What Love

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:13, NIV

A Dark Day.

A Black Day.

A Forsaken Day.

… A Good Day in the making?

Good Friday. It’s strange, really strange to be honest. We know why it’s called Good Friday- that is because of the reality of Sunday.

But as we sit and think about this day, this day three days out from Sunday, its a nightmare in the making.

Unknown to His disciples, they just spent their last evening having supper with their Teacher, chosen King and Best Friend.

Think about it. Jesus had stepped into each one of their lives and changed it radically and astonishingly. They loved this man who had chosen them. And taught them. And served them. Continuously reminding them that they were to become the least- while loving them as if they were the greatest.

… Ever wonder what they did Wednesday, before Maundy Thursday? Many speculate that Jesus and his disciples spent the day just resting and relaxing in Bethany. They probably shared stories, laughed a bit and just talked as friends do.

You know, the things we do with our friends on those all too rare days of rest and relaxation. Being with Friends who we trust completely, whose presence feels like a vacation in itself.

I wonder if those last couple days played through the disciples minds as Jesus was dragged off and endured Good Friday.

Not heart wrenching enough?

“Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.”

“Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.” (Matthew 26:49-50, NIV) 

One of those friends who laughed and broke bread with Jesus… betrayed him.

And one of the things which strikes me the most- Jesus words to Judas, particularly the last one. “Friend.” 

He didn’t condemn Judas, he didn’t push him away.

He gave him permission.

A lot of things feel dark right now. But friends, Sunday is coming.

This too will pass.

As we face the dramatic changes to our lifestyles, our world- I pray that you would look toward Sunday. A whole world’s hope was wrapped up in a package of crude agony… and love.

That love persists today- and it will not fail to deliver, He has not surrendered the authority that was bought at such a high price. He has not forsaken His Friends- for who He would endure the cross again, and again and again.

I am excited for the days ahead, I want to jump into Sunday, I want to leap into a post pandemic world.

But I will not rush through Good Friday. I will stop and soak in the beautiful, costly, victorious truth.

Today we remember humanity’s darkest day, while living in a world that has been repeatedly marked by all that is good in humanity in the light of crisis.

Rarely have we loved better, today marking the day we were loved best- permanently.

Dearest Lord Jesus,

As I read through the story of your crucifixion, it is strange my reaction to the cross- Your cross. 

I see it knowing in my mind the pain and humiliation it inflicted upon you,

I cringe inwardly,

I squint my eyes-

and yet my heart swells with a hope, a joy-

it cherishes that horrible cross. 

Because beyond its rough and brutal intention- is Your love, Your Glory… My salvation. 

Yes Lord, it is hard to look at that old rugged cross, yet I cannot look away. 

It is painful for me to see, yet I do not look away. 

Because what love- to be a witness and receiver of such love, a love greater than the worst hurt 

It hurts to look- but I will choose to look… I will choose love too. 

I love you Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for the cross and I am so thankful. 

… I pray you choose to look as well friends. And remember not only did Jesus voluntarily walk to calvary- but as He did so, enduring all humiliation, pain and suffering- not for a moment- not a single one- did his heart turn on us.

What love.

Be A Valentine

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

John 13:34

Happy Valentine’s Day Friends! ♥️

I absolutely adore Valentine’s Day- I always have.

Which to many is strange. Because in the traditional sense, I’ve always been single on Valentine’s Day.

I know, I know… but stick with me.

This is not a post to promote singleness or girl power- this is a post to tell you about one of my favorite love stories.

In other words- there’s this movie…

You may have watched it… though maybe not. My sisters and I checked it out of our church library about elementary age… on VHS.

The First Valentine – produced in 1989… viewed in our household circa 1997. (oh the nineties).

And yes, the movie reflects its age (and has my younger sister would tell you, some historical liberties as technically it is possible that two, if not three men named Valentinus were all executed on February 14th by the Roman Emperor). But the story it shares is life changing and the lesson timeless.

The story of Saint Valentine (at least one of them): A man who believed so much in the purpose and power and importance of love- he defied the ruling imperial power of the time, illegally marrying couples in the Roman Empire… not in the outskirts… but literally in and near Rome itself.

However, The First Valentine shows that this belief in love was not solely occupied by couples, but to humanity- regardless of age, ethnicity and disability- as our celebrated Saint gives the First Valentine to a young girl who is blind and therefore a societal outcast.

Like I said- possible historical liberties- but then again… anything is possible, and the legend prevails (check out the link below from History.com). 👩🏻‍💻

Summary, if nothing else I find the heart of the movie matches the hearts of the Saint(s) we celebrate today.

