A New Year’s Challenge

A New Year’s Challenge

Anybody out there looking forward to closing the door on this year and opening the door to a hopeful and fresh 2021?

Me too!!

As you prepare your heart for the new year, I’d love to share with you a challenge that’s been valuable to me over the last few years. 

Five years ago, I began a practice that seemed like a small thing but has led to big transformation in my life. At the start of a new year, rather than becoming overwhelmed by all I need to do or change, I ask the Lord for one word. This word serves as a focus that I return to countless times from January-December. The word I hear usually bumps around quite a bit in my heart, but eventually settles in my spirit and becomes a marker that helps guide my thoughts, my decisions, and my growth for the year.

Words have power.

Words can change things.

One word from God, if we choose to acknowledge it and allow it to continually lead us back to Him…can change everything.

It’s not so much the word itself, but the fact that if I allow it to, it points me back to my creator again and again for understanding, interpretation, and guidance.  I’m shaped and made as I seek His voice and His interpretation of the world around me and the world inside of me.  

I’m always surprised to see the unexpected ways God is faithful to lead me into a new understanding and experience of the word He’s given me. I usually can’t see it at the time, but looking back, I see how camping on a specific word each year has propelled me toward knowing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and in knowing Him more—knowing myself better. He is faithful to form us into all we are meant to be in Christ.

Boldness. Trust. Health. Surrender. Prayer.

These are some of the specific words that have been my one word and have helped form me over the last few years.

Dear ones, God is intimately acquainted with us and is always at work drawing us to Himself, to give us identity, purpose, freedom, and LIFE.  Returning to my word for the year almost always causes me to take steps outside my comfort zone while at the same time being invited to hide in the shelter of His wings as He does His transforming work in me.  

I bet you’d agree with me that more than ever, we are desperate for the Lord this year. I’m desperate to know Him and to be known by Him. I challenge you to seek the Lord like never before in 2021. Be in His written word, the Bible. Listen to His voice in prayer. Tell Him what you want, and trust Him to provide what you need. Worship Him in spirit and in truth. Cry out for a focus and for vision for your life. Write down your word and keep the vision before you. (I even like to put that word into a pretty frame and keep it on my dresser so I see it every day!)

As you meet with Jesus, bring Him your questions and He will reveal what He’s doing in your life. I can’t wait to hear the impact one word can make in your life in 2021.  

“Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]” (Hebrews 10:23).

We would like to thank Jill Moudy for writing this post!

What Christmas Means To Me

What Christmas Means To Me

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

When I was contacted to write a blog about what Christmas means to me, about what Jesus means to me, I hesitated. I thought, “You are definitely asking the wrong person.” As that was the case, why did I say yes to writing this blog? I felt God whisper to my heart, “You need to know what Christmas means to you. You need to know what My Son means to you.” Since then, I have prayed about what I should write. I have asked God if there is something someone needs to hear. I felt as though God was leading me to be honest and to dig deep. Maybe someone reading this can relate to my journey.

I have not only loved the Christmas season but also struggled with it. I have many treasured memories of Christmas events and celebrations from my past. Christmas was often a time to see my extended family, to decorate our home, to drive around town enchanted by the glittering lights, to sing Christmas carols, to join in merriment with others, and to give. On the other hand, I have been told I should not celebrate Christmas because of its roots in pagan traditions. I have spent the days leading up to Christmas stressed and in tears because I did not have enough money to buy gifts for all the different events that I felt obligated to attend. I have tried to give my best during the Christmas season, only to worry about how it was not good enough.  I have thought, “Why should I give to people who have so much and neglect the people who have so little?” I have lamented how the world has stripped Christ out of Christmas.

