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.

Growing Pains

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 

1 Timothy 4:12

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. 

Proverbs 12:15

 

  1. Know that I should be doing homework.
  2. Know that as a grad student I should always be doing homework.

But this blog post has been waiting in my drafts long enough. Early August in fact, 3/4 of the way through my internship, facing an upcoming season of uncertainties and uncharted territories.

Nearing what I believe is the end of that period and entering a new, yet to be charted season, I can feel the inner conflict beginning to stir.

Turmoil that, when left unchecked, is known to make my battle ready self hesitate.

It is not that I fear God failing. No, I believe in him 100% of the time.

But I have struggled with believing in myself.

I have struggled to believe that I can communicate, discern and complete those tasks in front of me. Oftentimes I am self-convinced that I am getting the message wrong and surely God has called someone much more… much?

In today’s world this struggle is a genuine one. The world we live in is hardly encouraging most of the time. And if we are not tuned into what God is saying and what he has said, then who are we listening to?

No matter where you are in life or what career field you are working in, there will always be “the voices” in “the moments.”

While I hope you are not familiar with the voices or the moments, living in this world is an unfortunate guarantee that you are more familiar with them than most of us would like to admit.

You know the ones where you are “too young,” “too old,” “too conservative,” “too liberal,” “too educated,” “too naive”… and all the other “toos” that make you unable to understand. Your answer is wrong. It’s not your fault, you are just “too much” or “too little” and that is too bad.

And in these moments, in early August, amid all the voices, I found I really missed my mom.

In these moments a part of me wishes I would have grown up faster. That I would have grown up more gracefully, gliding past the obstacles and never missing a step.

Unfortunately I was one often caught between hard places, getting back up with scrapped knees and bloody knuckles. Generally walking away with a hard earned and learned lesson accompanied with a loving, motherly, “keep going.”

Mom was a great director on walking the line between “do not let them undermine you” yet “listen to wise counsel.”

So here I am, walking the line, and it is getting slimmer. Its one of those moments where the enemy has gotten a hold of one of the ends of the line, turning it into a tightrope and has begun shaking it. You’re not sure if you’ll be able to remain upright, let alone move forward without losing your balance.

And so I spent some time laying my case out to one who has all the time in the world- eternity in fact. My fragile and fear disposed heart repeating that I believed in Him, but… but… me, the me part of the plan was questionable.

God haven’t you heard? I am not ready. I am not qualified. I am too much this and not enough that.

And in those moments that still small voice whispered- but I believe in you.

I believe in you.

I created you. Who knows better what you are capable of? And remember- you are not going in alone. I will be there. And you said yourself, you believe in Me.

True.

So repeat the problem?

And the tightrope stopped shaking. Because in that moment I handed the end back to God- and stopped jumping up and down on it as I was placed back on solid ground.

I remembered that He is before and behind me. Above and Below me. Even should I fall, He is already there. My own worst enemy had been myself, and the enemy’s doubts I had adopted as my own.

And in that space, on that grounded line, I found it.

Humble Confidence.

A graceful clumsiness. Somedays you will fall. Others you will dance. But everyday you will be fearless.

Because should all else fall away you know your Strong Tower is always before, behind, above and below you. There’s no direction you can fall that he won’t be there to catch you.

As if He wasn’t enough, He has also provided family and friends along the way to encourage us and be lights in an otherwise darkened world.

People who are always behind you, some of who you will meet going forward and others who are watching the ground below you from above.

I know beliefs differ, and I do not have the ultimate answer (I am still in Bible college and God has not granted me a vision or revelation that has been withheld from others until now- not that I haven’t asked), however I highly suspect that loved ones can see us from above. At least to an extent. (I generally reference the story Jesus shares in Luke 16:19-31 of Lazarus and the Rich Man and personal experience).

With that said I also fully believe that our loved ones who have passed into Jesus’ presence are in a place with no sorrow, no tears or hurting and pain of any kind. They are in the best of places, praising our savior and rejoicing.

As much as I miss my mom, my best friend, my grandfather, my aunt and several others; I wouldn’t want them to be in that perfect place missing being here. And I know if my mom (or any of them) recalled the pain our temporary separation caused this side of Heaven, her heart would break.

So I have this hope that should my belief be correct and that they are able to look down at times, there is what I have coined as an “eternity filter.”

A filter that when my mom looks down its through the light of eternity, a light that erases the darkness of this world. While she sees us in the good and bad, she knows that the bad will not endure and the good is not even remotely close to the best. And that we have all the time in world, for one day- there will be no more goodbyes and no more ends.

On this side we see through a “world filter,” its dark and broken. Things are hard and you never fully feel like you have made the mark. There are days when the time inches by and others where it feels as if it flew in the blink of an eye.

Further evidence we are just journeying through this world. Our hearts can never fully fit into this world’s concept of “time,” for He has placed eternity in our hearts.

So lesson learned this season:

Growing up is never a task fully accomplished on this side of heaven. Growing pains mark growth, not completion.

In the moments where the growth is hard come by remember you have a Creator, His host of angels and His saints, who count it a hard earned and won Victory.

