Saturday, January 5, 2019

reignite the passion

Some would think the ambiance of where I am to be distracting. The hum and woosh of the espresso machine. The people talking. Jingle of change in the tip jar. The smells of coffee and baked bread mingling in the air.

I find it inspiring. I’m an ENFP. That might not mean anything to some of you but, it mostly means I love, and am inspired by, lots of activity around me. I love people. I love sounds. I love smells. Especially when they go well with one another. The perfect place? A coffee shop. Such a great place for me to reignite passion.

A few years ago, my Pastor preached about passion. The context comes from scripture in Song of Songs. It’s passion as related to a relationship but, he took it a little farther to speak to other passions. Like passion for a hobby. While I’m not the most grammatically correct person, I love to write. There is something so therapeutic about writing out my thoughts. When I see them on the screen, or on paper, it’s a satisfaction that reveals some piece of healing for me. I love that. The past two years, this passion began to swell. I began a ministry blog that focused on sharing pieces of my story. The vision and passion for it was huge. There was a fire lit from within and I invited several other women to join me. While those few ladies joined me for a time, the passion, was not reciprocated. I watched my personal passion for this begin to fizzle because of it. While I watched it fizzle, I chose to walk away. The questions and doubts began to invade every part of the passion that was once there until it was completely gone.

“Why is no one jumping on board with this???”

“How can I light a fire and empower other women to join me???”

“There is NO way, on God’s green earth, I am the ONLY one who loves to write and share my story!!! Or am I???”

So many questions. So many days and nights of pouring out my heart to Jesus. And then, I gave it up. Just walked away. The timing of it all wasn’t completely off, though. Women’s Ministry at my church was picking up. I have a full-time job and other commitments with ministry.  Between meeting with ladies, and work and such, the time to focus on this blog just didn’t feel right. I took it as maybe the Lord saying, “not right now”.



Have you ever walked away from something that seemed like it wasn’t the right time but, it still didn’t rest well?

My pastor also shared this in his message: Passion isn't lost as much as it's forsaken.

Forsaken. Deserted. Abandoned.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes to me in subtle ways and sometimes He comes to me with a good bop on the head. Well, the bop on the head is how He showed up today. That quote about passion being forsaken was for me. Especially when it came to the passion I have for writing and sharing my story. This passion I have for empowering women to share their own. You know what I want? I want every single woman, that I come in contact with, to know they have a story worth sharing. Every part of it. The ugly and the glorious. The sorrowful and the celebratory. The heartache and the beauty. Every. Single. Part.

This is what I believe: No matter the pain we have been through and no matter the twisted, disgusting or hurtful experiences we have been through, when Jesus grabs hold of our hearts, those pieces of our story are redeemed and beautified.


He turns ASHES into BEAUTY.  That is what my God can do! And when we experience that; when we say YES to Jesus and declare that we will no longer be bound by those things the enemy meant to trip us up with, we should be shouting it out for other women to hear and declaring the hope that we have! That hope can be the key to another woman's salvation! It could be that one thing that will stop her in her tracks and, decide that Jesus is all she needs. Let me share with you my own story about this.

Right when I was first deciding how much I was going to go in with following Jesus, I joined a small group of young women. It was there that I was on the receiving end of a woman sharing her story. As she shared, I felt the hairs on my arms stand up and my heart began to beat quickly. This woman had a similar childhood and similar hurt; she also struggled with identity issues and confidence issues; a woman who could easily be my spiritual twin. Because of her story and her obedience in sharing it, I can say, with confidence, it’s because that I am where I’m at today. Because she decided to go all in with her story, I made the choice to go all in with Jesus.

There is nothing like feeling alone. Feeling broken. Feeling like you are dirty and strange because you feel like you are the only one who has gone through certain circumstances and think the thoughts you do. The things that held me back from sharing were shame. If someone knows what I struggle with, I will no longer be accepted. I will be declared a lost hope. I would be sent away. People would be disgusted and judgmental.

While I won’t gloss things over and say none of that will happen, unfortunately, it will. There will be the small few who will receive my story with a clouded lens. The GOOD NEWS is, my story could reach many.

