2015 Reflections. 2016 Hopes.

2015 brought me so many beautiful things. It brought me a husband, new friends, a new Bible study group, new growth, new maturity, and new wisdom. 2015 reignited my passion to teach on purity and marriage. It taught me to be selfless in my love and to compromise. It taught me the beauty and sanctity of marriage, a union and covenant before God. It was by far my best year up to date.

I was told in the summer of 2014 that I would marry my spouse in 2015. Although I found it hard to believe, boy did the Lord answer that prayer and desire! He fulfilled a long awaited promise. In 2016, I’m waiting on another promise given to me by God at a very young age. I’m going to watch God expand my territory through ministry. The word “waiting” comes to mind. Habakkuk 2:3 reminds me of this truth: “For the vision is yet for an appointed time and it hastens to the end [fulfillment]; it will not deceive or disappoint. Though it tarry, wait [earnestly] for it, because it will surely come; it will not be behindhand on its appointed day.” The waiting is never in vain! It is often a time of preparation. The promises of God will not disappoint and are never behind on time.

If we reflect on King David’s life, we see a perfect example of this. There was a huge gap in time between David’s anointing and his appointing. Although he was called at a young age, there was a lengthy period of preparation before he was able to visibly walk in that calling. We often get discouraged when we see this in our own life. When God gives us a promise, we want it immediately. We want to walk in it NOW, but we forget the preparation that is needed for the promise. Rarely do we see a promise followed by immediate fulfillment. Consider Abraham who waited to become the father of many nations. There were times when he even had to lay all hopes of the promise down, like when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, seemingly giving up the very means by which the promise would be fulfilled. God saw Abraham’s obedience and provided another sacrifice. What beauty in Abraham’s obedience, however! Would we do the same? I often panic when I think I saw the means by which God would fulfill my promise and then it was stripped away. The truth is that we cannot comprehend God’s ways. We try so hard to figure out how He will bring our promises about that we try to figure them into each and every situation, instead of trusting Him to do the work. What if we had the faith to believe in God’s promises without limiting Him with our limited understanding? What if we trusted that He is good and is sovereign and that He’s going to answer His promises in His way and in His timing?

My 2016 New Years Resolution is to fall deeper in love with my Savior and to watch in faith as He continues to make a way for the fulfillment of His promises. My heart is to “Preach the word. [To] be urgent IN season and OUT of season,” as 2 Timothy 4:2 reminds me. I know that “My life is worth nothing unless I use it to finish what God has assigned me… the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

 

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Does God Care About the Little Things?

Do you ever wonder if God actually cares about your day to day prayers? Do you wonder if He has time for the ridiculous every day things you dare to ask? Do you doubt He has time to consider all the longings in your heart? Do you actually trust that His heart is not only for His glory but also for your good? Well, this week I was so in awe of how much our God cares about the little things and how much He pays attention to the smallest of details.

While on my way to an appointment, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to stop at a local frozen yogurt shop, one that I hadn’t visited in a very long time. I had no clue why the Holy Spirit would want me to get frozen yogurt, but I sure didn’t mind stopping by for a treat. While inside, I stood behind an older couple, one of which had parkinson’s disease and was shaking badly. Due to the shaking, the man dropped all of his frozen yogurt on the floor, only to receive yells of impatience and embarrassment from his spouse. I felt the Lord lead me to run over and start picking up the mess for them. I then asked what kind of yogurt the man had chosen, so I could refill his cup. As I handed his wife the newly filled cup of yogurt, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to purchase their order. At first, the lady said she couldn’t possibly let me do that as she stood in complete shock. After telling her that it would really bless me to be able to purchase their order, she let me and thanked me over and over again. She even asked to hug me and said she couldn’t understand why I would do that for perfect strangers. There it was- the perfect opportunity to share the Gospel! I told her how the Lord had told me that I needed to bless them that day. The woman behind the counter even stopped what she was doing to say that the occasion ministered to her heart. By this point, the whole establishment was full of people, and all of these people were able to witness this moment between perfect strangers that was orchestrated by the Lord.

I say all this to say that if the Lord could cause me to go out of my way to get frozen yogurt just to brighten one couple’s day, what wouldn’t he do for you and me when we call out to Him according to His will? So often, we wonder if God is really working on our behalf and if He really cares about the “little things.” I’m here to tell you that He most certainly does. He cares. He cares about the big stuff, and He cares about the little stuff. I think that one of the reasons that He cares so much about the little things is because they bring about the faith-building, aha! moments. The little moments when we see Him working on our behalf time and time again increase our trust in Him and His heart toward us. It’s not that we don’t normally think that He can do all of these things. Often, however, we doubt that He WILL do all of those “little things.” I believe this is a result of our lack of understanding of His character. If we truly trusted God’s heart toward us, I believe we would pray much bigger, faith-filled prayers and that we would trust Him to take care of the every day itty bitty prayers too.The same God who parted waters and raised people from the dead can stop the rain for a wedding and provide an opportunity to bless someone else’s day.

