This has been a hard year for so many people that I know. Loss, pain, sickness, grief, and uncertainty have plagued the people that I care about, demanding their attention and stealing the life in their days. I have watched those that I love walk through trial after trial, at times barely keeping their heads above water as they try to remain faithful to the Lord in the midst of their personal hell. God has been teaching me so much about the art of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15) but I feel like there has been much more weeping than rejoicing this year.
I have always been someone who loves the holiday season. I can’t help it – the music, the sentiment, time with family, parties, the decorations – every single aspect of celebrating the holidays makes me giddy and excited. But this year feels a little different. The hearts around me feel weary and heavy. For so many people, this holiday season is full of sadness, depression, and loneliness. It’s a time of mourning and pain rather than joy and celebration. Situations seem hopeless, dreams seem lost, and pain is so present. For so many, giving thanks seems like the hardest thing to do right now.
And I understand. How do you give thanks when nothing has worked out, when grief and loss has affected your family, when you watch everyone around you get the very things that you have been praying for? So many times it seems that there possibly couldn’t be anything right now to give thanks for.
A few years ago I walked through one of the hardest seasons of my life. My heart was broken, angry, and bitter. I was sad and lonely and didn’t know what to do or how things could ever get any better. Every single day it seemed as if the enemy stole more and more of my joy until I got to a point where I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. At a time where everything felt lost and ruined, I knew that if I didn’t get my eyes back on Christ and change my perspective, the weight of the pain I was feeling was going to destroy me – but I was in the middle of what felt like hell on earth, and I was having trouble seeing the good and the beauty around me.
My heart knew that something had to change. So I got a journal, and I made myself sit down everyday and write down the small gifts in everyday life – the sound of my dogs’ paws on my hardwood floors, sunsets that paint the sky pink, full moons that light up the sky, the sound of raindrops, the smell of banana nut bread baking in the oven. This practice of viewing every thing in life as a gift completely transformed my mind and my heart. In thanking God for warm clothes fresh out of the dryer, shooting stars, the sound of laughter, flashing lights from an airplane in a night sky, the pain that I had been feeling began to minimize. My heart started to feel alive again. Sure, my circumstances didn’t automatically change and there were still really hard days, but my gratitude for the small things in life began turning what I did have into enough. I was able to look at my circumstances differently and find God more intimately as my eyes were opened to how present He is.
God taught me the invaluable lesson that when we view everything in life as a gift straight from His hand, it becomes impossible for the enemy to steal our joy. Life is just hard. I wish it wasn’t, and right now I especially wish I could make things easier for the people that I love. But neglecting to give thanks in all things only makes things harder because we take our eyes off Christ. When we open up our eyes to notice all of the gifts around us, we realize that Jesus is so near. He’s not far away or distant. He is right here in our right now lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly. He is in every moment – every fear, every hurt, every heartache, every tear, every sunset and sunrise, every wild flower that blooms, every barren tree that stands tall – if we look for Him, we will find Him.
The secret to living a life of true joy and contentment is learning to seek God in the places where we don’t think He is. In the pain, the struggle, the loneliness, the lost dreams. When we give thanks no matter what, even when life hurts, we create space for God to grow in us and for contentment and joy to be rooted in our hearts, and we notice His presence in a more real and tangible way.
So to everyone with a weary heart this holiday season, I just want you to know that I see you.
I see you, you who are once again walking through the holiday season single, having your hopes deferred yet again that maybe last year would be the last year you didn’t have someone to share the holidays with.
I see you , you who are recently widowed and are going through the first holiday season without the love of your life by your side.
I see you, you who are recently divorced, trying to pick up the pieces of your life, and struggling to find any joy in your circumstances.
I see you, you with the bruised knees and broken hearts, pleading with God for the life of someone you love.
I see you, you who are wondering how you are going to buy Christmas presents for your children.
I see you, you who are estranged from your families and will spend this season alone.
Friends I know that life can knock us down and things can seem so incredibly unfair. I know that so many of you are hurting right now as you read this. But if you fight to see the gifts in your life, you will find Him. I promise you will find him.
Yes life is hard and your pain is so real, but when you view life and everything it offers as a gift from God, your joy cannot be stolen from you because your joy simply becomes rooted in the fact that God is good. He is good. Everything in life may not be good at this moment, but He is good, and He is good to us.
Happy Thanksgiving friends. I’m praying that the weary, broken, hurting places of your hearts find refuge in His grace today. May we all let the practice and art of gratitude crack us wide open so that we can experience Christ like we never have before.
Man. The world sure does seem to be a pretty scary place these days. Everywhere you turn, people are hurting and in need. There’s so much violence and terror and pain and it can seem very overwhelming at times. Obviously right now the main topic of concern is the Syrian refugee crisis. I spent an entire day debating about whether or not I should write this post. A lot of words have already been written that speak to the issue better than I feel I can (read this), and I don’t want to be someone who emotionally jumps into an issue and throws words around carelessly. But this crisis is just way too important to stay silent.
