In The Silence – The Promise of Holy Saturday

In the Silence

The worst was seemingly over. The Savior had been crucified, the veil was torn in two, salvation was paid in full, and people marveled and saw that He indeed was the Son of God.

And then the world got quiet. Dedicated friends asked to be able to bury their Lord. The women who never left His side went home to prepare spices and ointments.  I would imagine that Peter sat alone, trying desperately not to let guilt and regret consume him, longing to go back and do things differently. The Romans, remembering Christ’s promise of resurrection, asked for guards to surround the tomb.

But all anyone could really do was wait. Wait for prophesy to be fulfilled, wait for Christ to rise again, wait to finally understand what this Man had been telling them and teaching them, wait for a second chance to follow Him without reservation.

I feel like much of the past few years has felt like one long Holy Saturday. The biggest pain has passed but life seems like one big waiting game. Standing on promises, staying hopeful and expectant, waiting for prophesies to be fulfilled. Doing what I can to follow the Lord in obedience and serve without distraction, but always remembering in the back of my mind His words and promises and hoping for a day when I will see those things come to pass.

There are times when the waiting gets hard. When I can’t quite hear God speaking, when it feels like He has forgotten and left, when the remnants from my days trapped in legalism make me feel like I’m being punished for past mistakes. There are days when I need reassurance and need Him to remind me that He cares and He’s working, that I’m not alone and that His purposes will prevail.

I know that I’m not alone in this. So many of us live our lives in the tension between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. We have first hand experience of how life can hurt like a bloody Friday and now we have been asked to lean in to the waiting and the longing, the hope and the expectancy for resurrection. We do our best to cling to His promises while trying to refuse to give in to the lies that the silence feeds us. But over and over we find ourselves asking the question God where are you?

So I think about that Holy Saturday after the death of Christ. I think of God’s plan for humanity and the resurrection that was coming. I think about the people who loved Him, the ones who never left His side. I think of their mourning and their grief and how all they had to hold on to was a promise. The words of Jesus resounding in their hearts while hope maybe seemed far away. Maybe their faith never faltered, or maybe they wondered where God was.

Everything was silent that day. Oh but God was so near.

May Holy Saturday remind us today and everyday that the silence of God does not equal the absence of God.

The silence of God does not equal the absence of God. We have this hope as an anchor for our souls.

At some point in our lives, we all find ourselves in the process of waiting. But we can wait with gratitude. We can wait with awe and wonder at a God who loves us and is for us and will never leave our sides. We can wait with assurance because we serve a good good Father.

He hasn’t forgotten us or turned away. He is not angry, disappointed, or ashamed. He loves us, and He is always working in ways that we cannot fathom.

No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,
Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love Him.

1 Corinthians 2:9 (MSG)

Find Him in the waiting today. Find Him exactly in the place where you are. In the confusion, doubts, uncertainty, silence. He is there, in every place and in every moment. And fully trust that no matter what your waiting looks like, the silence of God does not equal the absence of God. He is near, and He cares.

Lean in, hope for, long for, and expectantly wait for the promises of our King.

Today we may be in waiting, but the hope for resurrection is ours. We serve a God who makes all things new –  not different, not better, but new. He breathes and new life springs up! He speaks and calls us forth and we emerge from the tomb – whole, healed, and free. Grace and resurrection power is coursing through the dead, broken, dirty places in our lives at every moment, watering and reviving our souls.

Today we wait, but a new day is coming. Because we are the Easter people, and resurrection is our promise.

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. – Pope John Paul II

I Vote For Her

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This presidential election has felt like one long Saturday Night Live skit. I have sat back completely astonished by Donald Trump’s popularity and have been sickened by the fear-mongering tactics of grown adults claiming to be educated and qualified to run this country. Like a bad car wreck that you can’t look away from, I have watched the debates in horror, seriously nervous about any of the candidates becoming our next president.

To be honest, I considered not voting today. I know, I know. It’s either a privilege to be taken advantage of or an obligation as a US citizen, depending on who you ask, and if you don’t vote you forfeit your right to complain later. I’ve heard and read it all. But I’ve gotten to a place where it’s hard to want to pick someone to attach my name to, and at this point, voting just feels like picking the lesser of the evils.

But regardless of how I feel, here we are. It’s Super Tuesday, and I have to make a choice. Either I can become a part of the approximately 40% of Americans who don’t vote, or I can choose to pray and make the wisest decision possible.

