A Little Life ~ A Guest Post

Please welcome Brittany to the Called team today. When we read her submission to post as a guest we all immediately connected with her heart and her vulnerability.  We think you will be moved and encouraged by what she shares.  All the way from NYC…

A Little Life

“Though the Lord is high, He regards the lowly.” Psalm 138:6 (ESV)

I’m a thirty-year-old living in Brooklyn with no career, an awful resume, and a whole lot of self-doubt.

There’s not much that can make you feel less significant or more unsuccessful than having no direction or clear ability, all while living among the brightest and most ambitious in New York City.

It would be OK if I were a struggling artist, living a gypsy life in a studio with fourteen other people, living off of pizza slices and dreams.

But I’m not an artist (though I do love a good crafty project). I’ve never done anything to great success. I’ve never been the best or even the most dedicated.

I often wonder why I have the specific struggles that I have. Why am I the one who has such petty issues like anxiety and fear and laziness? I’m thirty now, why aren’t I fixed yet? Why aren’t I better? This has come with a lot of self-pity, a lot of comparison, and a lot of jealousy. I wonder why I didn’t get a clear talent or ministry. I swear, it seems like everyone else can sing like an angel, or can prophesy, or is starting a non-profit, while I am too busy brooding and choking on self-pity to even pitch in.

It has affected the people I have relationships with. It has kept me from celebrating others’ successes. It’s a downward spiral – self-pity topped with gross feelings that I feel guilty about. Because I feel sorry for myself, I don’t always seek out ways to bear fruit. I forget that I have gifts that He wants to use. As a result, I then feel guilty for not doing anything for the Kingdom. As Tim Keller says, “Self-pity can lead you to cut corners ethically. Don’t add a bad conscience to a heavy heart.”

But maybe this lack of purpose and talent is a gift in itself. Maybe there is even a calling in it: for an imperfect, wandering girl from Backwoods South Carolina to live in Brooklyn and talk to the people on the sidewalks that are perhaps sad or lonely. To cheer them with this baby strapped to me.

Could my life really be this small?
Could my life really be this big?

Maybe if I had a “higher calling”, no one would be talking to these people. I don’t know. But I think instead of wasting time asking God why He did not make me bigger, better, brighter, I should be on my knees thanking Him for the gift of empathy and time to really see the people that are on the sidelines.

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If only I could see His delight – flowers blooming, champagne corks popping – when His wounded soldiers begin to limp along in the calling that He has placed on them, rather than sitting in a dark room comparing our callings to the ones we see on Instagram.

It’s a good and lovely thing that some are called to be famous or beautiful or smart or a leader. But maybe you are like me and called to something less obvious, quieter, and dustier. Take heart; you are part of a body that functions together and needs you very much.

Take heart; He regards – sees, remembers, does not overlook – the lowly. He has a calling for you, wounded and confused and jealous soldier, even though every day you may wonder what on earth it is.

Take heart; you have a part in bringing His kingdom to earth.

Brittany Knott is a typical former English major who bounced from being a barista to a hairstylist and now her favorite role as mother. She lives happily in 700sq in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. You can check out her blog at http://kneedeepinlovely.com/

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A Time to Rest

timetorest

I love the quiet yet forceful beauty of a tree in Winter.

Light twinkling from outstretched barren branches reaching towards the grey expanse.

The peaceful stillness of nature blanketed in the newness of white.

As I ponder these beautiful, silent creatures bravely facing all the harshness of a cold winter’s day…

I wonder, do we all need a time to rest?

The process by which trees prepare for winter is quite fascinating. If you are a geek like me, you can read more about it here. “Based on a combination of slowly lowering temperatures and shortening photoperiod (shorter days as we head towards winter), a chemical chain reaction occurs that tells the plant that it’s time to stop growing, hunker down, and get ready for a big chill.”- source here. The tree then enters a period of dormancy. “Dormancy is like hibernation in that everything within the plant slows down. Metabolism, energy consumption, growth and so on”- source here.

Ok, enough with the science lesson. If you are still with me, let me just say we all need a time of rest and refreshment. For some of us that might be a day or a weekend…or even a year. God uses rest to draw us to Himself, to whisper to the quiet places of our soul. We need to make it a priority!

A daily time of rest and silence in His presence.

A weekly focus of making our Sabbath rests the gift God intended them to be in our hectic, busy lives.

A purging of obligations and stuff to simplify and create margin.

And perhaps, a calling to an even longer period of rest…

A couple years ago, I felt like God was calling me to step down from every leadership and volunteer position in which I was currently serving. This was very hard for me as a lot of my identity in the church had become tied to what I was doing. I was afraid of letting people down, I was afraid of what people would think; and I was ultimately afraid of feeling like I was useless in God’s kingdom. I wrestled with the feeling of being a pew warmer for several weeks, until I couldn’t deny the need to let go any longer. I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew God was drawing me closer to Himself. I needed to do some “pruning” in order to make time in my life. Now looking back, I can see why in His mercy, God wanted me to carve out greater margin in my life that winter. A few months later, our family left our comfortable life with a strong network of supportive friends and family to move across the country where we knew NO ONE. God knew I needed to hunker down with Him in order to help me weather the winter storm that was coming in my life.

After another hectic year of moving, starting school, and many new starts; have me yearning….longing to rest once again. I know my heart has got caught up in the hustle. The constant push to do more and be more. I find my mind reeling from all of it, and I desperately need stillness.

Luke 10:38-42

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

So this story always kinda bothered me. Being a Martha- getter done, easily distracted by my to-do list, kinda gal, I felt like she got a bad rap. It wasn’t until recently I realized that Jesus was saying that Mary chose what was BETTER. Not that one was good and one was bad. One was good and one was better. Also, Martha wasn’t admonished for serving but for being worried and upset over her many distractions. Serving God is good. Sitting at God’s feet is essential.

As we prepare for the start of the new year, I ponder what this season of rest will continue to look like. I know there is still pruning to be done. There are still other areas in my life where I feel like God is telling me to let go.

We need to look at our schedules, our priorities, our goals for the new year in light of our need for resting at Christ’s feet.

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Back to the science lesson…

The tree needs to rest through winter for its survival.

“Contrary to previous assumptions, the increasing length of the day in spring plays no big role in the timing of budding. An ample ‘cold sleep’ is what plants need in order to wake up on time in the spring,” said lead study author Julia Laube- NatureWorldNews

Did ya catch that? Trees need rest in order to bloom on time in spring. We need rest to grow and serve from the overflow of a heart and mind filled with God’s presence.

Our rest is what actually propels us towards further growth in our relationship with Christ.

” If you cease, then God will reveal. The opposite is also implied. If you refuse to be still, if you do not seek times for silence and solitude, you may gain some knowledge about God without Him at all. It is through times of silence and protracted periods of stillness that He makes Himself real.”                             – Charles Swindoll, So You Want To Be Like Christ?