My pastor mentioned many times in his message that “Passion is brought back to life by doing the things you did at first.” I’m doing the things I did at first. I’m sharing my story and I am writing. I’m digging my heels in the ground and revisiting why I want to do this. Why I love to write. Why I love to share. I’m sitting in this coffee shop amidst the hums, chatter, jingling and smells. I’m watching women walk through the doors with stories. Stories to be heard. Stories that are not finished yet. Stories that include Jesus and how He has redeemed their souls. Stories that are on the brink of restoration. Stories that need to hear YOUR story.

Listen, I want you to know something: God wants your soul so that He can restore and redeem you.  He created you and He sure loves His creation! SO much! He hates the pain we have to deal with. We will never fully understand why we have to go through some of the things we go through but the peace that passes understanding overrules any doubt and fear we may have. It really does!

So, what has happened with the passion I once had for that ministry blog? Something that God has been doing is refining my eyes and training my heart to see HIS perspective. (This will never be perfected until I’m in heaven doing the running man with Jesus, by the way.) Each moment and in everything I do, I see Him taking something that I’ve lost passion for or have gotten frustrated with, and He reveals to me more of what “He meant when He placed the passion in me.” And it causes me to respond with “Oooooh, that’s what You meant!” When it comes to that ministry blog, while it was a wonderful thing and I’m so thankful for the experience and the women it brought into my life, it wasn’t exactly the way God meant for me to do it. Not to mention the timing was all wrong.

As I head into this new year, the passion for writing has been reignited. My writing is not to glorify myself and it's not to show off. Each day, I want to take this all to the Lord first and seek Him. Ask Him, "Lord, what would you want to say today?" I believe that the Holy Spirit is also tapping you on the shoulder today - "passion is brought back to life when you do things you did at first." What will you do to be obedient? What is standing in your way? Pray about those things and, bring them to the Lord. He will fling wide the doors to whatever it is He is calling you to. You just need to trust and have faith.

Our God is so good. So, so good. And He loves you more than anyone on this earth could!

Monday, December 31, 2018

the day i climbed over a mountain

A couple of years ago, I went on a hike to a place called Diablo Lake. It's a beautiful slice of Gods creation here in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, it is nestled in one of the most beautiful pieces of landscape in the U.S. called the American Alps aka the Northern Cascades. It's absolutely stunning there with the snow peaks and the beautiful, lush valleys and pristine glacier lakes.



This hike was brought on after a year of me revolutionizing my health. I had started eating differently and became more active. Running was now in my vocabulary, which is crazy because it was something I scoffed at and purposefully researched the hazards of, just so I could have good reason to not do it. Now, here I am, years later, still participating in 5k's. It just boggles my mind how quickly perspectives can change.

So, in my attempt to remain active, build upon my core strength and all that healthy jargon, I decided I wanted to hike. The outdoors were calling my name. I knew it would be wise to begin with a rather easy hike and so, upon my very quick and, rather careless, research, I found Diablo Lake.
It began all well and good. I felt challenged. I felt pushed. Not to my limits but, I definitely was breathing harder, feeling the pull on my body and energy; knowing that I would feel it the next day. The view was amazing and I was in complete awe over God's creativity and ingenuity. The mountain peaks, the valleys and how He purposefully placed each tree and plant to create unity, rhythm, variety, line, and texture. He painted a masterpiece with nature and I got to take it all in.

The thing that I was not aware of, or maybe I was just in denial about, was that the hike was both up and down. Not just up and then down. But up and down both directions with very comparable inclines and declines. As we began the descent to the lake, I remember thinking, and dreading, that we were going to have to hike back up this to get back. I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it would probably stretch me. And I was not looking forward to it.

I tried my best to ignore that reality while I sat by the lake and took it all in. The water was clear and pure and refreshing. The butterflies we saw were huge and beautiful. The sounds of the birds and water lapping up against the rocks was so peaceful and soothing. This was God's land. This was His fingerprint. His masterpiece. His creation. And He was proudly displaying it for me to see.

Now, let me stop here for a moment and let's just discuss how intriguing it is to me that, one of God's beautiful creations has the name Diablo Lake. Diablo is the Spanish the word for devil. Nice, right? It can even be used as an expletive in Spanish. When it's taken from the Greek, it means to throw apart or scatter - to divide. Interesting, right?