While doing last minute research on the candidates this past week, I came across a few articles about women who were a part of the suffrage movement, women that I had forgotten about over the years. And I was reminded of why I have the right to vote.

It’s because of women like Susan B. Anthony, who founded the American Equal Rights Association, coined the phrase “men their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less”, and was arrested for illegally voting in 1872 and refusing to pay her  fine. (source)

It’s because of women like Lucy Burns, Dora Lewis, and Alice Paul, who along with 30 other women, were arrested for picketing the White House and were later imprisoned at the Occoquan Workhouse, experiencing what is known today as the ‘Night of Terror.’ (source)

By the end of this night, some of the women were barely alive. They had been beaten, tortured, choked, and chained to their cells. Attacked by their prison guards, they were treated inhumanely and stripped of their dignity and worth, simply because they were fighting for my right to vote today.

So I do feel that voting is an obligation of mine. But today it’s not because I feel that it is my duty as an American citizen.

Today, voting is an obligation for me because for years, brave women were willing to look fear straight on and not cower to powerful men. They stood on sidewalks with signs while policemen stood in the streets with hoses and clubs, endured beatings, illegally voted, were tortured, and went on hunger-strikes. They campaigned, had secret newsletters, started organizations, and did everything in their power to fight for women’s rights. And they never backed down, no matter how bruised and bloodied they ended up. My freedom to choose today whether or not I want to vote was more important to them than their personal freedoms and their own safety.

How dare I even consider not voting. Not when she risked so much, gave up so much, and endured so much. For me. A girl she didn’t even know but fought for so hard.

Regardless of how I feel about the election and the candidates, I will vote today.  Because today I vote for her. In her memory. And as I cast my ballot, I’ll tell her thank you.

Just show up today, friends. Make a prayerful and wise decision and then go vote.  Let’s honor the women who went before us and made a way.

With Love, From a Single Woman

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I’ll always remember the evening I hung up the phone after ending a five-year relationship with the guy I thought I was going to marry. Too much of a coward at the time to do it in person, I said my final goodbye and went my separate way, closing the door on hopes and dreams and plans for the future. Well-wishers who wanted to help me move past my grief shared sweet sentiments about how awesome the man God had chosen just for me must be and how now that I wasn’t distracted by the wrong relationship God could bring the right guy into my life. It will be soon, they said. Just you wait and see.

That was eight years ago.

For eight years, I have been single. And I don’t say that dramatically or exaggeratedly. I have dated approximately zero people in eight years. For the majority of my twenties, I have fielded an overwhelming amount of questions about dating and marriage and have been told more times than you can imagine that I’m too picky and might want to lower my standards. If I got paid for every time I have been asked “have you tried (insert your preferred dating website here)” I could be traveling the world instead of sitting on my couch writing this blog.

And I know people mean well. I know they do. But what they don’t realize is that this constant fixation on marriage is unhealthy and breeds lies that the enemy uses to trick someone into thinking that something is wrong with them and that they aren’t enough. I spent years after my relationship ended feeling less than and not enough. Worrying that no man would ever be crazy enough to choose me. Guarding my heart out of fear that I would be hurt again and that my feelings about not being enough would be validated. Every time someone would tell me that surely there was a guy out there for me but yet there was no one around, I fell further and further into the trap of constantly asking “then what is wrong with me?”

It doesn’t help that the American church places such an emphasis on marriage and families. It’s rare to find a single woman in a prominent leadership or pastoral position or speaking from behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning.  Oftentimes the single population in the church feels that their gifts and callings are overlooked by the fact that they don’t have a spouse to sit next to. Services tend to be so geared towards families that it can make a single person feel outcasted or ostracized at times, or worse, it leaves them standing all alone while families huddle together for prayer and communion. And any girl who grew up in church knows that at times, marriage was presented to us as the ultimate goal, and Jesus was presented to us a means to get to that goal. The entire scope of womanhood was defined to us by sermons and Sunday school messages as marriage and babies and nothing more. So we get confused. Because we are Christian women, we love the Lord, we have served faithfully, we did all the “right things”, but yet we are still single.

A few years ago I was driving and having a conversation pity party with the Lord, letting Him know exactly how I felt about the fact that I was still single. And in a moment of what really is only His grace, He asked me a question that changed my life.