So fellow Saints, put on your Armor and remember no victory is too small and certainly no matter how beat up and bruised you may emerge, every one is worth celebrating. Moses didn’t think he could lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Peter was uneducated. David and Mary were teenagers. Abraham and Elizabeth were old.

The reality is that you don’t have this. But God does and He’s called you.

And as the prophets and the early church leaders prayed, so we pray, to continue to grow in the knowledge of God, bearing fruit of every good work. No longer seeing this world through it’s broken and twisted filter, but through the filter of eternity to which we have been called.

*Comment here or on the Prayer Requests/ Praise Reports page any prayer needs or celebrations.

*To see updates for upcoming posts and projects you can follow “declare_hope” on Instagram and “Declare Hope” on Facebook!

Thank James Pond on Unsplash for photo.

Access

In him we have boldness and confident access through faith in him.

Ephesians 3:12 (CSB). 

I am assuming that I am not the only one who blinked and feels as if they missed the month of August?

Back to school, last minute vacations, fair days and all of the final summer celebrations that bring summer to a close and welcome fall in (heralded in by the infamous release of pumpkin spice everything!) 🍁

I had not intended to take a blogging “sabbatical” this summer… regardless I am back and I have missed you all a great deal!

Just to let you know where I have been; I managed to finish my three courses (and begin my new ones), wrote 1/3 of a book (which I hope to finish and share more on soon), graduated my first unit of CPE continuing my journey to becoming a certified hospital chaplain and…

Located a spot and moved into mine and Reyna’s new space!

The last few household items were put up these past few days (Thank you Grandma, Tom and Dad!) And we are officially moved in!

The picture above is when I first received the keys.

The Lord ensured I had plenty of time and I was very blessed to enjoy a “slow and steady” moving in process.

For the past two years the majority of my things were in a storage unit and then over this summer spread out between two households. So the gathering was quite an adventure in itself.

However despite the change and difficulties when making a move… and the colossal task of unpacking, I had a moment of complete gratitude.

Don’t get me wrong- this move was not one taken on as a solo gig and I was and still am incredibly thankful for every helping hand and encouraging word that continues to pour in- but this was a moment of a different form of thankfulness.

What I was thankful for had been buried, not readily on the surface, kind of out of sight. Needless to say, it took me by surprise, a sort of revelation.

As I walked through my halfway unpacked apartment I was “down on my knees” thankful to have access to things I had not seen in over two years.

Memories flooded in as I unpacked items dating all the way back to ten years ago when I first moved out to my first dorm room in Oklahoma.

And the reality is that I do not need these things. If everything I owned were to disappear tomorrow, I would be okay.

Because I have a God and a Savior and a Spirit that can never be taken from me. And at the end of the day they always hold my every hope and prayer as well as all my trust and love.

But as I look and remember, I am humbled and grateful for every blessing I have received and continue to receive that I did not and do not deserve.

The adventures this journey has taken me on and the wonderful people who have joined me along the way.

I thought about it for a moment, this concept of access. And I realized this was far from the first time I had stumbled upon a lovingly opened door.

And as I reminisced on all these lovingly opened doors of the past, some of which had also been lovingly closed- ushering me on to the next one- I found myself reveling at the door which by all human standards could have never been opened.

The greatest access I have ever been and ever will be granted is the access I have through Jesus, who opened the door that was by all human accounts impossible to open.

The key to which was something I would have never been able to possess and that which had to be freely given, the blood of my God walking alongside humanity in this broken world.

It can be hard to fathom.

But as the verse from Ephesians reads, it is through faith in Christ Jesus, that we can have bold and confident access to the throne room of the Lord.

Do you know when you pray in Jesus name, no matter where you are- on your knees, standing up, eyes open, eyes closed, a few words, many words, no words just a voiceless weeping- you have entered the throne room of God.

And you, yes you, have the full attention of the creator of the universe.  And He listens to you. He hurts with you. He celebrates with you.

In Jesus you have been given access to the Kingdom, he’s given you the Kingdom keys. You’re no longer a guest, you’re an adopted and battled for child of the King.

And our King loves to listen and talk to you. There is nothing too insignificant or small, He wants to hear about it all. He knows every hair on your head.

He is a King who has personally created you in His own image, purposefully crafted you together for a time such as this and who, not would but has, died for you.

Access.

It is not the first word I would have put on a list of thanksgiving. Yet, it is the beginning and ending of everything, in Christ Jesus.

I am excited to be writing again my friends. Please comment any prayer requests below or on the page listed in the tabs above. ♥️🙏

The picture at the top is when I first received my keys. Included below is a picture of Reyna preparing to enter our new “home away from home.” (Complete with “Give Thanks” wreath and “This house runs on coffee and Jesus” welcome mat!)

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Living Legacies

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,”

Philippians 1:3

It is strange, the coexistence of love and grief.

To experience such pain, grounded in the purest joy.

The sound of your voice on a recording, a picture with your smile from a happier day…

My heart fills and is full as my stomach drops and feels sick beyond measure.

