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Doing Our Part

The antidote to the cries of an aching world is found within me because it is only my contributions that I control.

It is incredibly easy to live a life void of self-examination, paying little attention to my behaviors and motives, all while hyper-focusing on what I deem right or wrong in those around me.

Judgement.

It is insidious.

My soul is much better served working on me rather than worrying about them.

Blame temporarily feels good. It is a false place to surrender our pain, but never solve it.

The most significant piece of doing our part is found looking inside not outside of ourselves.

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Tears, Fears and Truth

In the late afternoon on the day Carter was born, a nurse came into my room and told me she needed to take him for an echocardiogram. The doctor that examined him earlier detected a heart murmur and they needed to investigate further.

I was scared and immediately broke down in tears. I didn’t want them to take my baby anywhere, especially somewhere that might bring bad news.

It had been a difficult pregnancy. It was an arduous delivery. There were a few moments of silence when he entered the world and my heart stopped, only to stutter again a few hours later.

My nurse was on the latter end of her career. Advanced in age, not much appeared to faze her. “Don’t cry,” she quipped. “Save your tears. You will need them later.” At the time, I thought how insensitive she was. I was young and naive.

When I was pregnant with Macey, we thought we would lose her several times. Then there was a point early on that I ended up in the ICU with a collapsed lung and a chest tube. I wondered if we would both be lost?

My pregnancies were so complicated that I remember crying out to God so often to please let my children be born so I would know they were safe. As I said before, I was so naive. I never knew I would shed so many tears. I have good kids. It isn’t that.

It is that the “good” things have become the hard things.

Kindergarten graduation. The transition from elementary school to junior high school, then to high school. Letting them go off in a car. Driving. Camps. One and two week-long camps with no communication. Empty nest staring me in the face. And for Heaven’s sake, I never knew there would be tears and trepidation just over sending them to school.

I was so naive back then, but in more ways than one.

The most important difference now is that I know I am not their Savior.

I know now that God is sovereign and understanding that and standing under it look very different.

I know now that nothing takes God by surprise.

I know that He has already assigned all of our days, ALL OF THEM, mine and my children.

I know now that I have very little control and forgetting that is costly to me and those I love.

I know now that battles are better fought in prayer than panic.

I know now that as long as I am breathing, as long as anyone is breathing, evil will exist and I will not understand it, but I am not called to figure it out rather trust without doubt. Easier said than done, but worth fighting for.

I know now that this world is not my home, not my family’s home, and because of our eternal destination hope and gratitude trump fear.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33

I am saying a few extra prayers for all you mamas tonight. You are loved.

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The Rock Of Empathy and Understanding

Have you been misunderstood, wronged, hurt, betrayed or falsely accused?  Everyone has at some point.

You know what is the most difficult thing for me to do, but the right and respectable thing, taking it to prayer rather than people? Bringing my hurt to The Father rather than Facebook, and to the Scriptures rather than my stories.

We all desire to be affirmed and understood, but when that desire becomes more about needing the validation of people than God,  I know I have a problem.

This is a great and convicting quote from Julie Sparkman’s book, Unhitching From The Crazy Train, co-written by Jennifer Phillips.  “When you are wronged, instead of pleading, “God, make this right!” you begin to pray, “Jesus,  You know what it feels like to be mocked, misunderstood, and falsely accused. I do long for You to make this right, but in the meantime, would You show me how to honor You as I bear up under injustice?  These Christlike prayers and attitudes come from the Scripture that is stored in your heart.”

I love this!

We have a Savior who suffered to know and identify with us in our affliction.  I am the first to forget to submit mine to Him, the Rock of empathy and understanding.  He is there for me and for you, friend.  Let’s not forget Him.

You are loved.

Unhitching From The Crazy Train is available at Lifeway and on Amazon 2/5/18. Also, you can order from newhopepublishers.com. 

www.restore-ministries.org

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Fishers of Men Not Means

Through earnest prayer, I have seen God change so many circumstances in my life and the lives of people I love. More importantly, I have seen him transform me so that I am not bound to begging for a different outcome but rather a divine income.

For many years I thought the purpose of prayer was to get something from God. Now I understand that the hope of prayer is to get God. Just God, more of Him and less of me. His desires become mine, not vice versa when I sincerely seek Him.

Praying does not require fancy language. God does not give credit for style. He is looking for surrender.