Me : God I’m so frustrated. Why haven’t you brought me my husband yet? Why does everyone else always seem to get what I’m praying for? I have served and given and devoted my life to You but it’s getting hard to do it all alone.

Him: What would you do if you never get married?

Me: Well….I mean, I would still do what You called me to do.

Him: Then why aren’t you doing it?

Me: *sat there quietly for the rest of the drive because God just put me in my place*

This is one of the reasons why I love Him so so much. He easily could have assured me that He has the perfect man for me, that it was all in His timing and my reward would be great. He could have shown me things that me and my husband will do together one day and encouraged me to prepare myself to be a good wife. Or He even could have revealed to me an entire list of things that I needed to work on to make myself “marriage material.” He could have shown me all the reasons my heart was already sure were why I was still single.

But He didn’t do that. He took that moment to say look Angela, you stop worrying about everything else and just do what I have told you to do. Which is exactly what I needed to hear from Him. I needed to know that He was not concerned about the fact that I am still single. That He didn’t overlook me and belittle me. That His plans and purposes for my life were in no way contingent on whether or not I had a husband. In a simple question, He told me that I was enough. He told me that He found value and purpose in me and needed me to see it in myself. I found my freedom that day and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Please hear me friends – If the God of the universe is not worried about, concerned with, or moved by the fact that you are still single, then you shouldn’t be either. He is not frantically trying to figure out how He is going to make this happen for you. He has not left His throne scrambling to work all things out for your good.

Regardless of if I ever get married or not, I will shout this message for the rest of my life:

MARRIAGE IS NOT THE ULTIMATE GOAL.

You can’t experience real freedom as a single person until you stop believing any lie that makes you feel that marriage is some ultimate prize to be obtained and start living from a place of knowing that the ultimate prize has always been and will always be Jesus Christ.

He alone is our great reward.

This life has nothing to do with whether or not we are married or single. It has to do with the fact that we are here to know Him and to make Him known and we have to take responsibility for that calling, regardless of our relationship status and the season we find ourselves in.

I know that it can feel impossible to silence the lies in your mind that tell you all of the reasons why you are still single and that you aren’t enough. To this day I have moments where they try to sneak back in – Angela you aren’t pretty enough, skinny enough,  funny enough,  smart enough,  talented enough, dependent enough, quiet enough. You are not enough.

But here’s the good news. I am enough! You are enough! We are enough simply because Jesus Christ is enough.

I’d be lying if I told you that I never think about a husband. I do. I talk about it with friends and continue to pray for God’s will in this situation. But the beautiful thing about doing everything that God has called you to do right now in your here and now life is that your mind doesn’t have time to be consumed with thoughts about marriage and all the “what-ifs”. You can go to sleep at night feeling fulfilled and whole, knowing that you are fully living out your purpose. And if one day you get married, that’s great,  and if you don’t, that’s great too because He is more than enough for you.

Just live your life friends. Do whatever it is that God is calling you to do and asking of you. Don’t wait. You won’t be “better equipped” one day to step out in faith and follow Him simply because you are married. We aren’t living our lives for some elusive day in the future where we wake up next to someone. Marriage is not our ultimate goal nor is it a prerequisite for living out our callings

There’s too much trauma, abuse, hurt, pain, darkness, and corruption going on in the world today to allow ourselves to be blinded by how incredibly blessed we are simply because we aren’t married. If the hardest thing in my life right now is that I don’t yet have to share my bed and my bank account, I think I’m good <3

Why I Don’t Want to Hustle

Why I Don't Want to Hustle-1

The sunlight streaming through the windows woke me up. I opened my eyes and immediately felt disappointed in myself, knowing I must have slept way longer than I intended to. The faint sound of my alarm could be heard, muffled by the fact that it had been hidden underneath my pillows but never turned off. I grabbed my phone and checked the time. 9am. Getting angry at myself for the fact that I had now slept hours past my alarm for five mornings in a row, I jumped out of bed to get to work. As I walked to my office to grab my computer, the first words that came out of my mouth were “God, I’m sorry.”

Wait, what? God I’m sorry? As if God is disappointed in me for unintentionally sleeping in a few mornings? Why would I feel that way and why would that be my very first thought?

It’s simple really. We have been conditioned to focus on the hustle. Wake up early, go to bed late, work like crazy in between. That seems to be the way of the world these days. Hustle – Strive – Perform – Create Opportunities – Repeat.