For instance, just today, my husband and I were in the mall praying for our lunch when James asked God to provide us with an opportunity to witness to someone before the day was over. We weren’t two bites into our food when one of his students pulled up a chair next to us and began to talk. He told us of his loneliness, doubt, and need for Jesus. Aha! There it was again! God working in a insanely timely manner to answer even the smallest of prayers. Just like that, we had our faith-building moment. Our God delights in answering those prayers that are aligned with His will and for His glory. He loves to show His power and loving-kindness. What a wonderful God we serve- one that loves to answer both the huge, difficult prayers and the smallest cries of our hearts. I hope this post encourages you to once again trust in the heart of our God. He is actively working on your behalf!

James 1:6 “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”

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The part of my story that I’ve never shared but you need to read

Today, I want to tell my story- the part of my story most of you don’t know. I’m going to tell the part of my story I didn’t think I’d ever share- the painful part, the beautiful part, and God’s faithfulness through it all.

I believe that me sharing this part of my life will encourage a lot of people, especially those people who are waiting on the promises of God, the promises that are so big and the promises that they often doubt. This story will help those waiting on the all-elusive “one,” their prince charming or perfect bride.

Some of you, very close to me, know this part of my story, and some of you thought I was crazy for hanging on. There were so many times when this part of my story just didn’t make sense. There were times when I was broken before God, full of confusion and doubt, on my knees with heart-felt, Hannah- like prayers. The biblical Hannah pleaded with God for a son, and time and time again, I pleaded those prayers for a spouse.

My story begins in 2007, when I began dating my high school boyfriend at the time. We dated for over two and a half years, and I was convinced that he was it, the one I would marry. Trust me, I didn’t settle. He really loved the Lord, my family welcomed him as their own, and we seemed to be involved in the same type of ministry. Breaking up was never an option during that time. But long-distance can be rough. A twelve to fourteen hour drive is really rough. Not knowing the next time you’ll see each other is also rough. Long story short, we did break up, and about six months after we did, I started to consider once again that he was the one for me. Years of tension followed, three to be exact. Three years. Three whole years. Can you imagine how much I struggled, how much my heart broke, as time and time again we would discuss old feelings and consider the possibility of getting back together? Many times I walked away from our conversations feeling like my heart had been played with once again. This continued until my senior year of college when the Lord finally, completely shut that door and gave me peace that I wasn’t missing His will for my life. Now you have to understand some back story… We had both thought we were the Lord’s will for each other’s lives, and many times I thought the Lord was speaking to me to wait on him. So if you can imagine, I spent many nights frustrated with God, broken before Him, and angry with Him, so very angry. I asked God why He would trick me like that, why He would dangle this promise of love before me just to rip it away. I wanted so badly to love someone passionate about me and even more passionate about Christ and doing His work. The thing that hurt the most wasn’t the loss of the person, however. It was the brutal doubt that creeped in, leading me to believe that I obviously didn’t know how to hear God’s voice. So after all this, I went through a season of bitterness, where I doubted God, my ability to hear and discern His voice, and where I was angry at all the times people had prophesied that this thing would come around. Now let me leave this paragraph with this thought: “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.”

Here’s the good news. Here’s where things began to change. There was a beautiful moment when I looked back and realized that those years were not a tease. There was a glorious second when I realized I could, indeed, trust God and that He was up to deeper things. There was a tremendous excitement in seeing that my experience was a part of His plan all along. First off, God knew this would be a part of my story and my testimony. He knew I would help others, broken-hearted over what looks like the loss of their promise. He knew my story would encourage those whose promise seems just a little too out of reach, a little too impossible. He knew that someone would need to trust Him for their dreams, when there seemed to be absolutely no time left for those dreams to be realized. Well, if you read Scripture, you might recall that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had a child way after she was of child bearing age, and Hannah had a child when she was doomed to be childless. I have found that God loves to operate outside of our time frames. He loves to do the impossible, and he loves to show off. He loves to perform when, by all natural means, it is FAR too late. My God loves this! Why? Because when He works in the impossible, we are forced to acknowledge that we had no part in the act. We are forced to realize that it was only by Him and through Him. We are better able to fully relinquish all the glory back to Him.