The reality of having to begin the steep climb had now arrived. We barely began and I realized this was not going to be good. It was not going to be easy. My breathing, immediately, became labored (I suffer from mild asthma) and I felt the twinge in all my climbing muscles. No, this was not going to be good. After I caught my breath, we took a few more steps. I had to stop again. Then, a few more steps. Stop. Few more steps. Stop. Pretty soon, I realized I wasn't going to make it. This was going to be impossible and I should never have gone on this hike. How could I have ever thought I could do this or thought I was ready for this? The incline was steep and we weren't even close to halfway. No, I wasn't going to make it. But, what was I to do? We were in the middle of nowhere. I had no choice but to keep going.

Finally, at some point and that point I do not remember exactly, I silently pleaded to God, "please help me! I can't do this on my own God. I need a miracle. I need a miraculous touch from you to push me forward. I can't do this." Well, I didn't feel a magical push or sudden burst of divine energy. Instead, I felt more pain and breathing became more difficult. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and my head began to feel detached from the rest of my body. My thoughts began to lead to, "what if I die up here? what if I don't get to see tomorrow?" I finally called out to my hiking buddy, "I can't do this! I don't think I can do this!" Hello, can you see how the lakes name was living up to it's meaning here? My resolve and my energy was being divided, scattered and thrown apart.

God has an interesting way of doing things. Sometimes we don't know what He is doing until a few days later when we are in a more right mind and can look back at a moment with more reasonable thoughts, clearer heads and open hearts. In the heat of a challenging moment, for me especially, I'm not open to everything. All I know is how I feel in that exact moment and what I want. In that exact moment, I wanted a helicopter to appear and lift me up or I wanted that magical push and surge of energy. I wasn't getting either of those things.

So, did God leave me? Did He ignore my cries?

It's easy to think so but, no. He absolutely did not and, as I type this through my tears, I know and realize that He was closer to me than I have ever let Him be before. I was in the most vulnerable place I have ever been in my life, when it came to my physical strength. Whether I'm a dramatic sort or not, I literally thought I was not going to make it. I was filled with fear for all the "what ifs" and I hated every moment. The trees were not beautiful, the mountain peaks were not majestic and the sun was a complete nuisance and evil presence. I can giggle, through my tears, at all that because at the time of writing this, I was sitting comfortably on my bed. I had a fan pointed at me that pushed a delicious breeze over my body while I sat quite snug up against my fluffy pillows. The sun was not evil but, it was lovely warming my skin. The trees were beautiful and Mt. Baker was showing off and quite magnificent off in the distance.

My how my perspective changed over those 48+ hours. Multiple times, at that!

So, where is the lesson in all this? Where is the sermon illustration? What does this all mean and how can it possibly relate to anyone reading this? I don't know but, I'm going to share with you what it meant for me personally. There is a song that I love to lead at church called Oceans (Where Feet May Fail). I always call it a dangerous song to pray because the bridge has the following words:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will become stronger, in the presence of my Savior
There is a reason I call these dangerous lyrics. Do you realize what you are asking God when you are singing this? Lead me without borders. Wherever. Deeper. Make my faith become stronger.


Those are deep requests and God does not take them lightly. If this is a song you want to cry out to God then, you better be ready for His answers. Without borders means just that. There is no negotiation. There is no "without borders buuuuut could you not make me do that God? Or go there or do that?" Without borders means everything is game. Think about the phrase "Deeper than my feet could ever wander." When we wade in a shallow pool and our feet are touching the ground, that usually means our heads are still above the water. We can see what's around us. We are still breathing in oxygen. We still feel in control and stable. But, the minute we reach the depth that has our heads bobbing under water, we know we better turn around and head back for the shallow end if we want to keep walking. But, this song, these words we're saying to Jesus, requires TRUST. A big, humongous bucket load of trust! You are trusting Him to be your oxygen. To be your guide and strength. You're asking Him to take you somewhere you can't go on your own. There is no compromise or negotiation with this one either!

And the end part of this prayer is the outcome: we want our faith to, ultimately, be stronger because of what we are asking the Holy Spirit to do.

