Exposing Sin

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Last month my man and I decided to tackle a DIY project. Our master bathroom remained one of the few untouched rooms in our recovering foreclosure. We didn’t have the budget to do a major gut, so a cosmetic face-lift was what we planned.

Our Saturday goal was to replace the horrible old laminate flooring with a fresh clean newer laminate flooring- anything would be better then the 20 year old purple and green diamonds filled with white lilies. Anything.

As we peeled back the old floor eager to tackle this “one day” project, we discovered years of mold. Black, ugly, not-welcomed mold. Years of untouched mold had grown in the dark places beneath the cracks in the floor. Years of neglect and hiding in the dark let this harmful grossness thrive.

And this got me thinking. A few months ago I pulled back the old laminate floor covering my heart and let someone in. And this peeling back? It’s breathed new life into my tired moldy soul.

For years I kept this particular sin a secret. For years I didn’t see it as sin, and even when I started to – when the scales were removed from my eyes – I still didn’t think about it much. Sin kept in the dark,  well it’s way more comfortable. It’s uncomfortable to think of exposing our sin to others. The thought alone can make us shake in our boots and squirm in our seat.

Sin rooted deep in years of habit, it’s ugly. And when we keep that sin tucked away, tucked away from others eyes, there it is fed. There it festers, it grows, it burns.

Kept in the dark our sin is fed by the enemy. He likes when we keep our sin a secret, when we don’t tell our husbands, our best friends. He likes when we are afraid to show our struggles, our pains. Sin tucked away breeds isolation, fear, and loneliness. It keeps us from being real, raw, open, and authentic. It keeps us from going deeper. It keeps us from Him and it keeps us from freedom.

I remember someone telling me years ago that in order for sin to be conquered, it must be exposed to the light. To Him, the Light, and to others. Sin loses it’s power not only when we bring it before His throne of grace, but too when we expose it to the light around us- to those who pour light into our lives and hearts.

A few months ago I braved my fear and shared my sin struggle with my accountability partner. I finally told her what I’d battled for years, how I’d wrestled and fought and grown weary. How I’d secretly loved this sin yet dreaded it’s power too. I told her of my embarrassment to confess it and my desire to run out of the room. I told her how it’s effected my marriage and my relationships. I told her all.

And you know what she did? She hugged me, she cried with me, and she prayed over me. She poured into my soul love and light and encouragement, and weekly she continues to do just that. She spoke light into an area in my life where ugliness lurked and mold had grown. Her prayers and encouragement and love and light, it has helped me to expose the ugly places of my heart. It brought me freedom- freedom to talk, to be real, to be raw and to be authentic.

 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. – Psalm 32:3

I must be honest and say that this sin hasn’t just disappeared. It’s not completely gone. Years of habit, well, it takes time to unlearn. But this area of my life, it’s losing it’s strength. It’s losing it’s hold, and complete freedom is only steps away.

Had we not pulled back the twenty-year old laminate flooring we would’ve never exposed the mold. Had I continued to keep my sin in the dark, I never would’ve tasted the freedom granted through exposing my sin to the beauty of deep authentic relationship.

Do you have something lurking in the darkness of your heart that is begging for the freedom that comes with exposing it? Let me encourage you to share it with a trusted soul, set it free and watch how He blesses your vulnerability. He will, I just know He will.

You are God’s Poetry

The word "POETRY" written in vintage metal letterpress type in a wooden drawer with dividers.

“Do you want to read the prologue?” My son asked. I stopped what I was doing and nodded my head gently, trying to be as casual as possible. It is not often that I get to read what my son is writing while he is writing it. He often hesitates to share his stories until he is near the completion of them. Pushing the computer toward me, I began to read. The words ran like an effortless stream around bends and corners, leading me through the set up of the story line.

When I got to the end I could only think about one thing: this boy is meant to write.

It is inspiring, especially at such a young age, to see how his writing flows so naturally from his mind to the page. It’s what he was made to do.

We all have a gifting like this inside of us. For some it is fixing broken machines, for others it’s helping fix broken hearts. Some sing, some program computers, some cook, some decorate rooms, and some teach from a pulpit.

And guess what? These gifts are not a surprise to God. In fact, He authored them, and desires for us to use them to impact, change, and better His world.

For we are Christ’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.                                                      – Eph. 2:10

The Greek word for handiwork is “poiema,” which is where we get the English word, poem. Poiema is only used two times in the Bible – that’s it! And He uses one of those times to tell us that we are His poem – His art. Isn’t that beautiful? God fashioned us for purpose, and when we are in motion in that work, we are writing God’s graceful prose.

Eric Liddel, the Olympic cross-country runner on whom the classic movie Chariots of Fire was based, says “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

What he was saying is that running is his poetry. And it became a worldwide platform for him to glorify God and draw others to faith. His running was both an act of worship and an act of obedience in living out his purpose.

What is your poetry? Sometimes we do not recognize it because it comes so easily that we don’t consider it a gift.

Sometimes we simply cannot accept that we are God’s masterpiece. We feel like a lonely painting on a forgotten canvas tossed to Goodwill rather than an artist’s magnum opus at the Louvre.

But that is exactly what God says we are. We are His greatest creation – the crown jewel.

If you do not yet know how He has created you with unique gifts and abilities, spend some time asking these questions:

Finding.My.Gifts

In college I took a class called “Physics for Poets.” It was a course designed for people like me who simply did not get science, but needed to take the requirement to graduate. I believe that if God wanted me to be a world-changer in the field of science, He would have made me good at it. As I learned in that class with the upmost clarity, He didn’t, and that is not where my passions lie either.

Instead, people are my heartbeat. I can sit and listen to others’ stories for hours and never tire of it. It stirs my heart with passion and excitement when I consider how I can connect with people in authentic, life-giving ways.

Whatever our calling, of one truth we can be sure: If God calls us, He will also equip us to do the work He already planned for us to do. We are worthy of His calling because He is able to do more than we can imagine. And His strength is made perfect in us when we are weak. Our part is to stay on our knees before Him and simply live the poetry He is writing.

 

I’d love to know, how do you lean into your gifts and take the next step you feel God is leading you to take? How do you encourage others to do the same?

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When You Are Building Someone Else’s Dream

“Greatness comes through building others up, by aiming for their greatness more than we aim for our own.” -Chip Ingram

God allows us to have a part in the building of His kingdom, but it is not always our own thing He is having us build. Sometimes He has us help another’s dream come true, while our own is put on hold. And, this is like dying to self.

Sometimes He asks us, “Are willing to forfeit your position in order to assume a posture of humility by serving another? And are you willing to trust Me?”

Let Jesus be our example.

“Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up his divine privileges when He took the humble position of a servant.” Philippians 2:6-7

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How faithful are you with what is not yours?

“And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?” Luke 16:12

God is the master builder. He assigns the workers. We all have a part. Only our part may not be what we hoped for. There is a season for everything. Your season will come. But while you are serving another and waiting on your own, God will watch how faithful you are with what you have been given. He is watching how you handle what belongs to someone else.

We become great in God’s eyes by helping others become greater than ourselves.

When their success is not yours.

Are you okay with a quiet success? Can your heart handle someone else’s success without envy and jealousy entering in? Can you truly rejoice at their success when you and God are the only ones who really know how much you gave to help make it happen?

There’s a temptation for us to want to receive credit when we’ve given so much time and energy, heart and soul, tears and labor to the work. Sometimes we believe someone else’s gain is our loss.

“In God’s economy, someone else’s gain is our gain, and someone else’s loss is our loss. The best way to greatness in an economy like that is to pursue greatness—for someone else.” -Chip Ingram

Your time will come.

I sat in front of an elderly preacher while he shared about how old he was when he began ministry. He was a business man, waiting, before he became an evangelist traveling the world. He told the Lord, “Let it take as long as you need to work all the pride out of me before you release me. I want to steward Your glory well.”

It became my prayer too. Take as long as You need, Lord, as long as I need. Don’t let me go before it’s time. No matter how much I plead for You to let me. Work out of me all self.

When Joseph left the prison, his next step was the Pharaoh’s palace. (Genesis 41) I can almost guarantee he did not have the palace on his mind. When he was released, most likely he didn’t come out aspiring to be great, or possess any selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification.

It was time to save a nation.

There comes a time where God will provide people to help you build your own dream. But when it does your motives will be pure, and you will know authentically and deeply within, it is really not your own, but God’s and for His kingdom, anyway.

True greatness.

God doesn’t chastise us for the desire to be great. Greatness lives inside of us. He focuses not on our goal, but our means to achieve it.

Women around us may look at our status, our following, our accomplishments, our friends to be considered great in their eyes. But in God’s eyes, serving others for His glory is true greatness.

“Getting the most out of life isn’t about how much you keep for yourself but pour into others.” -David A. Stoddard

We build ourselves by lifting others up. Let’s keep building together.

with love,

Michele-Lyn Ault

Measuring Sticks, Insecurity, and Some Conference Advice

Size Platform Measure Worth 2

I begin in the west and fly halfway across the country before I finally arrive for the conference. The driver picks me up at the airport and I’m reunited with my online friend who started her journey this morning in the east.

We chat a mile a minute and look forward to seeing our “smaller” blogger friends and many of our “bigger” blogger friends too.

During the conference I meander through sessions with my “smaller” blogger friends, all the while casually noticing who’s interacting with whom. I watch the “bigger” bloggers interact with their own circles of friends, while I engage with mine—looking them in the eye, listening, and relating.