The truth is that I wrestled with whether or not I should even celebrate Christmas. I had convicting conversations with others, and I earnestly sought truth. Finally, I came to the conclusion that celebrating Christmas allows me to share the hope I have in Jesus. His birth was a turning point for the entire world. It had been prophesied for centuries. This birth was the ultimate gift from the Father. This birth brought Yeshua, the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace. This birth brought light to our dark world of sin and grief. This birth brought hope. My internal struggle helped me realize that Christmas is a time to celebrate the greatest gift to mankind – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus means more than I can fathom. He has freed my soul from the shackles of my sin. Without Jesus, I was lost and hurting. I chose to believe in Jesus when I was eleven years old, and I chose to be buried with Him in baptism when I was twelve. However, it was not until recently that I fully understood what Jesus means to me. He is life to my death. He comforts me, guides me, and fills my soul. Without Him, I am empty and heartbroken. He is the One who gives me hope and a future. He sustains me through difficult seasons, and He never forsakes me. When I call out to Him in my agony, He answers with His peace. He paid the ultimate price for sin so that all those who believe in Him could have a home with Him in heaven. This means that I do not have to fear death. I do not have to fear what may happen to me in this world.

Because of Jesus, I have something to give during the Christmas season and throughout the year. I may look at what I have to offer and think, “How is this going to make a difference?” It doesn’t matter how large or small or what form my offering may take. What matters is that I was willing and joyful in my giving. I need to have faith that He will take what I have and multiply it.  Am I willing to give what He asks of me?

Let your heart be filled with joy this Christmas season. Rest in knowing that Jesus came to this world of sinners to bring hope and peace. This year has brought heartache, trials, fear and disappointment. As believers, we can navigate all of these things knowing that Jesus is there through it all. He loves us, and He was born to save us.

“Do not let your heart be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

We would like to thank Julia Franklin for writing this blog!

Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions

Editor’s Note: We hope these stories warm your heart this season. Maybe you pick up a new tradition, or maybe these stories will be a fresh breath of air to your soul as you reminisce your childhood, or MAYBE they will serve as a reminder of the reason for the season. Whichever way they speak to you, we pray your hearts would be turned towards Him. We pray that Jesus would be your comfort, refuge and HOPE! Merry Christmas!

Birthdays have become more and more excessive…have you noticed this? As a child, my birthdays were typically celebrated at McDonalds. Does anyone else remember this? Let me set the stage for you. It was a package deal: you got there on time, typically between errands, you ate McNuggets with your buddies, played a bit on the outdoor playground, had a piece of homemade cake, and that was that.  

Fast forward to today’s birthdays: IT. IS. AN. EVENT. Yard signs are not uncommon.  Balloon numbers and garland are a thing.  Cakes are commissioned pieces of art. And gift bags are passed out to guests. Birthdays have become more and more of an all-out deal. 

But, there’s one birthday that tops them.

It’s the most celebrated birth in human history: the birth of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ birthday is the most important day in all our homes. You can be the most Pinteresty of all Pinterest moms and you will never come close to matching the grandeur of Jesus’ birthday party. His party comes every year with so much excitement and lasts over a month. Truth be told, even that never really feels like it’s long enough.

In my home, our Christmas tree is featured in our front window, for all passersby to see.  Each year, it’s filled with ornaments that we’ve collected throughout our marriage and the hand-made treasures that our children have made over the years. Each one with its own story—our family history symbolized in a collection of dangling, dainty decorations. There’s an evening each year dedicated to decorating the Christmas tree.  It’s such a sweet time of wonder for us all. The conversation flows over with all the earthly and eternal blessings for which we are most thankful.

Beautifully wrapped gifts are tucked beneath the tree, sparking joy and wonder from our children. They just love trying to guess what’s in each box every time another one appears.

Our hand-stitched stockings are hung with care above our fireplace: I hand-stitched my husband’s stocking, Evelyn’s and Graham’s stockings were hand-stitched by my mother-in-law, and my Sittie (grandmother) made my stocking the year I was born. After 36 years, it’s worn and tattered and one of the most special tangible things I have left of her. When I hang it, I always tear up as I imagine her delicate hands covered in thin skin and beautifully polished nails as she placed each stitch with precision. So much love and history went into the simple detail of stockings. And that is all because of Him. 

