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

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.