Whoa nelly. I bet you'll be singing that differently, in church, the next time won't you? I actually went through a brief season of not singing it when that song was done because of these very reasons. I was not in a place where I was ready to fully let go. I wasn't doing very well, spiritually, and just didn't have the faith or the strength to let go. The last time I led it, though, I sang it with gusto. I fully believed in and trusted in God with those requests and words. I figured, I know this is a gutsy request and would probably test me to the limit but, with God all things are possible!!!

Little did I know how He was going to fulfill this request. My oh my how taken off guard I was going to be to experience something that would take my faith to a another level.

You see, God answered my prayer through that song in a way I never could have imagined. I'll share that near the end of this but, this brings up another important piece of scripture, that I have been "safe praying" through the past eight years. It's a passage from Ephesians that someone once prayed over me. I have since declared it my personal prayer and have been secretly waiting to see how God was going to answer it. There have been many moments, since then, that I thought were His way of answering and I certainly believe they were! But, they were also building up to the next thing and the next moment and the next thing and the next.

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom wevery family3 in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to xthe riches of his glory yhe may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit zin your inner being, 17 aso that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being brooted and cgrounded in love, 18 may have strength to dcomprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and eheight and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ fthat surpasses knowledge, that gyou may be filled with all hthe fullness of God.
20 iNow to jhim who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, kaccording to the power at work within us, 21 lto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:14-21

Let's focus on two parts of this prayer. In verses 18 - 19, it speaks about grasping how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Then, in verse 20, it begins to draw a close to the prayer with the truth that HE is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Do you truly understand how big and powerful our God is?

Do you?

Do you really?

Seriously?

Are you sure?

I thought I did. I thought I knew. Now, I'm not so sure anymore. I think He is bigger than I could ever understand. It goes beyond my comprehension. And that was proven to me on this hike.

Now, to bring this all together.

We can never fully understand how mighty our God is. It is too big for our human brains and hearts. I truly believe that, the day we are able to count the number of stars in the sky, the hairs on our heads or the grains of sand, will be the day we get it. And when will that day come? I don't know that we'll ever know those things but, I believe it won't happen until we are in Heaven, worshiping Him with all the angels. And we will be worshiping Him because we will know... it will suddenly make sense and we won't want to do anything else but fall at His feet and worship and sing and praise and exalt His name forever and ever and ever.

I was given a tiny glimpse of this with this hike.

It was not me that climbed back over that mountain. It was not by my strength. God took me deeper than my feet could ever wander. He guided me somewhere physically, that I could never go on my own. I lost all my physical strength. I had nothing left. And I'm not being dramatic here. I'm being very real. My legs were not moving by my own strength. My heart was not pounding because I kept moving. The breath I was taking was not because I was controlling my diaphragm. All of those tiny moments were happening because of God. He was doing immeasurably more than I could have ever asked or imagined.

I climbed a mountain. If you want to get technical, I climbed it twice. My "water" was a physical act of moving. Trusting that God DID give me His strength to get me over the hump. While I didn't feel that sudden surge of energy or whatever, I know that was so that I wouldn't get caught up in my own strength, as I so easily do. God knows me so well! He loves me too much to answer my prayer that way!

Here is what I'm taking away from all this - God is real. He is strong. He answers prayers. He is big and powerful and mighty and just and merciful. It's interesting that, through that whole ordeal, I had peace. At the time it was unexplainable but, now... now I know. In my most vulnerable moment to date, the Holy Spirit breathed life into me during that hike. He gave the exact breath I needed. The exact strength I needed to get back over that mountain. Not more. Not less. The exact amount so that I would have to continually rely on it.

Wow.

WOW.

Here is the truth that I know: God wants every single part of us. He wants us to fully trust in Him. He wants us to find JOY and PEACE in knowing that He is faithful and true. We don't need to have fear or shame or anxiety or doubt or worry because those are NOT from God! When He moves and when He answers our prayers those feelings dissolve. Peace washes over us. Maybe, like in my situation, we're still feeling the physical pain and it's hard for us to see the other part of what we are experiencing until the pain subsides. I knew I had peace because I kept going. I remember, in the midst of my labored breathing and physical pain, that I had a peace. And now, that the pain and all the emotion that came with that, has dissipated, I remember that peace.