Saints martyred for their commitment to Love, sharing the Good News of Love revealed and to loving as Love loved.

Saints martyred for embracing and imparting Jesus.

Several years ago, I had a revelation, possibly from a seed which was planted by this 1990s, thirty minute-ish, movie (possibly available on Youtube).

Every Saint Valentine… every Saint Valentine we celebrate… was single…

… which means that the definition of a Valentine as I had understood it growing up- was not big enough.

Yes, you can be asked to be a Valentine- but you can also be a Valentine, voluntarily.

So today I want to ask you friends, to be a Valentine.

Love those around you. Babysit for the couple, send cards to your single friends letting them know you love them and tell the littles in your life how great they are. Smile at a stranger, hold the door open for a neighbor, pay for the car behind you in the fast food line and shower this world in every good thing- with every heartbeat. ♥️

I pray your day is filled with the knowledge and presence of a love that is ever present, uncompromising and completely encompassing. I pray that each of you recognize your value, which is priceless, and the importance of your existence which is celebrated in the heavens.

Your Father, Your Savior and Your Helper rejoice seeing you, no matter where you’re coming from. Their love for you is complete times eternity.

With all of those very important truths said- on a side note  History.com which I mentioned above- provides a great, concise, history of Valentines Day which I encourage anyone who is curious to check out.

And after watching The First Valentine I highly recommend rewatching Kate and Leopold on Netflix- because what couple is more charming than young Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman? 💁🏻‍♀️

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Status Reckless

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Romans 5:5 (NIV) 

It gets me every time.

I am always taken by surprise.

Six months later and I do not see the trend ending any time soon.

What do I do?

I hold hands and cups of coffee.

I run between healthcare staff and family and sit in the waiting room with children who are too young to witness the adults in their lives fall apart emotionally.

I speak prayers and I sit silently, tears being the only expression close to, though not quite, capable of communicating the storm of grief taking hold.

I witness the strength and heart of the staff with awe and their tears with reverence for what they voluntarily experience out of their love for the person, for each beautiful and individual life.

And I hope.

I know the expectations, I know the probable outcome, I understand that if I have been called in, whatever chance there may be is small, and not promised.

And I expect the unexpected.

It’s not a half hope. It is not a “but God could” hope. It is not a last ditch hope.

It is complete, all in, God can hope. It is reckless hope.

And I am always taken by surprise. Because that kind of hope, against every odd, never considers the other outcome, until it arrives.

My heart always stutters in shock, surprise crashing down like a tidal wave. As I reach up for protection, He is reaching out is assurance. And I can stand and be still on the inside while walking through it on the outside.

I can get tissues and chairs. I can speak with family and safeguard sacred moments. I can remain out of the way (at least attempt to) and be readily available. I can give hugs and provide space. I can listen to stories and honor a need for silence.

I can make it home after helping family and friends head to homes that are somehow emptier in a world that makes a little, or a lot, less sense.

And then the wave comes. It has to you know. I’m not in it alone. But it still has to come down.

And I let it all wash out. Every shard of hope on trial.

Of course the defense is prepared and truth reigns.

He heard my prayers. He began answering them immediately. And yes, He was victorious.

In His way and in His time. His ways and His thoughts both higher than mine. His love incomprehensibly complete.

No matter how it feels, His truth reigns.

Not that He is unfeeling. He understands, He knows and He’s holding on. He hasn’t let go- and He’s not going to.

I knew He could do it, I know He can still do it- whatever the situation may be. I believed and believe. I hoped and I hope.

And when the tears come and the hope feels it has turned into shards of broken glass that still small voice whispers,

Child, you are not wrong. 

as He wipes the tears away.

Because there is nothing impossible for our God. Nothing too hard. Nothing too big. Nothing too much. Or too little.

In a fallen world, horrible things happen that were not apart of God’s original plan. And with all of my schooling and study I cannot say for certain why God chooses to move and to stay His hand.

I hope in and I trust a Sovereign, Holy, Loving and Just God who did not create us to destroy us, but to give us a hope and a future, an eternal home.

A last thought.

I was wondering one evening, if this reckless hope would one day dissipate all together? I mean you hear stories of burnout. Of the last straw.

What would the consequences be of recklessly putting all of your heart in, all of the time?

Certainly, there was pain. I wondered, worried, if that chipping was slowly picking away at my hope filled heart. That one day a puncture would go too deep, that my hope would become less than “complete.”