Sweet memories tinged with bitterness yet now more valuable than any treasure imaginable. Regardless of the pain, remembering you is one of my favorite things.

I believe there is a part of us that will never fully accept that you are gone. I believe there will always be a piece of us that is shocked at the sentiment that you are no longer here.

And I believe it is because deep down you are not gone- deep down our soul knows that this life is not the end and that one day we will be reunited- in a place with no more tears and no more death and no more goodbyes. In the core of our being we have the vaguest inclination of eternity and while we cannot fully grasp it and all its wonder- we know.

We know that this is just part of the journey home.

We all have been sent on our journey and will take different roads home. The duration of our journey may vary, some will take longer and some will arrive sooner- but we all seek the same destination.

And we will collect our souvenirs. Our experiences and blessings we have acquired on the trip, some welcome and unwelcome. More importantly though, we will leave some pieces of ourselves behind.

We will sow seeds and give from what has been given to us; our talents, gifts, words, hope… These things given freely are given in love. And seeds sown in love grow into legacies. Legacies of light, hope, compassion, care… all grounded in love.

And long after one is home, their legacy continues to grow- more often than not in ways unseen, too small to notice yet too large to measure- carried on by those they left to continue on their journey. The seeds they had planted beginning to take full affect as their loved ones seek to fill this world with as much love and joy as the sower afforded them.

Mom, we miss you. We were not, and still are not, ready for your journey to be over. How we wanted you to stay.

You are home, at the home, but it is not the home that we know- it is not the home we have shared.

We hear the echoes of your laughter in our memories and home videos though no longer in the room. We hear your comforting words of wisdom buried in our hearts but no longer on the other side of the phone. We see the physical evidence of the beautiful life you led here on your journey, though we no longer have your physical presence.

And it hurts, God, it hurts so bad.

But Mom, though it was too soon, it is universally acknowledged that generally one cannot have too much of a good thing. The reality is that given five more minutes… we would always want five more minutes. And you mom, you did not leave us with nothing, but with the greatest of somethings, your legacy. Your light. Your laughter. Your smile. Your heart. The seeds were sown and they took root and we remember.

As we prepare to celebrate you today I pray that we can carry your legacy proudly. That we can love and serve as you did. That when we finish our journeys and reach the final destination, we can look at our adventures and point at some of those moments and say “That, that I learned from my mom” and in which God will respond “I know and I knew. For I always have a reason.”

Though our earthly hearts cannot always fathom divine reasoning, I continuously thank God for you at every remembrance. There are days when the memories are harder to weather than others. Days when the grief saturates every memory and turns laughter into tears. However, behind those tears lies the greatest of joys, for those tears only exist because of what was once so wonderfully happy. Truly happy.

No, I wouldn’t change a thing. For the happiness of one moment with you far outweighs the unbearable pain of the days ahead without you. Always my heart remembering, that this is not the end just our final and temporary goodbye. And what is time compared to eternity?

Until then, we will walk our journeys, your legacy firmly rooted in our hearts and in the love you gave to us.

 

But Can He?

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.”

2 Timothy 2:13

I shouldn’t have, I should have.

I know that, I feel this.

The sky’s falling versus the pieces are falling into place.

Those moments when it seems as if the “to be done” list is always longer than the “done” list and it feels as if time is flying yet it is taking its time to heal. Every day you wake and look forward but cannot help and catch a reflection of yesterday. Remembering some of the wins, recounting all of the losses.

Filled with faith but yet… not always convinced.

Not that I doubt God’s faithfulness of course, but my own.

At the end of the day when I recall those moments when I know I could have said something better or done something more. Those moments of weakness when I broke the promise to myself to wake up at this time or to not do that. Simple tasks such as eating better or sticking to my budget or to a schedule of any sort (such as writing this blog post).

And those are just the “small” things.

How can I profess to be faith filled when I struggle daily with being faithful? If I can’t make it through an overall mild Tuesday, what would make me believe I could survive the earth shattering and heart crushing days when more than my daily resources and time allotments are on the line?

Laying down at the end of the day and wondering can a God that good really love a person like me?

All of the doubts.

All of the fears.

All of the sticky situations.

When I knew better and when I didn’t.

When the tears come and despair knocks and the waves rise and the wind howls.

And I am thanking God again and again for every blessing, although… all the while knowing I have more to say. The reality being that He also knows I have more to say.

In this world it feels as if we are continually encouraged and tempted to hide whatever faults we have, whatever troubles we are carrying. Grin and bear it, if you will.

Don’t tell anyone that you struggle with that. Don’t suggest you’ve messed up. And don’t you dare admit you’re scared. Just leave it, it’s fine. Meanwhile, whatever it is grows bigger and eventually its darkness starts to envelop your life, primarily internally and eventually externally.

I didn’t see this coming. How did this happen? Who would have guessed?

God. God knew. God saw it coming. And?

He’s not surprised.  He saw the storm coming before it was on the horizon.

He reached out to catch me before I began to fall.

And He is kneeling beside me as I get up the courage to look up.

Because the beautiful, outrageous truth is – even when I am faithless, He is faithful.

