stress. I cannot pray, I cannot read, I cannot journal.

My morning quiet time in the last week has been severely hampered by stress. One morning as I drank my coffee and reclined on my couch with my dog in my lap, I silently cried out to God, begging for focus, but within seconds my thoughts were on my stress once again.

Left with no other choice, I laid my thoughts out before the Lord. “God, I give You my thoughts…” But wait. Giving Him my thoughts and saying a prayer means…what? It requires an action, it means I am going to completely lay all my burdens at His feet in exchange for a few moments of peace.

And the moments of peace began when I lowered my walls and let Him in. It felt like every muscle in my body finally began to relax. Slow, yes, but still making progress. Fighting against the enemy’s discouragement telling me I have to solve all these problems, I had to keep talking to Jesus. In that moment of unfolding peace I had a realization about myself and Christ, and our relationship.

Here it is: I think many people who do not know me very well would say I tend to be a slow person—slow to speak, slow to act, slow to evaluate, slow to process, slow to respond. This is true, I can have an argument with someone that lasts days. But the people who know me well also know that I am action oriented. When there is a problem, I act. I compile my information, I draw up my plan, I execute. Well, in the early morning hours on a weekday there is not much I can do in the way of solving my own problems. And right then is when Jesus wanted my attention the most. I had to choose peace.

God has had me reading the book of Nehemiah lately. In the season I am in it has offered endless encouragement that I have clung to throughout every single day. But it has also taught me more about the power of prayer, and how most of the time it is meant to be the only tool in my arsenal for this season. It is difficult to take such a backseat to solving problems as my flesh wants to choose stress, but this morning I was brought into sweet communion with my Savior because that is what was needed most. It always is.

“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” —Nehemiah 2:4

Let prayer be your first line of defense today, and choose peace over your stress. I cannot tell you it is easy because it is not. But it is worth it. Challenge yourself in your prayers. Choose to pray for the least of these, choose to pray for your enemies, choose to keep the conversation going with your Savior. You will not be disappointed.

Two Months Too Long

When you have a passion for something, you want to do it as often as you can. It can make you feel safe and secure, it can make you feel like what you are going through matters, it can make you feel like someone, anyone, is listening to your words and bearing your burdens with you. And in the midst of difficult seasons, comfort brought by spending time doing something you love can be paramount.

My something? Writing.

By no means am I a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist or a New York Times bestselling author, but I know God gave me a way with written words. Throughout the past five years, writing has been such an intricate part of my identity and going without it for long periods of time—as I have done recently—feels like not being able to walk for weeks at a time. So here is a new post for you. I am committing to writing more often since I have missed out on much.

Thinking about what I wanted to write for this update has had me thinking off and on for the past week. I have pondered deep thoughts and shallow topics, and I always came away with the desire to simply be honest. So here goes: I am struggling.

No one can get to young adulthood without realizing that in life there are peaks and valleys, high mountaintops and low desert floors. And here is something I have learned about peaks and valleys in general: they look different for everyone. My struggles, what I am fighting through right now, may not be on anyone else’s list of valleys they have experienced. Nonetheless, here I am. And their mountaintops may not ever be mine. Nonetheless, they are standing high. But down at the core is the truth that everyone, no matter who they are, will experience highs and lows.

While I was on vacation in Gulf Shores in September, there was much going on not only in the United States but all around the world. Hurricane Harvey had just left a huge disaster scene in Houston and the surrounding areas, and Hurricane Irma was on its way to Florida after devastating parts of the Caribbean. There was a small chance my family and I would be in Irma’s path, but by the grace of God it did not turn west. Earthquakes devastated parts of Mexico and London was being attacked and nuclear war with North Korea loomed ever larger (and still does). Yet for one brief moment in time, my family and I were safe, unaffected.

Usually when my entire family is together I struggle to find quiet time to read or write in my journal or spend time in prayer, but I think on this trip God knew I needed some alone time with Him. Every day I woke up at the exact same time—7 a.m., 5 a.m. in California—and I would quietly walk downstairs, make my coffee and sit out on the deck. It was the perfect spot for me. The wind gently blew, the sun was still rising, the view of the street below and the ocean across the street. It was peaceful. In those moments I would reflect on everything in my heart, giving everything I could to Jesus and not holding anything back. One morning I woke up feeling discouraged, like the enemy had literally hung a dark cloud over me while I slept and I woke up feeling frustrated and angry, and even though I did not want to, I opened my Bible app. The verse of the day happened to be from Isaiah 40. Just following my thoughts, I opened the entire chapter and began to read. What a surprise that the title of the chapter in NKJV is “God’s People Are Comforted.”