But I deceive myself, because while I think I’m fully present in each conversation, in reality I’m partly absent. And as the conference presses on, I realize I’m disappointed when my “bigger” blogger friends have not initiated a fuller connection with me.

And it’s the last day of the conference when God convicts me of a cold hard truth.

My disappointment is a symptom of my illness—the virus of insecurity—hovering like a flu.

It has infected me. And I ache with its uncertainty while questions linger…

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Do “they” notice me or even want to be my real friend?

That last afternoon I leave the lunch table with my friend Alia, and make my way across the room toward our other roommate Amy—my in-real-life friend and newbie blogger—who has come with me to the conference.

And as we approach, she immediately turns to us, as if our timing is perfect.

“Hey guys! There’s someone I want you to meet.
This is Jennifer, another newbie.
And at lunch I asked her which of the “bigger” bloggers she most wanted to meet here.
And you know who she said?
Jacque Watkins and Alia Joy.
So I told her I could probably hook her up, since you guys are my roommates.”

I startle, like a deer caught in headlights.

Did she actually just say my name with the phrase “bigger” blogger?

Shocked on the inside, I greet Jennifer with a smile, flattered and completely stunned anyone would consider me a “bigger” blogger. She is sweet and gracious—a tea-drinking mama of four. And after our delightful interaction, I’m better for having met her.

As I fly home, reflecting on the conference, the Holy Spirit woos and convicts me again.

During the conference I wasted so much mental time, and internal dialogue, wondering if I’d get to build deeper relationships with  “bigger” bloggers.

While probably there were others there, who would’ve loved to build a deeper relationship with me.

And the recognition of this truth is like medicine for my ill and insecure heart.

Could it be possible everyone thinks of themselves as a “smaller blogger” and is waiting for that “bigger blogger” to initiate a connection?

Could it be that no matter who we are, there will always be someone “bigger”  to look to? That the one we see as a “bigger” blogger has an even “bigger-blogger” person they’d love to be pursued by too?

And could it be, that to someone, somewhere in the world, YOU are the “bigger blogger”?

That there is one someone scanning the room–looking for you—wishing they could meet YOU?

Hoping YOU’D go out of your way to pursue a connection with THEM?

No matter the size of our platform, we are all asking the same questions at our core:

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Would they really want to be my friend?

And the real truth is, our worth and purpose and significance is not dependent on whether a “bigger” blogger knows our name or pursues a friendship with us.

And we need the real truth to sink deep into the crevices of our hearts:

We all matter and fit in because we are His.

He chose us.

And He has great things planned for each of us to do.

So what if, instead of finding our validation from the “bigger bloggers” in our lives, we find our soul’s validation in our time spent with Jesus?

Allowing His Word to inform our starving souls of who He is,

And the truth of who we are because of Him…

Chosen.

Beloved.

Redeemed.

The child of God.

We are eternally valuable regardless of the size of our platform. 

And the size of our platform does not measure the worth of our soul. 

[Tweet that]

So when we set foot inside the walls of the Allume conference this October…

What if we become the initiators of connection because our security in Christ compels us to do so with whomever God places in our path?

What if we say hi first? Flash a smile first? Begin the conversation first, as a people who love in His name?

What if we stay fully present with whomever we’re with—refusing to allow our minds to be “noticing” the room?

And what if we make an effort, to not only hang out with our “people,” but to branch out to new circles of beautiful people? So that no one leaves feeling small and alone.

May we remember we are in this together…

Cheering for each other,

Fighting to believe who He says we are,

And really knowing we ARE already enough because of Him.

I can’t wait to see you at Allume!

Will you be there?

 

Finding Why You Write

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is begin. And the next hardest thing to do is begin again. I took three months off of blogging, and I had a lot of time to ponder reasons why I should start again or not.

Life makes it harder.

We get weary.
We get busy.
We get distracted.
We get discouraged.
We compare.
We believe lies.
We doubt ourselves.

I came up with a million excuses why I cannot, should not, or will not. Yet, I knew I was not supposed to quit. God made it clear, and it really was not open for discussion. I had to begin again.

Beginning again is hard when you think you have failed. It is hard when you do not think it is worth it, because you are not seeing the results you expected. It is hard when the results you get are not in proportion to the effort applied.

It costs too much to mean nothing.

finding-why-you-write

Beginning again is hard when you do not really know why you are doing it to begin with. The reasons we begin are not always the same reasons we keep going. Sometimes our “why” gets redefined along the way.

It changes. We change.

We learn. We experience. We grow

What motivates us changes.

I became clouded with self ambition. My desires had to be refined, yet my purpose remained the same. The purpose is the same for those who call themselves followers of Christ

If we strip the “why” down to the simplest form, its simplest is its most powerful…

“He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 19-20 NIV)

God has a message He wants to get to those who are His, and those who are yet to be. He has put His message inside of you, and how you bring it as unique as every fingerprint.

We are all different, yet we have a common thread in all our tapestries.

“We are stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” 1 Corinthians 4:1-2 NKJV

How might you be found faithful? Obey.

How might those mysteries be revealed through your words? Many ways.

They may come from you in a way that makes us laugh, or be contemplative and introspective. They may help us organize our lives, or help find our purpose. Your words may causes us to think or expand our thinking. Or they may challenges us, and aid us in being better selves — to love well, to serve more, to be who we were created to be.

Your stories and imagery may stir our imagination, and help us see grace and beauty in places we might not have looked. Or perhaps break our hearts open wide in conviction for our sin or compassion for those in need. You may write truth that brings freedom, opens blind eyes, and helps us live our lives as praise to God.

No matter what form it comes, the reason we write is the same — to make God’s love known.

“His love has the first and last word in everything we do…Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in His death so that everyone could also be included in His life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 MSG)

It is why we write. It is why Christ died. It is why we live.

 

When the Rejection of a “NO” Feels Like the End

AllumeMayThe email came on a Friday afternoon–an email I’d been waiting on for over a month…

The email that would hold the answer to a dream I’d been nurturing for some time, and the answer would be a simple yes or no.

When I saw it arrive in my phone’s inbox, I halted mid-stride in front of the light-filled window. And plopping myself onto the couch in the middle of the room, I took a long deep breath and clicked it open.

And it didn’t take long for me to read the answer.

This time, the answer was no.

I’d been talking with God about the possible answer for over a month. We’d been hashing things out, Him and I. And I thought I’d reached a conclusion which had me settled and stable:

He was in control, and the answer I’d get would be from Him, not from them.

I’d purposed my heart to surrender to whatever it was He’d give, whether it be a yes, or a no.

The email was full of grace, insulated with words of affirmation and cushioned with kindness. But no matter the graciousness of the no, the fact remained that the yes I’d dreamed of, would not become reality. And insulated or not, the dream-spaces of my heart felt the sting.

We’ve all had hard no’s…

Relationship no’s.

Financial no’s.

New endeavor no’s.

No’s are strangers to no one.

And neither are the real and deep feelings of rejection that come with them. Even when a “no” may be best.

The rejection of a “no” often feels like the end. [Tweet that]

And receiving a “no” ignites a grieving of sorts–a letting go of what could have been, with an acceptance of what will never be. At least not how we’d dreamed.

Grieving is hard work.

And grieving is a valley experience, the exact opposite of a mountaintop.

Earlier in May, we went miniature golfing for my son’s tenth birthday. I was last getting out of the car. And as I approached the entrance I couldn’t miss the beautiful tree ahead of me.

It was full of yellow spring blossoms contrasted against the bluest sky.

I stopped.

And I stared.

The yellow on blue was stunning.

flowers250 Yellow flowers150

Later I learned why the view stopped me in my tracks: yellow and blue are complements on the color wheel, opposites.

And opposites contain a tension that holds our eyes–a tension that makes us stop and pay attention. If blended together, they make gray–a neutral, uninteresting, and lifeless color. But side by side, in their brightest form, they create a tension our eyes can’t help but notice–a tension we’re drawn to, stunned by, and crave again and again.

Mountaintops and valleys are opposites, and one can’t exist without the other.

Without a valley, a mountaintop would simply be flat, like a plain. And while that plain would have less pain and adversity than a valley, there’d also be no invigorating view either.

Sometimes a “no” is not the end, but the beginning of a yes from God. [Tweet that]

It’s an invitation to start in the valley, and begin the climb TO the mountaintop, with Him.

That “no”, which plummets us to our valley beginning, grabs our attention because of the tension–a tension that stuns us and holds us. Making us take notice, and driving us toward God.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV)

May we be a people who surrender to our no’s, embracing with joy the beginnings they bring.

Because sometimes a “no” really is a yes from Him–a yes to begin the climb.

And you know what, friend?

He promises to be with us every step of the way.

 

What “no” have you experienced?

In what way was it actually a beginning?

 

Writing is the Fruit of the Gift

Like a parent whispers in a child’s ear just before they let that child go out into the world, God whispered just before I began blogging…

Remember, writing is the not the gift, writing is the fruit of the gift.”

This wisdom and truth has remained my compass on this journey.

At the time, I had little understanding of what God really meant. I’m still unfolding the mystery of what the gift is, and how the fruit comes. But, I have a deeper revelation now than before.

Looking back, I see I had no idea what I was getting into when I started blogging. I didn’t know how tempting it would be in this online world to want to feel connected to this person, or that circle, or their community, and neglect the most life-giving connection there is — being connected to the Vine.