As a Texas girl, I was very disappointed to see that my governor was one of the many who stated that their state would not be accepting Syrian refugees (source), but I was even more disheartened by the number of Christian people shouting for our borders to be closed and supporting the decisions of fear mongering politicians using the tragedy in Paris for their own political gain.
Friends, I understand. I know that it’s scary. I can empathize with the desire to protect the ones you love and wanting to do anything necessary to ensure that we never see that kind of terror on our land, the great United States. But- as Christian people, we have to remember that we are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God. Our primary allegiance and loyalty must be to the ways and the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Man who told us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), love one another as He has loved us (John 15:12), sell everything we have and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21). Everything we do and say (and share on Facebook) has to be filtered through the heart of Jesus. We can’t call ourselves His followers if we aren’t actually willing to follow Him. And as much as I sometimes wish we were, we are not called to safe, comfortable, cushy “American Dream” lives. We do not serve an American God. We have to be willing to push past our fears and do what Jesus would do. The cry of our hearts has to be “nevertheless Father, not my will but Yours be done.”
As followers of Christ, we do not have the privilege or the right to throw around words like “they’re all terrorists” in order to strip people of their dignity and humanity so that we don’t have to see them for who they really are – men, women, and children in desperate need of refuge and assistance, and human beings that Jesus went to the cross for. We should be the first ones stretching our arms wide open letting our lives speak the message “you are welcome here.” We should be grieved to the core by the fact that children are dying at sea as their families are desperately fleeing violence and war torn homelands. Children should not be washing up on shore simply because the danger of the sea was still more promising and hopeful than the danger at home.
Please lets stop being so hypocritical in the stances we make. We can’t shout scriptures, host rallies and conferences, and have pickets outside of the Supreme Court in an effort to preserve traditional marriage yet cheer wildly whenever our politicians tell refugees they aren’t welcome without a second thought about scriptures that tell us to welcome the strangers in our land. We can’t get indignant over #blacklivesmatter and scream “NO – ALL LIVES MATTER” if we aren’t willing to conclude that Syrian lives would indeed be included in that statement. The heart of Jesus in regards to refugees is very very clear. (Perhaps because He Himself was once a Middle Eastern man fleeing His homeland).
I know what you’re going to say – well what about American lives then? I’ve seen the memes and pictures of the homeless and needy in our own country and the people asking why we’re worried about Syrian refugees when we have our own citizens to take care of. Trust me, as a social worker, the local need is not lost on me, but as Christians, we have to stop making everything an “us versus them” thing. Of course there are needs that we have to address in our country, of course people here need assistance. I understand firsthand the frustration of trying to work around our systems and policies in order to get people the help they need. But having American citizens who are in need doesn’t mean that we should turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world. We are called to do good, seek justice, and defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). Whenever we see oppression anywhere in this world our immediate reaction should be “how can I help.” Please understand that as Christian people, there is no such thing as someone else’s child, brother, sister, father, or mother. They belong to us. The families sleeping on sidewalks and in tents dreaming of a better life belong to us. The mothers and fathers who at this very moment are grieving their children who didn’t survive the journey and feel the ache of empty arms belong to us. The real human beings who will forever live with the memory of watching the ones they loved be killed by ISIS before they were able to run away belong to us. The hurting and broken everywhere belong to us and we should fight for them the way we would fight for our own.
Guys I don’t have all the answers, and I would never claim to. I understand that there has to be order and a plan in place, and I don’t know what the best course of action is here. What I do know is that we have to stop living in so much fear. Fear is so incredibly paralyzing and will cause us to live life with clenched fists, desperately holding onto everything we have and care about instead of living lives of radical obedience and faithfulness. And what are we so afraid of? Let’s be real for a minute – terrorists are already here. They have infiltrated our churches, movie theaters, elementary school classrooms, and universities. Innocent American lives are shed every day by this country’s own citizens. Data shows that most violent extremists in the United States are natural born citizens. No refugees that have come to the United States in fourteen years have been arrested on charges of domestic terrorism. The United States also has an extremely rigid process for screening refugees. Anyone who says otherwise is speaking from ignorance and misinformation (source). The people seeking refuge in America are desperately trying to flee the same violence and terror we are afraid of.
Scripture promises us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). That perfect love is Jesus Christ. We don’t have to live our lives riddled with anxiety and panic at the state of our world. We don’t have to pander to every media outlet pumping us full of false information and spreading fear like an epidemic. We can be rational and calm and wise. We can be informed and understand the real facts. We can choose to speak life and hope. We can ask God for eyes to see and ears to hear. Oh that we would be people committed to clothing ourselves in the compassion of Christ. May we allow our hearts to be opened up and broken for the things that break His. May we see the refugee for who he or she really is. May we not be able to look at the lifeless body of a toddler boy on a sandy shore without being outraged at the injustice in the world. May we fall to our knees pleading for the cause of the oppressed.