You see, the problem is a part of me at times forgets that God- the Creator of the Universe and everything in it- is able to handle my honesty. From the little bits to the boulders.

He can handle the fact that at times my heart hurts, that sometimes I struggle and still sometimes I fall.

He can handle the fact that even though I know who He is and believe in all of His promises and rely solely on His truths, I do not always act accordingly.

He can handle the tantrums and the scars and that I am not perfect.

Because He is.

And so long as I am willing to bring it all to Him, every messy piece I’d rather hide, I can handle it too.

There is a song and one of the lines in the chorus reads, Show me that You can handle my honesty. The whole song is wonderful, but that line sealed it for me the day I heard it.

Those words, that question, at first hit me and opened a prayer. Words I wanted to scream at the top of lungs in the moment and at the same time hesitated to whisper. I wasn’t sure I could handle my own honesty most days.

However, as quickly as that prayer opened so did several recollections of the times God in fact did show that He could handle my honesty. He who is always faithful had never turned His back on me, not even once, no matter how reluctant I was to let Him in and let Him see just how messy it was.

Those words reminded me that not only can God handle my honesty, but He embraces it.

And I hope this post serves as a Public Service Announcement because He can handle your honesty too. Every hard question and unspoken horror and hidden sorrow.

You will find that when you let go and spill everything to God – you can handle it too.

She spent time with God and that is what made her lovely.

It wasn’t that she was perfect, always made the right choices and never had a single doubt or fear.

The secret has always been that she spent time with God… and unloaded every hurting and ruined bit. She gave Him the ashes and in turn He built them into something more beautiful than could ever be imagined.

The take aways from all this:

He created me.

He loves me.

And He can handle me.

In response to the question posed by Mikeschair- Grace was made for people like me.

** Song by Mikeschair, Title: People Like Me

Here’s to 28

“Lord, you understand me; remember me and care for me. Avenge me on my persecutors. You are long-suffering- do not take me away; think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.” Jeremiah 15:15

28. Another year. Remarkable in its own right, the feat of the passing of time.

And what a year it was. A few weddings, a couple of road trips, graduate classes, youth group, birthday parties and childlike laughter. Friends and family. Driving through the Scottish Highlands. The sight of the Appalachian mountains and the vision of the picture beyond hope and yet lovingly delivered of Jamie and Jesus.

The places we’ve been and the wonders we’ve seen, both abroad and on home base. All the works of His glorious hands. From mountains and campfires to paintings and papers.

Dreams that were laid to rest and dreams that were born. Startling loss and miraculous healing. Running the race and being carried through the storm.

So much has changed and yet so much remains the same. The more I learn the more I realize I don’t know.

I don’t know where I am going.

I don’t know where every path will lead.

Sometimes I don’t know what to say.

And oftentimes I don’t know if I have it right. These places I am and these things I am doing and the priorities I am placing.

So the big question is… What do I know at 28…

I know that not knowing can be overwhelming.

I know that not knowing can be scary.

I know that not knowing is unacceptable to a world which depends on the security provided in an answer.

Most Importantly, I now know that not knowing is actually okay- as long as your eyes are on the One who does know.

The One who is not surprised by your weaknesses.

The One who is unphased by your doubts, fears and hard questions.

The One who loves you completely and uncompromisingly.

The One who understands you.

One big thing I learned this past year my friend, is that I had one more unaddressed fear to face. Honestly, it had never came across my mind as all out fear. But as I sat and discussed with God the events that had passed and events yet to come, it was as if a light was turned on.

As you know, I kicked the word fear out of my vocabulary back in year 26. Aside from the fear of the Lord, there is no room for it in my life. And knowing that, calls for a celebration of its own.

But, there was still one more fear to address. Can you guess it bud? It’s one that I hadn’t realized didn’t exist before God called you home. With you here, there was no room for it. With you gone, it came quickly and in full force. To be honest, it really didn’t have to come at all because I know it was already there at the door, waiting for its moment to make its appearance. Your friendship and love kept it at bay, in the darkness I fell in  following your heavenly birthday it began to dig in its roots.

The fear of being misunderstood.

I have always used a lot of words be it speaking or writing. And this is partially because I enjoy “using my words”. However, God has shown me that it is also partially because at times I fear that my words won’t appropriately convey my meaning. That they will fall short or be misinterpreted. Sometimes it keeps me from saying anything, or from saying the “whole” truth. The fear of being misunderstood.

It’s an actual fear. And this past year I was given the official diagnosis.

As I was praying and words were flowing too fast and thoughts running at full speed, I caught the statement “God, please understand” as part of the mantra coming from lips. God please understand.

They won’t understand why I feel this way, they won’t agree with this next step or know why I have to take this chance. Oh God, please, they don’t understand. They don’t see it and my words are not sufficient. Am I wrong? Are they right? Can you give me a clue? Like a little one… like playing the hot / cold game? I have been wrong so many times. Am I close? I think I have it, but what if I don’t? What if I don’t get it? What if I am wrong and fail? What if I am not understanding?

And then above the noise running through my mind I heard the silence, and the silence whispered, I understand you.