Ironically, I worried that one day I would be less “taken by surprise.”

I had been in that black pit once, I have no desire or intention of going back. Not even the tiniest bit. I could sit down and rest, but there would be no back tracking. That, my heart couldn’t take.

My personal reflection was clearly not getting me anywhere so I took a minute and passed it on to the One whose thoughts are higher than my own. And I got a picture (further proof He understands me- and my appreciation for visual learning aids!)

I pictured my heart, the way I had been “imagining” it before- a chipping from the outside. But then it changed.

Duh. The chipping was not on the outside. It was on the inside.

The chipping may hurt, but growth usually does. Long story short, it was making my heart deeper- not smaller. Capable of holding more, not less.

Child, you are not wrong. 

His picture of immediate victory may vary from mine- but my hope has never been misplaced. He is working, and He is winning. Actually, He has already won.

I cannot see the big picture from down here. But I trust Him. Meanwhile, I pray friends that you will not fear recklessly hoping, always. Because you are not wrong.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13 (NIV)

 

Just One

 “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Luke 15:7 

Fires, earthquakes, Presidential impeachments, Royal runaways and an election year…

Needless to say, our world is in need of prayer. Always. Like, the entire world. All the time.

So the other day I sat in prayer… attempting to simply and concisely convey the enormity of all of the situations and their urgency (you know- as if God was not already aware…), hoping I wouldn’t forget anything (praying actually I wouldn’t forget anything- or one).

My heart had a list.

As I sat there naming the various disasters and tensions currently being experienced around the world- I was also naming loved ones, acquaintances and faces that seemed to be lingering.

All the while a silent question forming.

And sometime after I had laid down- I woke up, the question having fully formed itself and apparently not willing to be put off until a decent daytime hour.

In my mind or heart or both- the question was whispered- which was most important, my prayers for the world or my prayers for the one?

The whole world, or one person? Don’t ask me why this question mattered, why something in me needed an answer.

I suppose it may have been because behind this question was the wonder, did God like some of my prayers better than others? Did He pay more attention to the “more important” ones verses the “Brittany is rattling on” ones?

Was there a “Top 5” and then He would put the others on a “waiting” or “consideration” list?

Because I mean honestly, I do that sometimes. Not with my prayers. But with my homework assignments. Books to read. Tasks to do.

There is a “Top 5” list and then there is the “if/ when I have time” list.

Laying there, one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s quotes came to mind, “Even the Smallest person can change the course of the future” and then the Parable of the Lost Sheep.

And just like that it seemed, in an instant, I understood.

The world needs our prayers.

But those prayers will be answered and carried out through human beings, individuals, coming together.

The world is not complete without the one.

Personally, I must say it seems a little less daunting, though no less urgent to pray for the one. Praying for the world is important. However, when we paint our big picture of the world with faces and names and heartbeats- well its not quite so difficult to put into words every urgent feeling-

A loving and overflowing plea. One word.

Move.

God, Move. Hold, Tell, Comfort, Encourage. I love them. You love them. Go and move.

As I read the Parable of the Lost sheep I realized that there is a reason Heaven rejoices over the one.

Through one the world fell into sin.

Through one the world was delivered and redeemed.

One has always had a major, world changing impact.

So no, some prayers are not more important than others. God does not listen to some more and others less. Do not limit your number of prayers out of worry that you may end up with “one to many” to make the cut.

Pray for the world and the one. And then the other one, and another one and every one. I quoted J.R.R. Tolkien above, a man who understood and played a major role in the life of one. A comrade he met through writing. A lifelong unbeliever, a proclaimed atheist- and from his own work he’d share proudly so. This one was to become one of his greatest friends. And one of, if not, the greatest Christian author of his time- C.S. Lewis.

And my friends, as you pray for the one, remember you are one. Your presence here is unique, your purpose unrivaled. No one can replace you. You have been purposefully and specifically created and sent for such a time as this. Heaven dances to see you awake every morning. They lean in close to hear what you have to say. And without you, our world is not complete.

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

Be With You

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Psalm 139:13-14

We just want to be with You.

These words struck my heart during worship this past Sunday with their truth… and immediately I envisioned a fire.

No worries, it was the controlled type of fire- you know the type that you gather and curl up around with family and friends.

The kind of fire that instantly echos sounds of laughter and compatible, understanding silence amid the crackling of wood and dancing flames.

The kind that feels like being held… or like holding the hand of someone who completely understands.