And may we let every conversation about the Syrian refugee crisis begin at the cross of Jesus.
We have spent a lot of time together over the last few years. From lock-ins to church services, youth conferences and camp, I have collectively spent more hours with you girls than most other people in my life. You have slept on my couch, raided my refrigerator, and played with my dogs. For some of you, my car has become your second home, evidenced by the dirt/grass/rocks you somehow manage to track into the car every.single.week, and the homework, school books, makeup, and jackets you always leave behind. You have the ability to frustrate me but also make me laugh like no other. You girls are smart and lovely, charming and talented, bold and precious. But more than anything, you are loved. So so so loved.
There’s going to come a day when things are different. Seasons change and my role in your life won’t be the same. And that’s okay. It’s what’s supposed to happen. You are going to move on and pursue your dreams and live exciting, adventurous, and beautiful lives. And I want you to! I want you to run fearlessly after the things that God has called you to do, the things that make you feel alive and full of purpose.
Being your leader has been a joy, a gift. I determined awhile back that I wanted to be for you what I needed when I was your age. I needed someone who would be willing to speak truth no matter what, who empowered me and encouraged me and always pointed me back to Christ. I can only pray that I have been that for you. So before life changes, before you go, I want you to know what my prayers, hopes, and dreams are for you, my sweet sweet girls who have brought so much light and joy to my life.
I pray everyday that you fall in love with Christ – like truly and deeply fall in love with Jesus in a forever love kind of way. Don’t leave His side loves. It’s not worth it. The world has nothing to offer you that’s better than Him. Absolutely nothing. He is the pearl of great price. He won’t fail you or let you down. He is always near, He always cares. He is the friend you’re looking for, the love you’re looking for, the hope you’re looking for. It’s always been Him.
I want you to know how smart and capable and strong you are. You can think for yourselves and make wise choices. You can do hard things. You can stand up against injustice and oppression, you can fight for the freedom of others, you can stand alone when everyone else is going the other way, you can go where no one else wants to go. You can be brave girls. But sometimes brave means being still and waiting on God. Sometimes brave means letting your dreams go so that God can birth new dreams in you. Sometimes brave means saying yes to God today for the things He’s going to ask you to do in twenty years. And sometimes brave looks like walking away, letting go, and trusting God’s protection.
I hope you always know how beautiful you are. Not just physically beautiful (even though you are), but how beautiful YOU are. You are so much more than what you see in a mirror or the number you see on a scale. You are the way you love, trust, and follow Christ. You are the things that bring you joy and make you laugh. You are the way your face lights up when you talk about something you’re passionate about. If you could see yourselves the way the people who love you do, you would know how lovely you are. Just shine girls. Shine on. Be who you are and let the world see. Don’t be swayed by what the world says you should be like or look like.
Girls I pray that you never ever ever belittle yourselves to make someone else happy. Don’t shrink yourselves down for people who refuse to grow. You are under no obligation to stay the same your entire life. There will be people in your life who don’t want you to change so they do everything in their power to try and box you in and keep you the same. They will try and guilt you and manipulate you into not growing. The truth is that sometimes, you will just be too much for someone. Whether that person is a friend, a boy, or even a family member – make no mistake about it, if someone cannot handle who you are and who you are becoming, the problem is not you. Not everyone is equipped to handle the extraordinary. Grow. Stretch. Dream. Change. And do it without apology.
I want you to be the kind of friend that you would want to have. Don’t tear anyone down, gossip, or spew hateful lies and rumors about others. Please don’t be those girls. There’s enough of that in this world. Be kind. Kindness will take you so far. There’s a difference between being nice and being kind. Nice people simply have good manners, but kindness is born out of a place of compassion. Everything Christ did He did because of the compassion He had for others. Be kind girls. Extend the compassion and the love of Christ in everything you do and you will be like a magnet, attracting the broken and hurting to you.
I pray that you never let pain make you bitter. Life is just hard sometimes loves. I wish that it wasn’t that way and that you didn’t have to go through pain, but that’s just not how it works. When you experience hurt, heartache, and loss, I pray that your feet never waiver from the solid foundation that is Jesus Christ. Lean into Him, anchor yourselves to His promises, and refuse to let the pain become your identity. Refuse to give in to the way that pain will try to crush your souls and always stay soft, sensitive, and sweet.