Writing-is-the-Fruit-of-the-Gift

Separated, we cannot produce a thing. Though, we try.

Jesus said, “Live in Me. Make your home in Me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with Me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant.” (John 15:4-8 MSG)

Perhaps, that is the gift — the Greatest Gift only made possible by His death on the cross — union with Christ. A gift so easily taken for granted, because He will always be there, waiting. So we keep on persevering, trying to make a difference, to make a lasting impression, to make things happen in our own strength. Yet, we can do nothing apart from Him.

Even. Write.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We can write. But, if we aren’t sitting at the feet of Jesus — not to check off a religious duty — but to partake from Him living bread, to give Him time to pour into us what we are to pour out to others, then we offer stale bread. And, our bodies weren’t made for stale bread.

“It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.” (Matt 4:4 MSG)

If we are not near enough to hear His heartbeat, and get quiet enough to hear His Voice, then all we can do is echo what all the other voices are saying. When all the while, we are called to be an echo of His Spirit, saying what He is saying.

What He tells you in the darkness, speak in the light. What He whispers in your ear, proclaim on the rooftops. (Matt 10:27 NASB)

We can write, and we can raise our voice and add to the noise. But, the world doesn’t need more noise. The world needs words produced by the Spirit of God, because of a people consecrated for His purposes as ambassadors on this earth to bring freedom to the captives, sight to the blind, healing for the broken, and the Gospel for the lost.

In case you are tempted to worry about numbers that are lost, because you are taking time to sit at the feet of your Lord, let it be the lost that are counted because of you living the Gospel…

Wandering souls that come to your table, feasting on the fruit of grace and truth, partaking through Words of life, because the words were first lived.

Would God ever give us a more compelling reason?

 

When We Are Searching For Something

If you search hard enough or long enough or earnestly enough, then you will find something.  It might be what you are looking for…or it might not. 

Searching for Something

 

By the time this blog post is published, I expect that I will have buried my 92 year old father.  He and my 91 year old mother celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on February 13, 2014.  As I write this, my dad has suffered a stroke and is lying in a hospital bed, in the living room of the home he and my mother have shared for many years.  He isn’t doing well at all.  And we didn’t expect him to survive the last few days, but he is still hanging on.  I am certain the end is near.

As I have waited for the phone call saying he has passed away and I should begin to make arrangements to return Arkansas for the funeral, I have searched for some things.

I have searched for answers.

I have searched for peace.

I have searched for comfort.

I haven’t found any answers, but I have found some peace and comfort.  One of my favorite verses is 1 Peter 5:7 “casting all you care upon him, because he cares for you.”

I can do that.  I can give all my cares and troubles and worry to Him…he has big, strong shoulders that can carry the weight of my troubles and the sorrow associated with losing a parent. 

His shoulders are big and strong enough to carry your troubles too.

As I walk this path of waiting and sorrow, I am reminded that I can give my troubles to him.  He will carry the burden and I can just walk the path, with him holding my hand.  Or maybe he will carry me.

The search for comfort and peace ends with Him.  In the end, I know that I will see my dad again. 

And my searching for answers?  Well, that search may continue.  We don’t always get an answer from God when we ask for one, like Logan did before Allume 2013.  But I take comfort in the promise of life after death.  And the fact that I don’t have to carry the burden alone. 

And maybe, just maybe that is the answer.

Are you searching for something?  Is it right under your nose?  If you found it, was it what you were looking for or was it something else?

Secrets And Deception

“But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.” John Steinbeck

Wages Of Sin

The other night while my husband worked late, I sat in my bed flipping the channels mindlessly on the TV. I landed on a channel without noticing what it was, and then set the remote down to tend to one of my children.

I returned to hear a woman talking about her life as a swinger.

And yes, to be clear, we’re talking about the bed-sharing, wife-swapping variety. 

Because I have always been a people watcher, (though admittedly not a fan of reality TV), I watched for a minute because the woman on screen couldn’t stop talking about how freeing it was to live this secret lifestyle.

Wait–what?

I don’t know that I would ever pair the words freeing and secret together unless I was referring to the freedom I experience when I do not have to keep a secret.

The woman, talking to her primary partner, went on to describe how she loved “freeing herself” up in this way, to experience relations without relationship (my paraphrase) but that since she’d recently had a baby, she no longer felt attractive. The look of disappointment on her partner’s face was undeniable. He was ready to start swinging again, and she felt too round and unattractive for that kind of business.

She told him how uncomfortable she would feel next to another woman, one who hadn’t just given birth, she was afraid of being compared, of not measuring up–of not being enough.

Her eyes flashed and darted down, she seemed to have trouble looking directly at the camera. The camera cuts to footage of her working out, talking about how she’ll feel so much better when she looses the post pregnancy weight, she’ll be ready to get back to swinging then.

You know–because it’s so freeing.

This is one of the most powerful deceptions we face in life.  I witnessed a woman enslaved by sin, deceived into believing that her secret lifestyle was freeing–and this makes sense, because this is exactly how sin works. 

And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:14 Esv

The enemy sells us half-baked truth that appears solid on the surface, but collapses to nothing when we begin to cut into it. Living enslaved to habitual sin is to live the most unsatisfying version of life. It appears to us, dressed up as freedom, success, power, beauty, influence, fame, wealth, and so on, and we whose pursuit is anything other than Jesus, cash in our lives for this illusion of freedom.

This sin is soul slavery that suffocates our faith and threatens spiritual death.

Sin promises solid gold, then swaps the gold for spray-painted tin, worth absolutely nothing. Less than nothing. It’s garbage.

Sin deceives. That’s what it does. That’s why the enemy is called the father of lies–because the truth is not in him.

I know this desert. I’ve wandered hot and hungry through the wastelands of habitual sin. I’ve gulped the lies down, confusing temporary satisfaction with real, lasting hope. I’ve fallen face first into the hot sand and gasped for breath, clinging tightly to my secrets, out of fear, and shame. And it was not freeing.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13

If you are living with a secret, that you think is making you free, I’d ask you–how do you define freedom?

Any freedom the world offers, that comes by way of living in opposition to God’s word is not freedom.

This is deception.

Keeping secrets doesn’t set us free. Keeping secrets is a form of enemy enslavement whose weapons are fear and shame. Secrets allow the enemy to bludgeon us with lies of rejection and failure.

Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah. Psalm 32:2

I know this struggle. We all do. None of us is immune to the temptation of deception.

Real freedom is found in Christ. In confession. In obedience to God’s ways.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:22-23

 

When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

Holding it Loosely {and FREE Printable!}

I know who holds me

Holding things loosely is a challenge for me.

To believe and pursue something God has for me, yet remain open, faithfully trusting that His plan is the plan to follow, not mine, is so tough.

Loosely. What a word.

To hold fast to Him, grounded in His truth, I am emboldened to step out and do something new, something I never would have dreamed of on my own, something good and exciting and challenging. Yet, all is a gift from Him; not a gift from me to me.  No matter what He reveals for me to do, I must, as a dear friend so wisely put it, be willing to yield.

Holding things loosely, yielding to God.  Why is this so hard?

Why do I hold onto things so tightly, Lord?  Even when I feel I am obeying You, reaching towards You, wanting what You have for me, I find my actions pointing toward loving myself more than loving You. I find myself taking what You have for me, grabbing it with anticipation, and then looking to myself to be in charge and running with closed fists.  The only thing I need to hold to tightly is You, Father.  I want to respond to the freedom You offer, of You living in me, and not control the outcome–distorting it, perverting it, twisting it into something that was never what You intended it to be.

The difference between an open heart and a closed one is our willingness to respond to God.We may be open in responding to Him, by what we’ve heard Him whisper to us, in the past. But I must ask myself, am I continuing to seek Him, am I continuing to want to hear Him, this day?  Heard versus hearing.  Closed versus open.

Let me hear, let me be open.  Let me surrender, Father.  Let me run this race with the joy of Your arms holding me up, not mine, wings for my feet, instead of chains of pride and self-worship.

These chains are heavy, Father.  The race towards this throne I seek to place myself on . . .well, it isn’t comfortable here.  More importantly, I don’t see You here, on this cold, empty seat.  I want to climb down.  I want my journey to be with You, to You, not solo.

It is lonely and dark where You are not.

I need to continue to hear, continue to listen.  Abiding, staying, yielding . . . these terms do not describe any grab-and-go situation.  My walk with You is not a race to run with hands held tightly to my chest, protecting the prize as I ward off distractions from my path.  Hold it loosely. Give what You have given me away. Be held closely by You, abiding with You, by accepting the freedom that comes with listening and yielding, following Your path, with all that You bring into the path.  Being willing to yield.

Let me rise up to You, in my bowing to Your will. Let me stand tall with You at my side, in humbleness  to Your truth.  Let my heart be open, alive, not closed and still.  I lift my hands to You in surrender, seeking forgiveness, open, needing You more.

Do you struggle, like me, with letting go of control and trusting God, in the everyday?

To help us remember, here is a free print, just for you! Just right click, save it as a .jpg, print it, and use it however you like!

for when we long to be accepted

Hi. I’m the one person on the planet not going to Allume this year. Blah. Which is sad to me because I love my bloggin’ sistas. I love the late nights of talking and the sessions full of Divine wisdom and the photo booth thingy and the make-me-hyper coffee!

So I prayed about what I could possibly say to all of you amazing bloggers who do get to go to the conference, as well as to those who don’t get to go. And the word that came to me was “acceptance”. Acceptance.