In my life seasons I have learned so many things about myself, and every single season—whether it be characterized by mountaintops or valley floors—reveals more and more. The season of life I am in right now has taught me that I value honesty more than almost anything else, and I desperately need the comfort of security. I did not realize how much I desired these things until suddenly they were more rare than abundant in my life.

As I read the 40th chapter, I was truly comforted. (Just an honest moment about having a relationship with Jesus. It is not always easy like the pages out of a Christian fiction book. Living a faithful life has thrown me so many curve balls, and every time I find myself on the floor I have to remind myself that it is OKAY to be there for a little bit. God sees me, He hears me. And more important than anything He is comforting me, lovingly catching every tear that falls, and holding me as I endure pain and heartache. He never leaves me. And in my moments of torture, all I want is peace. I want to sing worship music in the hope that it will lighten my heart. I want to read my Bible because maybe it will distract me. I want to pray because then I have someone to talk to. But I would be lying if I said doing all of those things ALWAYS make me feel better. It does not. But on this day, though I had to fight my way through, I was comforted.)

The first five verses of this chapter talk about how Jerusalem is comforted by her warfare ending because Jesus will come. And Jerusalem will eventually be saved along with anyone else who desires to be. That is comfort in the truth of who God is! He is my Savior, my friend, my Father. He is the one who never leaves me, and always comforts me when I feel impossible to be comforted!

The last five verses speak of how great His understanding is. He KNOWS everything about me, and somehow He still loves me. I was on His mind when He went to the Cross and breathed His last while He endured immeasurable pain. He is everlasting, His love is everlasting. There is not one single thing I can do to outrun Him. There is not one single fault or chink in my armor He sees that would cause His love to falter.

Always in my quest to have peace, to heal, to grow, to learn, I come back to this truth: Jesus is my everything. He is everything I desire, everything I need, everything I could ever want. He loves me so unconditionally, and all of the things I desire to receive from other people (unconditional love, security, compassion, honesty) are already offered by Him.

Jesus loves me. I do not need to concern myself with anything else. It is hard to not be bothered, it is hard to outrun heartache and pain, it is hard to surrender to the emotion of the moment when I know there is a hurdle I have to jump over. But there is freedom on the other side of that hurdle, and the opportunity to rest before I get to the next one. Because guess what? God is going to be faithful for the next hurdle, too. It is not going to be painless, ever. But He understands. And He offers all His love and comfort.

Take it.

Oh, Mom…

There is a song I like to listen to. It is called “Love Remains.”

If you listen to country music, you know who Lady Antebellum is. And if you know the names of the members, you know that Hilary Scott released a worship album with her family, and it is composed of old and new hymns and worship songs. And, you guessed it, “Love Remains” is on this album.

It makes me think of my family, the love my parents show me every day. But it also makes me think of my mom. The song begins by talking about how we are all born, and our parents react to seeing us for the first time: “Momma smiles, and Daddy cries.” The song goes on and talks about how a boy will grow up and take a bride: “She stands faithful, by his side.”

When I think about my 23 years on this earth and the constant presence of my mom, I can say I saw her do primarily two things: She smiled (at us and because of us) and she stood faithful (by my dad’s side and by our side).

Over the last couple of months, I thought of my dad a lot. He has so many characteristics and traits (hard working, loyal, sacrificial, consistent, loving, respectable, etc.) and he works hard to make sure his children possess those traits as well. But my mom…I cannot begin to tell you how many of her traits are amazing and precious, and how I desire to have those same traits.

If I could use only one adjective to describe both of my parents, I would say this:

Dad is consistent, but Mom is steady.

I can honestly say that she has been a steady and faithful foundation my entire life. While Dad had to go make sacrifices and take care of the family outside of the home, Mom was with us, providing everything we needed. She is the picture of steady love.

At this point, I just want to write something personal to my mom so I am going to change up this post a little bit, but keep reading.