I know who was with me.
I know who walked beside me.
I know who walked behind me and in front of me.
I know He IS and will continue to do immeasurably more than I could ever conceive to ask or imagine. And now, that faith I requested in the song Oceans - it has grown. Now, my prayer is that it would never leave me and I can always remember the day I climbed over a mountain.

May HIS PEACE rule over your heart today and forever.



Sunday, December 30, 2018

what are you afraid of?

What kinds of things are you afraid of? The dark? Heights? Perhaps like me, you turn into a ninja when walking through a spider web. You know what I mean! It doesn't matter if you are in skinny  jeans and heals. The flexibility and form that comes forth when those webs appear, could almost put Chuck Norris to shame. Maybe, as a child, you were afraid of the monster under your bed or in your closet. I’m sure we could  make a pretty long list of all of our fears - irrational and the like.

But what about our deepest fears? Those fears that rattle our nerves. When someone asks us to share something deep, the walls go up. A relationship could be going great until that question gets asked. You are doing just fine in the shallow end of the pool with your floaties - no need to go to that deep end. It always seems to come up when a small group is just beginning because, as an ice breaker, we usually share our stories. When it comes to our personal stories - our past, present and even the future - you might be able to talk someone’s ear off, and even laugh, about your fear of spiders but, when it comes down to sharing a piece of your past, you shake your head and think, it’s not worth sharing. Nope. You don’t need to know that.

I want to share with you my story of fear and how God redeemed that piece of my life. You see, sharing my story wasn’t always easy. I remember sitting in small group (like the example shared above) and we would go around the circle as each of us would share more about ourselves. Every once in awhile, someone would share something very personal that they were working on and it would even lead them to reveal something from their past because it was effecting this moment in their life but, when it would come around to me I would give answers that were something like: “Oh I’m just fine.” “Oh that’s just how I am” “I’m not ready to share all that.” “You don’t need to know that part of my life because it’s over and in the past.”

While that might be true, what we have been through and then leading into the moment we gave our lives to Jesus, can be such a beautiful way to share about the hope we have.

As a matter of fact, 1 Peter 3:14-15 is a great piece of scripture that tells us what to do with the hope we have. Let me give you some context with this scripture because, it truly enlightens me to the life circumstance, the people were in, when Peter wrote these words. He is encouraging and instructing a group of Christians who are facing persecution from authority figures for their faith.  Do you ever feel like you would face persecution because of your faith? That’s a fear. 

Now, let’s read what Peter says in regards to facing persecution and sharing:
But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened." but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:14-15 NIV
Always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have and, do this with gentleness and respect. Those words were added because of who this group of people were having to answer to - the authority figures who would, in the end, persecute them for what they would share. That would be another talk for another time, in regards to persecution but, it is important to get the full context of what that means.

Let’s just rest for a minute on the phrase “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have.” While this was a message for a specific group, in a specific time, just like any other story or encouragement or teaching in the bible, I believe that this is relevant for today. If you have found hope in Jesus Christ, you get to share that with others.

But what if sharing that hope means you have to “go there” with your story?

Do you know what that "there" is? It's the pivotal moment when you take off the robe and stand vulnerable. In a way, we can relate it to bearing all because, that is what it feels like in the moment. We don't get to hide behind the accolades and achievements. There comes a moment for each believer when, we are faced with sharing a piece of our story that includes some tender moments. Here is my story:

When I was just getting tight with Jesus and really enjoying all the changes going on within me and meeting some amazing new friends and just loving the heart change and joyful I was feeling, there was a time that came when I was questioned about this change - about this joy I now had. A friend approached me about this joy and wanted to know what I had been doing to achieve it. 

Well, I could answer that! Jesus! He changed me!

Her next question, "Jesus? Okay, well, how?"

My answer, "By… making me a better person. By forgiving me of my sins. Making me new and whole!"

Her next question, because my attempt to end the conversation and move on failed, "Well, how did he make you new?"

I had such an awesome opportunity to open wide the door and share about the true HOW but, my fear took over. I knew I would scare her away with the honest truth so, my reply was, "He just did. It's hard to explain because it's so personal." 