 
Accepted
 

We all so desperately want to be accepted. That’s partly why I’m disappointed that I don’t get to go this year. I don’t want to miss anything. It’s also partly why I’m guessing some of you are nervous about going. You don’t want to feel left out.

I know that I know that some of you are spending sweet time worrying about what cutie outfits you will wear, because I’ve done that. Or worrying about what you will say, because I’ve done that too. Or worrying about what people will think of your wanna-be-rapping skills, maybe that one’s just me. When at the root of all that time and energy is a longing to be accepted.

But we get it sooooooo twisted. SO twisted. Because here it is. You ready? You and I will never ever find our ultimate acceptance in other humans. It isn’t possible. People are too volatile, short-sighted, and self-focused, just like us. And if we spend our energies looking to other humans for our acceptance and our identity, we will never truly embrace the woman that God created us to be. What a travesty.

If there’s anything I hope we each prepare before jumping into new things or jumping onto flights to new places, I pray we prepare our hearts. Let’s spend time looking at our Maker. Spend time meditating on the things He says about us. Spend time reveling in the beauty He whispers.

When we truly embrace who we are in Christ, we’re empowered to walk confident into a room of hundreds of other women that we’ve never personally met. Not because we have some haughty view of self. We can walk confident because we know WHOSE we are. And when we know WHOSE we are, we can know who we are — accepted and beloved, regardless of whether we’re wearing the trendiest pair of boots.

I don’t get to go to Allume this year — unless crazy, unexpected things happen. But I’m fighting those “missing out” feelings with truths that my God declares over me. The same truths He declares over you.

 
How have you wrestled against that nervous feeling of wanting to “fit in”?
What does our God say about us as His daughters?

 

Meeting God in the Airport

airplane

Once upon a time, there was a girl headed to a conference. She nervously packed her bags, checked her hair, and prepared herself for an early morning flight. Her breath was taken away by the cool, rarely met, early morning breeze as she rolled her slightly beaten suitcase along the cracked concrete to take her number and find her gate.

But–she is not the only one. There, as she slowly sinks into the slick, black leather chair only to wait, are people–others that are prepared to take the same flight. Others with the same destination, same flight number on the same day. She has placed herself at odds that happen in these rare moments, divine encounters with strangers that will most likely never again happen during her time here on earth.

A two hour layover is plenty of time to grab a searing hot cup of coffee, read a few “how to” ebooks on blogging, and look cute while doing it, right?

But.

She has a two hour layover.

Two hours.

Two hours to help encourage a mom who just lost her child. To thank a veteran for his service to our country. To relive along with a pilot his shaking, near experience with the September 11th attacks.

You may have a few hours or a few minutes to share love, peace, and ultimately the gospel message with these wayward travelers who, just like you, are all headed somewhere.

You may have only a brief moment to connect with the stranger crammed next to you who orders peanuts instead of pretzels and is obsessed with playing Candy Crush on their smart phone.

That ticket, that purchase you made so long ago that covers all your meals and provides access to fabulous speakers is really just a way to get you out of your comfort zone. No, not necessarily once you arrive and wonder if you are wearing too much makeup or smell like old laundry. This time, this moment, this opportunity will never happen again.

Meet God in the airport. He is there with earphones, He is there huddled up with a soft blanket and silent tears. He is there, cradling the screaming infant amidst eye rolls from fellow passengers. He is there when you, when they feel alone.

It is not always about the destination. It is about all of those stops in between.

Get Naked

Get Naked for Allume

I’ve been hiding, although I don’t like to admit it. I believe it is a beautiful thing to be vulnerable, to trust another with my story, to let myself be real. But at what cost?

Will she still like me?

Will she still want to be my friend after she hears what I’ve done, what I do?

My husband shared how, in a conversation with a dear friend, he learned the power and beauty of true confession–the kind of confession that is the truth, the nitty-gritty truth.  The truth that when you tell it, it stings.

True friendship, true community, means being honest. We lay sin out on the table. And Jesus, in His mercy, in His grace, picks it up and covers us with His blood.  Trying to cover ourselves through hiding, through telling half-truth confessions, but not the naked story, is not believing in what Jesus did for us.

I know how difficult–how scary and risky–it can feel to trust. But if there is an opportunity, in a safe place, to share the truth, the naked truth, with a friend, what else can you do? Might it still, possibly, despite the sting, be worth the risk?

By trying to cover ourselves, in our pride, and hiding our sin from friends, we are forgetting (and thus rejecting) how Jesus was stripped bare: First, when He was born as a man, and then, again, in His sacrifice on the cross–His taking on all our sin.

If we love Jesus, don’t we need to be naked, too?  Don’t we need to trust a little more, let Him cleanse us and abolish pride and worship of our self-image by confessing, truly confessing, to whom He brings?

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed (James 5:16).

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes,

Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride . . . but we cannot find the cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found, to the public death of the sinner.

So this time, when I confess, I must not hide behind platitudes, generalities.

Rather than saying, “Oh, I confess I have issues with control”, I must confess: When my boys were supposed to be getting ready for football but were goofing off and running back and forth from the front porch into the living room with their cleats on, I yelled and told them they were driving me crazy and locked them out of the house.

Rather than saying, “I get angry at my kids sometimes,” I must confess that I resent chaos, loudness, the kids not listening to me, and the love I show them is often conditional. I resent the tough stuff of parenting.  I want them to listen, and I get mad when they don’t.

Rather than saying, “My husband is pushing me towards the Father and it is good, but I’m having a hard time with it”, I must confess that we argued in the kitchen and I resent that he loves me so much that he fights for my heart, wanting me to trust the Father more, surrender more, die to these sins that hurt our kids and our marriage. I can be bitter towards him because ‘yes’, I want to change, but I don’t want to do the hard work of it all.

Ouch.  

Saying these words aloud, face to face, in community–and here, friends, as I share these words with you–convicts me: Being anything but naked about my sin is not what Jesus plans for me. It is not what He plans for you.

Those who merely hate tribulation, renunciation, distress, defamation, imprisonment in their own lives, no mater how grandiosely they may otherwise speak about the cross, these people in reality hate the cross of Jesus and have not found peace with God.  But those who love the cross of Jesus Christ, those who have genuinely found peace in it, now begin to love even the tribulations in their lives, and ultimately will be able to say with scripture, ‘We also boast in our sufferings’ (Bonhoeffer, “Discipleship and the Cross,” Bread and Wine).

I must go where I don’t want to go. I must be real, my heart stripped naked, completely open before my God. And when I hide the truth of my heart to my friends but say I love community, I am a hypocrite.  I care more about my image, how my friends perceive me, than Jesus coming and releasing me from these sins of my heart.

I want breakthrough to new life.  I want to hate my sin, not hold onto it.  I want “everything to become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and so I must trust Him with my sin and I must confess.  And when I confess to another person, I am letting go of the pride that wants to hide the sin.  I am humbling myself before Him, saying I can’t do this on my own.  I’ve messed up.  I need you.  Please forgive me and make me new.

There is so much hope here, girls.  I try to be real with friends now, after years of speaking in generalities and hiding.  There is freedom and beauty in saying I don’t have it all together–and this is what it looks like–but my Father does.  And I trust Him. I choose Him.

In being naked, I say ‘yes’ to needing Him, and the community He brings, around me.

Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the LORD does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD.
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:1-5)

How do you feel about this sting of confession?  What is now stirring your heart?

Also, here is a link to the sermon, “Nakedness”, by Kevin Kim. Kevin’s words helped me be willing to finally be open to leaning on community and trusting them with the stuff that is happening in my heart right now. I would love to know what you think.

A story and a blogger’s prayer…

A Blogger's Prayer via @Allume

I was nervous when I attended Allume last year. In preparing myself to go, imagining meeting blogging friends included fighting feelings of being in middle school again, petrified at the thought of seeing everyone in real life and them not liking what they see, when they see me, and fearing being left on the outside of the circle — echoes from junior-high taunting still haunting

Yet, as real as those paralyzing fears may be, they weren’t my greatest concern. The condition of my heart was. Would I leave Allume wanting to make a name for myself? Would I leave feeling small and shameful about it, with the only way to rectify it being — pursue becoming big?

My fears weren’t realized, in no accounts, especially with the matters of my heart. The people I met were people. Just people, and beautiful ones, too. Realizing that dispelled most of my insecurities. And, I left Allume last year with new friendships made, and a greater desire to serve God, my family, and the readers I already had.

I don’t know how they did it. Every keynote speaker, and breakout session speaker, big bloggers and smaller ones alike, had woven into each of their talks the same message — your relationship with God and people, especially the ones in your own household, are the most important things to focus on. Period. Only the Holy Spirit could have orchestrated such unity.

 

At the end, my heart’s cry wasn’t for greater numbers, it was for a greater passion to seek and please God.

 

Yet, I’m human and broken. In the seasons between, I let go of what I knew to be true. Somewhere along the way I gave my blog away. In my effort to do what I thought I was supposed to do as a blogger, I began to sacrifice too many of the wrong things.

I lost control of my yes and no. I was saying yes for all the wrong reasons and saying no to all the wrong things, with people-pleasing all mixed in to create a toxic mess. I sacrificed things I was never meant to; my walk with God, my health, my children, my husband, my home, my true self. This summer, my one week blog break turned into two months, and I’ve slowly come back to blogging. Though, I am not the same.

