Grow With The No

I’ve never liked the word ‘no’. It seems to carry a measure of negativity and disapproval. ‘Yes’ feels approving, positive, uplifting and welcoming. I’ve joked about being the “Yes Woman” at church, since it easily falls from my lips when asked questions. Being that I’m a Pastor’s wife and a worship leader, people often come to me with questions. What is particularly comical about this is I usually don’t know the answer to what is being asked, but I enjoy saying yes, and so I do.😉

But, I’ve learned and am still learning, that ‘No’ can be a healthier, faith based, peace-filled answer. ‘No’ protects our time, guards our hearts and can be God honoring. Sometimes a no can be useful for setting boundaries with family and friends. This can be particularly helpful around the holidays, when we need to say no to over committing or risk being burnt out for what is most important, saying yes to Jesus call on our lives.

Jesus said no, a lot. No, it wasn’t His time yet. His family and closest friends anxiously anticipated the moment of truth; when His glory would be revealed. No, He wouldn’t use violence to overthrow the Roman Empire. His kingdom would be lead by love. No, He couldn’t stay with His disciples any longer, for He had a greater call on His life. He knew His purpose and nothing would stop it from coming to fruition. Jesus was not about bringing us happiness, but holiness.

This morning I was reading in Luke 12 and Jesus warns about division we will face while on this earth. Yuck, I don’t like division. I much prefer unity, where everyone gets along, works together, and plays nice. Why can’t we all just get along, like an episode of Friends; where every issue is resolved in a 30 minute TV show? Jesus answers this simply, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? NO, I tell you, but division”. What? Another no? I thought Jesus is the Prince of Peace? Well yes, He is, but the peace He offers is internal, not always external.

Jesus comes into our hearts, when invited, and offers peace when there is chaos swirling around us in our lives. We don’t get to live in a perpetual Disneyland, where we live happily ever after all the time, but we can tap into the Prince of Peace, when everything and everyone around us seems out of whack. He is our peace that surpasses understanding, when the trials we face are anything but peace-filled. But experiencing His peace often starts with a NO.

No, we won’t always have peace in our relationships with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, if we are saying YES to Jesus. The very nature of following Him will lead us through troubled waters. It requires laying down our lives for His purpose and plans…that is going to rub people in your life like sand paper. Often, friends and family won’t even know why our faith annoys them, but it will. It’s going to cause friction and some pain; maybe a lot of pain. Don’t lose heart my friends, that sand paper is going to refine you into a finely crafted masterpiece for Jesus. How lovely and exquisite you will be to your Heavenly Father as He watches you persevere through the trials you face. He won’t just be a casual observer; He will be with you, carrying you when necessary.

Has God told you ‘no’ recently? You want peace in a relationship and He’s saying no. He’s doing a work in you and/or in them and you just can’t see it yet. Hold onto Jesus and trust Him to get you through the unknown. No, you can’t have that promotion or job, because God’s got grander plans for you. No, you won’t have the physical healing you desire, but He will give you spiritual strength and passion that will inspire many people to follow Jesus; making you a redwood tree among a field of ferns. Ferns are pretty, but they can’t withstand drought and they will never grow tall; there is no distinguishing between them. You’re going to stand out. Think of the remarkable view you will have, stretching to new heights, as you experience growth like that. The pain of the no will be worth it with immeasurable growth as you press into Jesus.

No, don’t settle for less than His best, not in relationships, not in your work, not in your heart, not in your life! Don’t lose heart with the ‘No’s’. Thank Him for what He is doing through the No….He’s got great plans! God is preparing you for what is right around the corner from that no. Grow with the no. You can do all things through Him!

Luke 12:51~”Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? NO, I tell you, but division”.
John 16:33~33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jer.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.

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Wrong Rights

I LOVE peanut M&M’s. They bring delight to my tastebuds and they are colorful morsels of happiness. On a bad day, like tax preparation day, I have my yellow bag on standby.😉 Now, I know they are not good for me. In fact, there have been articles written about the health hazards of eating to many. Occasionally, I have justified my indulgence by thinking, well, they have peanuts in them, and that’s a protein. Since protein is good for me, I can eat what I want. You could say, it is my right to eat peanut M&M’s, all day, every day, should I choose to.

The interesting thing about “rights” is they can be so very wrong. My body would revolt after awhile, if I chose only to partake in my little round, happy, chocolates. While they do contain  protein, they also have lots of ingredients that I can’t even pronounce; some of which have been linked to cancer.😳 I’ve considered laying down my rights to M&M’s altogether because of the health risks, but I’m a work in progress. 😉

In recent news and social media I have heard a lot about “rights”; women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBT rights, African American rights, rights to guns, rights of free speech, rights to protest….the list goes on and on. Many of my Christian friends have participated in discussions about “rights”, which has caused me to pray and seek Jesus and His perspective.