We hold ourselves to such unrealistic standards and then condemn ourselves for things so small as sleeping in late, missing a workout, or even getting sick. We find ourselves living in this exhausting state of fear and anxiety, believing that every moment of every day we have to be working towards some greater goal. We get crushed under the pressure that the entire weight of us living out our fullest potential, seeing our dreams come true, and finishing everything that we were put on this earth to do lies solely on our shoulders.

I can’t tell you how many times while taking a break or (let’s be honest), while procrastinating and wasting time, I have felt so guilty and so ashamed that I wasn’t working right at that moment. And If I didn’t have work to do, then surely I should be reading a book on personal development or how to become a better writer or anything at all to push me closer to my goals. Make it happen, Angela. Give God your best.

But God showed me something this week that you have to know. It’s so simple, but it’s so freeing.

Grace will take you places that your hard work can’t.

I don’t think you fully grasped that. Read it again. Say it out loud. Let it really sink in.

Grace will take you places that your hard work can’t.

God, you can’t be serious. This goes against everything that we are taught to believe. This doesn’t line up with the fact that I feel a  knot in the pit of my stomach every time I’m not working hard enough. Or the disappointment I know you feel when I wake up late or don’t get as much accomplished in a day as I intended to.

But maybe He isn’t as interested in our hustle as we think He is?

“Father, I want to make you proud. I want to do everything you called me to do.” I’ve said these words for as long as I can remember. But while my heart and my intentions were good, somewhere along the way things got twisted. My hard work and my hustle became my enemy. Why? Because I started performing FOR Him rather than working WITH Him. 

And that’s the problem with our idolization of hustling. We inevitably start trying to earn His love, His favor. Look at me! Look how hard I’m working for You! For Your Kingdom! Are You proud yet? 

We can’t co-labor with Christ while simultaneously striving to perform for Christ. There’s a difference in working hard for love and acting out of obedience because we are loved.

We have to stop trying to work apart from Christ and earn our right to His calling and our spot in His kingdom by being good hustlers. There’s a difference between being a disciplined, hard-worker and being someone who every single day is striving and striving and striving to make something happen as if God has left us to figure this thing out on our own.

It’s not up to us to make God’s purposes prevail. Let that go. That’s too much pressure that we were never meant to carry. It’s simply up to us to give Him our best yes, do what we can do, and trust Him with the rest.

Listen – If God wants something to succeed, it’s going to succeed. He knows the desire and the intention of your heart. When we live life with Him, fully surrendered to His will, doing what we can to be obedient to what He asks of us, we cannot end up somewhere that we aren’t supposed to be.

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.        Psalm 37:23

We have to learn to give things our best yes because we are exchanging a day of our lives for everything that we choose to do today.

And sometimes, the most important thing in the moment is to work hard. Absolutely. Something needs to get finished or God has asked you to do something specific.

But other times, the most important thing in the moment is to hunt dinosaurs with your nephew.

Say yes to what matters most. God gives us such sweet gifts in life, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about stopping and enjoying them. We have to stop waiting for some far away day in the future when we have finally “made it.”  Every moment of our lives, we are living out our calling. Today is your destiny. Don’t get so caught up in the one day, that you forget to cherish this day.

So I don’t want to hustle anymore. At least not by the world’s definition. What I want to do is work hard, be diligent, and be a good steward of my time. I want to work alongside Christ, not spin my wheels trying to earn that spot next to Him. I want to be fully surrendered to His will and be obedient to all He asks simply because I’m loved and cherished. I want to give things my best yes and enjoy this sweet life of mine without feeling guilty. I want to dream crazy dreams, do what I can do, and trust Him with everything else, fully resting in His love, His grace, and His promises.

Have you burnt yourself out trying to hustle? Trying to make God proud of you? Let me remind you once again of these sweet words – Grace will take you places that your hard work can’t. Let yourself off the hook. You don’t have the right to withhold from yourself the grace that He has freely given you. Stop trying to work for His approval and just abide in Him.

And the good news? Your perceived failures don’t have the final say – only Christ does. And He already won you the victory.

I’d Rather Have Jesus – On Prosperity and the Gospel

I'd rather have jesus

The church pews were full and the atmosphere was electric as the expectancy from the crowd filled the room. Worship paved the way as voices cried out in unity “then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art.”  It was the first service of 2016 and you could feel it in the air, this excitement for a new year and a new season for the church body.