Our big old trees out front are wrapped tightly with about a hundred strands of red and white lights from their base to as high as I can reach on a 12-foot ladder. Nothing makes me happier than dressing up those beautiful trees. They were planted as tiny seeds into God’s soil and have grown with unimaginable patience, decade after decade, into these strong and beautiful living structures with root systems that go down and out even further than they stand high. They, in and of themselves, are miracles of God. Most of the year, their grandeur gets overlooked. But this month,  they will not go unnoticed. Drive down 16th street after sunset, and you’ll see our wrapped trees from blocks away. It’s their month to shine: they shine for Jesus.

Christmas is this magical time when I can’t help but reflect on what His birth means in the lives of everyone I love. On Earth,  we create these traditions celebrating Jesus’ life and what He sacrificed for us to have life eternal. These traditions are bound tightly in our families and are passed down from generations gone and will continue for generations to come. Christmas is this beautiful culmination of all our family histories, which I think is a most appropriate celebration of Jesus Christ because without Him, there would be nothing to celebrate.

“For in Him we have life, and motion, and existence” Acts 17:28. 

In these moments leading up to Christmas Day, take time to reflect on the beauty of tradition, the gift of family, and the unimaginable grace of God that He would send us His beloved Son. 

Happy Birthday, Jesus!!

We would like to thank Elizabeth Loeffler for writing this post!

Contentment In The Waiting

Contentment In The Waiting

Editor’s Note: Have you ever had to wait on something? Have you ever felt like God has given up on you? The truth is He has not and He never will. It can be difficult to walk through a long season, but God is our comforter. He is our strength, he is our provider, our deliverer, our refuge, our very present help in time of need. God is with us and is for us. He is not far away. This month, we are going to talk about contentment. Contentment in the valleys, and contentment on the mountains. God is near in both places.

When I was asked to write about “Contentment in the Waiting,” I almost panicked. Seriously. It’s so fresh. The “waiting” period has become all too familiar to my family and me in the recent years. I feel like we have all experienced or will experience a time of waiting, each difficult in their own way, and the way we handle that waiting can be extremely critical. I don’t know that I can give you any legitimate insight on “Contentment In The Waiting” without telling a bit of my story, so here we go. 

I’ve experienced the specific “waiting” of infertility two separate times, handling them both differently. When I was unable to conceive before my son, Hayes, I was angry. Truly angry. That kind of can’t even “fake it ’till you make it” anger and depression, touching many different areas in my life. Why me? Or better yet, why NOT me? I knew I served a God that loved me, heard my cries, and could move my mountains, but I doubted that He would. It was hard for me to truly find rest and ultimate peace in the hands of our Father. How arrogant, right? Obviously, my focus was on ME.

Fast forward to round 2 of infertility, which seemed a bit more extreme even from the beginning. This time, I had true diagnoses and fertility doctors telling me Hayes was the definition of a miracle and that I would not conceive again on my own without multiple surgeries. This time around, instead of getting angry, I decided I could fix this. My “control everything” personality heard surgery as a “fix it” to my problem. When my husband, Hagen, and I discussed it, he told me we would do whatever I wanted to do. I took it and ran with it. Honestly, I never even stopped to pray about it. I took charge, and I scheduled that surgery. I had no doubt in my mind that it would be my solution. Again, how arrogant. A couple weeks went by, and during worship at a Sunday morning church service, I heard God clearly speak to me: “BE STILL.”

When it comes to things in my life, “be still” does not fit my personality. I like to be in control. “No, God. I don’t want to be still. This isn’t fair. I deserve this.” Again, about me. Obviously, God wanted to teach me something during both of these waiting periods. He first taught me that control and contentment don’t go hand in hand when you are living in the Kingdom. What hit me like a ton of bricks, especially the second time around, was that if I would let go of that control and let God take over, miracles truly do happen. I cannot live in my desire of the flesh to react in anger or to control situations and have a true sense of peace and contentment in the Holy Spirit. And second, He taught me that sometimes our battles and our testimony are just not about us. Watching God use our storm and the rainbow He creates from it to help and better someone else’s journey is POWERFUL. 