I was afraid. I was filled with shame. And I was afraid that if I admitted what had happened to me as a child, the listening would stop right there. We wouldn’t even get to the good part. And so, I would skip it. But, I'm not afraid anymore and here is a piece of my story - 

You see, as a child, I was molested by a family member. As a result, I grew up with a skewed view on what a sibling relationship looked like and I was ashamed of what had happened to me. Especially when I still couldn’t understand it all. Did I let it happen? Was I to blame? Did I ask for it? I mean, it was  him. And then all the skewed views on sex and intimate relationships entered in.  I felt alone and isolated. I must be the only person on this planet who has had this happen because, no one else is talking about it so, that makes me scarred and a reject. Through out my youth and early young adult years, I would carry the shame of this with me until I let Jesus in to wash me clean.

When it came to sharing this part of my past, fear and shame gripped me so tightly. I just knew people would look at me as if I was dirty. They would label me and think, “how could she have hope? She’s been tainted.” I struggled with this for a long time. I would get just so close to people and then, when it came to that point of possibly opening up, I would put up the wall. The relationship would no longer be authentic and real and it would eventually dissolve.

I knew that I wasn’t honoring God with my story because I was leaving out a very important part. In fact, there were a few key parts I wasn’t letting God in on.

I didn’t trust God with my story. I wouldn’t let Him take full control over what I had been through. I was afraid to open that old wound. No… no… I don’t need to go there again! It’s in the past! It’s over! Done! It doesn’t affect who I am today! Besides, if He loves me, why would He want me to "go there" again and experience all that pain again? 

I didn’t trust others with my story. How could I live an authentic life with fellow believers if I wasn't honest with them? I knew that my past affected quite a large chunk of my life and it was the reason for my identity issues and many of the choices I made growing up. So, of course, it had a significant role when it came to sharing about the reason or the hope that I have. But, I still didn't trust what their reactions would be. 

I didn’t trust myself with my story. Years past, I used my story to manipulate. I found out that when things weren’t going my way, I could make people feel sorry for me. I didn’t want that to happen anymore because since giving my life to Jesus, I didn’t need that validation. So, why bother? Right? And besides, even if I didn't mean to manipulate, they would still think that. 

Well, as I considered all the reasons why I wasn’t sharing my story, I knew that they weren’t from God. But, how could I get to this place of understanding that I didn’t need to be afraid? That this shame was not from God; it was the enemy taking advantage of this weakness within me. The enemy loves fear and shame. He wants us to drown in it! 

God wants us to live in His grace and strength. There is some beautiful scripture in the bible that talks about how God loves us and how He sees us and it’s all amazing stuff. There is one in particular that grabbed my attention.

Psalm 139 is a beautiful prose When I was doing some research on this, I came across this little paragraph that describes the Psalm like this:

“some of the Jewish doctors are of opinion that this is the most excellent of all the psalms of David; and a very pious devout meditation it is upon the doctrine of God’s omniscience, which we should therefore have our hearts fixed upon and filled with in singing this psalm.” source: blueletterbible.org

Wow. That caught my attention. The most excellent of psalms. Let's read it together out of the NIV:
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
So good. I want to sit on a particular verse here. It’s one that revolutionized how I feel about my story. And about that fear that held me back from truly giving it all to Jesus and having the courage to share with others because it really does connect with the HOPE that I have!

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Let’s just sit on that for a minute. WE are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knows all about us. Inside and outside. He knew us because he created us. He knew us in our mothers womb and he knows what will be coming out of our mouths before we even think it. How mind boggling is that? He knows the number of hairs on our heads for goodness sake.

When I was teaching, I asked my PreK students if they knew how many hairs they had on their heads. Of course they know. Because they are five but, seriously, when I got them thinking about it, I watched their eyes grow big. Even at five years old, they get it

Another thing I use to do when I taught was memorize this piece of scripture with my students. We used the New International Readers Version and I love how it puts these verses:

“How you made me is amazing and wonderful. I praise you for that. 
What you have done is wonderful. I know that very well.”

Listen, when I got into this piece of scripture some things starting rocking my world.

My God KNOWS me. He knows me. He knows what happened to me as a child. None of that was hidden from him. He wept with me. He comforted me. He knew that it was awful. He knew exactly how I felt.  (Hebrews 4:13)

My God LOVES me. He created me. Of course He loves me! He sacrificed His one and only son for me. It's an undeserving love. It's an unconditional kind of love!