 

How can you make rest a priority in 2016?

*** BIG NEWS***

Our Lent Study will start on Wednesday, February 10th! This devotional study will spend 40 days looking at the words of Jesus. We hope you will make plans to join us as we sit as our Savior’s feet and soak in His words. More information coming soon!

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Hugs,

Julie

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Teach Me To Listen

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*Reposted from 2015

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;
courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”— Winston Churchill

For the fifth year in a row, on January 1, I’ve chosen a word on which to focus for the upcoming year. A word to study and ask God to work into my life. I usually spend a few days at the end of December reflecting on the past year, examining where God has been at work, and processing where He seems to be leading. But this time was a little different. Just seconds after the prayer came out of my mouth, “Lord, what word would you have me choose this year?” There it was…

“LISTEN”

Of course it is. No need for consideration or follow-up questions or second guesses. Because, I’ll be honest, being a good listener has never come naturally to me. I am a communicator, a verbal processor, and I come from a long line of “talkers”. When my extrovert husband, then boyfriend, first started hanging out with my family, they commented on how quiet he was. When I mentioned it, he replied emphatically, “That’s because I can’t get a word in! Y’all don’t even take a breath between sentences.” It’s true. And once when my group of girlfriends decided to walk/run (90% walk) a half-marathon which takes well over 3 hours, someone asked, “Are you bringing Ipods?” One of my friends replied, “Nah, we’re bringing Leslie. We just throw out topics and she talks about them.”

I’d like to think I’ve become a little better at listening more and talking less over the years. My husband says I have; thank goodness for sanctification! But evidently, and obviously, there’s still room for growth. I’ve come to realize that there is much more to listening than simply hearing all the words. I am convinced that an inability or unwillingness to really listen in relationships is a primary cause of conflict, misunderstanding, and pain. It can be a major obstacle to mature, deep relationships. In marriage, friendships, families, the workplace and the body of Christ. I believe we miss even more in our relationship with God when we do all the talking, thinking, figuring and decision-making without stopping to listen for His voice.

So for 2015, in all my relationships, it is my hopeful prayer that God teach me how to LISTEN.

Listen for UNDERSTANDING
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”–Stephen R. Covey

God, I long to develop healthy, meaningful relationships that honor You. Help me listen for understanding as I seek reconciliation with others. Teach me to pause and seek to hear, not just to be heard. To remember that “to answer before listening is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). Help me recognize when words or phrases trigger old wounds. Instead of making assumptions in the heat of the moment, remind me to ask questions and listen carefully so that I can respond and not react, speaking the truth in love. By the power of Your Spirit, help me be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

Listen for CONNECTION
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”–Peter Drucker

Father, we all carry deep hurt and woundedness from living in a sinful world. Yet so many of us are unable to wrap words around our pain. Give me ears to hear the hurt lying underneath the words. I ask for a heart that chooses to enter into the hard stuff with those in desperate need of connection. Help me set aside my own agenda to be present with those in pain. Give me “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (Peter 3:8).

Listen for WISDOM
“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.”–Doug Larson

God, forgive me for thinking I know what is best. For doing most of the talking and very little listening. You alone are the author and keeper of wisdom. Your wisdom is not of this world and Your ways are higher than mine. Teach me to ask for wisdom every day in every situation, claiming the promise that You will give generously to all who ask. Lead me as a wife, a parent, a friend and a neighbor. Help me make wise decisions, for “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Listen for DIRECTION
“Don’t bother to give God instructions. Just report for duty.” –Corrie Ten Boom

Jesus, I confess my tendency to make my own plans, to go my own way, to follow my own dreams. You alone know the way I should take, the path of my life that will bring You the most glory. You are my good Shepherd. Give me discernment to hear Your voice above all others, especially my own. Help me not to automatically assume that what I want is in Your will, but to hold my dreams and desires with open hands. Not my will, not my way. You lead and I will follow. “For You are my rock and my fortress; For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me.” (Psalms 31:3).

Listen for TRUTH
“Truth is not a principle. Truth is a person: Jesus Christ.” –Rick Warren

Finally, I ask you Father to help me discern Your voice of truth from the father of lies. Drown out the voice that condemns and destroys and leads astray. Teach me to listen to Your voice that heals and loves and leads to eternal life. You have promised that “whoever is of God hears the words of God” (John 8:47). I want to devour your true and perfect Word. To hear it with my ears, meditate on it in my mind, treasure it in my heart and apply it to my life. Thank you for the gift of your Spirit, that guides me “into all the truth” (John 16:13).

In the name of Jesus, who is faithful to complete the work He began, teaching even me to LISTEN. Amen.

Held by Him,

Leslie

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A Year Without Fear

A Year Without Fear

The beginning of the New Year is typically a time for reflection and resolutions, a time to ask questions and seek change.

What is it that holds me back?

What controls me?

What drives my intentions and decisions?

What causes me to react in anger instead of responding in love?

What holds me back and prevents me from living life with my hands wide open?

What drives me to seek the approval of others?

Where in my life and I holding back from being vulnerable and real and why am I doing so?

For me the answer to so many of these questions is

FEAR

Fear – one of our enemy’s greatest weapons. And for many of us, it has great power in our lives. Fear whispers in our ears and tells us that we must be in control. That we can’t let down. That things won’t ever change. Fear convinces us that being safe and secure is of utmost importance. It tells us that isolation is much better than community. Fear tempts us to live in the past or the future rather than in the present. It makes us believe that it’s best to run for the hills when we are hurt and in pain. It tickles our ears with promises of protection and hope.

However what fear really offers is CHAOS and DESTRUCTION. It is CONTROLLING and DEBILITING.

Can you relate? Does fear control you?

Perhaps, at the beginning of this new year, one of your resolutions, like me, is to live a life apart from fear. But how, realistically, does this happen?

The temptation may be to will myself to make it happen. To try with all of my might to do something different.

God has not given a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Only God can give us freedom from fear. It’s not something that we can will ourselves to do on our own. We can try, but chances are, long term we will fail, leaving us feeling discouraged and defeated.

To move away from something, we must move towards something.

This statement prompts a very important question: what am I moving towards? Where are my eyes fixed? What is the image that propels me to do the things that I do? Is it financial freedom, a better marriage, solving the problems in the lives of those around me, raising my children a certain way?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This year, let us ask God to give us a more compelling image of Christ.  To be able to see who He really is and who we are in IN HIM. To understand more clearly the perfect, sovereign plan that He has for our lives, resting in the Truth that everything that happens in our lives is for our good and His glory. To really be able to grasp and be confidently assured that God loves, cherishes, and delights in us. In these realizations, fear dissipates and is replaced by confidence in Christ and His love for us.