Blogging has a different purpose for us individually, and collectively the same for all of us who call ourselves Jesus followers. Everything we do should be motivated by a desire to bring God glory. We live our purpose to represent Him on this earth, so others would know that Jesus was sent by the Father. It’s our holy privilege, even in blogging. We differ in how we go about it, and that depends on how we were designed by our Creator. But that’s another post, entirely.

Today, I surrender, again. I surrender it all. My prayer has become more fervent, “Let Your will be done in this place, and not mine, Lord.”

 

And maybe you can make it a blogger’s prayer for you, too?

 

May my blog be where others may find the Way, the Truth and the Life. 

May my blog never deplete my relationship with You, God, nor my family.

May it only ever point the way to the cross, and be a beacon of light for those who have lost their way to You.

May I be a faithful servant to the precious readers you have entrusted, no matter if they read quiet, and no matter how long they may stay. And as they grace these pages may it be Your grace they find.

And no matter where You may take me from here, no matter what I may find along the way, and I know there will be many distractions vying for my turn to the left or the right, may my most passionate pursuit always be of You.

And to the Father, I echo Your words, Jesus. “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me. And to finish His work.” John 4:34 

“May I glorify You on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What You assigned me to do.”

John 17:4 MSG

In Jesus Name. Amen.


Still living a life surrendered,

Michele-Lyn

What Satisfies You?

contentment || Teri Lynne Underwood

Do you ever have a feeling there has to be something more?  Like something is missing or incomplete but you are not sure what it is?

I imagine most of us have been there.  And if you haven’t, you know someone who has. We can look around us and see all the ways people are trying to satisfy a need they can’t really define.

Drugs. Gambling. Alcohol.  Pornography.

We look at others who have those “issues” and we wonder how their lives could get so out of control. But there are so many ways we try to fill that empty space inside ourselves.

  • We seek communion online and neglect the community around us.
  • We savor food instead of the Bread of Life.
  • We accumulate more than we could ever need or use and walk past those with nothing.
  • We build big houses while countless children around the world are orphans.
  • We spend countless dollars eating out when millions of people are starving.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with good food or beautiful homes or lovely vacations … I enjoy all of these. But there is a need for each of us to periodically check our hearts.  To pray as David did,

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24 ESV

We need to ask the Lord to search us, to test our thoughts. We need Him to reveal to us those places that are not His … because we were not made for this world, my friends.  We were created for something more, something better.  He has called us to this time and this place for His glory and for His service.  But we, like countless others can claim the promise of a heavenly country, for God has prepared for us a city {Hebrews 11:16}.

As you look ahead to the weekend, I pray you will carve out a moment or two for reflection, for confession, and for a turning of your heart toward the only One who truly, eternally satisfies!

here’s one way we affect the world

 
My middle boy has tested my sanity lately. Sweet thing. He’s completely precious and tender-hearted. He can take anything apart and (almost) put it back together. He hurts when people hurt. And he prays to Jesus. But, like all of us, he has weaknesses. And his weaknesses colliding with my weaknesses have made for some ug-lay moments.

One of our biggest struggles as of late is with our words (his and mine), specifically when anger or frustration arise. My favorite was when he said I was meaner than satan. Nice. I followed with an equally winning comment, “Oh, I can show you mean if that’s what you want.” Not my grandest moment.

But this struggle with words has challenged me to think about the power of words. Because whoever coined that ridiculous statement about “sticks and stones” must have been smokin’ somethin’ because words absolutely affect us.

 

Words are power.

 

Words can humiliate and degrade. They can evoke fear and shame. They can make people run away or hide for cover. But. They can also pour life into another’s soul.

Words can squash fear and make us feel like we could fly. They can empower us to take the next step in a dark valley. They can minister grace and mercy when judgment seems more logical. They can encourage and bless, lift and even transform our today. Words are power.

 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

 

Then there’s us in our areas of cyberspace that we call our writing home.

Those words we type onto the page can change the people on the other side of the screen. Our words can cause chains of religiosity to fall off. They can stir hope in places of utter hopelessness. They can serve up grace to those who feel like outcasts. They can show Jesus to someone who may have never looked into His face.

Oh yes. You and I — we can affect the world, beginning within the four walls of our homes and then spreading across time zones and continents.

Words are power — for better or for worse.

 

Father, put a guard on my mouth today. Use me to pour out life on those around me with words that are grounded in Your truth. And then thank You, thank You for Your grace when I fail.

 

Running this faith race beside you,
Lara

 
Tell of a time when you experienced the power of words — for better or worse.
 

When We Choose Pouting Over Praise

railroad2

I spent the first year at my job wishing it away.  It wasn’t what I wanted, and I let a pout be a permanent fixture in my attitude.

I went back to school with the intention of graduating into my ideal ministry position. I dreamed about that position throughout my three years in grad school. I longed for the day of ministering to women, pouring Scripture into their hearts, and connecting deeply with the Spirit in prayer beside them. I had a dream, I had a vision. But He wanted something different.

I graduated and He opened a door to a position much like where I had come from prior to grad school. In fact, it was a few steps backward in many ways. But He made it obvious this is where He wanted me, and so I obeyed His lead and accepted the position. As time went on I grew to dislike the position more and more and I grew bitter.

Instead of being grateful for a job in a struggling economy, I allowed misery and self-pity to overtake my heart. I soaked in the waters of anger, and I chose not to look at the blessings covered beneath the surface of this job.

Gratitude was something I had lost–a lifestyle, an attitude, a focus I chose to walk away from.

Over time the Lord began to pull up the weeds of resentment, showing me why He had me there. He revealed the purpose- the very reason I was placed there. Over time my heart changed.

But looking back I am saddened that for so long I wished away that season, excited to move on to what God had for me next.

Look what Paul wrote of the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians;

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

Those in Macedonia faced great persecution because of their faith. Their situation deteriorated and poverty spread through the Church. Despite the difficulties they faced, they still chose to praise God and bless others. They contributed financially to Paul’s missionary work during this difficult time, they gave out of what they did have, instead of focusing on what they didn’t have. The Macedonian’s faith increased even in the midst of great trial. They chose to see the grace of God, soaking in His blessings even in the midst of a storm.

The Word of God gives us testimony after testimony of this very attitude, the attitude of living in gratitude and sharing the joy of the Gospel of Christ in every and all situations.

I wonder what would’ve been different if I hadn’t ‘wasted’ a year pouting over the season He had chosen for me.

As I reflect on that season, I see that He is patient. He is gracious. And He is a great Teacher.

I needed that season of pouting to learn that sometimes my story isn’t equal to His story. Sometimes He has different plans for a season then I do, and that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time. When my attitude learned to adjust to His plans, when I accepted where He had me and chose to be present and purposeful, I saw His abundant blessings. I saw Him.

After two years in my position, today is my last day. God has moved me into a new season, and I am walking away from this job. I am grateful for where He is leading me, but I wonder what would’ve been different if I hadn’t allowed my pouting attitude to cloud that season.

I am grateful for the lessons He’s taught me on this journey, and I pray that my heart will overflow with gratitude, like the Macedonian’s, no matter what challenge or storm this next season brings.

Are you in a season you didn’t picture for yourself? Are you weary and bitter? Are you pouting the days away?

Let’s choose gratitude. Let’s choose to see Him in the midst of this season, being open to what He might have for us there.

By, Mandy Scarr at mandyscarr.com

When you answer God’s call for you…

 1 Thessalonians 5:24 "The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it." #Allume

All of life is a story, and as we live, our stories are are still being written. The greatest of Authors is God. We pray for God to have His way in our life. When He does, all our glorious plans can be taken through a sifter, and feel as if our life is being shaken, no parts left unsettled. His plan is so much different than our own, isn’t it? When we offer God our lives, our desires, our dreams, our blogs, He takes us at our word. Then, He requires us to act on it. He requires our obedient surrender.

And what does that mean, really?

It means relinquishing our own brilliant ideas that have been blinding us to His way, releasing the ambitions that were starting to consume us, and letting go of the strategies we began to put our trust in. It means heeding His Word, yielding to His direction, following His lead. Even though where He leads it is not where everyone else seems to be going, and not nearly at the same pace.

Not because everyone else is doing it wrong, but because it’s not what God’s has for you. Following, when you cannot see what’s before you, can be scary. But it’s also the way a life is lived brave, where adventure in God is found, where we learn to truly trust and be led by His Spirit.

“Writing won’t make you a good character in your own story. Living will.” — Darrell Vesterfelt

I’ve been doing some hard, real-life living lately, less story-telling, and things are quiet at my place. My one week blog break has turned into a month-long-one and is slowly becoming two. I’ve kept my writing commitment here at the Allume blog, and one other place I get to contribute. But, my blog has been mostly dormant.

 

Most of us call ourselves believers,
but how many of us would Jesus call His followers? <– Tweet?

 

I want to be counted among them, even if it means I have to leave good things behind to follow Him. Whenever God asks us to give up something, it’s not to deprive us of the desires of our heart. It’s because what He has for us is so much greater. In order to lay hold of what is before us, we have to let go of what is behind us. That, my friend, can be the hardest part.

This process changes us, it matures us from the inside out, it purifies our motives, and it grows our faith. It’s also where we live-out our story. There’s a fight within because our will is strong. It takes a wrestling, and often, an invisible struggle to the death-of-self to bring us to the place we can honestly say, “Nevertheless, not my will be done but Yours, Father.”

That place my friend, is surrender.