This is how this part of the story ends. I was able to look back and be thankful for the years of heartbreak. Yes, thankful, and this is why. All of that drama and all of that pain led me to my husband, the man who is not perfect but who is perfect for me, the man that God intended for me all along. I believe that God knew that James and I were not yet ready for one another. A lot had to happen to get our hearts prepared and to even get us in the same city at the same time. Also, knowing what I had in my high school boyfriend and wondering if he was still “the one” protected me from so much! It enabled me to walk away many times from what would have been settling for me. It gave me the strength to wait for a godly man who unashamedly pursued Christ with all that he had and who sacrificed himself daily to love me like Christ loves the church. Time and time again I walked away from potential relationships knowing that they didn’t quite compare to my high school boyfriend, and this kept me many times from compromising. I didn’t want to walk away from something to walk into something less. I believed that if he wasn’t my person, then God had someone EVEN BETTER for me. Now, that was hard to imagine at first but then came James. I walked into the frozen yogurt store on our first date and had to keep my jaw from hitting the floor. Ok, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but seriously he was so cute and so handsome! And it just kept getting better… Besides the fact that we had SO much in common, he has a passion for the Lord that blew my mind. Over the course of a few months I was able to see that every moment I waited, I had waited for him. Every prayer I had prayed over my future husband, I had prayed over him. In fact, when I met him, I felt like I had known him all my life; and I honestly believe it was because I had spent my whole life praying for him. He was everything I had prayed for, so in that sense, I already knew his heart. And the beautiful part is that he felt the exact same way. About a week and a half into our relationship, James looked at me and said that he thought he was going to marry me. Instead of the usual fear and panic when a guy would bring up commitment, I quickly said back in full sass mode, “I know.”

I tell you all of this to encourage you. I want to encourage you that God does honor His Word, that He does work all things for good for those who love Him and are called unto His purpose, that He does have your best interest and His glory in mind, and that He does fulfill all the crazy big dreams He’s placed in your heart. The bigger and the more impossible the dream, the more likely that God placed it there. My God loves to show off. He didn’t need to, but in so many faithful ways, He has won my trust, and He has won my heart.

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How can I walk away? What if there’s not better out there? What if this was my only chance?

We always fear letting go. We’re scared to walk away from what we have, because what if there’s nothing else out there? What if there’s nothing better? But what if I could trust God? What if I could trust that He is good and does only good? What if I could trust that he strips away only to give better? Then when I had to let go I would rejoice instead of wallow in sorrow. But do we do that? Not often. At least, I don’t.

I’ve often walked away from relationships, “trusting” that God had better, all while wallowing in self-pity. Now that I’m marrying the man of my dreams, it’s easy to look back and say, “Yes, God! You did it! You had better for me all along. You knew what you were doing.” But in the moment, in the pain, we may say we trust, but we don’t live like it. Shouldn’t we instead be excited about what is to come? Shouldn’t we rejoice at his goodness and kindness in delivering us out of our own plans? So many times I mourn over a lost thing…

Today, God used a silly example to remind me that I can trust Him and His intentions toward me. I can trust His heart. I can trust that He is a God who gives and takes away and a God who ALWAYS has better in store for me when He asks me to die to self. Lord, I pray that as I delight myself in you that you would give me the desires that I should have. I pray that you would shape the desires of my heart, so that wherever you lead me, I would go forward with joy.

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Living a Lie

How many times do we live a lie? How many times do we simply go through the motions, because it’s what is expected of us, because it’s all we know? We know no other way. That isn’t to say it’s never real, but that when it becomes fake, we just keep going with it. We say the right things and do the right things, all while feeling dead inside. How many times do we trust what other people say God is saying instead of seeking Him for ourselves? Sometimes, when I get frustrated spiritually, I just give up. Instead of digging harder into God’s Word and presence, I simply stop trying. I still pray, read my Bible, and talk to others about Him; but I stop talking TO Him. There’s a subtle difference. It’s not the same thing to talk about God as it is to talk to Him. I still poured out my list of concerns and questions, only to zoom on to the next obligation or activity. I never stopped and waited for an answer. I didn’t listen for the still, small voice. I didn’t want to, because I didn’t want to put forth the effort.