Before these two specific waiting times, I truly believe God placed other things in my path that were designed for me to show complete surrender to Him and let Him work in my life, but I did just the opposite. Now looking back, it took me facing something I literally could not control and hitting rock bottom to give up my desire to control every little thing.

The memory of the phone call to cancel my surgery is so vivd in my mind. As soon as I said, “cancel my surgery, please,” I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders that I did not even know I was carrying. When I decided to follow God’s command of me to be still, it allowed me to not only trust in His plan, but it allowed me to step into the roles that He had called me to. I didn’t even realize what I had been missing out on in the everyday life as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, and friend until I let Him take away the responsibility of my infertility and the need to fix it. 

God’s timing and plan is always perfect. It may sound cliche, but it is absolutely true. My Hayes and Hatton are living proof. His strategy of teaching me “Contentment In The Waiting” was just icing on the cake. So in whatever waiting you’re facing, trust Him, friend. He’s worth it. 

We would like to thank Beckah Hunt for writing this post!

Hearing God in the Gap

Hearing God in the Gap

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

I’m throwing out a hard truth here: We don’t always get what we ask for when we ask for it. Sometimes what seems like a no is a not yet. And sometimes there’s a gap, a tension, between hearing God and seeing His word come to pass. 

The gap can bring discouragement and distance. When it doesn’t feel like God is answering our prayers, we might shut down altogether—and we might miss hearing His voice, the thousands of other conversations He wants to have with us while we wait.

How do you grow your relationship with God in the midst of a not yet? 

I spent years fixating on what I wanted God to do for us. I had a clear word from Him, and I sowed into it with prayer often. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for me, it resulted in two unfortunate consequences. It focused my attention on my circumstances, on what was lacking. And when I didn’t see His word coming to pass, it caused me to question anything I thought I heard. Our relationship suffered because I had forgotten what His voice sounded like.

In early 2015, four years before God would answer our prayer, I reached a breaking point. I missed my Heavenly Father. Knee-deep in my grief and pain, I felt lost and confused, and I was desperate for His affirmation. But my ears felt clogged. So I committed to spending 40 days with Him, every morning, and I asked Him to give me a word every day. I didn’t spend that time praying for anything. In fact, I was mostly quiet because my soul needed to receive from Him. I needed to hear His voice again, to be reminded what He sounds like, and to remember what He says about me. During this season the Lord showed me that I had connected His love for me with what He was doing, or in this case, not doing. To wait for years and years, to get another no, another loss, over and over again, to watch those around me receive what I wanted (and sometimes they didn’t)—it all felt very unloving. 

But here’s another hard truth I learned: to equate God’s love with my circumstances is to manipulate who He is. 

I had to come to grips, and repentance, that I was angry because God wasn’t doing what I wanted. If He loves me so much, why wouldn’t He do this for me? The other side of that? I was withholding my love because He wasn’t doing what I wanted. Ouch. 

You know why I call that manipulation? Because it makes love conditional. If He loves me, He will do this for me. If He does this for me, I will love Him. 

When He showed me that His love is unconditional, the power of this truth transformed my life. It still transforms me even now. And it’s a good thing, my friend. I’m so grateful His love isn’t based on my performance. At the time, I wanted it to be because it felt like control. If only I could do something, He’d love me enough to answer my prayer. Today I’m so thankful He answered my prayer in spite of any works on my part. He loves me no matter what. And I love Him whether He’s answering my prayers today—or not. 