In reality, there is a peanut of truth to the discussions about rights.  These discussions are labeled as rights, but I think the desire behind the dialogue is more about value.  Do we all have equal value?  The answer is a resounding YES.  Jesus is about equality of all people as evidenced in scripture, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(Gal.3:28) Incidentally, this scripture isn’t absolving gender identity or the fact that we are born of different cultures.  Rather, it is demonstrating that every life has equal worth, through Christ Jesus.  He is the great equalizer.  We don’t need anyone else to tell us we are valued in order for it to be true…it’s true because Jesus says so. No person or circumstance can lessen our value.  Period.

Jesus also points out our equal need for a Savior.  He openly admitted we all fall short of God’s glory and are in desperate need of His grace and forgiveness. Every person, including Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, need Him.  Though they have differing views on political policies, they both equally need grace and forgiveness.

Honest dialogue about perceived inequality can be good and healing.  However, there seems to be more behind some of the social media discussions of “rights”; ingredients that are unhealthy for the soul.  There is an angry tone, a loathing, a disgust, an entitlement simmering that is damaging.  There is one who comes to kill and steal away our joy…we have a real enemy, and it isn’t each other.

As a Jesus follower, it is my right and privilege, to lay my life down, pick up my cross and follow Jesus; loving God and loving people.  His ways are often different than popular opinion…especially those displayed in the media.  The news and much of social media has been offering up a lot of spiritual junk food.  It’s of little value and we should be careful about absorbing to much of it.  Allowing ourselves to get caught up in angry finger pointing, is like eating to many M&M’s….it tastes good in the moment but makes you feel awful after. There is no value to it, since it solves nothing, just fans the flames of anger and hostility.

Brothers and sisters of the faith, remember we no longer fight for our rights, but for God’s. We no longer live for us, but for Him and His plans. What ‘right’ do we have to anything?  Is it possible for us to feel entitled to anything more  when God has given us everything in Him? If anyone could have felt entitled, it should have been Jesus.  Being the only perfect person to ever walk the earth, He had that right, but He waved His rights, out of His great love for us. Such humility and grace, I can hardly take it in.

I don’t even have the right to my next breath, unless He gives it to me.  There is no guarantee of tomorrow, or even 10 minutes from now.  Every moment we have on this lovely earth is a gift given from our Father above.  Rather than investing our limited time on endless discussions about ‘rights’, what if we savored each moment, appreciating the people placed in our lives and enjoying our blessings?

Jesus is our model for living and He didn’t debate much, and rarely got angry; leading me to believe we get into the wrong kinds of discussions.  As Jesus followers we need  to be careful that our pride doesn’t swell, leading us to have an unhealthy perspective of “rights” and entitlement.  We ought to get on our knees in prayer, seek Him and maintain a posture of surrender to His will.  We are living  in times that  will challenge our faith like never before.  Be leery of your own feelings which can lead to emotional outbursts; laying down your cross, and hurling stones at one another. Pick up your cross, and follow in His footsteps. He reached out to people in love, humility, grace and truth. If people throw stones at you for expressing love, in truth, He will be your shield and protector. Don’t be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you. Keep looking in the mirror and asking God how you can be the best YOU for Jesus, then be the change you hope to see in the world.    We are shining His light, and the enemy would love to snuff us out, giving the impression we are outdated and irrelevant. Don’t fall prey to the lies of the enemy.

Lets choose a healthier diet of “rights” by  loving tirelessly, giving generously, and letting  grace abound. Filter through the spiritually sick ingredients that are being force fed to us through news and social media, and check those ingredients with His word. If the ingredients don’t match scripture, don’t eat them! Throw them out and stand firm in His truth. Don’t look for a loophole, absorbing what is bad for your soul. Accepting what is popular and ‘feels good’ can be the path of least resistance, but there is NO growth in that. It’s just a diet of peanut M&M’s; slowly malnourishing our spiritual health.  Pretty soon, all the absorbed loopholes we’ve ingested cause our lights to dim, and we are no longer distinguishable to the world around us.  Jesus stood out in a crowd.