As the message began, it was evident that it was going to be focused on prosperity, wealth, and material possessions. Declarations of vacation homes and airplanes and new cars and mortgages paid off and tripled bank accounts by the end of 2016 were thrown around flippantly. Scriptures like “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” were used to say See! God wants us to have things!

Feeling a little bit of anger as well as an overwhelming sadness for the people in attendance the more I listened to the words being spoken, I sat there uncomfortably and restlessly. I initially thought that maybe something was wrong with me, as I can be cynical and guarded towards most things involving the church at times.  But the longer I  listened to the message, asking God to check my heart, the more I knew that the reason I felt the way I did was simple – the message wasn’t truth.

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe in financial breakthroughs and that I serve the God of more than enough. I believe that I can’t out-give God and that I never have to stress or worry about my needs being met. With all my heart I believe in Jehovah Jireh, my provider. It is my desire that nobody would be in need and that everyone would  get to enjoy good things in life. I have no problem with Christians being wealthy and having material possessions, and I think the body of Christ should have plenty of money and resources and anything else that is needed to expand the Kingdom.

But what I do have a problem with is scriptures being distorted and the life-giving words of Christ being taken out of context and used to promote messages about wealth, possessions, and worldly success.

So we have to talk about this. Not to tear down speakers and judge people – our goal should always be to build others up and edify the church body. But to be able to sift through these types of messages and decipher what is the real truth of the gospel because it’s only when the truth of the word of God abides in us that we are set free.

As Christians, we belong to an upside-down Kingdom. It’s a system that doesn’t have the same values and priorities as the world – especially when it comes to money. Jesus said some of the most counter-cultural things in regards to money and giving. He commanded that we use our financial resources to help those in need (Luke 10:29-37;18:18-25), said that we should give to everyone who begs from us without asking for anything in return (Luke 14:28-30), and pointed out that people who are choked by the cares and riches and the pleasure of life have immature fruit (Luke 8:14). He even condemned the Pharisees for tithing but neglecting justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42) and warned us to be on guard against all kinds of greed because our lives do not consist in the abundance of possessions (Luke 12:13-15).

As I sat in this service and listened as the words to a dear hymn were changed from “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold” to “I’m gonna have Jesus and silver and gold”, I wanted to weep. Because if we can sing along with that, we’re missing the point. I’m not saying that material possessions and money are evil or wrong, but if we want to fulfill our mandate on this earth then the cry of our hearts has to be that we would rather have Jesus above all else.  That we are willing to join Him in this revolutionary Kingdom and die to ourselves and our selfish desires every day. That we are willing to pick up our crosses and follow Him, wherever He leads. That we are willing to become faithfully obedient in all things, trusting Him to meet our daily needs and make our not enough more than enough. That we ultimately understand that He alone IS the blessing and nothing else.

Growing up in the church, I’ve seen people give from a place of fear and emotional manipulation, and I believe that this grieves the heart of the Father. We are called to live lives of radical generosity but not because of the promise of larger bank accounts or because we are scared that we are going to be cursed. We give simply because He gave, and we are called to be like Him. A life following Christ will naturally become a life that lives with hands wide open because it will start to take on the character of the greatest Giver of all time. And when we get to that place collectively as a body of Christ, maybe then we can start caring about the things that God cares about. I’ve heard enough beginning of the year messages talking about the ways God is going to increase me before the year is over. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our 2016 proclamation had nothing to do with ourselves but was rather a statement of how the body of Christ is going to become beacons of light to the world. That this is going to be the year that hundreds of families in our churches become licensed foster and adoptive parents, that we are going to commit to taking care of our widows and will get involved in social justice issues in our communities.

Friends, as you seek Him first and His righteousness, you are promised that He will take care of your needs. Every last one of them. You don’t have to worry and stress about it. You don’t have to spin in circles, dance in the altar, or give special seed offerings. Everything you need is already in His hands. Just trust Him and seek Him. (I am not talking about giving special gifts or offerings that you feel led by the Spirit to give. We should look for opportunities to give and should desire to give. We should be generous and cheerful givers at all times. Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and always give when and what you feel that He is telling you to and sow into good ground. And I do believe that God is so faithful to honor those gifts. I’m talking about coerced and manipulated offerings that promise health/success/wealth as a reward.)