Not scathing or annoyed. But lovingly and reassuringly. He didn’t calm the storm or fix all the things. He didn’t even tell me I was right or give me a little clue.

But He told me everything I genuinely needed to know- He understands me.

And He still loves me.

And maybe I will fail. Maybe it is all in vain. But maybe it’s not.

At 28 I have realized that I am not supposed to know everything, all I have to know is Him.

And my friend, that has been a game changer.

You knew my heart and that made all the difference. God created my heart and that makes all the difference.

So going into 28 I am happy to let you know I no longer fear being misunderstood.

Your light is still continuously right beside me and your legacy continues to shine.

We still love and miss you, possibly more than ever, but when we see you again, there will be no more goodbyes.

In the meantime God has a plan I don’t understand, but He understands me.

And I know He will teach me the lessons my heart needs in His own way and in His own time, no matter how bad I would prefer a cheat sheet now.

I am still going to use a lot of words, but only because I enjoy “using my words”.

You always said I would write a book. I think 28 may be a good year for that.

Here’s to 28 my friend (give mom all our love),

God, let the shenanigans continue, I may not understand but I know You and that is all I really need to know.

Even This Far

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:7

We love a good “Cinderella” story. At least I do. One where the main character faces impossible odds and it gets to that pivotal moment where all is lost and then… they rise. They make the impossible choice to do the impossible thing that has no guaranteed outcome, no guaranteed success and really through the world’s eyes is completely hopeless. But they do it anyway, they go that far.

Our love for these stories can’t be denied. Looking at recent movies and books which have been released with great success, we all in some way are encouraged by those moments. Moments where they fight the good fight, finish the race and in the face of complete defeat keep the faith.

But living it out… that’s more difficult. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has had those in the dust moments, the ones before the epic comeback. The point in the story where everything seems broken, obliterated and all that is left is the debris of what used to be. I know I have been there more than once, and God knows there were moments when I wasn’t sure if I could keep the faith. I wasn’t sure I could be the hero in the story who rose. I wasn’t sure I could go that far.

I would say at some point all of us have hit our knees in defeat. And God, it hurts. We cry out wondering how it got this far. How or why did God let it go this far?

He should have been here by now.

He should have righted the wrongs by now.

He should have….

But He hasn’t. And we find ourselves faced with the decision, are we willing to go that far? Will our faith carry us that far?

The truth is we know that He knows it hurts. We know that He hears our cries. We know that He is good and that He is all-knowing. We know that we can trust in His plan and in His will above our own. Even this far.

This is where clinging to the truth, to what we know God has said over what we see, is essential. And God knows it’s hard. That is why He has given us the stories of others who rose despite the impossible circumstances. Stories of those who were probably wondering how it had gotten this far, and yet didn’t falter in their faith.

Can you picture it? Daniel being led to the lion’s den, praying to God. Believing God was there beside him and yet when they arrive, he is still thrown in. And as he gets up and realizes he is actually in the lion’s den, the king wishes him luck and then seals the door. Literally, a stone was rolled in front of it and was sealed with the king’s signet ring and of the other nobles, so “that Daniel’s situation may not be changed”. Daniel 6:17, word for word.

And in my head I wonder why that far? Why did God let it go that far?

And it’s not a one time occurrence. Moses in the wilderness, the four men in the furnace, Job in the rubble of all he had, David on the run, Jesus on Calvary. Time and time again we read stories in the Bible letting it go that far, not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament as well.

I am sure Mary and Martha wondered why Jesus had let it go that far.

Lord, if you had been here this wouldn’t have happened.

I am here, always, it is apart of the plan, have faith. There is a greater purpose, even this far.

We could list stories all day long of those who were faced with choosing to accept defeat and lose hope or choosing to go that far. Stories which bring with them a revelation. Going that far has always been apart of the plan. Maybe not our plan, but His plan.

God’s not surprised. He didn’t momentarily forget and then turn around and go “my bad I never meant it to go that far”. God’s plans always serve a purpose. One of those purposes, growing and solidifying our faith.

A faith that won’t flee at the sight of the seemingly impossible. A faith that not only knows but fully believes that what is impossible for man is possible with God. A faith that will carry you that far. A faith that says even this far.

So many times have I cried out, demanding to know why God has let it go this far, pleading with Him to move His hand. And as my pain pours out, His peace pours in. And I know that He is moving His hand. That is has gone this far for a far greater purpose. I need only to trust and to keep the faith, to know that when I cannot run He will carry me. When the den is sealed and the tomb is closed, God’s still working. So keep the faith, because in those darkest moments, He’s about to call you out.

Even now, even this far.

Special thanks for the featured photo Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Child’s Play

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

2 Corinthians 5:7

One of my favorite games growing up was one which my sisters and I created titled “Pearl Harbor”.

We would go out to our front field which ran along the state route we lived by and starting in the back we would try to stealthily make it to the front before an “incoming enemy” (aka a car) was able to fire upon us. We would army crawl, jump over logs and take cover in the tall grass. When the enemy swept in, we would high-tail it to the back to start all over again. It was a game inspired by its cinema namesake, and built primarily on imagination. In our game the good guys always came out on top, sometimes with a few minor injuries but without a single casualty. #win.