Prayer changes everything. The thing is, change just does not always mirror our desires.

I have heard a couple of renditions of this misconception the last week, “I don’t understand, He didn’t answer my prayers.” He did, friend. He just answered them His way, and we are not called to comprehend but to commit.

If you are a parent and you make decisions that are best for your children, you know sometimes they are hard, but they are also right. Our kids most often do not understand. Hard and holy go hand in hand, though, and it has been that way since the beginning.

God understands our difficulty because He, too, is a Father. He is a person to know not a commodity to control.

Prayer sometimes changes earthly directions, but most importantly it alters eternal destinations, and that is our primary commission.

We are fishers of men not means.

If I can pray for you today, please let me know. It is my privilege to petition the Prince of Peace on behalf of my friends.

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Remember The Wildflowers

A precious, little Cuban wildflower.

Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can’t even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don’t fuss with their appearance—but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? ~Luke 12:27-28 (The Message)

Growing in grace teaches us that it is not the color of one’s skin, but the content of their soul that makes our world beautiful. Under all the facades, past all the tips and tricks to hide what we deem unsightly, God crafted a heart purposed to reflect the love of The Almighty.

Aging is a beautiful thing when we look beyond the ordinary markers to behold the extraordinary meanings.

Wrinkles are the troughs eroded by tears and settled by smiles. They map out our life right there in plain sight, telling the world of a life song threefold. Once a man, twice a child so the circle goes. And in the process of completion wisdom waltzes in and shares her instruction.

Bruises, and scars are signs of a life lived, loved and lost. They are medals of honor that portray the stories that sometimes made us laugh, and other times made us cry. Each one, a monument of rising to the mountaintop or descending into the valley. But we know life is both hard and holy.

Every year, a new number. A new season. A new calling. We all want to behold burning bush moments, but God. Sometimes He places us right in the midst of life’s mundane messes and asks us, live here. Make a difference here with all your scars and scrapes, not in the middle of momentous miracles and before millions of eyes, but among measureless mercies and man’s desperate cries.

Wherever you are friend, remember the wildflowers. You may be one dancing in the wind on a beautiful hillside for all the world to see, or maybe you are tucked into a safe corner disguised by many. Both coordinates are needed and necessary. Be about the business of Kingdom building. The harvest is plentiful in the majestic and the mundane. You were picked and planted to thrive right where you are by the Hands that molded the world. Thrive wildflower. Be alive.

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Encountering The King In The Courtyard

The last week I have been sweetly reminded how God often uses His people to manifest his presence. Three times, to be exact, I have been swaddled by His embrace through encounters or conversations with a friend. Sometimes these unexpected blessings play out in a way that it is undeniable whose pen strokes scripted the story.

I am resharing this for anyone struggling today. Whether it be fear, physical or emotional pain, anxiety, depression or anything else that renders you feeling alone, this is for you. Sometimes God sends His children, and sometimes His creatures to articulate and authenticate His affections.

May you feel the security of the shady shelter of His wing today! You are loved.

Does your faith need a cool drink of refreshing water?  Read along.

I see our Lord everywhere; in people, in children, in my dog, (yes, my dog), and especially in nature.  Some people raise their eyebrows at this concept, but when Jesus Christ saturates your life you cannot help but view life shaded in a reflection of Him.

I will never forget last Thursday when one of my more memorable encounters with My King happened in a courtyard at Covenant Counseling Center.  I had finished a session with my counselor, but earlier in our time together I was describing a story a friend told me about when she was a little girl.  She explained that her daddy would kneel every night and pray before she and her sister went to bed.  The two sisters would fight to be the one who got to get under him as he was kneeling in prayer.  The story was so precious and touched me so much that the imagery I formulated will forever be imprinted in my mind and on my heart.  It was a story that reminded me of a verse that is very special to me. Psalm 91:4 ~ He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

I was telling my counselor how this verse has been layered over me time and again the last couple years.  Little did I know that just a short time later, that very verse would come to life right before my eyes.

I finished my session and walked out to a crisp, sunny, beautiful day.  I had an urge to be outside, so I drove home, got my reading materials and came back to the same location to sit in the peaceful and inviting small courtyard in front of the building.  One thing I love about that courtyard is it appears like an umbrella of trees, so it feels secluded and safe. While I was sitting on the bench, I was praying and again reflecting on many verses in addition to Psalm 91:4.