Writing A Life Surrendered

I’m not the same person I was when I began my blog break this time, which I take regularly every 7th week. And even now, while I write out these words in pen bleeding blue, sitting in a waiting room, still in God’s waiting room, I remember the line I ended my post with, “I’ll be back soon, but hopefully, not so much the same.”

And God took me at my word. I didn’t want to be the same, but I didn’t know that change I longed for would be so difficult to walk through, or take so long. Ugly parts of me have been revealed in the mirror of His word: envy, jealousy, rivalry, selfishness, fear of man, fear of failure, fear of rejection, and a few unlovely others. Yes, I still struggle with all of the above. Sometimes, I think I’ve overcome, then He calls me higher. And I realize there is so much more work to be done.

He does the transformative work. Our part is to answer His call. (1 Thess 5:24)

Faithful is He Who is calls you, and He will also do it. <– Tweet?

Amen? Amen.

 

Still living a life surrendered,

Michele-Lyn

A Little Cupcake Story

A Little Cupcake Story

Once upon a time there lived a young woman. She was often insecure and often afraid and continually questioned her decisions and ideas and dreams. She was also chosen and loved and made beautiful by her King but she usually forgot that part. 

One day a friend called and asked if she would be willing to make cupcakes for a party. “Of course!” she said, planning to just toss some cupcakes in the oven and maybe make some powdered sugar frosting to top them with. Until she heard the news.

She was not the only one making cupcakes.

The other woman who was making cupcakes was slim and gorgeous and everyone knew she was capable of creating perfect masterpieces in the kitchen.

The girl froze and wanted to cry. I will be measured and found wanting, she thought, I can’t do anything perfectly. It was just cupcakes but it was also something far, far deeper. It was her wild insecurities and her unchecked fears and her secret stumbling pride.

So she made plans. Elaborate plans. She bought piping tools and store-bought icing. She searched Pinterest and studied cake decorating blog posts. She would create perfect cupcakes. How hard could it be?

The day for cupcake making arrived and she put her supplies on the table.

As she began mixing the batter a knock sounded at the door. It was a friend with two little girls who had sparkly blue eyes and hopeful smiles. They wanted to spend the afternoon.

IMG_8904How could she do anything but invite them in? When she loved children so desperately? When nothing made her heart sing more than teaching little darlings about life and God and beauty?

The six-year-old wanted to do the piping.

The two-year-old wanted to put the candies on top.

All the young woman’s best laid plans fell into crumbles like the ones that littered her floor. But there, with icing smeared on her cheek and handfuls of candies disappearing into tiny mouths, she heard her Father speak. His voice seemed to swirl through the crazy mismatched cupcakes:

“Perfection” is found in doing what I created you to do.

She was not made to bring flawless cupcakes to parties. She was made to dance with dollies in her kitchen with icing dripping off noses and words whispering soft that God loved and created and made beauty, even with messy mismatched cupcakes. 

Even in young women who struggle with insecurities, fear, and pride.

Even in me.

 

 

Tell me, friend, how does this parable apply to your life? Is there a place where you are struggling with insecurities? Fear? Pride? Cupcake decorating? 😉 Are you blogging, writing, livingthe way that God created you to? Because if you are, oh, dear ones, if you are— then you’ve found perfection. 

 

The In-Between…What to do while you wait.

I hear my 3 year old through whimpers and whines, “I no like waiting. Waiting is hard.”

“I know,” I sigh.

It is hard for a toddler, and it’s hard for us adults. But waiting is inevitable, isn’t it?

We are waiting for an answer to prayer.
We are waiting for provision.
We are waiting for God to promote us.
We are waiting for our dreams to come to life, or a life to come to us.

While we wait, we still journey. Life goes on, and we must go on. We are in-between where we were and where we want to be, and it’s how we journey that’s most important. And in that journey, my friend, is where God does His best work in us. So what are we to do while we we wait? This…

The In-Between...What to do while you wait. #Allume blog

(Click here to follow Allume on Pinterest)

Let God have His way in you. Tweet this?

Our wait is the time that our selfishness is being worked out of us, as the motives of our hearts are being refined. It’s where the prayers we prayed of “Less of me and more of You, God,” are being answered, and our faith is being approved. There are trials while we wait, and sometimes the wait is the trial.

Sadly, many times the wait is laced with the darkness of disappointments. I often think of Joseph in Egypt. His dark abyss was a prison, yet God brought him from the prison to Pharaoh’s palace, in one day, so he could help save a nation. (Gen 41) God has called us and knows our end from our beginning. His timing is perfect. Perhaps, what we consider a disappointment is a divine-appointment, a set up for the greatness God has for us.

Your faith approved is worth more than gold, friend. “…for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, so that the genuineness of your faith may be tested, your faith which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire.” (1 Pet 1:6-7 AMP)

Embrace the season with faithfulness. Tweet this?

As we are walking out our days, and working diligently to pursue our dreams we get caught in the in-between tension in our hearts. While we are living for the “future-us,” we are called be faithful as the “present-us,” and to  our spouses, our children, family, friends, readers we already have. Unbeknownst to us, we can live subtly devaluing our opportunities and those around, not appreciating the significance they bring to our life in this moment. And the truth of it is, the present moment is all we really have.

When we are anxious for the next step, we may despair over where we are instead of yielding to the time of waiting for all it’s wondrous clouds by day and fire by night God provides for the journey. It’s a balance, isn’t it, like a holy equilibrium? May God find us with genuine gratitude and praise for what the day brings, while still having faith and hope for what He may have for tomorrow.

“Give yourself permission to enjoy fully the things you have, the person you are, and the life you are currently living while continuing to harbor the dreams that keep you growing and stretching into the future.” — Priscilla Shirer

Focus on honoring God by offering your gifts, skills, talents and abilities to the task at hand in this moment for His glory. Your faithfulness to Him is proved in the monotony. Be completely available for Jesus. You are the image of God right where you are.

Make God the prize you are waiting for. Tweet this?

Times of waiting can bring uncertainty and doubt, but these times are invaluable ones in the valley where we draw near to God and He draws near to us, and where God becomes our everything, again.

“God births dreams in us and the allows the desire to move us; it is in the pursuit of our dreams that we encounter tragedy and meet the deeper desires that only loss and heartache can reveal. What deeper desire of our beings does God call us to discover? It is no other love and no other one but Him.” — Dan B. Allender

When you desire God more, hunger and thirst after Him more, delight in Him with all of your being, until there is nothing you want more than God. When you are able to say with all your heart, with complete sincerity, and utter surrender, “It doesn’t matter if I never see what my heart longs for, because there is nothing I want more than You. You are my portion, Lord, and You are all I need.” Then you will see, when you least expect it, God will bring the very thing your heart desires into your life.

My prayer for you.

I pray as you go through the place you rather not be on the way to the place your heart is already connected to, walk closely with Him, not ahead or behind, but with Him hearing His Voice and thoughts about where you are. He’s with you now in the journey, not at the destination — changing you from glory to glory. “Faithful is He Who is calling you, and utterly trustworthy, and He will also do it.” (1 Thess 5:24 AMP)

Trusting Him,

Michele-Lyn

living a life surrendered

Will you share this post with someone who needs encouragement in the in-between? And will you share in comments, what is hardest about the time of waiting?

a simple truth that can transform any relationship

 
Don’t place your trust solely in him. Or her. Or them. Because they — like you and me — are mere humans. And do you know what humans do? We fail.

 

People will fail.

 

I read Jesus’ words last week and they struck a deep chord. He had just started His earthly ministry, performing signs and wonders. And after seeing the miracles, people believed in Him.

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2:24-25

Do you hear what He’s saying? Yes, people put their trust in Him. I mean, He was turning water into top-shelf wine. But He didn’t put His trust in people. Why? Because He “knew all people…(and) knew what was in man.”

Never in the Bible does it say to put our trust in people. Never. Love people, yes. Forgive people, continually. Pray for people, always. But trust? Never. And it’s because people are people. We’re weak and selfish and prone to wander.

When we place our trust in people — depending on them to give us life and hope — we’ll inevitably fall to disappointment. That’s why Jesus didn’t put His trust in man. Not even His most beloved disciples. He put His trust solely in the Father.

His eyes were dead set on the will of the Father. His gaze was continually pointed to the Father. He didn’t look at humans in search of fulfillment with cheesy phrases like “you. complete. me.” No. Because He knew what was in man. And woman.

Personally, I put my hope and trust in men — eventually my husband –in search of security and meaningful love for far too long. And though God gifts us with earthly, blessed, necessary relationships, people can never completely fill us. People will fail us. Just like we’ll fail them.

So when it comes to trust, we’re supposed to put it in one place and one place alone. We put our trust in God.

 

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8

 

God is the forever faithful One. He’s the One who sees the beginning from the end and knows how to make every detail work out for the good of those who love Him. He’s the One who never ever leaves or forsakes His children. He alone is always trustworthy.

And here’s the beauty. When we put our trust in Him, rather than the people or circumstances in our physical world, it frees us to love others without expectation. It frees us to forgive and bless. Because we’re not depending on people to be our Source of life. We’re depending on the life-giver. And that, my friend, is true freedom.

 
How have you seen that passage from Jeremiah above play out in your own life? (i.e., trusting in things or people vs. trusting in God regardless)

What a Christian Writer Does with Self-doubt

I’m an Allume contributor, in the company of brilliant, beautiful writers. And perhaps that sets me apart in your mind, somehow better than you because I’m here. Maybe?