If you have heard God for something specific, and you find yourself in the gap, I encourage you to keep pressing into your relationship with God. Spend time with Him. Refocus your attention. Let Him remind you how much He loves you. Ask Him to show you what His purpose is during this season. Allow Him to refill your cup. Invite Him to speak truth over you, reminders of who He is and who He says you are. 

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” ~Zephaniah 3:17

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg for writing this post!

Hearing God Through Prayer

Hearing God Through Prayer

Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered if God still speaks to us today? Or have you wondered if what you’re hearing is really God speaking to you, or just your own thoughts? If you’ve wrestled with these questions, you’re not alone. Hearing God, although our divine birthright as believers, can be one of the most elusive parts of our walk of faith but it’s not supposed to be. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and we can always trust that what He says is true. This month, we’re going to talk about hearing God and the primary way we do that: through relationship with Him. 

Have you ever scheduled time with a friend, maybe over a good cup of coffee, just to talk? You’re able to catch up on everything that is happening in each other’s lives, or just share what is on each of your hearts. You may completely lose track of time during your sweet visit and become disappointed when the time finally comes when you have to go. 

Jesus longs to have an even closer, joy-filled relationship with each of us. I know we may not have hours every day to sit in singular, focused fellowship with Jesus, but the good news is that He is always with you, in your coming and going, in your commute, in your workplace, in your family time, in your home, and even on your vacation. Jesus Himself said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He sealed you with His Holy Spirit when you put your trust in Him!

He not only wants you to share your heart with Him but He also wants to share His heart with you! This is what prayer is all about. Please don’t try to complicate it. You may be wanting or needing to hear from Jesus, but you don’t think He is speaking to you, or you may not think you can hear Him. The best place that I know to start is in the greatest love letter ever written: the Bible. His heart is shared with you there. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through His Word. He longs to speak to you, and He is faithful. 

When we declare His Word over ourselves and pray it back to Him, it is so very powerful. I find myself most often praying God’s Word, but some of these times are extremely precious and memorable to me. One of those times happened in the darkest season of my life. I was staring at the walls of a pit of postpartum depression after losing our third son late in my second trimester. Grieving the loss of a baby was unbearable. A dear friend sent me a card with Philippians 4:7 written in it: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I read every word deliberately and slowly. At that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. He said, “I am guarding your heart and mind in Christ.” I cried out and admitted to God that I needed Him to guard my heart and mind because I wasn’t able to do it. Immediately His peace washed over me and gave me rest. I don’t want you to misunderstand or think that I got to skip past grief, because I assure you, I didn’t. But I knew Jesus was walking me through it, and His peace was guarding my heart and mind. As I prayed these words over and over, I proclaimed to the darkness that it wasn’t going to damage my heart or mind, because the peace of God was guarding it.

The times when He brings His Word to mind in prayer is not always so heavy or pressing. I love praying His Word over myself, my husband, my children, relatives, friends, neighbors, schools, and our church. Jesus said that we could ask anything in His name and it would be done. “In His name” means by His authority. We have to spend time with Him in His Word to hear and know what He authorizes. When you hear from Him and He has shared His heart with you, by all means, ask for it in prayer.

Commonly, my day starts with a Bible verse of the day. I will read from that part of the Bible until God speaks to my heart about something I am reading. It doesn’t usually take long for me. I also like to ask Him questions and ponder parts of Scripture that I don’t fully understand. Today’s verse of the day was James 1:22 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” This is easy to pray about. My prayer sounded something like this, “Lord, you know my heart and you know my ways. Please bring to my attention any way I am hearing your Word, but I am not doing it. I don’t want to deceive myself.” As I said before, the Lord is faithful. In my normal daily happenings, He will kindly bring something to my attention regarding this prayer as He speaks back to heart.

If you are in a place of needing to hear about something specific from Him, make sure you are quieting your heart so you can hear and ask someone you can trust to pray for you as well.

Remember, hearing the Lord in prayer is all about our relationship with Him. He is not hiding His heart from you. I hope you will take the time to hear what He is saying specifically to you as you pray and seek His face.