He reached down from heaven and rescued me; He drew me out of deep waters … He led me to a place of safety; He rescued me because He delights in me” (Psalm 18:17,19).

The LORD your God in your midst, 
the Mighty One, will save; 
He will rejoice over you with gladness, 
He will quiet you with His love, 
He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

You will show me the way of life,
 granting me the joy of your presence 
and the pleasures of living with you forever” (Psalm 16:11).

How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
 All humanity finds shelter 
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
 letting them drink from your river of delights” (Psalm 36:7-8).


”Do not be afraid, I have redeemed you. 
I have called your name. You are mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. 
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
 When you’re between a rock and a hard place, 
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God, 
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 
I paid a huge price for you: 
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
 That’s how much you mean to Me! 
That’s how much I love you!
 I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, 
trade the creation just for you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).

One practice that has been helpful for me is to ask God at the end of each day where in my life I have moved towards Him and where I have moved away from Him. Interestingly, in this process of examining my day, I often find that in the places I move away from Him, I do so because of fear. Fear of the future. Fear of failing. Fear of making the wrong decision. Fear of not having what I need. Fear of what someone may think.  

As I take time to relinquish those fears to God, He so often brings to my mind the truth of many of the above listed Scriptures.  The truth of who He is and that He has a good and perfect plan for my life.  That He is right there with me. Every minute of every day. The reality is, unless there is some kind of imminent danger, chances are my feelings of fear are a desolation: something that pulls me away from God. A ploy from the enemy to distract, discourage, diminish, destroy.

Recently, I read this in one of my prayer books and have started praying it every day:  

“Allow me not to resent what is broken, but to trust that even my weaknesses will be turned for Your glory and my good” (Prayers for Today, Kurt Bjorklund).

One of Satan’s greatest joys would be that I would become angry, resentful, full of fear, and debilitated by the broken things in my life.  So, instead, my heart’s cry has been “God, please take the things that are broken in my life, which so often lead to fear, and remind me that You are in control of and care about every detail of my life. You have ‘seen my afflictions and know the anguish of my soul’ (Psalm 31:7).  So, please give me strength to not resent the brokenness.  But to embrace it, trusting Your plans.  Your will.  Your ways.  

In light of my propensity towards fear, the phrase that God gives me over and over is EYES UP.

Set your mind on the things above not on the things of the earth. For you have died and Your life is hidden in Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2).


This Scripture is a beautiful reminder of a life lived apart from fear and hidden in Christ. What a great truth to remember (read it out loud if necessary)!  

Because my life is hidden in Christ, there is nothing that can snatch me out of my Father’s hands (John 10:29b).  Not someone’s opinion of me.  Not my fear, my weakness, my sickness.  Not losing my temper with my kids once again and being afraid that I’ve messed them up forever. Not my sin. Not my failure. Not a bad decision. NOTHING.

So, is it really possible to live a year without fear???  Yes! Freedom from fear is one of the gifts that was purchased for us on the cross. Because of this, you and I are free to live an abundant life in Christ, free from fear.

“The thief comes to steal and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  

Where are you struggling with fear? How is it controlling you? Do you long to live a life without fear?

Today, let’s ask God today to give us a more compelling image of Christ Jesus and His deep, unchanging love for us. May these truths penetrate every area of our lives and nestle down into the depths of our souls. May we understand more fully that for those of us who are in Christ, our lives are hidden in Him. He will guide and protect us. And in the midst of it all, His presence is a promise. These truths remind us that we are FREE. Free to live a life apart from fear.

Anchored in Christ,

Carrie

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“If Only” — The Two Little Words That Lead to Discontent and Misery

if only

My son was thrilled when, on his birthday, he got the gift he had been wishing for for quite some time: an IPod Touch!  He had great and exciting plans for how he was going to use it.  Being able to play a certain game called Minecraft was one of the most phenomenal aspects of owning his own device. The expression on his face was priceless when he opened his gift!! He was ecstatic!

A couple of days later, he crawled up on my bed and let out a heavy sigh.  “Mom,” he said, “I wish I had never gotten an IPod.”  Why the quick change in attitude?  You see, when we gave him the gift, we also clearly explained our expectations surrounding how he was to take care of it, the limitations relating to how long and when he could play it, and where he could take it.  This is most certainly not what he had in mind, and because our expectations were so very different from his, he was terribly unhappy.  He went on to say, ” IF ONLY there were no limits and I could have it whenever and however I want it. IF ONLY you and dad hadn’t given me rules I have to follow.  IF ONLY I could keep it in my room.”  His enchantment had turned to discontent and he was miserable.

I’m gonna be honest — I was furious with him.  Did he realize how lucky he was to get such a nice gift?  Did he understand it was a financial sacrifice on our part to buy it for him? Did he think about the little children all over the world who don’t have FOOD, let alone a super nice electronic device!  I did my best to capture the moment as a teaching opportunity, said my peace, and sent him to bed. (I didn’t pull out the “children are starving in Africa” card, but I was thinking it!) Much later, when listening to a Tim Keller sermon, I was convicted.  Oh my heavens, that’s me!!!  So much of my discontent, misery, and frankly my sin, begins with the two little words:

IF ONLY

For years my family of 6 (and all our animals!) lived in a tiny house.  If I said it once, I said it a thousand times … “IF ONLY I had a bigger house!  Everything would be better.  I prayed and begged and did everything in my power to get us into a position where we could buy and move into a bigger house.  Well, guess what? Finally, we moved.  We have a beautiful, much larger home that has provided us much needed space; a huge backyard in which my children run and play for hours and hours, great neighbors, and we’re down the street from my parents, who provide free babysitting.  I mean, seriously, it’s been an awesome blessing! Well, you know what I said about 2 months after we moved in?!?! This house is awfully big to have to clean by myself.  I’m exhausted trying to keep up.  IF ONLY we had the money to hire someone to come and help me!!!!

Isn’t this exactly what the Israelites did? They were in slavery in Egypt for some 400 years.  They were terribly mistreated. Their children were killed.  They were told to make bricks without straw.  They begged God for freedom.  And God heard their cry and miraculously brought them out of slavery. Fast forward just a little bit of time and in Numbers 11 we find them in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.  God has been providing for their needs guiding them with cloud by day and fire by night.  He has been feeding them with manna.  They have not gone hungry, even for one day.  Yet they cry out and say,

“IF ONLY we had meat to eat.  

Remember the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic?” (11:4b-5)

These people had been rescued from slavery.  Some had been rescued from death.  Literal death. They saw the amazing things God had done to free them.  They experienced the truth of His Word when he said, “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exodus 14:13a, 14).   They saw the Red Sea part and then close back on top of the Egyptians, forever thwarting their attempt to capture God’s people.  And now they are complaining because they don’t have meat to eat?????