A fire that beckons to you in the most welcoming way, as if it is so happy you could make it, whispering that the fire would be a little less complete without you there, just as you are.

Because its January my initial vision was that of a fireplace, though upon further reflection, a campfire would be equally relatable.

And as these lyrics continued to resound in my head, my Pastor began his message and in his lesson he made a profound remark in relation to the passage above.

“Did you know God only has good thoughts about you?”

… wait… what?

You mean to tell me all those times throughout the day when I am counting or recounting every weakness and wondering how God, even with his divine patience, could put up with me… He’s never wondered the same thing?

Even once?

He’s never thought of me as anything other than wholly redeemed, deeply loved, highly favored, graced with glory…

Because… unfortunately… I have given Him ample opportunity to understandably do so…

Further more, you mean to tell me He’s never shaken His head in irritation, rolled his eyes in annoyance or “facepalmed” in exasperation… as He is rebuilding and cleaning up whatever it is I have destroyed or made a mess of?

Are you saying He’s never questioned whether I was too far out to make it worth it to bring me back, again? He’s never considered throwing in the towel?

… Can you imagine, my Pastor began to share, if we lived our lives with such a thought process about ourselves.

A thought process full of only good thoughts about ourselves.

At the end of the day I took an inventory of what thoughts I felt circled through my mind the most in terms of myself. And sadly, I realized, that if I were compiling a “Top 10” sort of list or most commonly used words- a fair portion of the time my thoughts toward myself were not very… good.

The old thoughts arose, you know sentences that begin with; “Am I… I should… I’m not… I’ll never…” then ending with something you should stop, start, do more, do less… or you’ve concluded that you’re not enough, too much, mediocre…

And I sat up as the Father beckoned me to sit with Him by the fire.

We sat there for a bit… it took a minute to unload. And toss every doubt, trace of guilt, piece of shame, shred of comparison and critical fear into the flame.

All the while His Word sharing what He sees, and all the wonderful parts He knows is inside of me. Because He put them there.

Many parts are revealed in time. His time. And He is so excited for the day I’ll discover them.

But meanwhile, he bids me not to devalue those wonderful pieces He has already revealed.

Also to remember not to call myself by my sin, but by my name, for that is how He calls me, and who He has created me to be. He sees past the exterior, into the heart and beyond.

Beneath the dust of this world, wonders have been purposefully placed in each one of us.

That’s what He sees. His vision. His dream. His creation. His daughter.

That “controlled” fire I suppose is also sort of an engulfing fire, a refining fire… a flame residing in each one of us.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And my Creator’s works are wonderful.

All of them.

Including me.

And I know that.

And in knowing that, confidence is restored. An ability to marvel and love and rejoice with others whole heartedly is renewed.

We are all called to the fire. Be it a winter day inside or a summer’s evening outside. Come warm your hands. Loose your burden of all you were never meant to carry. Share. Laugh. And know.

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

And as my personal favorite snowman, Olaf, would say, God only says “all good things, all good things,” for He is good.

God, we just want to be with You. Father You know us perfectly. You love us unconditionally. And You only think good thoughts about us. You call us by our name, not our sin. You see beyond the exterior, past the heart and into our innermost beings. You see the dream we have always been to You. Purposefully and wonderfully made. Thank you Father. We love you. Help us to love and see ourselves a little better, gaining a Heavenly Father’s perspective and tossing into the flames the lies of the enemy, in the beautiful name of Jesus. Amen. 

Friends if you have any prayer requests or praise reports please feel free to share them here in the comments, the comments on the prayer requests page or email them to declarehopeministries@gmail.com if you wish for them to be kept private. As always my prayers and thoughts are with each of you.

Exciting News!! This coming week we will be announcing this month’s giveaway! Stay tuned for details. Be blessed.

 

 

Fear of the Lord

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.”

Psalm 111:10 

The fear of the Lord.

This statement was so hard for me to grasp, and even now in some moments my mind immediately recoils from the word fear.

I fought fear for years. Oftentimes I still find fear lurking behind the door. Thankfully I have over three-hundred scriptures to remind me (and it) that it has no place in my vocabulary.

But then… explain to me the phrase the “fear of the Lord.”

Recently I was faced with an interesting question- you know one of those questions that may be in the back of your head but its not important enough for you to disturb because you cringe at what unpacking and sorting it out may entail.

The discussion- who God is, or more specifically what God is;

Answer: Good, kind and love.

Anything else?

As I weighed these answers in my mind, other verses flickered through my mind.

God is good, God is kind and God is loving. He is steadfast and certain.