We will all be accountable for what we did with Jesus. He laid down His very life for each of us….there is no greater love than His. No politician, no civil rights groups, no protestors, no sports figures, no celebrities, no peanut M&M’s will satisfy the hunger we have for true love, value, and justice. Jesus gives it freely and fully.  He hands out healthy love by the bucketfuls, if we are open to receiving it. Recieve the free gift of His love daily and then give it out to those around you.  Don’t get sidetracked by discussions meant to keep you on a merry-go-round to nowhere.  Grab His hand And walk with Him, even though you will stand out and may get insulted or even assaulted. You no longer live for yourself, you live for Him. You can do ALL things through Him! 🙏

John 15:13~Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Gal 2:20~I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Luke 9:23~Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

Isaiah 41:40~So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

What Ifs…

Hope was teetering on the edge and the cliff was steep. I feared if I lost my grip, it would never be regained. My heart clung to hope….

It had been 3 weeks since my body rebelled against my will. One evening I was leading a high intensity Zumba class and the next day my body felt as though there was an elephant on my back. Movements were heavy and labored. My head felt to heavy for my neck to support, forcing me to prop it up with pillows while sitting on the couch. There was strange tingling in my arms and up my neck, along with unmanageable exhaustion. For the first few days, I convinced myself I must have been exposed to a strange virus, but days grew into a week and beyond. By week two my doctor tried to diagnose me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome….but my gut said no. (This time my stubbornness paid off and I insisted on testing.)

Resisting an “easy” diagnosis, I was sent to a neurologist, a cardiologist, an ENT specialist, a physical therapist, had a multitude of blood tests done, CT scans with dye and without, and an MRI…yet, nothing was found. It was baffling. The “What If’s” became a lion trying to chase me off of my emotional cliff. What if….I don’t get better? What if….I can never care for my family again? What if…there is something REALLY wrong with me? What if…I can never sing or dance again? What if….I become a burden to family and friends? “What ifs” seem to come in bulk supply.

As I lay motionless in the tube, listening to the loud clanking and hammering of the MRI machine, I forced myself to take my “what ifs” to Jesus in prayer. Without making a sound or moving a muscle, I laid it all out before the Lord. My fear, my anguish, my lack of control, every worry, all of it. Almost immediately, song lyrics from “The Heart of Worship” filled my mind, overpowering the machine:

“When the music fades and all is stripped away and I simply come. Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not what you have required. You search much deeper within….your looking into my heart. I’m coming back to the heart of worship and its all about You, it’s ALL about you Jesus”.

Suddenly, I was worshipping, without spoken words, or motion, but with all my heart. It was a powerful worship experience. I felt as if I had exposed all my inadequacies and brokenness to the Lord and I could almost hear Him say, “it’s never been about what you can do for me. Your heart is all I’ve ever wanted.” To be so fully known and so completely loved quenched my fears and slayed my “what ifs”. The truth was if I could never help another person, sing another song, dance another dance, or even move a muscle, He loved me, period. I may have felt physically helpless, but I wasn’t hopeless. My hope was, and is in Him and He never lets go.

It would be several months before my body started to fully cooperate. The healing didn’t come all at once and to this day I have lingering effects of the injury they found. A tear was found in my cervical spine, which caused spinal fluid to leak onto my spinal chord, causing the bizarre symptoms. It forced me to make a couple minor lifestyle changes, but none of the major “what ifs” occurred. The bulk supply of worries was laid to rest.

Are you carrying a bulk supply of “what ifs” this week? Are you ruminating in fear and worry? Lay it all down at the cliffs edge and fall back into the arms of your loving Father. Life can take us to the edge of what we can handle on our own strength. We were never meant to be strong enough to carry it alone. Jesus is our ever present help in times of trouble. He came as the bridge to carry you across those “what ifs” and comfort you through the unknowns. You don’t have to know what tomorrow will bring, when you know the creator of tomorrow. He’s with you through the cliff hangers, the stormy seas, even in the claustrophobic hammering of an MRI machine. He can give you a peace that surpasses all understanding….all He wants is your heart.❤️ He is with you…are you listening?

Phil.4:7~ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 46:1~God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Psalm 19:14~May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Daily Bread

Matt.6:11~Give us today our daily bread.

Bread. It just makes me happy. Oh the wafting smells of fresh baked bread. Is there anything more deliciously intoxicating? It distracts me as I’m walking through the grocery store. Usually I make a beeline to the bakery in hopes that I will pick up a baguette or French bread that is still warm….be still my beating heart!😉 Seriously, a fresh baguette with butter….is there anything better? Maybe it’s the Italian gene in me, but I’m quite certain that bread helps cure sadness and possibly sickness. Ok, maybe I’ve gone overboard, but you get the idea. I love bread!