So often, at the root of my frustration, anxiety, moodiness, anger, etc. are the words IF ONLY.  

IF ONLY we had a bigger house

IF ONLY we had more money

IF ONLY my children would behave better

IF ONLY my husband wouldn’t act a certain way

IF ONLY I was skinnier

IF ONLY I had better health

IF ONLY that person would see things from my perspective

IF ONLY …

Reality is, these two tiny little words are sin. It’s a sin that quietly creeps into my heart, quickly penetrating each and every area of my life.  It feeds my anxiety, my anger.  It leads to discontent.  It leads to misery.  It breaks intimacy. At my core, when I’m saying these words, I don’t trust that God is in control.  That He is “working all things together for my good” (Romans 8:28a).  That through every circumstance in my life He is molding me and shaping me more into the image of Christ.  That He is “orchestrating the universe for my joy” (David Kizziah).

When the words IF ONLY invade my thoughts, I do not have a heart of gratitude.  I am focused on me.  I have lost sight of my First Love.  I have forgotten, even if just momentarily, that this life is not about me.  It’s about a God who saved me.  Not because of anything good I had done (after all, I was DEAD in my sin!), but because of His relentless, unstoppable, never-ending love for me (Ephesians 2: 1-9).

It’s all about You, Jesus

And all this is for You

For Your glory and Your fame

It’s not about me — as if you should do things my way

You alone are God and I surrender to Your ways.

(“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Paul Oakley (c)1995 Thankyou Music)

When this is my heart’s cry, there is a joy that overwhelms all of the “if onlys”.  In this place of surrender, I am able to grasp who God is, what He has done, and what He is doing for me.  From this realization there is gratitude.  And in gratitude, there is great peace.  What “if onlys” do you sense God calling you to surrender today?

Anchored in Christ,

Carrie

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Celebrate Good Times (Like a Zambian)

Amy BardiFriends, you are in for a treat!  I met Amy Bardi back in 2011.  I was home on furlough from Zambia, and I heard about this amazing chick who, while studying Fashion and Merchandising at the University of SC, had been given a vision for reaching and changing the lives of vulnerable women in Zambia.  That same year she had founded Clothed in Hope, an organization whose mission is to empower women in Zambia through education and economic opportunity.  I highly encourage you to jump over here and read her story.  In July of 2012, after graduating from college, Amy moved to Zambia all by herself, and, with a little divine intervention and a heck-of-a-lot of perseverance, saw her vision become reality!  Amy and her sweet, still newly-wed husband, Wyatt, have just transitioned back to the States where they will live and continue to run Clothed in Hope.  I know you will love her heart and her perspective as she shares with us today.  Enjoy!  ~Kerri

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On September 12th of this year, we held our fourth graduation ceremony in Lusaka, Zambia, for eight brave women who successfully completed our Clothed in Hope skills-training course.

In the middle of a dusty compound in the urban capital of Zambia sits our Chikondi Community Center, our Home of HOPE for vulnerable women in the area. We offer free skills-training classes in sewing and entrepreneurship to empower and alleviate poverty in a dignifying, sustainable way. Women in our program have suffered the death of their husbands at 40 years old due to highly preventable diseases. Their babies have been murdered in the hospital due to corruption. They have been poisoned because they have AIDS and are “taking up bed space” at the clinic. They endure daily domestic abuse. They face hunger, uncertainty, harassment from landlords, and the list could go on and on. These are women IN our program, currently working through what will be and what is a life-changing path for them and their families (more info: clothedinhope.org).

I won’t even go into the situation of women who aren’t in our program, because the need is overwhelmingly devastating. Just imagine a mom selling her body nightly because her 6 babies are very hungry and she can’t pay rent from month to month. Not because she wants to, but because to her it seems there is absolutely no other option (…until she finds out about Clothed in Hope, praise Jesus).

This reality can seem a world away to those of us not in Zambia, even to me at times, especially now that I’m based back in the US to provide administrative and financial support to our amazing (diva-status) in-country staff.

But that Graduation Day in September struck a chord within me and started a burning in my heart, and not just one for the Zambian women facing seemingly impossible situations (since that fire’s been burnin’ for quite some time now).

As I sat at the front of our Chikondi Community Center yard under our Ceremony Tent (don’t ask, just roll with the Zambian cultural differences), I peered out over the 60+ women who have graduated from, are gradating from, or are currently enrolled in our skills training program that began as a dream in my college apartment in 2010.

The dance breaks were so fun. The skits presented were powerful yet hilarious (I love how much they love acting like “Mama Amy” with her accent and over-usage of “awesome”). But the real magic started happening toward the end of the ceremony.

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In the middle of our dusty compound sat 8 women who have achieved much, and were dressed to the nines full of confidence and beauty. Nothing outside the walls mattered except the accomplishments of these women. Women recognized for the first time in their entire lives.

I called each woman to the Ceremony Tent to receive her diploma, a giant hug (a big deal since I’m not a hugger, but I couldn’t miss out on these hugs y’all), and a few goodies from our In-Country Staff. The reaction was contagious.

One woman, Stella, rockin’ a custom made African print dress that fit her impeccably, rose from her chair when she was called. Her hands lifted high in the air in praise to Jesus. She just froze in a moment of intimate adoration, and we were all so honored to experience that moment with her. Then as quickly as hands were raised, Stella busted a move all the way up to the tent (also cultural, but also awesome). She danced, she cheered, she laughed, she rejoiced. And when she arrived at the tent, she fell to her knees before Jesus thanking Him for what He’s done in and through her life over the past 12 months of this program, and her entire life leading up to this moment. When she rose, she threw her arms around my entire body for what could be up there for one of the best hugs of my entire life (sorry hubs).

ClothedinHope

All that, so magical. So beautiful. But the true, awe-inspiring, challenging-to-my-soul beauty began when Stella turned away from the tent to return to her seat. The entire crowd of 60+ people cheered! They shouted! They danced! They raised their hands in praise! They ran up to her and hugged her so tightly. They celebrated her with the most selfless love.

They didn’t celebrate because they knew their celebration was coming later. Some have already graduated with much smaller graduation ceremonies. Some may never graduate due to life situations calling them elsewhere. They celebrated Stella simply because they love her. When she wins, we all win. When her life is changed, we all rejoice in that.

I’m not a huge (public) crier, but tears of joy welled up multiple times that afternoon. The sheer joy these women had in the ability to celebrate each other was just breathtaking and heart-bursting.

Maybe we can write it off as another cultural thing. Everyone knows Africans (Zambians) take care of their own and are huge on community, right? Maybe it’s just how they are. But what if we look past culture to see our commonality of humanity?

That perhaps this response is Jesus-rooted instead of culturally-rooted.