God is also just, holy and jealous.

He wants to be our number one, because we are His number one. No good thing comes to us apart from Him and yet- we are so prone to giving the credit to someone or something else.

The education, the title, the position, the clothes, the timing…

We think we know what’s best, all the while He’s trying to bring us towards His better.

The world pulls at us, offering gods with various faces. It calls us to pursue happiness and fulfillment through greed and self-satisfaction.

And just as we begin to realize that “god” is really not all that good… it throws another one in our face that just might be the missing link to what we’re looking for.

Of course God’s love which is complete and unflinching is jealous as He watches us get used and abused by the false gods of this world.

That is why he sent His only begotten son. Because He is holy. He is just. And he cannot compromise such perfect justice, for He cannot lie or change all that He is. But He is also love.

And love found a way.

Jesus posted the bail, became our lawyer and cleared all charges. All we have to do is accept His invitation. Tragically, many of us chose to stay in the cell.

Fear of the Lord.

A good, kind and loving God. A just, holy and jealous God.

“So,” my friend asked, “you fear being punished by God? Being judged?” in reference to my personal positions, actions or lack there of.

No.

The word slipped truthfully as I shook my head.

As I sat there and thought about sin; what I’ve done, what I didn’t do and what I would or would not do ever again… as I thought about repentance and the way my heart was convicted whenever I erred in one direction or another… as I thought about my loving Triune God… as the name Jesus echoed throughout my being- my heart swelling with joy at the thought of his name…

No, I don’t fear being punished or being judged by God.

No, I don’t fear being hurt by God.

I fear hurting God.

As you read through the dozens of verses that speak of the fear of the Lord you will notice that the attributes of the fear of the Lord lead to wisdom, protection and joy.

Every single one.

Overall I was a pretty good kid, if I can say so myself.

Was it because I hadn’t had the opportunity to misbehave? No.

Was it because I am absolutely perfect in every way? Lord knows, no, not at all. (Pretty sure I just heard a heavenly chuckle and an angel almost spit out their coffee sort of reaction.)

It was because I loved my parents, I still love my parents, and few things would have been more painful for me than to disappoint them, few things would have caused me more fear or dread. I love(d) them so much.

I love my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior. I love the Holy Spirit who indwells in me, knowing that I am not always the most hospitable vessel.

I do not try and follow the statues and read the verses because I am afraid of punishment.

I do it from a love so deep it cuts my heart to see the hurt in Their eyes when I betray their trust.

Every sin driving the nail in further.

The nail scarred hands helping me back up and carrying me whenever I’ve slipped so far.

Nail scarred hands reaching out and embracing me.

No, I do not fear what God would do. God is holy, just, good, kind, jealous and love.

No, I fear what I might do, what pain I might cause.

I wouldn’t purposefully hurt a loved one. Many of you probably agree.

So the question then is- why would we purposefully hurt the God who loves us so perfectly? Why does He seem to end up on just the other side of the line?

The fear of the Lord to me is grounded in our love for the Lord- rooted in His love for us. For our Lord is one “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

So, take heart friends and live free of fear, remembering, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Email us at declarehopeministries@gmail.com or comment prayer requests and praise reports below. You are forever in our thoughts and prayers.

Stay tuned for some exciting 2020 news including a continuation of defining our “whys” and upcoming monthly giveaways to the credit of some of my very talented friends!! Also an inside look into what I have been up to this past Christmas break.

Photo by Sammie Vasquez on Unsplash

 

Words Worth Treasuring

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Luke 2:17-20

2020. In a handful of hours it will have officially arrived.

I love New Years, I really do.

While I am a staunch believer in the fact that any goal can start anywhere at anytime, month and date aside, there is something about New Years.

You can feel the expectation in the air.

It is the one time of year where we as a society really sit down and think about who we want to be and what we want to do.

For most adults, its the one time of year where we really let ourselves dream, as we imagine and envision the futures we wish to seek.

Think about it.

Impossible goals suddenly become possibly possible and a determination runs through our veins.

Those things our past selves could “never” achieve, our coming selves just might be able to accomplish.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am queen of setting goals which are usually not fully met. (However, I run on a strong foundation of shoot for the moon and land among the stars, sort of mentality.)

And I think that is okay. The idea is to move forward. If you happen to take over the world at the same time, great. Meanwhile, keep moving.

Unfortunately many of us once realizing that we might not make the finish line in the time or shape we felt we should have made it in- are prone to stop moving.