As I’ve journeyed through the Bible, I’ve discovered that bread is mentioned, a lot. In the King James Version it is mentioned 361 times…God must have known it would draw our attention. I’ve begun highlighting every mention of my high in carbs, doughy, friend. Sometimes it’s used to reference our tendency toward thinking to highly of ourselves, our pride, as we get puffed up like bread. Other times, it’s used to reference our need for our daily bread, the Bread of Life, that is Jesus.

The thing about bread is, it always leaves me wanting more. Who eats just one piece?? I’ve never eaten one piece and thought, yeah, that was plenty, I’m satisfied. Nope! It’s usually difficult to stop eating it once I’ve started. (Maybe it’s just me?😜🍞) I feel the same way about the Bread of Life.

Once I start encountering the sweet deliciousness of my God’s goodness, tenderness and love, I can’t get enough. I long to be in His presence, to take in His richness. He alone satisfies the hunger in my heart. I’ve found that if I feast on His word (the Bible) every day, it gives me strength, encouragement, perspective, and lasting joy. I do my best to start each day by asking Him to give me my daily bread. He knows what my soul needs better than I do….sometimes it needs vitamins and veggies, a dose of reality and cleansing truth to draw out impurities. Often His word speaks to my soul of His unconditional love, how He, the creator of all things, delights in us…it’s like savoring the sweetest, richest of bread puddings, only infinitely better. There are times I can hardly take it in, how lavish His love is for us! As I let Him search my heart through prayer and His word, I’m able to live out my purpose with greater clarity and savor each moment.

Are you feasting on the Bread of Life, or are you eating lesser things which will rob your soul of nutrients, decieving you into thinking your life is full? Don’t continue to consume empty calories which will only leave you with heartburn and indigestion. (This life has lots of empty calories to offer!) Taste and see how good God is. Start by asking Him to be your Bread of Life and to give you what you need.  Soak in His goodness through quiet times with Him. He will meet your needs daily as you seek Him with all your heart. Let Him satisfy your soul. Waft in the fragrant aroma of His goodness today. You can do ALL things through Him!

John 6:35~Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Psalm 34:8~Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 103:5~…who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Phil.4:19~And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Hiccups & Sneezes

Hiccup, sneeze, hiccup, sneeze…this went on for the next 20 minutes. What is it about my husband getting the hiccups that makes me erupt with laughter? It only happens about once a year, but it’s like a special birthday present when it happens.🎁😆 The combo of hiccups and sneezes was more than I could handle. My sides ached and I couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. Being desperate for relief from his current situation, he pulled into a McDonalds drive thru to order a drink, in hopes it would cause the hiccups to cease. Here’s where things got interesting…neither one of us could talk, I mean ZERO words could be enunciated between gasps of laughter, breathless, belly aching tremors, where no sound could escape. You can imagine the frustration for the person taking our order.😳 What proceeded was such silliness that it still makes us laugh today. We kept trying to answer her question, but inevitably Randy would hiccup or sneeze, and it all started over again. We genuinely felt bad for the woman on the intercom, who was becoming increasingly frustrated, but we felt powerless by the laughter. It couldn’t be stopped!😆 At some point he was able to recover just enough to respond with his drink order, but I was hopeless. I’m sure I looked a mess when we got to the window…more like I’d been crying than laughing, face red, still shaking with tremors as I painfully tried to stifle giggles. I felt so juvenile. I mean seriously, get it together! But, you know what? It was such a gift. I’m pretty sure God nudged our funny bones and allowed us to find humor that we were desperately needing.

It had been a tough season of ministry. We were hurting, but only us and God knew the full extent of our pain. Our times together had become problem solving, venting our frustrations, and praying for wisdom…it was quite dreary and way to serious. Joy seemed to elude us most days. We had just arrived in Florida for a conference and were hoping God would renew and restore us while there. God knows what we need, so in His divine wisdom he gave Randy hiccups AND sneezes that evening…a recipe for relief. (Well, it’s not for everyone, but it was for us.😉) The atmosphere felt a lot lighter that night. We even began joking about some of the hard stuff we were dealing with. It was glorious relief in the midst of our desert season of drought and pain. It didn’t change our circumstances, but it was a reminder to not take everything so seriously. The weight of the world doesn’t rest on our shoulders. We laid our weights down that night and picked up His joy. It’s lighter and gives us the strength to press on.

Don’t miss the moment by fretting and fuming over what can’t be solved in the immediate. Pray. Start by thanking God for the myriad of blessings in your life…to numerous to count. Ask Him for wisdom, His perspective, and to meet your needs. Then, embrace the moment. Find the funny. It might cause a belly ache, but it soothes heart aches.