I left that ceremony almost a month ago, but it hasn’t left my mind ever since.

What would it look like for me to celebrate Jesus working in and through my friends’ lives like my friends in Zambia do for each other? What would it look like for me to truly celebrate others without a tinge of jealousy or expectation or comparison?

When my best friend launches a College Women’s Connect as the women’s ministry pioneer at her church and witnesses over 40 women attend on Thursday nights, my heart cheers, but can’t my body and my voice too?! YES! PRAISE JESUS! YOU GO GIRL! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU! YOU ARE SO BRAVE FOR STEPPING OUT AND I LOVE WITNESSING JESUS WORK THROUGH YOU!

When my friend returns home from a third-world country after a really rough time adopting her two beautiful girls, I can send her a nice Facebook message, showing that I care but keeping my true celebration at a distance. Or I can scour the aisles of Target for an hour in search of the perfect presents for her and her two girls to send across the country to let her know that they’re not forgotten. That they’re loved. That though the transition is hard, I am cheering for her. Jesus is cheering for her.

How did community/friendship become such that we dial down our celebrations and over-the-top reactions for each other? Maybe we’re getting older and balloons aren’t age appropriate anymore (but they totally are). Maybe social media tricks us into believing we’re connecting with someone. Or maybe social media introduces us to these nasty things called comparison and jealousy, and we don’t celebrate each other because we haven’t received that celebration ourselves. She didn’t celebrate me, so why would I celebrate her?

We could go through every scenario and probably come up with a reason as to why we don’t celebrate each other like we could. But what Jesus has been revealing to my soul over and over since that Graduation Ceremony, is that there’s simply no good reason to not celebrate accomplishments and traits in my friends and strangers. Because He celebrates over me daily. He sings and dances over my identity, apart from any progress I do or don’t make with my personal struggles. He cheers me on as His daughter, no strings attached, simply because I am His daughter and He is so proud of me as a person, apart from CiH or anything I do. His price for me invites the most glorious celebration.

Because He celebrates over me, I will celebrate over others. Maybe even in the Zambian way because that seems to be more fun.

I will hug when I don’t feel inclined to because I know the story that a stranger just told me took a lot of bravery for her to share. I will send my friend excessive emojis and too many words in all caps when she beasts a job interview. I will tell the barista that I really love her ring, because I do, and because she deserves to be celebrated.

When I open my eyes and start looking around this world, sure there’s a lot of pain. I absolutely get that. My past year and a half has been filled with more pain that I ever thought I could endure.

But I also see so much celebration and potential for celebration. So many parties, so many hugs, so many dances, so many affirming words. We, as daughters of the King, have the opportunity to be Jesus to each other with the Holy Spirit alive within us. Why not let the celebration we feel within just explode, raining glitter on all who we come in contact with? We all know that glitter is pretty dang hard to get out of much of anything. And I would be totally fine knowing that each person carries the glitter of Jesus’ celebration with them every day, no matter the challenges ahead. No matter if it’s hunger and abuse they face, or a broken relationship, or a tough financial situation, or just a bad hair day.

Let’s learn a thing or two from our dear sisters in Zambia. Enough is enough for these subtle gestures of support. Let’s go big, go bright, go loud, and go glittery in celebration of people of the world.

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Click on the picture to visit Clothed in Hope.  Check out the mission, the pictures, the stories, and browse the store for some fabulous pieces designed and made by CiH’s courageous women!

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Living Beyond My Circumstances

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Recently, I sat with a dear friend in the middle of a tremendously difficult trial. Facing deep hurt and loss, she said something that literally sent chills from the top of my head to the tip of my toes.

“I was born in the desert, I have lived in the desert, I might die in the desert. But I will still praise Your name.”

It was one of those moments where I could feel God’s presence. I saw Jesus in this precious friend in a very real way. Under the circumstances, there was no way that she could humanly say these words. Her response to this incredibly dark time in her life was one of peace, hope, and worship. She is living beyond her circumstances.

When facing a trial, when dealing with the hardships of living in a fallen, broken world, one of the most difficult things as a believer can be to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and not the wind and the waves. So, how do we stand firm when all around us seems to be crumbling?

Anchor for the Soul

“In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast . . .” (Hebrews 6:17-19)

Thousands and thousands of years ago, God made a covenant with Abraham. A promise that He would make him a great nation, that He would bless him, and make his name great (Genesis 12:1-3). This covenant was one that could not be broken and provided an assurance for Abraham that God would do that which He promised. And this promise provided an anchor for Abraham’s soul. An anchor that would carry him through years of great trial, disappointment, not understanding, and being instructed to do the impossible.

In the same way, God has provided for us an anchor for our souls. A promise. One that can never be taken away. One that can never fade. A cornerstone that is sure and steadfast.

“But now in Christ Jesus, you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ … So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:13, 20)

Our souls are secure in Christ Jesus. He is our firm foundation, our solid rock, our cornerstone. If we attempt to make anything else our anchor, when the storms of life come (and they will!) we will be tossed to and fro.

Ask yourself this question: where am I throwing my anchor? What am I looking to in an attempt to feel safe and secure?

  • spouse

  • children

  • job

  • money

  • relationships

  • position

  • my talents and giftings

  • the hope of a better future

  • school

When the circumstances of life are overwhelming, our only hope for security is found in Christ alone. He alone is unchangeable (Hebrews 13:8), His feelings for us never change (Psalm 100:5), He has saved our souls and has brought us near to Him where we can find mercy and grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Believe God

As Tim Keller says, there is a difference between believing IN God and BELIEVING GOD. Abraham believed God. At His core, He knew that what God said was true. He knew that God would fulfill His promises and that He was trustworthy. It was this belief that enabled Him to be obedient when God told him to go with no destination in sight. It is what empowered him to be trust that God would give him a son, even when both he and Sarah were well past child-bearing years. It is what strengthened him to take his only, beloved son up a hill placing him on an alter, and being willing to sacrifice him because God said so. Y’all this is crazy faith. Abraham believed that what God said, He would do. This is the kind of faith I want to have — so deeply rooted in who God is and what He has done that I operate from belief that what God has promised He will do.

Promises of God:

  •  Eternal life for all who believe (John 3:16)
  •  He will supply all of our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19)
  •  Peace that surpasses anything we can understand (Philippians 4:6)
  • He goes before us and never fails us (Deuteronomy 31:8)
  • Nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)
  • His love is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • When we are tempted, He will provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  • He will be our hiding place (Psalm 32:7) 
  • He will lead and guide us in Truth (John 16:13)
  • He will complete the work that He has started (Philippians 1:6).
  • He is near to all who call to Him (Psalm 145:18).
  • He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in Spirit (Psalm 34:18).
  • He makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

Notice that none of these promises include a happily ever after, financial wealth, or freedom from pain and suffering. But I find one of the greatest promises of all to be this – He promises us His presence, and in His presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

In the moments when we are struggling to believe, let us be like the man from Mark who said, “I believe. Lord help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

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Walk in Faith

So much of being a believer is about faith. Faith to believe. Faith to persist and produce perseverance. Faith to run well this race set before us. Faith to endure times of trial. Interestingly, the word “faith” is used at least 250 times in the Bible (depending on the translation). While on this earth, Jesus both instructed people to have more faith and questioned their lack of faith.