Do I think God wants His children to enjoy good things? Absolutely! I believe that He cares about every tiny thing that concerns us and that His Father heart is pleased when He spoils us.

But make no mistake about it – the prosperity message of the gospel has nothing to do with wealth, possessions, or success.

The prosperity message of the gospel is simply this – to live is Christ, to die is gain.  It’s knowing that we have a friend who sticks closer than a brother and that there is no condemnation for him who is in Christ Jesus. It’s the understanding that nothing can separate us from the love of God and that when we pass through the waters, He will be with us, and when we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us, and when we walk through the fire, the flames will not set us ablaze.

Do you want the promise of a successful life? Then love God and love people. It really is that simple.

Seek His face, dream big dreams, take leaps of faith, believe Him for miracles and breakthroughs – but plant your feet on the foundation that the cross is more than enough for you. Be faithful. Be obedient. Just trust Him.

Let’s not be people who are swayed by what this world has to offer. All the money and possessions in the world can’t compare to Jesus Christ. He is the most brilliant and radiant treasure of them all.

Too many times now we are seeing how the allure of fame, success, or wealth can distort the truth of the word of God.  Friends, please guard your hearts. Fight for the truth. Seek it out for yourselves and speak up for it. There’s too much at stake to not do so. Learn to sift through these messages and hear God’s heart about it for yourselves. The truth is a powerful weapon that brings freedom to your soul.

And if the cost of riches and success is that I lose the truth inside of me? No thanks, I’m not interested. World, you can keep all you have to offer. I’d rather have Jesus.

2015, you kinda sucked

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I’m not gonna lie. I’m ready to see 2015 go.

This was a rough year for me and so many people I know. It was a year that left more questions than answers, that brought a lot of grief, and left many promises unfulfilled. So many times throughout the year I felt restless and frustrated, letting myself be distracted with busyness and fear and doubts rather than resting in Christ and trusting His plan. If I was honest I would say that 2015 was one of the worst years I’ve had in a long time.

At the beginning of the year I wrote that God was telling me that He wanted me to lean into Him this year, to fully lean into everything that He had for me and to learn to trust Him in even deeper ways. And in so many ways I failed miserably at that. I doubted Him. I got angry at Him. I pushed Him away and let a root of bitterness grow in my heart over some unanswered prayers.

But God.

Because the God that I serve didn’t turn away from me or stop loving me or become disappointed in me. He pursued me and led me to places where He could work in my heart and show me things about my future and plant new dreams in my soul. He patiently waited on me to stop being dumb fix my eyes back on Him. He never left my side.

I walked through the majority of 2015 asking God “why” every single day. Not understanding.

But even so, He was still good.

And so here we are, the last day of the year. Only five more hours until a new year, a fresh start. But yet with all the excitement and energy that tonight brings, the truth remains – no matter what happens in 2016, He will still be good.

He was good this year in the doubts and frustration and bitterness, and He will be good in the new year, and His goodness is an anchor of hope that lays a foundation for our feet to walk on.

So tonight, I’m choosing to leave some things behind. I felt weighed down this year by so many things but the reality is that sometimes stuff feels too heavy because we were never meant to carry them in the first place.

I’m leaving behind my doubts and I’m choosing to believe that He has a plan and that He works all things together for my good.

I’m leaving behind the weight of other people’s expectations and judgments.

I’m leaving behind unrealistic standards and giving myself grace to try, fail, learn, and grow.

I’m leaving behind bitterness. Over still yet to be fulfilled promises and unanswered prayers.

I’m leaving behind the desire for constant clarity and will embrace the beautiful uncertainty of trust.

I’m leaving behind the thief of all good things – comparison. If I have to remind myself this every single day, I will run my own race, knowing that if I was meant to be doing anything else at this point in my life, God would have already worked it out.

If you have things you need to lay down and not carry into the new year, do it tonight. Just leave it. We don’t have time to be distracted with petty things. There’s too much at stake. Just set it down. You can’t carry it anymore. It’s too heavy. In these last few hours of 2015, be done with it. There’s no special formula or magical prayer that I can give you, it’s simply a choice. A choice to leave behind the negative and embrace His goodness and step into a new year full of gratitude and hope for what’s in store.