We start to let words of doubt and a harsh “reality” shout above the calm, steady and passionate voice of hope.

It happens to all of us somewhere at some point. And it may knock you down for a week, a month, a year…

But- I pray that eventually the calm, steady, excited voice of hope will call to your heart again.

As we move into this New Year, I pray that you dare to dream impossible dreams.

I pray that you would dare to answer the call which the Lord has placed on your life.

I pray that you would realize that no goal or dream is too small nor too big. If it weighs on your heart, I pray that you embrace it.

Most importantly, I pray you step into this New Year like Mary.

Like Mary, I pray that you carefully choose the words you treasure and ponder in your heart. Let the ones which tell you to sit back down fall away, and take the hand of those which call you to step forward.

Like Mary, I pray that you seek God in the center of your plans, dreams and goals and when God calls you to a path that takes an unexpected turn, I pray that you have the courage to bravely take that step- turning to His Word continuously.

It’s a good Word to treasure.

I cannot wait to see you all in 2020! We are going to be doing  exciting things in 2020 and I cannot wait to share them with you! As always, please share any prayer requests and praise reports! We will pray and praise the Lord alongside you as we enter this New Year and you prepare to take on those mountains which you are anointed and intended to conquer!

Shout out to the Christian Planner family and The Hero’s Journal for providing these amazing tools for journaling and tracking types, as myself! 🙏 ⚔️🙌

https://christianplanner.com

https://theherosjournal.co

God’s Gift

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7:14

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his wounds we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

I love Christmas cards. I always have.

I have held onto every single one I’ve ever received, ever.

Including this one pictured above. This is a new card believe it or not. I received it from my Bible study leader a few weeks ago.

Of course, it looked a bit different when I first received it. It was perfect, actually.

Then one night the piece of tape displaying it failed me and in the time between it’s falling and my discovery- Reyna found it. (For those who do not know Reyna, she is a just turned 1, 86 pound, fluff ball/ puppy.)

And my beautiful card was crafted into a mess of confetti.

But as I disappointedly picked up the shredded pieces of my lovely card, I came across this final bit.

And I kid you not, I almost threw it away. To be honest I threw it away.

But as I turned away, I reached back and I picked it up, wanting to read the words one more time.

The whole time my world driven vision told me it was a piece of trash. Tarnished. Embarrassing. It would be absurd to hold on to it. Let alone put it back up. Forget the fact I had just grabbed it from my trash can, Lord help me if anyone ever found out.

But… that still small whisper. You know the Christmas story is a lot of things. And if we are honest, those things are tarnished and embarrassing.

Mary was pregnant before she was married- let’s talk about that reputation.

And then she gave birth in a barn. I’ve noticed that never caught on as a trend.

Yet… that story, that beloved and holy Christmas story, is beyond the definition of perfect.

There’s not a single word to fully express the magnitude and the glory of that tarnished and embarrassing story.

In fact, you could string a thousand words together, and just of clipped the iceburg.

We are a couple days past Christmas Day, and I hope yours was perfect. However, if it wasn’t perfect according to Hallmark standards (and I get it- I love Hallmark), I hope you can see that gifts, time and life aside- the victory of that day is never failing.

On a side note, I know many returned to work today, some worked Christmas Day, and those who are off are probably counting down the days subconsciously before they have to return.

Some may have balanced the checkbook today, did school work or cleaned the house.

My point is, as we move past Christmas Day, I pray we will remember to carry it with us.

It’s so hard when it feels as if so little has changed. The world acts as if all is as it has always been.

The angel spoke to Mary. Joseph had a dream. The shepherds heard the angels sing. The wise men saw the star. And the world… the world acted as if all was as it had always been.

As I was in town yesterday running some errands I felt I could see the world acting as if nothing had changed. The store lights, in contrast to Wednesday, were back on. (Never mind some stores did not bother to turn them off at all).

And it dawned on me. We try so hard to bind Christmas to one day. We make it a box, hand it over and say “get in,” forgetting that the reality of Christmas is beyond our comprehension, let alone our box making skills.

Christmas is the time we celebrate when Jesus stepped out of the box, and into the manger. And that celebration continues all year long. It’s a priceless gift freely given, and no sale price can cheapen or negate it. No deal can sweeten it. No amount of time can tarnish or lessen it.

It’s already everything, and then more than we can imagine. As we live in a world that acts as as if nothing is changed; we hear the angels sing, we see the star and we know- that everything has changed. We see it in the pile of dishes, the chaotic filling of email inboxes and in our chewed and torn Christmas cards.