I have thought it before, and still do at times. I see a fellow blogger and friend get chosen for an opportunity that I would have liked, and the first thought that triggers an avalanche of negative others is, “What’s wrong with me that I wasn’t chosen? Am I not good enough?”

But what if I told you I’ve written my post 3 times? As in, I have 3 distinctly different drafts written for the one that was due today. None of them made it here. This one did.

The reason there are 3 drafts is not because I’m a terrific writer, but more like a terrified one. And it’s failure I’m afraid of. And the problem with fear is that it’s not from God.

What if I told you I feel like a tidal wave of self-doubt has overwhelmed me, and rather than be writing right now, I want to run and hide my words? Would you still think being an Allume blogger makes me better than you? Oh, I hope not, friend. I hope that you find I’m just a person like you. I’m a women who still struggles with self-doubt, comparison, distraction, and competition.

I confessed it to a friend, though it scared me to, “I have a love-hate relationship with being a contributor or guest posting because I feel pressure to please and perform. The numbers, the Facebook likes and shares, tweets and pins, they show everyone, and boast my success or shout my failure.”

It’s not because anyone else has imposed that pressure, but because I have. It’s debilitating and draining, and I know it’s prideful, wayward thinking, self-doubt and fear talking. And I can’t be passive about it.

What do I do when there are moments and months when self-doubt hovers like a heavy dark, brooding cloud over head? There are lies that incessantly seek to penetrate my mind, and beckon to be believed and acted upon to lead me to an end. To end this race I’m running. And to end writing about it.

I must look at my fear, not only as a weakness on my part, but an attack, and a very real temptation to be overthrown.  <– Tweet

While I’d like to tell you the battle is over, I cannot. But I’m going forward — courageously afraid. And this is part of what a Christian writer can do with self-doubt. I’m practicing.

  • Speak Truth: God’s word is our only offensive weapon listed in our Armor, so wield the sword of the Spirit. (Eph 6:17) Speak aloud His word because faith comes by hearing it. (Rom 10:17) And it renews our mind, as we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor 10:5) “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom 8:37)
  • Go Low: Surrender it all daily, hourly if necessary. Sometimes we really are in the midst of a spiritual attack and the devil prowls like a lion seeking whom he may devour. (1Pet 5:8) After we submit to God resist the devil because he must flee. And “…don’t try to impress others. Be humble.” (Phil 2:3) For God gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)
  • Obey God: If God has called us to do something than our success is as sure as our obedience, though He measures success differently than us. I’m almost certain He’s not counting our Facebook likes, but rather lost souls that have found Him because of our courage to write His message.
  • Be You: We don’t need to try and be anyone except who God created us to be. When we do, the world misses out on the facet of God that He’s chosen us to display. We are accountable to live the life He gave us, and no one else’s.
  • Be Vulnerable: Hiding our weaknesses can isolate us, because we are afraid God or others will see them and wound or judge us by it. But we need to know we are not the only ones struggling. “Our vulnerability draws God to us. Our helplessness reveals His Presence. Our weakness makes known His strength. Our confessions prompt His grace.” — Dr. Les Parrott
  • Write Afraid: Sometimes what we fear sharing most, is what’s most important to share. “We are more naked and needy before words that we write than perhaps anywhere else. We fear this, so we avoid it. But reality is where God shows up. Reality may be painful, but if we want to meet God we have to go there.” — Dan B. Allender

Do you ever struggle with fear or the temptation to quit writing? Will you tell us how you overcome?

 

I’m trusting Him,

Michele-Lyn at A Life Surrendered

 

One flesh, not two

one-flesh

Nine p.m. and the bedroom door closes.  He’s in one room. I’m in another.

Hard words and hard hearts.  Help me soften, Lord.

When we marry, we become one flesh. One body.  One heart.  This is why the power we have to hurt and to love in marriage is so great.  We are yoked. We are connected.  The marriage vows we make to one another are the vows to love one another completely, sacrificially.

Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5: 25). Husbands are called “to love their own wives as their own bodies.”

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians continues, ” He who loves his own wife loves himself” (v.28), and wives are  “to respect their husbands” (v. 33).  We do this, choose to surrender to each other, when we marry, when we vow our love to one another, “because we are members of His body” (v. 30).  And in this choice to marry we become no longer our own.

I am part of my husband.  He is part of me.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh (v.31). Wills laid down, bodies surrendered. We do this because of our holy promise to each other–but mainly because first, above all, we are His.

When I don’t return to these truths, I can feel the disruption in my marriage.  My husband and I both do.  My husband and I both feel our union tearing a bit of our hearts when we disconnect.  We are one flesh, not two.

And that is why, that night, when the doors of our hearts were shut against one another–in the moment when I refused to see how I was wounding my own flesh in my refusal to connect, to soften, to love my husband well, my heart disconnected itself not only from my husband, but from the Father, too.

The Holy Spirit has not left me; God never leaves. But I separate myself from God’s good plans for me–and for my marriage– when I choose to remain cold and hard and fight for my own way rather than surrendering to love, choosing Jesus’ will in my marriage, above my own.

This is not to say that if there is physical abuse within your marriage that you should just bear it and not seek help. Absolutely, sister, seek help. God gave us community to come alongside one another, help one another, in times of trial and distress.

But Jesus also did not intend for us to sever our own flesh, bring about division within our marriage when we push for only our own way.   When we push for our own way, without regard for our husband’s heart, we tear apart what the Father yoked together. We bring division within our very selves.  We are not whole.

No wonder fighting feels so crummy.

Is there a place where He is calling you to soften?

Is there a place in your marriage, where you are being challenged to surrender– to feel hearts united, as one flesh?

You are Already Enough

Tiptoh-so-carefully

Flickr Photo Credit: orangeacid

Dear Momma,
Yes, you,
there,
cooking and cleaning and caring.
You who are carrying our future in your hands and in your heart,
wiping tears, kissing cheeks,
washing hands, and bottoms, and noses

Dear Blogger,
Yes, you,
there,
behind the screen,
pecking out words in the middle of the night,
tucking away thoughts while working
and serving
and raising those Babes ...

Dear Woman,
Yes, you,
there,
fighting to find your place,
find your way,
make a difference …

Even in the busyness of this day, with lists to-do and tasks to complete,

with your mind swirling or heart pumping or emotions rising,

just for moment,

stop.

 

Just stay still for a moment and let my Momma heart, my blogger heart, my living-life-just-like-you heart whisper to yours:

Friend, you are enough. 

You’re enough.

 

I know you’re trying hard, reaching out, and some days you don’t know how you’ll make it through,

but

while living and loving and walking faith-full and faithful,

while serving behind the scenes in the unknown, secret places where no one else sees,

while chasing this dream and pursuing His call,

when you’re tired and weary and you just want to collapse —

you. are. enough.

 

Whatever you’re chasing, missing, thinking you need, you are already enough.

You are known.

You are chosen.

You are loved.

You are called.

You, sweet sister, are enough.

 

So today, stop chasing after the wind,

stop trying to be someone or make a name for yourself.

Stop trying harder.

Lean into the One who has called you.

Trust Him.
Follow Him.
Abide in Him.

He will lead you.

Be faithful where you are, and leave the results to Him.

“Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. … It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” (Ephesians 1:7-11 MSG)

Love,

Erika

Why Encouragement Works

photo (7)

Encourage one another.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Would you like to know a secret? It has been the single most effective way for me to build my blog.

And also required the heaviest sifting of my heart to find.

It has brought me the most joy and has found me more often than not on my knees before the Father in tears. I have had to put my selfish pride behind me and do things – in blogging, online communities, and real life – that bring glory to God. And it’s hard.

My natural tendency is to strive. To have a goal and do everything in my power to make it happen. When it works, my pride grows. When it fails, my pride suffers and I become insecure, comparing and wondering why it worked for “her” but not me. And that, sweet friends, is an ugly path I have traveled down far too often.

It is only by the grace of God, a powerful refining, and a softened heart that I now know the full joy of offering praise for the success of others. It’s not always easy. It takes practice, reaching out to someone and celebrating their achievement when you wish it was yours. In a world where competition is the norm and women are expected to be catty, not congratulatory, it takes practice.

But I can promise you this. When you go out of your way to share someone else’s amazing blog post, leave an encouraging comment for a blogger you admire, or send another writer information about an opportunity you think they would be perfect for, you are doing a hard thing. You are choosing not to keep it all for yourself, you are choosing to admit that you are not the only one who can do this thing and you showing this world that Christ’s light shines brightly when we live for Him and not ourselves. As I’ve opened my heart to those around me, as I’ve joined community and sought ways to encourage others, He has blessed me in incredible and unexpected ways.

Today, my amazing writing friends, let’s give God the opportunity to poke some holes in our pride so He has more room to shine. Be a light. Love one another the way Christ has commanded us to and take this “light living” from the pages of Scripture to the screens of blogs and out into our daily lives.

Encourage one another.

Who is God calling you to encourage today?

Crystal Stine
http://www.crystalstine.me

What Are You Building?

broken bricks

Photo Credit: John Donges

 

Building a blog. Building a platform. Building a following.
In this blogging world, we read about building all the time, don’t we?

With each word and thought and post and comment,
each interaction, each tweet, each mention and share, we are building.

But what are we building?

I have wrestled with this question every time the idea of platform building is brought up, and I shrink back. The reality of Genesis 11 hits me with full force, and I wonder if my mind equates building my platform to building my tower of Babel.

“They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ … Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves…’ (Genesis 11:3-4).