My God SEES me. He sees me. Sometimes that’s all we need. We just need someone to see us. Notice us. Care for us. Make us feel special.
(Isaiah 41:10)



When I gave my life to Jesus, I knew I was seen. And loved. And known. When I truly grasped those thoughts, it gave me the courage to take that step. That step that would have me shaking with fear but, I knew, it was the right choice. 

I shared my story for the first time, one on one, with a leader from church. I was ready for the judgment. I was ready to be an outcast. But, I didn’t receive anything like that. Instead, God had taken that moment and turned it into something beautiful. I was not judged. I was not labeled. I was not pushed away.

I was loved.
I was validated.
I was encouraged.

Because of that, it set me on fire. Listen, when I get the go signal, I go. I’m like a cat that just went poop in the litter box. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’ve never had a cat! Ha! I use to have a cat named Nalla and I always knew she had just taken a poo because she would come ripping through the house and be as happy as can be! I mean it was like that girl had just received a lighter load and she was celebrating!

I know that’s not the most beautiful example but, I work with kids… poo is poo is poo. Maybe you have a more glamorous and, somewhat, appropriate example. Ha!

I came across some wise words, recently, from Lisa Bevere and they capture exactly what i learned when I share my story:

“The Past is a Place of Reference. Not a place of residence.”

My fear of shame stemmed from me thinking that by sharing my story, I had to live it over and over. But, that was not the case. Me sharing that piece of my story was a reference to others to share that our God is a loving God who can redeem, restore, heal, make new, and forgive all these things.

I’m not living through what happened to me back then. I get to celebrate with others the fact that Jesus is my all. And what he is doing now in my life. Instead of going one direction with my life, I’m going another. A good direction. The straight and narrow direction. The direction full of love and joy and peace and hope.

I don’t know your story. That seems like such a cliché thing to write. Of course I don’t know all your stories but, I say this because today, is a day, that I have been praying for. For you and for me. We don’t need to live in the fears that are holding us back from living out our faith. Share about the hope that you have and why. Then, sit back and watch God move. Through those around you. And you. 


Saturday, December 29, 2018

the comparison trap

Around 2004, I finally began to comprehend my purpose in ministry. I was still fairly fresh with my relationship with Jesus and it was exciting to learn I could utilize things I was already passionate about - music, art and teaching - to share about the hope I have and to share the gospel. It was almost too easy how I eased into the worship arts ministry and young adult ministry at my church. I suddenly found myself feeling called to do international missions, mentor young women, lead bible studies and lead worship. It was thrilling, exciting and affirming.

No one, however, could have prepared me for my inner demons. The spiritual honeymoon would come to a crashing halt in a way that would leave me standing stunned. A cloud of disbelief would soon envelope me and cause all kinds of confusion and questioning. A new kind of adrenaline would be pumping through my veins but, it wouldn't be one that included passion or joy - it would be one consumed with comparison, inadequate feelings and false perspectives.

You see, I fell victim to something that many of us do - the pit of comparison and competition.

I began to perceive ministry as a battle field. Not one for the Lord but, one that included me comparing myself with other women. This battle field would have me feeling overlooked, tired, and constantly gasping for air. It's a constant marathon that is so unnecessary but, it's one I fell victim to. It caused rifts with relationships and had me crouching in a corner all alone. If someone else was chosen to sing a solo or lead a group or take on a special task, I thought I was doing something wrong. I thought I wasn't good enough. I longed for that attention and I would long for the lives of these other women. Because, naturally, they had a deeper relationship with Jesus, were far more knowledgeable than me and had an amazing life. Right?

Oh how very wrong I was. So, so, wrong.

Unfortunately, it was a lesson that wouldn't be completely learned and applied until a number of years later. 9 years actually. If you do the math, that would mean it was just two years ago that I began to be refined and begin the stages of conquering this awful and wrong perspective.