Mom, I am thankful for our relationship. I remember being a teenager, and if there was ever something bothering me it was rare that I talked to you about it. I was Dad’s girl no matter what. I remember you asked me about it one Sunday on our way home from church. I remember where we were on the freeway (driving under the Nuevo Rd. overpass). I remember what car we were in (the truck). I remember where we were going (Sam’s Club). I had a bad day at church, and I was beyond frustrated, and instead of talking to you about it I chose to sit in the passenger seat and cry. I stared straight ahead and refused to be talked to. You got frustrated because I think I told you I only wanted to talk to Dad about what was bothering me. You were quiet after that. It occurred to me that it did not make much sense that I was not taking advantage of your listening ears or your heart of love, and it hurt you every time I preferred Dad over you. Somewhere in my heart that day I made a commitment to start talking to you more. Our relationship grew from that point forward, and now I am just as close to you as I am to Dad.

And now that I live on my own, the lessons you poured into me have taken root in whole new ways. Dad worked tirelessly (and still works tirelessly) to teach me and Matthew and Chelsea how to work hard and respect people and earn respect in return and defend ourselves and fight for what is right and prioritize others over ourselves and how to make sacrifices and be smart and be wise. He always taught with the right amount of love and strength so we would get it. But your lessons were so soft and subtle that I did not really put much thought to them until recently.

You taught me how to use my time wisely. If there is something that needs to be done and you have a few minutes to do it, get it done. You always told me, “The things you love, you will make time for them.”

You taught me how to plan and how to be wise with the gifts I have been given. Whether that gift is financial stability or time spent with people, it takes a certain amount of organization and wisdom to use them.

You taught me how to be faithful. You have never let me question how much you love me and how deep your love for me runs. And even in those moments when I think I might have reached the bottom of the deep love you possess, you always assure me that there is more to be found.

You taught me how to be quiet and let things play out. I bet if anyone who does not know you could use one word to describe you, it would be “quiet.” You are quiet by choice. You choose the right moment to speak and the right moment to keep your words to yourself, and so much of that wisdom comes from how well you know me.

You taught me how to fight (in all aspects where a fight is needed or required). I still think of how hard you had to fight for me against insurance companies and doctor’s offices, and if you had not fought who knows what my life would have turned out to be.

You taught me how to love in small and detailed ways. Everything you have ever done for me, it has stemmed from the detailed love you show me. You know me well and you taught me to show that same love to others.

You taught me how to cling to the Lord every day of my life, and you taught me that He will communicate with me in a personal way, a way He does not use with anyone else. I am special to Him, and that will show in every part of my relationship with Him.

Most of all, you taught me how to put my characteristics into action. You taught me how to get to know myself, and surrender my gifts to God so He could use them the best way He sees fit.

Mom, the song “Love Remains” makes me think of our family. If there is anything more difficult than being a parent to a toddler, I would think it is being a parent to an adult child. But I think you and Dad have done a good job always showing us that love remains. So for that and so much more, thank you.

What I Learned in a Year

May 2 is a significant day in my life. This year it marks two years since I graduated from California Baptist University, and it marks one year since I began working at Turning Point. Both of these events are so intertwined, and thinking about God’s providence in both events brings tears to my eyes. Why did God choose to look on me with favor? Why did He give me the gift of spending two years at CBU, where I would meet people and learn lessons, and even learn about myself and who God really is? Why did He give me the job I have? What makes me so special?

I think the basic, simple answer is nothing. Nothing makes me worthy to be so blessed. If anything, I deserve absolutely nothing from God. But rather than dwell on all the ways I am unworthy, I am going to cherish these blessings and learn as much as I can from both the happy times and the hard times.

Let me take this time to direct you to a simple question I have been asking myself over the last week: What can a person truly learn in just one year?

Here are a few things I have learned in the last 372 days (since it is May 8 as I write this).

1. Life, especially as an adult, is filled with decisions. There comes a point in every person’s life when they realize they must take responsibility for themselves and no longer rely on their parents or any other authority figure except God alone. Mine came just over a month ago.

I took a careful evaluation of my life—my time and how I spend it, what I do with my money, how I conduct myself in relationships, where I stand on ethical and moral issues, what my guide and my compass should be, and what my standards are for myself. After I evaluated, I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed in myself and also convicted for how I had been living. I felt weak. I felt ashamed. So I did the only thing I could: I confessed my lack of intentional living and asked God to redeem me. How could I turn from my bad habits of not caring about my time, not caring about my health, not caring about my money, not caring about my heart, in favor of forming better habits?