A name for ourselves.

The barb of those words pierces me through.

That old slave of seeking approval and perfection and wanting to be accepted and liked and seen rears its ugly head, and I must flee!

The temptation to stack those bricks to make a name for myself can whisper loud at times, but may it never be! I don’t want to build with bricks. I am not called to build with bricks. I am called to be a living stone.

Living stones don’t build towers; they become altars

And those altars are beautiful because on them we pour out, lay down, give away, that our lives might become a living sacrifice.

Less of me; more of Him.

Sweet sister, can’t you already feel the freedom in that?

Even in this competitive world of blogging,
even in the desire to get noticed,

we can put off envy and division. Selfish ambition has no place. We can let go of vain striving and fierce competition. As we become that altar and pour ourselves out for His name, following His lead, we find the purpose and fullness and hope He has for us.

Bricks are made by man, but stones are created by God. I am not the builder, He is.

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:1-2 NLT).

What endless toil there is in laboring over a plan that is not God’s.

Solomon knew this well when he penned Psalm 127, one of the very few Psalms written by him. One well acquainted with meaningless striving (Ecclesiastes 1), Solomon recognized that all the effort and time and work spent on anything that God does not build is wasted effort. It is pointless. Futile. Meaningless.

It is just bricks.

“Imagine pouring your daily efforts into something completely meaningless. None of us wants our work to be in vain…The question we need answered is whether or not God is in our labor and indeed initiated it as His own building project” (Beth Moore, Stepping Up).

Are we spending ourselves on making bricks? Are our blogs just another way to build a name for our selves, or are we surrendering selfish ambition, following Christ’s lead, living lives marked by spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God so that we might be living stones?

We are not to build up for ourselves but pour out for Him.

We aren’t called to build, but to be.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him” (Romans 1:1-2 MSG).

Oh Sisters, may it be that our words, our blogs, our very lives follow God’s lead and be all about making much of Him!

“Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to YOUR name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1).

Soli Deo Gloria!

Erika

erikadawson.com

Being with God–Maybe It’s Not About Doing That Thing

I hug my knees against my chest, boots plunged into February sand, watching foamy waves crash onto Northern California shore. Two hundred other women join me, scattered across this quiet stretch of beach—sitting on dunes, dipping bare toes in cold water, or treading over dirt paths. The rustic retreat center is a mile away but otherwise, for this group of women, seemingly off the map. The retreat speaker invited us to spend an hour of meditation, with God. From the moment the speaker’s talk ended and for the next hour, we need to be silent—any temptation to speak reserved for communication, in our hearts, with the Father.

DSCN4137-001

This is the first time I’ve considered being quiet with God, and I have never had anyone share with me that God could talk to them, that He uses our hearts to communicate with us. I had been used to praying to Him, reading the Bible and being in awe of the way God spoke to the hearts of people in the Bible. I am trying to imagine the possibility of God speaking to me, too.

White seagulls squawked and crested surging waves. I open the journal I grabbed from my bedside table at home, the one I took on our first mission trip, to Ethiopia, two years before and hadn’t opened since. Where do I begin? How does one have a conversation with God?

I read what I had scrawled out in my journal during that trip, remembering His faithfulness, His clearing the path for my husband and me to go. I want to feel His closeness now. I want to discern His words in me, His voice bringing peace, but I don’t know how to begin the conversation. So I watch the waves and then scribble down a prayer:

“Father, draw me to you.  I remember how you were with us, so near, while in Ethiopia, and I miss you now. Are you here, too? What do you want me to do?” And He tells me, one of the first whispers in my heart I recognize as His, “Be. Just be, and then I will take you where you want to go.”

Previously, my relationship with God was one of convenience—me asking Him for help. So, His response—“Just be”—was something brand new and unfamiliar. I was used to striving, reaching for Godas if His life in me was something I could attain so I could be a better person. His speaking to me on the beach, whispering directly to my heart, took my breath away because it revealed that He was already here.

We are each desperate to be loved for who we already are, this very moment, not for who we believe we need to strive to be.  “Just be” answers the cries of our hearts, the prayer that underlies each attempt we make to try to be more than the girl our Father has already created. Who we are, right now, with Him, is more amazing and beautiful than we can even imagine.

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Let me tell you something girls . . . I’ve have had to learn this truth the hard way—that God’s presence is not something for us to attain, but, rather, receive. Striving to be in control was the only life I knew how to live, for so long.  And it prevented me from realizing that listening to His voice within me, and heeding it, was the only path to the freedom and joy that I truly craved. Is this the case for you, too?

I would love to know your thoughts about God whispering to you, and how we might pray for each other as we surrender and let ourselves be with Him, rather than trying to chase Him down by earning His approval.

Listening with you now,

Jennifersignature

When You Need to Come Up for Air

There was a time when I almost drowned. 

It was a searing hot Southern summer afternoon, I was at a public pool in town with a group of friends from church. Each of my friends were in line at the diving board, ready to show off their most impressive leaps and dives. Springing from the board to the clear sky above, time would almost pause as they slowly floated through the air, only to plummet through the calm, chlorinated waters below at the enjoyment of the other swimmers splashing and swirling in the depths of blue.

It was my turn. I did not want to admit I could not swim. I was almost ten years old when I had the guts to remove the training wheels off of my bike. Swimming seemed easy enough. I would just float back to the top, right?

I grabbed the cool, metal handles anchored next to the diving board, with legs shaking, stood at the edge. I glanced over at the blistering concrete where my wet footprints were quickly fading, and the line that was quickly forming behind me of anxious swimmers ready to enjoy diving once again.

I smiled, waved to my friends already in the water, and leaped from the board.

 brave little diver

I crashed through the water and began to sink to the bottom. I suddenly realized this was not the shallow end. My feet were not going to touch the bottom. I glanced around, and all I could see were a sea of feet and abandoned goggles. The pressure on my ears was a force, and my lungs were so tight I thought they may explode. I thrashed and kicked violently until my body surfaced. I waved and gasped for air as the sun beamed into my terrified eyes. The deep water pulled me in once again.

I was drowning and no one even knew. 

But there was one. One who noticed. Amidst the laughing, screaming, and music blaring from the poolside boombox, a girl realized I was not okay. She, unlike myself, was an excellent swimmer and began to wade toward me at lightning speed. To keep myself from panicking, I fixed my eyes on her as she came to rescue me. She pulled me to the side of the pool, as I coughed and gasped for air.

But that was not the first time I almost drowned. Sometimes we are drowning and we are not even in the water. 

The weight, the pressure, the feeling of alone. The panic of not knowing what will happen next.  It all is bearing down on you. And you think no one notices. Whom will save you? Whom will help?

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” {Matthew 8:23-26}

No matter your season in life, through wind, waves, and diving boards, there is One who notices. One who is there to help. Why are we so afraid? As you come up for air, take a deep breath and allow faith to fill your lungs.

I think I’d better learn to swim, however. But at least I have graduated to a ten speed bike. 

Time to Retreat

PicMonkey Collage

 

Once a year I make it a priority to steal away for a weekend with the Lover of my soul. And just last weekend was that time.

Years ago I had a mentor tell me to take a personal retreat on an annual basis. At first it seemed silly, and actually quite unrealistic considering the stage of life I was in, but in time, I realized how much my soul longed for it. And so I took my first spiritual retreat. Just me, Jesus, His Word, a journal, and some yummy tea and treats. At that time I stole away to a cabin that a friend so generously allowed for me to retreat to. It was beautiful. He spoke to me in that cabin, He gave me peace in that cabin, He loved me well in that cabin.

Since that very first retreat, I have made taking a spiritual retreat a priority. I have taken time with my King each year, doing an inventory, checking my heart against His Word, listening to His whispers, and praying fiercely face-first on the floor.  He never fails to rock my world in our time together. It is usually one of the highlights of my year.

As time has gone by and responsibilities have been added to the new stages of my life, stealing away for alone time for 48 hours has become more and more difficult. This last year, I put off my retreat, saying I’d make time for it later, ‘when things slowed down’. As the months went on, I longed for my retreat time with Him, but the busyness of life got in the way. And that is when I felt it: pure spiritual exhaustion.

Keeping up with this fast paced life had led me to drink from an empty cup. Yes, I had been squeezing quiet times into my day {emphasis on squeezing in}—but those early morning moments weren’t the kind of time with my King that made me overflow with the spiritual energy I normally get from Him. I was rushed, I was distracted, I was frazzled. And my writing? It started to come from a place of obligation, not a place of overflow.

Last weekend I decided that it was time, time for me to retreat with my King–no more excuses.

He rescued me in those 48 hours alone with Him. He brought me back to the roots of grace, the beginning of faith. He traded in my anxiety and distractedness for peace and joy. He listened, and He spoke. He reminded me of why I write, why I love, and what I’m called to. He reminded me that I am, only because He is the great I AM.

And so, I wondered, sweet writing friends, when was the last time you gave Him the opportunity to perform a deep heart-check? When’s the last time you truly stole away to deeply compare your heart to His Word? When’s the last time you had good solid alone time with your King?

I know this life we live can be busy and fast-paced. I know we can put it off, put Him off until things ‘slow down’. But what if you ask Him to make a way? Ask Him to give you 6, 12, 24, or even 48 hours alone with Him. Give Him the chance to open up the opportunity for alone time with you. Because sisters, I can guarantee He wants that alone time with you so much more than you want that alone time with Him.

By, Mandy Scarr