Things looked bad, but we never lost hope. We never believed there was a reason to not have complete faith in our ultimate victory.

Looking back, it is astounding how the imagination can change. As we get older we are still tempted to let our imaginations run wild, though they seem to take a different direction when things look bad. They run wild with worst-case scenarios and ever-growing mountains and obstacles. All we see are the realities this world insists are unmovable- and most of the time it’s bad, it’s really bad.

Instead of believing there is no reason to doubt, we believe there is no reason to hope. We see defeat, not victory. The incoming enemy is fully armed and there is no shelter from the fire. Instead of our imaginations affecting how we see the world, what we see affects how we imagine the world to be. Instead of imagining the possibilities, we only see the impossibilities- the tests don’t look good, the bills are due, time is short and days are long.

Many of us at different times in our lives, may be one piece of bad news away from a breakdown, slipping into the black pit with no way out. A mindset of  “It’s impossible, it would literally take the hand of God…”

… The hand of God. Our grown up imaginations often seem to forget about His presence, as it runs amuck in all of its doomsday scenarios. But what if we redefined our imaginations’ job description? Not merely as some impractical childish foolishness but as a powerful and purposeful tool. A tool which helps us to walk in faith, even when what we see is bad. A tool to help ground us in a faith that cannot be shaken, a childlike faith.

A faith that doesn’t look back when leaving our comfort zones, such as Lot’s wife in Genesis. A faith that doesn’t look at the storm around us, but looks to the one leading us across the water. A faith that establishes truth amidst a doubting and dark world. A faith that is a rock Jesus can build His church on. An imperfect faith made perfect in Him.

Loving faith.

Painful faith.

Radical faith.

Total faith.

Can you imagine? I can, and I see a world overcome not by doubt or fear but by hope. Unspeakable hope that no matter what this world throws at us, the truth that the best is yet to come prevails. Knowing there is no situation too lost, no news too bad or circumstance too dark that God cannot reach it.

Our faith and our hope are not resigned to only when things are going well. It’s easy to declare hope and God’s faithfulness when all looks right in our world. True faith is knowing how bad it really is, how seriously hopeless the situation looks and sounds, being in the middle of it and choosing God’s ultimate truth over those worldly facts surrounding us.

Having faith doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. Having faith doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult. Having faith does mean that in the middle of the doubt, pain and fear you will have peace, hope and comfort- recalling what God has said, despite what you see and moving forward.

Having faith is fearlessly charging ahead, jumping over the obstacles, hitting your knees when necessary and running full speed to shelter. Those obstacles looked huge as we jumped and dove but from our shelter they no longer looked quite as large.

It’s the same now. When we look out at the obstacles from our shelter and mighty fortress, Jesus Christ, they no longer seem so impossible.

Walk by faith, not by sight. Don’t look back. Don’t look around. Look at Him. And just like in those childhood games, bring back up. Remember His words. And let what you see be transformed.

 

Jamie & Jesus

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Everywhere I can fit a photo frame has a photo frame. My reasoning- I love to be surrounded by the smiling faces and moments which have shaped my life. My parents and sisters, best friends and cousins, nephews and new adventures.

Alas, I believe many of you will agree with me that you could never fit every photo you have taken in your home. At least not neatly. In today’s world we take a massive amount of photos every year, if not within a single month depending on what events are taking place. However, it is alright because we have a solution to this problem – Facebook.

Personally, I love to look through photos on Facebook. To me it is such a great reminder of where I’ve been, where I am and where I am going. It reminds me just how many times I have been blessed, that God has brought me through and never failed. And sometimes I need that reminder. I look back and see all God has done and is doing; graduations, weddings, babies, careers and just life. And it astounds me because there was a period of time where I didn’t have the hope these things would come to pass.

That story is for another day, just know that I have a best friend named Jamie and she passed on May 9, 2011. For two years after her passing I struggled to stand in my shattered world. Then one day Jesus called. And here we are… which leads into today’s story –

It started out as a mere Facebook break and then God surpassed every imaginable thought in less than 48 hours.

Facebook breaks are mandatory amidst heavy homework days, and so I had wandered onto the site and after checking up on everyone’s current status started to go through my albums. Pictures, hundreds of pictures, over several years. I started with the most recent and ended up back in the late 2011s. And as I looked through the photos I was overcome with an unspeakable amount of gratitude and thankfulness and joy.

I couldn’t tell God how full looking at those photos made me because I do not know if a word has ever been invented to convey such meaning by a mortal tongue. Knowing how dark that period had been and seeing how much God had been working in our lives, even now just thinking about it I am setback in awe. And as I continued to wander back into the high school years I just found myself perfectly and completely content.

Eventually I downloaded a few photos to my phone, since I was going to be beginning a social media fast soon, and prepared to get back to homework. But as I clicked out of the Facebook pages and pulled up my assignments I had a thought. If you could have any picture from any time and place of anybody, what would it be? And it really struck me as a thousand ideas came to mind.