Is your life feeling a little dreary right now, maybe way to serious, burdened by the weight of the world? Lay your weights at His feet and trust Him to carry them. You don’t have to have it all figured out right in this moment, or even tomorrow…or next week! God sees the beginning and the end. He’s already got it all figured out. Pour out your pain to Jesus and ask Him to help you choose joy today. I’m praying He will nudge your funny bone. 😉 You can do all things through Him!

Proverbs 31:35~She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
Neh.8:10~This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Phil.4:6~Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Please Don’t Label Me

If you do have a fault or a weakness or make a mistake and you do not own it, you still have it. You will repeat it. It will occur again.~ Henry Cloud

Please don’t label me with anorexia, just call it for what it is, sin. My counselor looked stunned at my statement. In her twenty-ish years of counseling no one had ever made that request. She chuckled at my reply and said she needed to have a diagnosis in order for insurance to kick in. Regardless, I insisted the diagnosis could be depression (or control freak, which seemed more fitting for me), but not anorexia.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew I had those tendencies, but I didn’t want to be labeled. A label felt like an excuse, as if I couldn’t control eating, or not eating. I was concerned that allowing myself to be labeled with a “disorder” would give me a mental license to feel as if I was a victim of my tendencies, like I didn’t have a choice in the matter. The reality was I had a sin problem….the root of it was control. Infertility, among other things, had left me feeling out of control, and controlling my food became my method of coping. In my fear and impatience, I took matters into my own hands and decided to control what I could…food.

Apart from God we can do nothing…..nothing good. And so I journeyed down the rabbit trail of control. I ate less and less, working out more and more. Everyday, I got a little closer to the “perfect” weight. (As if there is such a number). It’s an endless, hopeless, dark pursuit, which can ultimately lead to death. It took an  infertility specialist to shine some light in the darkness of my thinking. Thank you Jesus for the truth, even when it hurts!

No, I wouldn’t make excuses, I would call it for what it was, sin. This didn’t feel condemning, it felt freeing. Taking responsibility helped me loosen the chains. I wasn’t resisting the chains, I was surrendering, and by God’s grace, they fell off. It didn’t happen in one single moment, it happened one victorious moment at a time, eating one “taboo” food at a time, all of it, not hiding any. There were times I thought I would never be completely free. But that’s a lie of the enemy, for if the son has set you free, you are free indeed! So, I kept seeking Jesus, finding Truth, and pursuing holiness as best I could, until one day I realized, the inward battle was gone. No more chains of distortion binding my heart and mind. Surrender is peaceful and freedom weighs less than chains. I would never go back.

The counselor never did diagnose me with anorexia though she could have. But it really wouldn’t matter because that label would no longer define or describe me. I am not defined by my worst mistakes, or even my best works, neither are you. I’m defined by WHOSE I am, not by what I’ve done….thank you Jesus!

Are you struggling to overcome something? There is nothing that you can’t overcome by God’s empowering grace. Remain in Him. Ask Him to help you and surround yourself with people that can help you achieve victory over your battle. Take it moment by victorious moment, and He will set you free! When you trip and fall, He will pick you up and send you on your way to victory. You can do ALL things!

(If you have a love/hate relationship with food, I’d love to pray for you. The battle of the mind is a powerful one. Send me a message and we will battle it together in prayer. Prayer is where the battles are won!)

John 15:5~I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
John 8:36~So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Romans 12:2~And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Hope When Hopeless

His chest, the width of Randy’s fist, rose and fell with the machine. I sat, helpless, with my hand against the glass, being told I shouldn’t touch him “to much” for the stimulation isn’t good for preemies. The room was dark, with only the sounds of beeps and alarms when babies needed assistance. It was a long 5 weeks in the NICU. For 48 hours we didn’t know if Logan would live or die, due to the staff infection which raged in his body and his underdeveloped lungs. Such despair, such hopelessness, I couldn’t even pray. It seemed futile and irrelevant in those dark moments. But then, nurse Julie….she walked me to a hall, grabbed my hands, looked me in the eyes and said,”God wants me to tell you this is not your fault.” In that moment I broke. It felt like a cloud burst. I couldn’t control the tears, and I was so thankful. You see, that is the exact thing I needed to hear. God saw me. He knew my pain and He cared. Not only Him, but my sweet nurse Julie faithfully followed God’s promptings. I’m so thankful she was listening to Him! Are you in a seemingly hopeless place today? You have a God who cares. He will meet your needs, even if you don’t have strength to ask Him. Be encouraged, the trial won’t last forever, but His love for you will. If you’re in a place of peace right now, who is God asking you to reach out to with His love? Are you listening?

Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.