I was used to the lies and guilt of the enemy. It trapped me within a pit of despair where I felt lethargic and unable to escape. I then tried to compensate for this with works. I read my Bible more, prayed more, and talked about Him more, still while ignoring His beautiful voice. Frustrated, I confided in a godly friend. I poured out my heart to her. She had me walk through everything step by step, and I came to this simple conclusion. I miss Him. I miss His intimacy. I miss knowing Him on a deep, personal level and telling Him that I am His favorite. Frankly, I miss believing that I am His favorite; because there was a time, not too long ago, where I really did believe it, with all my heart. Our God is such a personal, jealous God. Now, I’m not saying that I consider myself of more importance to God than someone else. I know, however, that He loves me, intimately and personally, not just humanity as a whole. This helps me to connect closely with Him. I was reminded of times when I sacrificed so much to know Him better. I gave up movies, sacrificed relationships, and did countless other things, all while even Christian friends told me I was crazy or that my actions were unnecessary. The truth of it all was that my heart was to please my Father. If He didn’t want me watching tv shows or movies that promoted cursing, taking His name in vain, or sexual immorality, then I sure wasn’t going to watch it. For one, I did not want to do anything to offend or hurt His heart. Secondly, since the Holy Spirit lives inside me, anything I sit down to watch, I’m causing Him to be subjected to, as well. How selfish of me!

Overall, I’m just brought back to what matters. I’m brought back to the importance of an intimacy with my first love, Jesus Christ. It is, after all, all about Him. I’m not content to live a “typical” Christian life where I show up to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and simply do what everyone else considers the safe, “right” thing. I want to live out a radical, personal relationship with Christ. I am choosing to sit before Him and simply listen. I am going back to the seasons in which I live my life constantly in the uncomfortable, completely dependent upon Him for my every step. I am going back to the moments where I do not just read His word, say a few words, and call it a day. I am going to listen for His voice, because He is my shepherd, and I know His voice. I am going back to an intimate relationship where God not only guides me and gives me wisdom but also shares His heart with me. Tonight, I’m going back to the basics.

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In honor of Tom

Today is such a mix of happy and sad, of gain and of loss. I lost my grandpa on December 23rd, a couple of years ago. He was my role model and my guide in my search for “the one.” I modeled what I wanted and what I was looking for after him. I wanted to marry someone just like him, so I waited for that person. I passed over other options with the hope that one day my “Tom” would come along. I always knew I wanted a husband who acted like him.

Now, I’m very aware that my God is a God of timing. Two days ago, James proposed. He is the embodiment of all my wishes and dreams for a spouse. He is like my grandpa in so many ways. He looks at me like my grandpa looked at my grandma, and he treats me with the same awe and care. It is no accident that God would choose this week for the departure of someone I love so much and the arrival of someone else who I have also come to love in a way that I never even thought possible. So today, although I am filled with the sadness of loss, I am also filled with joy. I have joy in the knowledge that my God wastes nothing, that He ordains our steps, and that everything is in His sovereign control. In spite of the pain, I rejoice.

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I wasn’t aware He was there

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.'” Genesis 28:15-16

So neat that even when we feel alone- when we feel like we are single-handedly taking on this world- God is with us. He is for us. He is watching over us and will accomplish that which He said He would do. He will fulfill the promises He has made to us. He is the God who does exceedingly, abundantly more than all we can ask or imagine. I love Jacob’s response to the Lord. It echoes the cry of my heart in those circumstances. It’s like saying, ” Oh there you are, Lord. I didn’t realize You would really stay through it all.” Even when we are not aware of His presence, He is there, in every sense of the word.

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I’m supposed to be thankful? Thankful for what? This mess?

Lately, a lot has been going on. Wait… when is a lot NOT going on? It always feels like we’ve got to get through the next thing. If I can just get through this trial, I’ll have it made, right? Wrong… Life will always present its challenges and trials, BUT life also offers up unending blessings from God; we just have to be more aware of the blessings than the struggles. Let’s think on Peter as he walked on the water. When his eyes were on Christ, he walked on the water with confidence and ease. When he began to be more aware of his scary and discouraging circumstances instead of the deliverer of those circumstances, he began to sink. How often do we do that? We begin valiantly in a trial thinking that God will bring us through. We then begin to look around us, however, and we get discouraged. Once we’ve looked at our surroundings instead of Christ, we sink! We lose hope. Surely our God will not deliver us from this. He’s moving too slowly! Or so we think… Peter may have thought so too as he grasped his last breath, preparing to sink to his death, feeling the inability of God to help him more deeply than the depths of the ocean. BUT THEN, came Jesus. He lifted him once again and reprimanded him for his loss of faith. I can SO relate to Peter, because I’ve done this to God all too often. The moment I feel like things are going downhill, I drop my faith and pick up desperation. It’s so hard for me to see the good and hang on to my faith when all I can see is what’s around me in the natural. I begin to cling to self-pity and despair.