❤️ Merry Christmas friends! My prayers and thoughts are with you all as we finish one year, one decade, and head into the next.

A Love Letter at Christmas

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 (NIV) 

Oh my. It’s time.

I imagine my thoughts echo Mary’s. Though if she did feel as if time ran short, she certainly had more reason to.

However, a part of me whispers that God reassured her as He seeks to reassure us now.

Case in point- I try really hard to avoid the hustle and bustle portion of the season.

This is not a season I want to rush. Even then, it seems to slip by faster and faster each year.

Overall I did really well. I almost made the finish line.

However, in that final lap, I missed a hurdle and then hit a wall.

Disappointment and frustration. Somebody wasn’t holding up their end of the bargain and the order didn’t arrive correctly.

And in both instances the conviction hit my heart instantly. Though it was pinprick compared to the guilt which overwhelmed me.

There’s a difference you know, between God’s conviction and the enemy’s taunting.

God’s conviction speaks to you in the moment, encourages you to repent, apologize and move forward. Conviction occurs in those moments when it feels like God squeezed your hand to say “hey, remember…, slow down…, let’s reexamine this…”

The enemy’s taunting of guilt and shame though is heavy- it weighs you down and offers you no way out, no direction for improvement or redemption.

The enemy’s taunting ties you down to the situation, while God’s conviction seeks to lift you above the circumstance.

I prayed through the conviction, I turned my eyes back to my Father and to my Savior and apologized to the Holy Spirit for any grief I had caused him. But the guilt still lingered. Similar to a thick fog, I couldn’t see through it and I couldn’t grasp it to cast it aside.

And in the middle of that burdensome guilt I wondered at how God put up with me. Thinking about this season, the love He had and still has for us, and that love’s manifestation through His son, Jesus Christ…

Jesus.

Our savior and our hope. The one who never tires of caring for us or seeking us.

As I wondered how Jesus put up with me, especially during this season, I pictured in my mind a beautiful red envelope nestled in a Christmas tree. And a voice whispered that on Christmas, we all receive a gift we may not physically perceive- but that it is there for each one of us.

Our Christmas letter from Jesus.

I’m not sure what each letter would say. I imagine they would vary, not a corporate cookie-cutter Christmas note, but a personally detailed handwritten letter.

And while I believe they would all vary, I also believe they would all be written with the same intention; a note that we are loved, a proclamation of our innocence and a declaration of joy at our redemption and reunion. …

Perhaps something like this;

Brittany,

Know that I am as excited as a child on Christmas morning to see you each day. To hear from you. There is nothing you say that does not catch my full attention. I know that the words you speak are born out of a portion of your heart, your current emotions and perceptions of your situation. The writers heart I’ve placed in you may lead you astray at times thinking you must discover just the right words. Trust that I’ve placed the words inside you- you need not search they will come as they are called- you need only to trust in me and my ability to completely and fully know and understand every bit of who you are. I see you has who you were created to be, and one day you will fully see it too. Promise. 

Until that day, know that I am so proud of you. This year was hard, but you didn’t lose hope, remember that. Grief does not negate hope, the two coexist in a broken world where grief was never meant to reign. 

Most of the time you are doing much better than you give yourself credit for. And those times when you do fall short, don’t worry I’m here to fill the gap just reach out, my hand is always waiting, never far. It does hurt me when you sin, but it hurts equally to see you needlessly struggling with guilt when you have accepted the forgiveness I’ve freely offered you. Please trust that my love is enough. I love you and you are fearfully and wonderfully made, there is none like you. However, you are not so powerful that you are out of bounds of my grace. Hold tight to the fact that my grace is sufficient. 

I know perseverance is a trait more easily quoted than accomplished. But believe me, you are running your race beautifully. Don’t give up and don’t give in. I am right here! I hope you enjoy your time with family and friends. I know your heart will war between joy and grief. As you ride out the tides of warm memories and deep sorrow, let this truth be always buried at the heart of every thought- and that is today is not merely meant to be a celebration but is a day which recalls that time in which I stepped down from heaven so that I could be with you, all of you. Not one face did not go through my mind as I stepped into that manager, nor when I walked that hill to calvary. And I would do it all over again. But I don’t have to, because I am enough, it was enough and to me you are worth more than enough. Remember how much I love you as you celebrate my birthday. (Can you imagine- existing before the beginning of time and still having a birthday!!- I knew you would appreciate that thought:). 

For I so loved you Brittany, and that love is steadfast and never changing, Jesus ❤ 

… yeah, maybe, something just like that.