I was there about an hour when my peace was interrupted by an onslaught of noise in one of the trees just to my left.  A majestic, red tail hawk landed on a sturdy branch, and he had an army of crows, after him.  Crows are loud, and they are relentless predators.

I suddenly froze and was unable to think or react quickly because I could not believe what was evolving.  In that quiet place Psalm 91:4 was beautifully played out in the nature that surrounded me.  I was in awe of my faithful and loving Father, who goes to creative lengths to express His presence and love.  Let me explain.

After studying the battalion of crows charging at the hawk for several minutes, I noticed the hawk was using his wings as a deflector and shield of protection.  I eventually maneuvered myself into a location that I could see the hawk was protecting something under his wing.  Time and time again crow after crow would dive at the hawk, and the hawk would bat his wing to deflect the attack.  I watched this go on for over 15 minutes. The hawk was protecting a baby and was doing so with such commanding diligence, strength, and care.  The crows were not giving up easily, but neither was the hawk.  He was resolute.  Despite the continuous assaults, the hawk shielded that vulnerable baby.

The other thing that impacted me was the stability of the hawk; as he was hit over and over again using his wing for defense.  Some of the attacks were aggressive enough that he would bobble or slightly lose his balance.  Every single time, however, he would regain his footing, readjust and return to an anchored stance on the branch.  He never moved from the same spot the entire time even though he would stumble at times.  He never flew away in an attempt to flea from fear.  He never gave up, and he was the lone one standing in the end!

When we are under the shelter of our Lord Jesus, we are a lot like that hawk. Attacks come, fear assaults us and enemies persecute us.  We may lose our balance; we may have to readjust, and we may be shaken, but we are never shattered because our anchor is under the wings of a King, who is our armor and protection.  He will not be moved.  When our foundation is solid in Him, we may falter, and need adjustments at times, but we can withstand life’s storms still returning to a stable stance.

I was also reminded of Revelation 5:6 that day. ~ Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.

Jesus suffered throughout his life.  Many attacks were forged against him and He was eventually crucified.  Sometimes life can leave us feeling battered, bruised, betrayed and cut up as if we, too have been slain.  The key to the verse in Revelation is the Lamb, though he looked as if he had been slaughtered, He was still standing.

Life is hard, but when His feathers are our garments and His wings our refuge, there will be times we are disturbed, but never defeated because the Promiser keeper says He is our sure foundation.

 

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Unhitching From The Crazy Train

Shame loves nothing more than to be my shadow.  I am so prone to beating myself up over choices, (right and wrong), that have resulted in uneasy circumstances.  Sometimes when I forget the gospel, it manifests like this, if I had done, (blank) instead of (blank) life would be more comfortable.
 Whether as a mom, wife, daughter, friend or child of God, I can look back on so many examples of situations I wish I handled differently.  When I allow myself to go down the road of regret, condemnation is waiting on me with open arms.  Accusation always breeds self-pity, and both are fruits of unbelief.
Despair over my choices sheds light on the subtle sediment of unbelief that wrecks my peace and contentment.  When I believe I alone am responsible for how my story goes, I am maximizing myself and minimizing God.  Yes, there are consequences, both good and bad, for my choices, but if I profess to believe in a sovereign God, I cannot leave Him out of the equation.  For all the decisions I have made, right and wrong, God was in the midst and on the throne at the very moment of decision.
Emancipation day from the supremacy of my choices was a lot of years in the making.  I have a very vivid memory of sitting in Julie Sparkman’s office one morning and giving her a tearful litany of all the things I had done right, yet there I sat shattered because life was not reflective of the pictures I developed in the euphoric realm of my expectations. The reality that my “goodness” was no guarantee from pain had come crashing down around me.  Oh boy, did I have a lot to learn!
Chapter four of Julie’s book, Unhitching From The Crazy Train, is one of my favorites.  It is titled, The Deadly Theology of Good Choices.  Does this sound familiar?  If I do A+B, it will =C.  If I eat all the right foods, I will not get cancer.  If I raise my kids right and make sure they have good friends, they will make right choices…   Notice the keyword?  I.  If you believe something along these lines of thinking, you need to read this book.  If you know this kind of logic to be untrue, you, too need to read this book!
Below is from chapter 4:
“Good choices can lead to good outcomes, and alternatively when we make choices we know to be disobedient, there will probably be natural consequences of those choices, and we are called to repent. However, the redemption story God writes cannot be rewritten by our choices. We are held accountable for our choices, yes, but God is bigger than our choices, so they cannot trump God’s overarching plan.” ~Julie Sparkman/Jennifer Phillips
Friends, I have no incentive for highly recommending this book other than I believe with all my heart it will enhance your life in so many ways.  I love you all and earnestly long to see more and more people brought into the freedom that the yoke of Christ offers.  Please do not misunderstand me.  This book is not a self-help, quick fix guide to all of life’s hardships.  It is a better way through them.
We work so hard and bear so much responsibility, no wonder we never feel like enough.  John 1:51 reminds us that Christ already did the work and paved the way.  He is the way.   “I tell you the truth; you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.” ~Jesus.  Notice He does not say I am at the top of the ladder so try your hardest and climb fast.  He is the ladder.  Jesus has bridged the gap between Heaven and Earth for us.
I sincerely hope you will read Unhitching From The Crazy Train.  You will laugh, I promise.  You may cry.  I know for sure, though you will be able to identify and you will find freedom and rest regardless of your current circumstances.
Unhitching From The Crazy Train will be available for order February 5th.  Amazon.  Lifeway.  You may pre-order now from www.newhopepublishers.com.
Julie counsels clients at Restore Ministries in Birmingham, Alabama.   www.restore-ministries.org.
Jennifer writes a blog at www.jenniferphillipsblog.com
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Depression