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). And without faith, it is impossible to live above the circumstances in life.

And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, It is a ghost!And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.

Peter said to Him, Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, You of little faith, why did you doubt?

~Matthew 14:25-31

God brings me back to this Scripture over and over again. I am Peter. Confidently, I step out of the boat, my eyes fixed on Jesus, and then life happens. Circumstances are screaming at me, and I lose sight. Suddenly the wind and the waves are all that I can see.

As I picture this exchange between Jesus and Peter, I imagine that Peter frantically calls out to Jesus, “help me!” And Jesus’ response. I just love it. He IMMEDIATELY reaches out and takes hold of Peter and says, “why did you have such little faith?” I don’t think this was a harsh, condescending remark. I think it’s possible that it was a gentle tone that would have conveyed this message: “Peter, why didn’t you believe me and keep your eyes on me? Don’t you know how much I love you? Don’t you know that I can hold you up even when the winds and the waves threaten to swallow you?”

It’s that voice of Love that calls to each one of us.

Know God’s Love

Knowing and believing God’s love for us is absolutely an essential part of living beyond our circumstances. When the storm hits, the diagnosis comes, the painful conversation happens, the person we love leaves, the dream is dashed, Satan, who is the Father of lies, will try to convince us that if God really loved us, if He really cared, then our circumstances would be different. As that lie percolates in our minds, often all we can see are the things in our lives that aren’t good. The pain becomes overwhelming. We feel hopeless, alone, and angry. The question “Why me?” taunts us every moment throughout the day. That we are in the midst of circumstances we are can’t control and don’t understand, we feel unloved and alone.

In these moments, and frankly always, we must go back to what we know is true.

“Keep yourselves in the love of God, expected the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:21)

“We must invite our souls to plunge into His love like a dolphin romping in the sea.  Actively engaging in His unending, extravagant, no-strings-attached affection for you is not narcissism. It’s a necessity. It can mean our survival when we’re faced with loving the loveless.” ~Beth Moore

In order to know and believe that God is for us and not against us, to love those who have hurt us, to show up in relationship when we want to run away, to respond and not react, we must be firmly planted in God’s love for us. Sometimes that requires rehearsing the truth of His love for us in our minds daily. Perhaps minute by minute. Second by second.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)

“Father God, if nothing can win Thy love, nothing in the universe can prevent Thee from loving us. Thy love is uncaused and undeserved. Thou are Thyself the reason for the love wherewith we are loved. Help us to believe in the intensity, the eternity of the love that has found us. Then love will cast out fear; and our troubled hearts will be at peace. ~A.W. Tozer

I have found it helpful to begin each day by focusing on and thanking God for His perfect, never-ending, sacrificial love for me. As I ask Him to show me the places of my life where I have seen His love, it is amazing how I, by His Spirit, know deeply to my core just how much I am loved by Him. Reminding myself of this Truth enables me to keep my eyes fixed on Him and not the wind and the waves. Like Beth Moore said, in order to live in a peace that passes all understanding, deeply knowing God’s love for us is a complete necessity.

As I think about my friend whose faith inspires me, I can say that each of these things is true about her. The anchor for her soul is Jesus. She believes God and His promises. She is walking in faith, even though she can’t see and doesn’t understand. And she knows deeply that God loves her. As a result, she is finding deep peace in the middle of extremely difficult circumstances.

My prayer is that I, and each of you reading this, will be so rooted and grounded in who God is, what He has done, what He has said, and how He provides, that we, too, will live our lives beyond our circumstances.

Anchored in Christ,

Carrie

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He is the Gift

 

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On the stage, the music begins, the story ignites with melody and lyrics, movement and nuances of character. The energy of the others there with me and those engaged from the audience thrills and drives me. It fills me with a passion and satisfaction like absolutely nothing else. I had almost forgotten. It’s been a long time. Like riding a bike it all came back to me. And I realized once again that this is what I was made to do.

This is part of my story. Part that has brought so much beauty to my life and much brokenness, much fulfillment, and much longing. You see, I was a singer from the womb! Music is part of my DNA, handed down through the generations. There are times when I am reduced to a blubbering mess over things like the musical underscore of a cartoon (and just for the record, I am not much of a “cry-er”). And I think, “My word, what is that all about?” Well, it’s the way I was made. Music moves me, like nothing else. That is why I am so passionate about worship. For me, there is no more powerful way to rehearse the truths of who God is and what He has done, to state my absolute dependence on Him, or to cry out to Him for mercy, than through music.

God made me in His image, and clearly my passion for music and the absolute pure fulfillment I feel when performing are innate, given to me by Him – part of Him. A gift given for His glory, my joy, and to serve others. But there have been times when the passion for those things became my end, my all, my only satisfaction. When I needed to perform to feel whole. When I needed the attention of performing well to feel that I had value. That is when the gift became a god.

When those good things that God puts into us become elevated to the position of THE thing, that is when the good things become god things, and we create idols.

Perhaps this is a basic struggle for all of us in this world. Every single one of us is created by God, in His image, and we bear specific gifts, specific imprints of Him, specific touches of grace meant to bring glory to Him, and fulfillment to us. Perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings is learning to see the gifts in us as part of God Himself. We must learn that only in seeking Him will those gifts bring true and lasting joy. Elevating the gift to become the thing we seek eventually leads to brokenness. When we seek only the gift we begin to operate in a counterfeit manner, independent from the God who crafted the gift and put it in us. In that place, temptation swells and sin lurks. The desires that God put within us can become contorted by the desires of sin.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6:12).”

The Greek word here translated “passions” is epithymia, which means desire, craving, longing.

When I have craved that passion, that thrill, that fulfillment, and not sought God Himself, I’ve found myself in places I never intended to go. Sometimes the realization of it comes quickly. Other times the deception can take hold for a long time and a jolt of some sort is required to wake us. But eventually our eyes open and we look around in horror as we clearly see where we are.

For me, the jolt came when I realized that seeking and obeying sinful passion, the fulfillment it gave, and the admiration of others, had led me into a pit of betrayal. I was crushed. And when I came face-to-face with my sin, these words from Psalm 143 became my song of repentance:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous…My spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me…I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails;…Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul…Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. For the sake of Your name, O Lord, revive me. In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble….I am Your servant.”