Psalm 50:14-15 “Offer to God the SACRIFICE of thanksgiving. Pay your vows to the Most High. Call on me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Now let’s look at this verse. Offer to God WHAT? God, you expect me to THANK you in the midst of some of the greatest pains of life? You expect me to thank you for what? My misery? How is it that God, who knows what we walk through, expects us to offer up thanksgiving, a joyful, trusting heart, when we walk through the sadness, pain, and trials of this life? God asks for our thanksgiving BEFORE the deliverance. If we look at the order of the above verse, thanksgiving comes first, then we call on Him for help, then he delivers us, and lastly, we honor Him with more thanksgiving. We give Him the glory. Many of us would think that the order is a little reversed. He should deliver us, and then we should thank Him, because we’re so thankful that He has saved us from our sufferings. WRONG. We’ve got to praise before we’ll ever see the victory. When God had the Israelites walk around Jericho seven times, the last thing He had them do was offer up a shout of praise and victory. They did this BEFORE the walls came tumbling down. We’ve got to offer up a cry of victory and trust in Him before we’ll ever see our battles won. I don’t want to barely make it through the battles of life with an attitude of defeat. I do not want to merely survive. I want to thrive! And the best part is, we can! To do this, however, I must offer up thanksgiving in advance, knowing my God’s got this, regardless of how the outcome appears in the natural.

Psalm 116:17 “I will SACRIFICE a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.”

Let’s look at one other aspect- the idea of this process being a sacrifice. He doesn’t say it will be easy. That’s why it is continually expressed in the Psalms as an offering or a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It’s often difficult to praise and give thanks when you feel like God is working against you and not for you. His Word assures us, however, that He is for us and not against us. We’ve got to trust in these promises in His Word. If His Word is not our ULTIMATE standard of truth, what is? If we say we believe His Word, we must trust all the promises of God including that one, even when we feel deserted.

Lastly, the hardest part about offering up thanksgiving in our trials is that trials strip us of almost everything- everything but one thing. The one thing we have left is our despair and our right to self-pity over what we have lost or been deprived of. And that’s the one thing God asks of us! The one thing we have left, that the trial didn’t take from us, He requires! How can He take that from us too? It’s our right to complain! Well, we must sacrifice our right to complain if we are to truly see our victory in Him. We must offer up thanksgiving to Him, though we don’t understand why we’re walking through such a mess. Our job is not to wait until He delivers and then say, “Oh God, thank you for what you’ve done!” Far before we see His hand of deliverance, far before we even see Him at work, we must cry, “God, I remember the works of your hands. Thank you for what you’ve already done, and thank you for what you WILL do. I trust you. I trust your ways, no matter the end result.”

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Here I go again

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I feel that all too often I have to come before the Lord and say, “Here I am again, Lord. I need your help. I’m still dealing with this issue.” Recently, I prayed a rather brave prayer. I asked the Lord to increase my dependence on Him. I didn’t want to only get in the Word in the sense of reading a verse or two a day. I wanted to actively pursue His PRESENCE daily. I wanted to literally spend quality time with Him each day. So I asked Him to make my days without Him miserable, to show me that I really can’t do this life on my own. Boy, did he answer that plea. The past two weeks have been so busy. Because of this, I was not in the Word or in His presence like I promised Him I would be, and I COMPLETELY felt the affects. I felt broken, useless, stressed, and unable to do anything worth noting. I cried out before Him asking Him why life was so difficult, and He gently brought that prayer of mine to mind. He brought to my remembrance a plea to Him to strip me of all else if I did not have Him as my first priority. Praise God that He answers the tough prayers! I’m thankful for a God who actively pursues my time and affection. He wants to shape my heart, but I need to allow Him to do so by spending time with Him. I’ve got to seek Him and His power. Without being plugged in to the ultimate source of power, I quickly run out of energy. Prayerfully, this lesson sticks with me a little longer this time.

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Oh wait… You don’t like me?

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Galations 1:10

What a hard lesson to learn! I find myself daily devastated when someone doesn’t like me or approve of my actions. I become shocked when I learn that I don’t have someone’s approval, and it hurts my heart. I have to remember, however, that I am living for the approval of One. If I live my life trying to please everyone, I’ll wind up pleasing everyone but Him. We must operate through discernment, the Spirit’s leading, and the Word of God.

“Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” 1 Peter 3:17

People will often condemn us when we walk out what God has for us. The Word even warns us that if He was condemned, we would be, as well. He didn’t promise that this life would be easy and free from suffering. He did promise us, however, an abundant life if we walk in His presence.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Today my prayer is that the Lord would help me to value His Word over the lies of the enemy. It’s time to lay down pride, to deny myself, and to boldly carry the cross, knowing where the most important approval comes from.

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