I ended up taking a couple of hours to write out what my standards and rules should be for myself. What I should do with my money, what efforts I should make to maintain a smart budget. What I should dedicate my time to. What I should maintain strong commitments to (example: I will not commit to something unless I am 100 percent sure about it). What decision I should make in these particular situations and what situations I need to steer completely clear of. What I should do about the apparent laziness in so many areas and choose to be more active. What I should do to be more proactive. I set a goal to become a woman of my word, a woman people can rely on, a woman people can respect and enjoy being around. A woman who loves those around her completely and unconditionally.

More than anything, I wanted to be able to look at my life years from now—five, 10, 20 years—and say that I did things God’s way, even if it took me a long time to figure out what God’s way really was.

2. Decisions can be difficult and can cause pain. But pain, just like everything else outside of eternity, is temporary. And God will meet me in those decisions and in that pain, and He will give grace, and grace more abundantly.

3. Jesus came so that I might have an abundant life. But the abundant life God desires for me is not going to come on its own. It will not be dropped in my lap, it will not be easy to attain, it will not be easy to maintain, it will not be easy to make the right decisions. But the end result—to be able to hear God tell me “Well done” when I come into His kingdom; to be able to say on my deathbed that I lived a life wholly devoted to my Savior and the furtherance of His Gospel; for my loved ones to be able to say that I lived in a way that brought people in and made them feel loved and showed them that God desires their hearts—is worth far more than the decision to lead a life less than.

Settling for less is never something God desires for me. He does not desire that choice for anyone. Because settling for less—a job I do not enjoy, an unhealthy relationship, a nonchalant attitude, a dream always relegated to the back of my mind never to be achieved—will not please God and will certainly not satisfy the desire He has for me to live abundantly.

4. A certain amount of being a responsible adult and a strong Christian relies heavily on how close I cling to my Savior, and how well I know His voice. Can I say that I know His voice? Can I say that I listen to Him? Can I say that I have good discernment when I cannot distinctly hear His voice? Is my faith growing strong? Living a responsible life is just as much of a decision as it is living a Spirit-filled life.

5. The Christian faith, the Christian life, is a constant balancing act. There is no lesson I can learn 100 percent and then never have to go back and take a refresher. When I learn to love someone, I have to keep learning; it is not a one-time lesson. When I learn to be the best copy editor I can be, I have to be willing to keep learning and keep growing. When I learn how to trust Christ with an area of my life and I surrender it to Him, I have to make sure I keep laying it down.

6. It is absolutely okay to be vulnerable. So often people run from being vulnerable because it is uncomfortable. They are exposed. Sometimes it can feel like they have set themselves on a small circular platform while people surround them on all sides sneering at them as they bear their hearts. It is scary to be vulnerable, but it is freeing. When vulnerability can be accomplished in any type of relationship, any type of setting, connections with people grow so much deeper.

And vulnerability does something else: it leads to love. Love is the one thing everyone in this world is viciously after. It is only four letters, yet it encompasses something so powerful that it is the very reason Jesus Christ went to the cross to die for the sins of the world. He gave His life not expecting anything in return, it was unconditional. And we as His followers, His children, are commanded to love as He has loved.

When it comes to love and vulnerability, I like to think of a quote from C. S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

On the surface this life is simple to live. It is only when I put my human hands in the mix that it begins to become grayer, more complicated, more difficult to understand. As much as I would love to say that the last year, even two years, has been super easy, I cannot say that. I can say I have learned quite a few valuable lessons, but I cannot say I am the same person I was a year ago. In many ways, I feel I went from being a child to being a woman. In the last year, I took more steps than I thought I ever would. I am working hard every single day to make sure I am pursuing the abundant life God has for me. Often I fail, yet God still loves me and picks me up, lovingly tells me to keep going. And I am trusting that I know His voice.

Regardless of how simultaneously difficult and joyful the last year has been, I can say with certainty that God was in control the entire time, and He remains in control. I never have a reason to doubt it. I never have a reason to doubt Him. So I will walk faithfully into the next year, and trust that He will forever remain in control of my life and my heart.

 

A Personal Miracle

Quick note about the picture: This was taken at my favorite beach in SD, Mission Beach. It was a beautiful sunset and sometimes I wish I could go back to that day. But there is a connection because last Good Friday, I was at the beach, and I wish I could have gone this year. But a gift is I can go and enjoy it no matter when.