For many years I simply cut off that gift. I was afraid of it. I didn’t sing at all. The enemy of my soul was there with lies, keeping me convinced that singing made me prideful and that people would think I wanted attention if I sang. And that if I received that attention, I might slip into sin again. It was an awful feeling, but I listened, deciding that it was easier just to avoid all of it. All the while my soul grieved.

I believe that was necessary for a time – to help me gain some perspective. I needed to learn who I was outside of singing – where my value really was. God slowly began to heal me and I’ve begun to see that He is all about making things new. God doesn’t give good gifts to be hidden under bushels forever. His heart is to let those imprints of His nature shine out of us, though there may be times when we need to do some work before we are ready for it. In His time, God sent other people to speak truth into my life in this area and to minister peace and revival to my heart. He is a good and unchanging Father who desires good things for me. God was not my enemy. My gift was not my enemy. My enemy was my own fleshly desire.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”
 (James 1:13-17).

The Greek word for “desire” in James 1:14 is also epithymia. The connotation of this Greek word is not always negative. The desire or longing can be for good things. But when those good things, which are given by God, are elevated in our lives to become things we MUST have to be fulfilled, desire for them leads us into sin and away from God, and it brings forth death.
I believe we have God-given longings and cravings. But the passions and desires of sin can quickly hijack what was meant to be good and contort it into an instrument of unrighteousness.

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

We all serve something. All of us. We may serve ourselves, our careers, our families, even our independence. But the One we are created to serve is God alone. Because we have been brought from death to life by the sacrifice of Jesus, we now get to present ourselves to Him, along with every gift He has given us, every nuance of our character, every emotion, and all our history. He is not only the giver of every good and perfect gift, but also the ordainer of the perfect plan for how the gifts should be used. Serving Him is the only way to find true freedom.

I need only seek Him. He is the ultimate prize, His presence my only goal. He is not just the giver of the gift. HE IS THE GIFT.

“I am the bread of life” – not just the giver of the bread, but THE bread itself.
“I am the light of the world” – not just the giver of light, but THE light itself.
“I am the door” – not just the one who shows you where the door it, but THE door itself
“I am the way, the truth, the life” – not just the giver of these things, but THE way itself, THE truth itself, THE life itself.

For every situation, our God says “I Am!”

So, now, as I step onto a stage and feel the emotion and passion rising up for what I am doing, I can almost hear His voice whisper, “I am the music in you. I am your song.” And as I present all that I am to Him, I feel the most perfect joy.

What are those imprints of God that He has placed in you? Can you relate to having sought after the gift rather than the Giver? Have you been brought to a place of repentance and developed a desire to present yourself fully to Him?  I pray that you will also experience the absolute, true fulfillment and joy that is found in that place of surrender, and that you will begin to see more and more the evidence of God Himself shining out of you!

Live Free. Live Loved.

~Kerri

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Gardening 101

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I am a doer.  I like to make things happen, see tangible results, and check them off my list.   Did I mention that I have 5 children, spanning preschool to middle school?  Good justification for never sitting down and being still, I know.  But it’s still no excuse.

The typical type A parent, I am also a problem solver. I want to figure things out and make things “right”.   Get to the bottom of things. FIX IT. Whatever it is, I want it fixed!

I also assume it’s my job to fix it

One of my most recent and prominent realizations is the fact that my children fight A LOT.  They try to FIND ways to make each other mad.  The older ones will just say the most hurtful things, on purpose, and wait for the sting.  They put each other down and make snide comments intended to lower their sibling’s self esteem. They steal from each other, mock each other, lie to each other, hit each other, and destroy items most valuable to the other.

 

As their mother, it is so painful to watch

It just breaks my heart to see my children tear each other down. It makes our home a difficult place to be.  It goes against everything I imagined when I dreamed of having a baby and a family.

I wanted love, joy, and kindness to flow from my children.  Patience and self-control.  I desired for my older, saved daughters, to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in their daily lives.

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As a mother, I can not allow my kids to purposely mistreat each other (without consequences). 

And as that type A mother, I will try anything.  Do anything.  To encourage my children to get along and lift each other up.

First, I tried verbal encouragement. “That’s not nice,” I would sweetly sing.  “Apologize to your brother,” Dad would bellow.  Little reminders would be posted around the house to “ love one another” and  “Do unto others…”.  Nothing changed.

I tried behavior charts. Rewards for desirable behavior.  Consequences for unwanted behavior.  I explained to them how I felt and asked them how their actions affected others.  I explained to them why it was wrong. I read scripture to them. I cried. I raised my voice. I prayed for them to be kind and loving to each other. The fighting continued.

I took them to church, to conferences, to Bible Schools, to Youth Group, and to Christian camps.  I exposed them to Christian families and encouraged healthy friendships. I even tried to remove negative aspects of their life that might cause them to be bitter and nasty toward their siblings.

 

I spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to change their behavior

 And then God reminded me:

John 15

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener (v1)……Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (v4)

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I felt so stupid.

Not a one of us, my children included, can bear the authentic fruits of the Spirit if our heart is not tethered to Jesus Christ and the Word of God.

 

Those fruits I desire to abound in my home are fruits that only the Holy Spirit can produce in us.  Sanctification is life in the Spirit.  The sanctified person bears the fruit of the Spirit and crucifies his or her sinful nature.  None of us is without sin, but the saved person fights against sin and clings to the Spirit.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.

My saved children do not read the Bible on their own.  They do not take the time to reflect on His Word and pray.  They are NOT attached to the vine.

So why would I expect them to bear good fruit? 

And is it truly the fruit that I’m concerned about?  Yes, that’s the annoying part that got my attention. The squeaky wheel.   

 

But the real issue is: What is at the root of that behavior?

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Their behavior reflects what is in their hearts.

 

What I really desire is NOT a change in their behavior, but a change in their hearts.

 

 

And that begins with time in prayer and in God’s Word.

(remaining in the vine)

  

I must take ownership of the fact that I do not emphasize that enough.  Somehow, I had gotten so wrapped up in fixing their behavior, that I had forgotten who our gardener is. I had lost sight of the MOST IMPORTANT thing I should be instilling in my children.  A desire to read God’s Word and be tethered to him.  The change of the heart occurs at the hand of God. 

I can not change the hearts of my children.

It is not my job to fix them.

 

It is certainly my job to instruct them, train them in righteousness, and set a standard for obedience.  My role as a mother also includes praying with them, praying for them, nurturing them, reading scripture to them, talking to them about God, telling them about Jesus, listening to them, encouraging them, taking them to church, teaching them God’s word, being in the Word with them, and modeling my relationship with Christ for them to see. Each one of these things is very important.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.  Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.  Proverbs 22:6

Do not provoke your children unto wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.  Ephesians 6:4

My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck.  When you walk, they will guide you.  When you sleep they will watch over you. When you awake they will speak to you.  For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.  Proverbs 6:20-23

 

God has placed a great responsibility on me as a parent. I must be diligent in tilling the soil of my child’s heart and sowing the seed of His Word.