You see, I had made ministry all about me. It wasn't about what God could do or bringing others into His presence. It was about me, what I could do, how I could do it and how I was doing while comparing myself with how well others were doing it. Was I not a good enough singer? Is that why I wasn't asked to sing that special song? Was I not knowledgeable enough with Gods word? Is that why I wasn't chosen to lead that group? Why can't I share my story? Why wasn't I chosen to speak at that engagement? Gosh, that lady sure has everything together. Her spiritual walk is amazing and admirable. Why can't I be more like her? It's no wonder I lost sight of WHO this was all for. It's no wonder I began to feel burnt out, hurt, tired and defeated. I was lost and wandering around in circles. Just like a lost sheep. Hmmm... this reminds me of a Bible story.

I had made things so hard and, quite frankly, terrible.

Five years ago, I gave up. I gave up on ministry and the church I had grown to love. The community of believers were doing incredible things in the city of Chicago. What had once been an incredible honor to be part of, had become work. So, I walked away. Not from God, mind you, but I walked away from people and ministry. (By the way, God might give us freewill but He makes it very hard to ignore Him.) I wasn't sure where I was going but it was definitely a spiritual wilderness. I noticed that I was too focused on me and my needs. It was a real moment that made me realize I had to shift my focus back on the One who designed me and called me into ministry. It wasn't about me. It could never be about me. And, I had no idea how I was going to shift my perspective back to where it should be.

I am so thankful for a loving Shepherd who is right there ready to guide us. Blind as we are, He is patient, gracious and loving. And, I'm so happy to share with you what I've learned this past year as my focus has slowly come back to Jesus.

There is a difference between placing people on a pedestal and counting others more significant than myself. How? Well, this is how I perceive it - I can place others in a loftier position and, in turn, beat myself up because I feel inadequate or don't measure up. Or, I can see each persons unique gifting within the body of Christ and affirm that. For example, I have a friend who is filled with wisdom when it comes to raising children. I'm not a mother. I am a teacher. There was a time when I thought I knew so much about children but over time, I learned that I have no idea what it is like to be a mother. God has not called me to be the one speaking into the lives of other mothers but, my friend is. She is someone I can send my mama friends to when they need wise counsel and prayer. We are all a team with special gifts and, together, the kingdom impact we can have is huge.
Philippians 2:3

Comparison and competition are worldly actions. It seems to be even more rampant in American culture. I can open up a magazine or watch reality T.V. shows to see this first hand. Who is the most beautiful? Who is the better dancer? Who has the most stuff? It's all a competition to become the smartest, richest, most successful, etc. So, it makes sense how easy it is to allow that mindset to seep into ministry. I cannot conform to the worlds way of doing things. God's kingdom has a different perspective on how we should view one another. We are all part of the same family and He needs me just as much as He needs my neighbor.
Romans 12:2

Who am I trying to please? When I fall into the trap of comparison and competition, I realize that those are not feelings that would arise when serving God with all my heart. These are thoughts and emotions that come forth when I am attempting to please other humans. When I begin to desire being acclaimed by people, my focus is no longer on God. A new god has been put in His place and I, immediately, am breaking one of His commandments. He needs to be the focus. He needs to be at the center. He should be the only one I look to for any type of affirmation. After all, He is the reason I do what I do. He is the reason I sing, teach, create and nurture. It is all for HIS glory.
Galatians 1:10

How am I measuring myself? Am I looking at how "successful" other people are or am I looking at my own actions and seeking ways to do my best for God. In every situation, in every position He has called me into, I want to make sure I'm not looking around at others and comparing myself with what they are doing. I need to be looking up and and within; asking God to seek my heart and reveal anything that needs to be improved.
Galatians 6:4
When you strive to be the person God made you to be, you’ll find real meaning, purpose, fulfillment, and satisfaction. You can’t focus on your purpose while looking at other people. - Rick Warren

God created me to be me. He didn't create me to be in competition with someone else. That's not what it's all about and scripture makes that pretty clear. Also, I could sit here and type out all the amazing ways I've perfected this part of my personality and approach. I could tell you that, since God held me accountable and taught me HIS ways, I've never compared myself to anyone ever again.

Well, that would just be terrible to do because it would be a lie. I still struggle with this. I still find myself getting discouraged because I find my eyes drifting to the sides checking out what others are doing and comparing. The difference, lately, is how quickly I'm snapped back to the truth. It's a wisdom muscle that needs to be flexed and exercised. It will become easier and, in those moments of being completely thankful and humbled by the ministry God has called me to, I'm going to celebrate and give Him all the glory.