Lastly angels, please never chase a boy. If he chooses to walk away, let him. Believe him when he shows you who he is. Sometimes you have to decide that the last time that he hurt you will be the last time he will hurt you. There are a lot of times God removes people from your life for your own protection. Trust Him, and don’t run after anyone. You are deserving of true, authentic, real love. That kind of love doesn’t make you doubt who you are, doesn’t make you feel like you aren’t enough, and doesn’t treat you like an object to be used. The right guy will never make you sit around and question how he feels about you. You should expect to be treated with respect and nothing less. Always seek God first, and everything else will follow. His timing is perfect. When you are pursuing Christ, you will get where you are meant to be exactly when you are meant to be there – and that includes your love life. Get comfortable with being alone – only then will you know if you are choosing someone because you want them in your life or because you feel that you need them. Learn to like your own company – it is so very freeing and empowering. And please never wait around for a man to validate your existence or save you – the greatest Man to ever walk this earth already did both.
No matter where God takes you and where you end up, please know that I’m always on your side. I’m rooting for you, fighting for you, praying for you, and cheering you on. This relationship will always be a safe place. So my darlings, go be who you were made to be. Dream big dreams. Run after God’s will. Set the world on fire. But know that you can always come home.
(This post is part of a community post. Every Friday, a one-word prompt is announced. You get to free-write for five minutes. No editing, no out-lining. Just writing the thoughts as they come. If you’d like to participate, you can find all the info you need here.)
Dance. When I’ve heard this word in the past a few things have come to mind, such as inspirational quotes like “dance like no one’s watching”, “dance like there’s no tomorrow”, and “life is about learning to dance in the rain.” I can remember being in 8th grade and singing “I hope you dannceeee” in the locker room with my friends.
But lately that word is coming alive to me in a different way.
One of my favorite scriptures has always been Zephaniah 3:17 – For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (NLT) To me this is such a beautiful picture of God’s deep love for us. How much He cares and how near and present He desires to be. How He doesn’t just have some general love for human kind as a whole, but His love tears through everything in its way to pursue me and you individually. What a breathtaking love that is.
What’s even more incredible though is that the Hebrew phrase “rejoice over you” can be more closely translated as “to spin around.” Or in other words, dance. “He will dance over you with joyful songs.”
Can we let that sink in for a minute?
Our God dances over us. He delights in us. He wants us. He desires us. When we feel like we aren’t good enough, He’s dancing over us. When we messed up again, He’s dancing over us. When we struggle with fear, doubt, worry, anxiety, and uncertainty, He’s dancing over us. When we don’t know what to do, He’s dancing over us.
Find peace in that knowledge today. Whatever happened or is happening at the moment doesn’t change the fact that your God knows you, sees you, desires you, and is pursuing you. And at this very moment, He is dancing over you.
I love stories. I always have. For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by other people’s lives and the things that they have gone through and encountered. I could spend countless hours talking to someone about their life – their past, their victories, their failures, what they have overcome. It’s an incredible thing to me to watch someone open up, expose their raw and messy self, and be vulnerable with others. It’s a brave thing to be honest, to share pieces of your life and your heart. Very brave.
It’s also very powerful.
Your personal story is so much more than just facts and good anecdotes – it’s the evidence you present to the world about a God who loves, redeems, restores, and protects. Our stories reveal the nature and character of God. They point to who God is and create a bridge for other people to experience Him in the same way. When we are willing to share our stories, we create room for faith and expectancy to be planted in the hearts of the people around us.
Our stories are a resounding reminder to a broken and hurting world that Jesus is alive, He is near and present and moving. He is the author of resurrection, healing, hope, mercy, redemption and freedom. He can turn a valley of trouble into a door of hope, and He always provides a way of escape.
So many times the enemy uses our stories to become a source of personal shame. We don’t want to talk about our pasts for fear of judgment and rejection. We bury our stories and refuse to talk about what we have been through and experienced, trying to polish ourselves so that we appear a certain way to others. But the truth is that when we deny our stories, we give way for shame to grow, pain to become our identities, and for us to be rendered ineffective for the Kingdom. The simplest way for the enemy to steal from us, kill us, and destroy us is to silence us.
I know that vulnerability and rawness is hard, friends. But the good news is that there is no shame in Christ’s love! Refuse to let anyone or anything shame you, silence you, or stop the redeeming work of Christ in your life.
So we have to develop a lifestyle of telling anyone we can about everything that God has done for us. We each have had unique experiences. We have gone through different things, some of us more dark than others – but the truth in all of our stories is that God in His mercy and grace came to us in the midst of our brokenness and did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He saved us from ourselves.
Your story can be the key that unlocks someone’s prison. It’s good news, pointing people to Christ. When sharing about your life, just be honest. The world doesn’t need extravagant, made up, and manicured stories, the world needs honest stories because the truth is what sets people free.
So be brave. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Expose the messiest parts of yourself to the people who need it, and watch as God redeems every part of your life.