But then I had the one. If I could have a picture of anyone, anything at anytime. I thought

God, I have all these pictures of so many wonderful moments, of so many wonderful people. You have brought us through so much, it is overwhelming to think of everything we have done over the past 7 years, especially when at one point I didn’t believe in a tomorrow. But God if I could have one more picture… it would be of Jamie after May 9th. I have all these pictures of us and how You have blessed us and our lives have grown. But I would want one picture of her, after that day. 

And as I this conversation was passing through my mind in prayer I was full of joy and excitement. Because it wasn’t possible for me to even imagine what that picture would look like. I explained to God, that it was okay that I couldn’t have that picture because the mere fact that Heaven was a place too great for us to comprehend, too far beyond our imagination and wildest dreams – and the fact that was where she was – filled me with joy beyond explanation.

And so I settled back into doing my homework. End of story.

Wrong. What I wasn’t aware of at the time was how much I underestimated God’s love. I knew God was good. I knew God loved me. I knew all we have to do is ask. But for some reason I didn’t expect that he would listen to such a little conversation, a conversation which for me was little more than a fleeting thought process. Knowing it wasn’t possible, that one picture didn’t exist and never would and that was okay because I understood why. That why caused me joy, overflowing joy. I was at perfect peace and contentment.

Later that evening, homework finished, I jumped back on Facebook. Because you know, right before bed is a good time to do that (now you may realize why the social media fast was important.) And as I am scrolling I begin to think to myself how I had read all of this before and needed to go to bed. I decided on one more scroll and then it was lights out. That last scroll had me sitting straight up in bed.

It was a painting titled “First Day in Heaven”. It didn’t include the name of the artist but it was of a young girl hugging Jesus. And all I could think of was this was my picture. For twenty minutes I stared at it, I thanked God and even cried a little. Because it had been so random, and it was so perfect. I saved it to my phone and in absolute awe and peace and love laid back down.

As I began to sleep though I had a thought, what if I could have someone recreate the painting with Jamie as the girl hugging Jesus? Not possible. I had never heard of anyone having such a thing done. I had heard about having a photograph turned into a painting but I didn’t have a photograph just an idea and two “photographs” if you will that needed to be combined. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Go to sleep.

But sleep wouldn’t come. So at 11 pm I was on Google proving to my inner self that this wasn’t a thing, at least not anymore. And if it was, it had to be expensive. And Google proved me right. So back to bed I went.

Ten minutes later I was on Etsy. This is it. I will look just so that my mind will slow down. Expecting the same results I had received on Google, I am proved right once again. Except that the first result is about a pet portrait. Odd I thought, I didn’t want a pet portrait but everything else was – just how it had been on Google – a photograph to painting ordeal. As I continued to scroll the pet portrait link kept appearing at the top of the results.

So being late and slightly amused I clicked the link and began to read the artist’s bio. About to hop off, a statement catches my attention “we can discuss what background you would want for the portrait…”. She can improvise a background or scene. … Well that would work. But does she paint people? Dogs, yes. Really quite spectacularly. But people? Further investigation needed. The investigation proves fruitful, as I find she has done various projects from wedding portraits to portraits of athletes.

Thus, during the later part of the 11 o’clock hour I write her a message explaining the summarized version of the whole story along with the picture of the painting and some of the photos of Jamie which I had downloaded that day from Facebook. Because you know, I had downloaded the perfect photo which one would need in order to paint her into that painting, a random side profile shot during a ride home from our friend Katie’s.

Thinking I probably wouldn’t hear back from her for a couple of days and uncertain of what her answer would be I finally sank into the best sleep ever.

The best sleep ever ends waking up to a reply. She could do the painting. She would be honored to do the painting. And it would cost me almost exactly what my bonus check had been that month. All that is left is to decide on what size I want the portrait to be and for her to upload a personalized link for me to purchase it on. By the end of the next day the painting is ordered and paid for, and is just a matter of waiting out the next several weeks.

Over the next several weeks I kept the painting between God and I. While I wanted to run around and tell everyone this amazing story and that I had commissioned a painting… from Canada!… I stopped. I knew I would struggle to wait, did I really want to pull everyone into my struggle with me? And what if it didn’t look right? At this moment there was another thought, why couldn’t I keep it between God and I? Why couldn’t I spend the next several weeks turning to him every time I wanted to talk about it? Why couldn’t he be my go to while I waited? So for 6+ weeks I prayed over the painting, the artist, my family and friends reactions and joy and just celebrated how amazing and faithful and loving He is.

And we have never been closer. As excited as I was for the painting, a part of me was reluctant to see the super secret surprise conspiracy end. And then I realized it didn’t have to end. It was just the beginning.

Upon receiving the painting I titled it “Jamie and Jesus” and shared it with our family and friends. The joy it has created is beyond what I could ever imagine. We ordered three more for other family members and friends. Someone who never met Jamie is now intimately aware of her legacy and love. Her light is as bright as it as ever been.