But I can’t do it for them.  They can not live vicariously through me or anyone else.  It is vital that they have their own personal relationship with Christ.  It is critical that they “remain in the vine” and seek to know God personally.  I can not expect the condition of their heart to improve if God is not their master gardener.

Since God so lovingly reminded me of my folly, I have made some changes in my home.  Bible reading is becoming a daily occurrence.  I am helping my older children to learn how to read the Bible and have quiet time for themselves.  We are buying journals and I am teaching them some ways they can use their journals in their time with God.  I ask them to read from dedicated scripture passages every day so we can talk about them with each other (I am reading the same passages in my quiet time).  I am going to teach them how to use the Index to find topics they may need or want to spend more time with.   I am purposely focusing on God’s Word as our daily bread.  And I can’t believe it took me this long to get here.

The degree of our spiritual strength will be in direct proportion to the time we spend in God’s Word.  (Elizabeth George.  A Mom After God’s Own Heart)

 

It is nice to snuggle up under the electric blanket and in complete silence, take in God’s Word together. How cool it is to sit by the fire with my girls, Bibles in hand.

My oldest has a hard time in the morning. She is just like her mother. Not a morning person.  I am encouraging her to have a passage open beside her bed so that she can read it BEFORE she comes downstairs.  Just like God has recommended for me to do.  I keep forgetting that my child is not a baby. She is old enough to begin a routine of Bible reading and prayer time (she has probably BEEN old enough… she’s 11). It’s me that didn’t take the time to teach or encourage her in that practice.  

And when we are having respect issues or other heart issues, I ask my saved children (who are also my only ones old enough to read) to read from the Bible. I take them back to God’s Word.  I tell her (both of my older children are girls) to spend some time in her  room meditating on whichever passage(s) I chose.  I sometimes find it appropriate to also do that when she is experiencing some overwhelming emotions, such as sadness or anger.

There is power in God’s Word. It is important that my children experience that for themselves.

 

I will continue to “feed and water” my precious children

and

surrender the results to God

By His Grace,

Lisa

another great post is linked below:

http://www.gospelfamily.org/#!Temper-Tantrums-Sin-Grace-/c16ee/A6ACC901-79E0-4191-A2C7-D69704FF4557

 

*I have 4 girls and one boy.  My older girls are 13 and 11 and my only son (age 7) is sandwiched between them and my younger daughters.

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Emotions and the Enemy

Emotions and The Enemy pic

Do you ever feel stuck? Does it ever seem that things are completely out of control and you are being tossed to and fro by the circumstances of your life? Are you struggling to connect with God despite a deep desire to know Him more?

I can certainly answer a resounding YES to all of these questions during multiple periods of time in my life. I’ve wondered time and time again how it seems I am running the race well when suddenly I am hijacked. Rather than fixing my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, I begin to fix my eyes on the circumstances of the day, or the things I don’t have which I desire, or the dissatisfaction of my life not going the way that I think I should. Can you relate?

Let’s be honest. The reality of this fallen, broken world in which we live is that we will regularly face disappointments, losses, betrayals, illnesses, and other things that are completely out of our control. In these moments, it is enormously helpful to identify what we are feeling: sadness, fear, anger, disappointment, guilt, shame. Leaning into the pain and asking God to meet us in this place provides an opportunity to grow, to know Him more, to understand His sovereignty, His goodness, faithfulness, and love in a new and perhaps deeper way. It is an absolute necessity to allow ourselves time and space to grieve, to work through deep wounding, and to FEEL the emotions that God has given us. In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown talks about the beauty of discomfort and the truth that when we allow ourselves to feel our discomfort and sit in our pain, we are giving ourselves an amazing opportunity to grow emotionally and spiritually.

And, as with all things in life, there must be a balance.

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Feelings are like children. You don’t want them to drive the car, but you don’t want to stuff them in the trunk either.

One day recently, I realized my feelings were driving the car. I felt angry, resentful, and abandoned. I believed wholeheartedly that God is faithful, never changing, good, merciful, a mighty fortress, my rock, provider, and redeemer, AND, I felt like I was drowning. As I was journaling and praying, the truth hit me like a truck.

I had lost sight of Jesus.

Like Peter, when he stepped out of the boat to walk to Jesus in the midst of the tumultuous winds and waves, I was sinking because I lost sight of Jesus.

 

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Jesus Help Me!!

Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him and said to Him, ‘You have so little faith. Why did you doubt? (Matthew 14:31).”

The minute I cried out to Jesus, I felt the tremendous peace for which I had been so desperate. I found myself in the arms of Jesus.

I began to wonder. Why do I have so little faith? Why do I doubt? How do I so easily lose sight of Jesus? I know who He is. I know what I believe. How is it that I so quickly fix my eyes on the wind and the waves when Jesus is standing right there??”

Your adversary [opponent, enemy], the devil, prowls around [to make use of any

opportunities] seeking [meditating, reasoning] someone to devour [to drink down, to swallow up, to destroy]” (1 Peter 5:8).

Y’all. We have an ENEMY. And he IS seeking to devour us. He isn’t like some little red devil with a pitchfork sitting on our shoulders whispering that we should do what’s contrary to what we know is right. He isn’t a gentlemen. He is a ROARING LION.

Look at the verse immediately preceding this one.

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit.”

I find it interesting, and not at all a coincidence, that a verse about giving God our anxieties and having a calm, collected, temperate spirit, sets up this warning about our enemy. When we are living from a place of fear and letting our anxieties and fears control us, we are opening ourselves up to an attack from the enemy. He is seeking someone to devour, and we, in our anxious state, are the perfect target. Then, like a lion, he pounces. Attacking our thoughts, our marriages, our beliefs, our children — whispering lies in our ears.

But resist him, firm in your faith …”

There is power in the name of Jesus. He is stronger and greater than anything that our enemy throws at us. Just yesterday, I found myself starting to drown. The circumstances were closing in. I cried out, “In the name of Jesus, I pray for peace. I pray for protection over me and my children. I pray against the enemy and any attempt he is making to come against us and devour us right now.”

Unexplainable peace came right in the middle of pain,

chaos, and confusion.

Let’s not forget that we have an enemy. Let’s also not forget that our God is greater.

Be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power. Put

on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against

all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-

and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the

unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and

against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

The fight is not against our husbands/wives, our children, a diagnosis, or our circumstances, whatever they may be. The fight is against our enemy in this fallen and sinful world in which we live.

The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

(Exodus 14:14)

Friends, cry out to Him today.

Standing firm,

Carrie

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