I encourage all of you to take a moment during this season as we prepare for Christmas and New Year celebrations and pray to God, asking Him, what would your letter say.

I guarantee it will be exactly what you did not know you were waiting and needing to hear.

My prayers and thoughts are with you all Friends! Do not hesitate to comment or reach out with prayer or praise requests/reports. Happy Christmas Eve to you and yours, I hope that even in the darkest of moments you may feel the pulse of the everlasting joy that flooded our world and which we commemorate today.

Thank you to Kelly for the beautiful photo! – Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Give Careful Thought

 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.

Haggai 1:5 (NIV) 

Channeling circa 2000 Britney Spears…

Oops… I did it again.

To be honest that tagline started out as a joke… in fact this line was going to read “No, no I didn’t get lost in the game…” But then- I realized- that yeah I did, I did get lost in the game.

B Spears and I may not be talking about the same game but I did do it again… and I didn’t mean to… I just…

I just got too busy.

Working through papers, reading through course books and deciphering class materials in preparation for final projects and exams…

If you toss in some everyday life and purposefully set aside time for family… well, it is really easy to get caught up in the busyness.

Especially at this time of year.

It was the middle of November the last time I looked up, and now we are sitting less than 10 days to Christmas…

13 days to a New Year… a New Decade.

And unfortunately for me, I get caught in the busyness trap more often than I like to admit- and much more often than any one person should…

I keep thinking I have learned my lesson, fast forward a couple months and *bam* back in the busyness trap I go.

And the reality is that school work aside, if given the opportunity I am sure I could present dozens of other reasons behind “being behind.”

The worst part is, I know exactly what I am doing. I take my proclaimed “first priority” and place it on a back burner while I knock out all the “miscellaneous” tasks.

It is at the top of my to do list, forefront of my mind and on fire in my heart- and I do everything I can to set it aside until “the right time” or “enough time” or “the time.”

First priority- placing God first. In placing God first, my next priority becomes doing what He has called me to do.

But gee, sometimes I feel He just doesn’t understand how awkwardly it fits in my schedule. “I really want to do that God, you know I do but… I really need to ________ and then…maybe…”

And as I keep putting my first priority off for the sake of accomplishing whatever it is that I have deemed in need of being accomplished first… the distance between me and my first priority grows.

Eventually that distance becomes unbearable. I am asking where He went and He is standing next to me wondering why I am yelling.

Per usual He never left, I just turned my eyes away.

Thankfully God never tires of shaking me out of the busyness trap, when truly no one- myself included- would blame Him for leaving me there to figure it out on my own.

This time around, as I was explaining about how I know “this and this” was on our to do list, but that “this and that” had shown up on my to do list- God sent me to Haggai.

To be honest, I had never paid too much attention to Haggai. Lesson learned. Haggai has a word that God knew I needed to hear:

 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.

Haggai 1:5-9

Ta-Da! Lightbulb 💡

And conviction. A fair amount of healthy Spirit driven conviction.

This past month as been a struggle. And now I know why.

Because I got lost in the game. I got caught in the busyness. I was overwhelmed with concern for my house, that I neglected His house.

It is one thing to pray constantly. (And it is an important thing).

But it is another thing to purposefully stop and be still and to know. To stop and worship and to stop and praise.

Stopping and being still is important, essential really. Because in the moments when you truly stop- even if only for a few minutes- you are saying that there is no task- big or small- that is worth a portion of this moment to this privilege.

Take a moment and recall those in the Christmas story who stopped- the shepherds ran and wise men traveled.

By stopping you are not giving half or part of an offering but a whole sacrifice, whole heartedly.

And that offering, that whole, complete moment of worship and awe builds castles for the Lord our God.

As you proceed from that moment you realize that God’s call never fits awkwardly around your schedule/plans but that some of the plans you’ve placed may fit awkwardly around His.

As we enter the final countdown to the celebration of God’s ultimate plan; our deliverance through the birth, life, death and resurrection of His only son- I am overwhelmed and eternally thankful that God did not find our deliverance, my deliverance, too awkward for His schedule.

I am reminded that one character at the First Christmas was so caught in the busyness trap- he missed the miracle right outside his door. No one blames the Innkeeper, he had a full house, and certainly we can all relate to the feeling.

But this Christmas and into the New Year, Friends I encourage you to do as the wise men and the shepherds did and give careful thought to your ways, follow the star and make haste to the King.

Prayers Friends and Tidings of Great Joy ♥️✨