2015, you will always be remembered as the year that I almost gave up. The year that I got so angry at God and myself that I couldn’t even think straight sometimes. The year that I was so exhausted I almost had a complete breakdown. The year that I buried my dog of twelve years and laid on the hospital floor as I got the news that my mom had to have emergency surgery. The year that the love of God refused to let me go and captivated my heart all over again. The year that He revealed to me more things about my future and encouraged me at just the right times and planted new dreams in my heart. The year that He restored my hope and calmed my soul.

2015, you brought a lot of loss and pain, but you also brought a deeper level of intimacy with Christ and a new understanding of what it means to fully and completely trust Him and hope in Him.

Absolutely priceless lessons.

So in reality, you were the best year of my life.

So here’s to you 2015 – I’m glad to see you go but I’m thankful for what you gave me. And because of you, I’m stepping into 2016 bolder, braver, stronger, and more hopeful than I’ve ever been.

Happy New Year, friends. May your year be full of love, blessings, and crazy adventures.

The Imaginary War On Christmas

The Imaginary War

We are fighting a war on Christmas.

That’s the first thing I saw when I was scrolling through articles the other day on a Christian news site. I’ve heard it before, seen it written, laughed at news anchors talking about it, but I always just brushed it away and didn’t think anything more of it. But this time I was curious (because too often I assume that my opinions must be God’s as well) – what does God think about this supposed war?

We’ve all seen the fuss made about cups and the way store employees greet us. Arguments about whether or not nativity scenes belong on government properties and the banning of Christmas trees from some stores. And everytime something comes up, there’s a flood of Christians right on its heels, ready to defend, defend, defend and go to war. Fighting for our rights. Standing up for Jesus. Because after all, He is the reason for the season.

I understand where people are coming from, I really do. It’s a natural human response to want to defend and protect what we believe in and hold everything so close and tight for fear of it being taken away from us. We call ourselves God’s army and show up ready to battle because we take such pride in our stances and how dare the Target cashier not tell us Merry Christmas.

So I asked Him – God what do you think about the war on Christmas?

And almost immediately I heard these words in my spirit – “it’s imaginary.” (God makes me laugh. He’s so blunt and funny and it’s fantastic.)

But how true is that? This war we feel like we are fighting??  It’s imaginary. It’s fake. It’s not real. It’s in our heads.

Why?

Because the Christmas story doesn’t belong to us.

It’s not ours. It’s His. The story belongs to Him because He created it. This sovereign God penned the most incredible love story ever written and breathed life into it. He set it into motion and saw it to completion.

The entire world could ban Christmas.  Laws could be made preventing any public display of Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and decorative lights. Radio stations could refuse to acknowledge the season and not play any Christmas music and carolers could be arrested on the streets and we still wouldn’t be fighting a war on Christmas because the world didn’t give us Christmas. He did. And nothing and nobody can take away from us what God has placed in our hands.

Don’t let anyone steal the beauty of this season from you. It’s pure supernatural magic.

Don’t let the gift of love becoming flesh take a backseat to petty fights and fake wars.

Don’t miss the moment. This is such a sacred and holy story God has written and allowed us to take part in. To experience and be witnesses to its power.

Lean into the story this holiday season. Breathe it in. When you press in, you can feel it. You can feel the hearts, in sin and error pining, waiting and longing for a Savior. You can sense the anticipation welling over until suddenly, He appeared! Oh what a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!

This story, the one nobody can take away from you, you can celebrate it every single day of the year if you want to. The story of how Christ stepped into our reality, wrapping Himself in humanity, pain, suffering, and death.

It’s the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. In all our trials, born to be our friend. O Holy Night.

Can we all just rest in that truth? God is with us. God is with us. God is with us.

Friends, lay down your swords. This Christmas season God doesn’t want you busying yourself fighting imaginary wars. He simply wants you to rest in Him and to rediscover the truth and the magic of the Christmas story. To long for Him and wait for Him in holy anticipation and then to fall on your knees in adoration and thanksgiving.

This Christmas story – it’s His. It belongs to the Father. He is the author of love made flesh. He gave us the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace. And no one can take from you the story God wrote for you.

Let all within us praise His holy name.

To The Heart Struggling To Be Thankful

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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.

The Least of These

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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.

A letter to my girls

to my girls.. My girls,

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.

XOXO,

Ang

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I'm a daughter, sister, aunt, friend, Jesus Feminist, and social justice wanna-be. I believe in women finding their freedom and living out their callings without permission or apology.

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