Most importantly though, this painting is a continuous reminder of how deeply God loves us. Of how greatly he truly cares. Father we are beyond blessed, and you are not done yet. Such a small thing, unexpected, and yet such a mighty reassurance.

It’s not so much the painting but the story behind it. A picture that’s worth a thousand words. Words declaring his love.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Shout out and a huge thank you to MissysPortraits for creating the beautiful paintings!

I Do Declare

1, 2, 3, 4, I declare… a thumb war!

Just kidding. We will not be declaring any wars today, at least that was not my initial intention. However, a thumb war could be a great way to liven up a rather dull day and requires minimal preparation. Regardless, we will move on to what we are actually discussing, the word declare.

What is the first thing that pops in your head when you hear the word declare?

It may be a thumb war or an actual declaration of war. Maybe it is The Declaration of Independence. It could be a declaration of love or emotion such as when Scarlett O’Hara famously states “Oh, I do declare” in Gone with the Wind (and my bet is that you just read that in her voice).

My second question – what declarations do you make on a daily basis?

What have you declared today? What did you declare yesterday?

I have had this revelation that the word declare is not only a verb, but a verb which we actively employ everyday. Everything that we do and everything that we say is a declaration. Our words and actions declare hope or fear, love or hate, joy or anger, faith or lack thereof.

And maybe some of you are already well aware of the extent in which your declarations affect the world around you. Personally, I required a learning curve. You see one day I was reading some well-known verses out of Jeremiah, specifically Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

And for some reason (probably divine intervention) that word, “declares”, took hold of my attention. The Lord declares. And knowing who the Lord is, I would say his declarations carry quite a bit of weight. But I began to notice that the word declare was scattered throughout the Bible, beginning to end, varying situations, circumstances and people. And it hit me. The Lord is not the only one who declares things in the Bible. People did too. Human beings, created in God’s image, declared all sorts of things and not only in their words but through their actions, just like their Creator.

I had heard about making declarations and affirmations through various Bible Studies and knew that speaking life and stating your beliefs was important. But in my head that was part of waking up, you know you ran through what you believed and you went about your day. What I hadn’t taken to heart, was that after declaring those beliefs, the way we approached the rest of our day was a continuous declaration.

So, I decided to Google the word declare. And the result is what is pictured above this post. More than the definition, it is the synonyms which I found most surprising. To state, set forth, air, publicize, proclaim, vent… to vent. Out of all of those synonyms vent stopped me. Because while I would have liked to think of myself as someone who would “one day” proclaim or state or set forth, I knew I was someone who had and did vent. And what hit me was that to vent, was to declare, to set forth, to proclaim and to state. I had a moment when I realized it wasn’t that I hadn’t proclaimed or stated or set forth, it was what had I proclaimed, stated and set forth.

And as that sank in, I thought of what I had been declaring versus what I wanted to declare with my life. As a daughter of the Heavenly Father who over eternity had declared his love, beginning in Genesis to Noah and the earth with the rainbow in chapter 9 and then again when he established his covenant with Abram in chapter 15. Who declared his faithfulness through the wilderness in Exodus and again with the prophecy of the promised messiah who would come to save and not condemn the world in Isaiah. Who finally because he so loved the world gave his only begotten son, making the ultimate declaration of love to mankind and ultimate declaration of war on satan and his kingdom.

As a daughter of the King who had proven faithful and loving through every trial of my  own life, coming through in the smallest yet grandest of ways… I didn’t want to live a life which declared a mediocre faith. I didn’t want my declarations to most closely fit under its synonym of to vent. No, as his daughter, I didn’t want to vent I wanted to announce. I wanted to set forth. I wanted proclaim his name and his faithfulness and every work of his hand I had the honor and joy of witnessing.

I wanted to live a life which reflected Nehemiah who wouldn’t come down from the wall, or of Daniel who entered the lion’s den. I wanted my life to reflect David’s, who wrote Psalms which declared God’s righteousness, faithfulness and loving-kindness and that of Peter who stepped out of the boat. A life which such as Esther and Ruth and Mary declared complete surrender and trust in the one who is, was and will always be.

And as I was thinking all of these things a second revelation hit me, I didn’t need to be any sort of perfect or together in order to have a faith which reflected that of the Biblical heroes and heroines. Their stories too were full of ups and downs. They sometimes got it right, but usually only after they had gotten it wrong. Their declarations though always came back to and always illuminated the God and Creator whose faithfulness inspired their faith.

And that is what this page is for, declarations. It is a space in which we will declare the hope we have in Jesus. Declarations of hope and praise for what he has done, is doing and will do. A space in which to vent the implications of a fallen world and proclaim the reality of a savior which has overcome that same world.

Signing off, there are two questions:

What are you declaring?

And what do you want to declare?

Heavenly Father, Thank you for declaring your love and faithfulness to us, not only through Your words but deeds. God we are witnesses to the workings of Your mighty hand. As we enter into our day Lord help us to make our own declarations through word and deed so that we may reflect Your light and Your hope to all around us. We are excited Lord for we know what You have done and are doing does not compare to what you will do, we know that there is more to come. In Your Wonderful Name, Amen.