Let’s get to it.

This week is passion week. Today is Good Friday. Sunday is Easter, resurrection Sunday. It is a time filled with miracles, not only the miracle of Jesus rising from the dead and all of the other numerous miracles He performed, but also the miracles that happen in present day.

Some of you may be wondering, “What miracles are you seeing that I am not? We still have disease, we still have abortion, we still have evil everywhere we look, we still have war, we still have chaos. What miracles are you talking about?”

There are personal miracles you can spot in your life if you look for them. In this post I am going to give you two examples of miracles in my own life and my hope is that on this day, Good Friday, you will pause for a few moments to reflect on the miracles you have in your life due simply to the biggest and most powerful display and act of love ever: Jesus dying on the cross for your sins.

Example No. 1:

The other day I woke up before my alarm went off. It rarely happens this way. I am unabashedly one of those people who has multiple alarms go off in the morning and I snooze every single one of them until I am good and ready to face the day.

The sun had still not come up completely, but there was just enough light outside my window to give me an idea of what time it was. My eyes were not open all the way, my eyelids felt like they weighed about 5 lbs. each. There was the smallest amount of light coming through my blinds. It was silent. The only sound I could faintly hear apart from my own breathing was my dog’s breathing.

God spoke to me. A Scripture came to my mind, flashing to the front of my thoughts, but instead of being like a flash of lightening (quick) it took its time and lingered for a little while. The verse was one I actually do not spend too much time thinking about, but nonetheless it is a verse I committed to memory years ago. It had a special place on my bedroom door during my teens. I would look at it every day. The verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

—Proverbs 3:5-6

Next, the emphasized words, “Trust in the Lord,” came out of the darkness. It almost felt as if the words were being spoken in a whisper right next to my ear. Peace rushed through me. Gratitude flooded my heart.

I have breath in my lungs, I have a roof over my head, I have food, I have a great job, I have a puppy, I have loving relationships, I have hope. None of these things would be present in my life—I would not be present in this life or in that moment a couple of days ago—if Jesus had not come and died on the cross for my sins.

That is a miracle.

Miracle No. 2:

If there is one verse I have been dwelling on for a few weeks now, and even more so during passion week, is John 10:10:

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (bold added)

On top of this verse, this morning I read Romans 6-8. Chapter 8 is mostly known for being the chapter that contain the verses about being conquerors and how God causes everything to work together for our good and how His love is greater than anything we can encounter in this life. I had never, until this morning, read chapters 6 and 7 right before reading 8. But I am glad I did.

Paul goes to great lengths to explain to the Gentiles and to the Jews that sin is the problem they are facing and the Law put in place in the Old Testament simply was not the ultimate answer. In fact, he says at one point that the Law is an impossible standard to live up to and it essentially defeats him. But chapter 8 brings everything into perspective when Paul goes into explaining how we are not in bondage to sin any longer because the one-time sacrifice of Jesus was more than enough to allow us to live in freedom. God’s love gave us freedom.

That sacrifice is the reason we are observing Good Friday today. More than 2,000 years ago Jesus hung on a rugged wooden cross that dug into His precious skin, He had nails driven through His hands and feet, His head was crowned in the harshest thorns they could find, His legs were broken and His heart was pierced. And His heart was broken when He witnessed His Father turn His back from the sin He was shrouded in. And He endured all of that so we would not have to.

He sacrificed Himself, and God the Father gave us His only true begotten Son—Himself in the flesh—out of the purest form of love so we could have abundant life.

That is a miracle.

So…what are you doing with the abundant life Jesus came to give to you? What dreams, what aspirations, what prayers, what calling did God place in your heart as a way to glorify Him? as a way to live an abundant life?

Today, my abundant life consists of reflecting on the miracles that are present in my life. I am going to be thankful and in awe of the gift of life God has bestowed upon me. I am going to pray boldly for someone special to me. I am going to love fearlessly and fiercely. I am going pursue my Savior every single moment of my life. I am going to bring glory to His name.

His sacrifice was meant for so much good. And I will spend my abundant life remembering that every single day, praying I never take it for granted, striving to live a spirit-filled life so as to give a testimony to all He is.

What can you do today to take advantage and truly appreciate the personal miracle Jesus gave to you on this day over 2,000 years ago? What is going to bring Him the most glory? What is going to make another feel loved and appreciated? Whatever it is, be fearless.