Someone needs this today. Christ followers are not exempt from depression! Depression holds no prejudice and often strikes the most committed of believers. If you are weary, worn and maybe depressed, do not let shame tell you that you do not have enough faith. It is not up to us, and playing the role of savior is a crushing burden. The point is not how big our faith is but how big our Father is.

After a great victory in 1 Kings, Elijah runs away and seeks refuge under a tree. He is in the depths of depression asking God to let him die. The angel of the Lord visits him, and it is important to note what he says as well as what he does Not say to Elijah. The angel does NOT state; you need to pray more. He does not say; you just need to have more faith. The angel of The Lord does not tell Elijah if you had a more consistent quiet time you would be better. The angel says to Elijah, get up and eat, so he ate and slept some more. Then a second-time the angel tells him to get up and eat some more or the journey ahead will be too much for you.

Friends, it is good news that our adequacy is not dependent upon us. We have a Savior outside of ourselves who lived to know every ache, pain, and ounce of turmoil we feel. God isn’t shaking his head in disgust at your depression. He longs to touch you and give you the nurturing rest that only he can offer.

If you find yourself feeling blue or outright depressed, I pray that you leave it at the foot of the cross where all our struggles are known, accepted, accounted for and redeemed. The story of Elijah demonstrates God longs to acknowledge our most basic needs first; then in due time, He will take care of the rest.

We often are good at giving grace to others but not ourselves. I pray you love yourself today where you are, not where the enemy says you should be.

You are loved!

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Shine Where You Are Planted

 

Uncertainty is one of the most significant barriers to a prolific life. There is a formidable enemy who loves to entangle our eyes and command our concern with questions such as, what if…?

In the presence of the unknown, and that would be every moment forward, it is easy to stumble into the mire of temporal thinking. The danger here is that we are rendered useless in the present because of our preoccupation with the worrisome possibilities of the future.

Lord Jesus, we often lug old crosses into the New Year, some shaded in a cloud of ambiguity. Help us to fix our senses on You, our unwavering Father, not an uncertain future. Give us the grace to be fruitful where we are right now, not where we think we need to be.
Comfortable, peaceful and problem-free are not prerequisites for productivity, as evidenced by the life of your Son. May we remember that and move forward with the perseverance that only comes from a dependant heart rooted in You.

Friend, I pray 2018 is a remarkable year for you, but this I know for sure, trials will come. There will inevitably be a voice telling you, “I cannot do anything until I get through this, (fill in the blank).”  If we live our lives listening to that lie, we will be shackled by stagnation.

We are just as valuable in the midst of our limping as we are running, sometimes even more.

Shine where you are planted and watch what grows not only inside of you but also around you.

I wish you an abundant New Year! I love you all.

 Photo: Havana, Cuba.