We would like to thank Racheal Kasner for writing this post!

Building Unity in a Broken World

When my boys, who are five and seven, argue with each other, they get to wear a “get-along” shirt. They both fit inside Daddy’s shirt with one arm sticking out and one around each other. The first time I challenged them to move across the room without touching the floor, arguing turned to laughter and unity. The next time they forcibly donned an oversized shirt that wrangled them together, they began, without prompting, working their way across the room together as in a game. If my boys sulked inside the shirt or didn’t communicate, they never would have made it across the room united.

Sisters, Psalms‬ ‭133:1‬ ‭reminds us, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Yet any time I turn on the news or scroll through Facebook, discord splashes my eyes like grease from a hot skillet. My heart wretches at the pain spewing from people in the form of violence. My heart joins with peaceful protests concerning injustice.

But who am I to write about racial injustice?

Well, first and foremost, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus, before whom “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation‬ ‭7:9‬) will stand and worship. Jesus Christ who “is all, and is in all” (Colossians‬ ‭3:11).

How does that give me voice to speak about racial injustice?

I am one who is submitted to the authority of Jesus Christ. However, on an external level, I acknowledge that I have grown up with white privilege. I am proud of my heritage with five generations working the same land, but I also acknowledge that such a heritage was denied to an entire people group based on their skin color. What was and continues to be a blessing in my life was never a possibility for my brothers and sisters in Christ with more melanin.

So, who am I to write about racial injustice?

I am a wife of a Christian man who happens to be Black. Once engaged, I was told, “You know it will be harder for you, right?” One one had, no. Marriage is not harder for us. My husband and I share like faith and values making marriage so much easier. We must communicate with each other and share our hearts just like any other couple.

But on the other hand, yes. It is harder. Not because my husband is Black, but because society perpetuates judgement towards my husband and three sons based on superficial skin. It’s harder because my husband and I will have difficult conversations with our sons as to why their hair looks different than their friends’ and won’t comb smoothly, as to why they don’t look like their Black friends OR their White friends, as to why they must be careful about how they interact with authorities, not only out of respect, but to save their lives.

And yet parents of all races should engage in challenging conversations with their children.

So is my interracial marriage really harder or simply different?

The real question I should be asking is: Who am I to say nothing about racial injustice? I’m someone who knows The Answer: Jesus.

Believers! We are not only called to unity, but to one body (Colossians 3:15). We need each other to function.

Believers! We are the answer our broken world craves. We are the embodiment of love because God is love (1 John 4:8) and God dwells in us collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

How can I handle this rift in our country that could easily consume me? If I focus on the ditch when I’m driving, I will end up in the ditch. If I focus on the road, then I am not so easily swayed.  Rather than pretending continued racial inequality is a spin of the media or politicians or fixing our eyes on the media’s portrayal of a very real and pained racial divide, fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). He will guide you to the people you need to spend time with. Run in your lane. You may be called to a city where riots are shaking the streets, but don’t be so focused on the problems out there that you forget to love your own neighbor-next door or at the grocery store or at work.

Realize, as I’ve heard so often at church, “You can’t drive a ten-ton truck over a two-ton bridge.” Most of the topics in the news today are ten-ton topics. Don’t go up to someone you don’t have a relationship with and ask what they think about what is going on in the world. However, if someone needs to speak, let them be heard. Pain is real and deep and impossible to articulate without vulnerability. Attempting to give an answer or saying that you understand barricades the relationship road.

Please, acknowledge people’s lives and their pain. Listen and don’t judge their motives. People need to be heard and acknowledged as valuable. Meet people where they are and introduce them to Christ by your love.

Listening, laughing, crying with one another; having play dates with your kids; working side-by-side with excellence; playing games; sharing home culture and music and food and language; worshipping God side-by-side, hands lifted (or not). These are the types of activities that build relationship bridges. Create a safe environment for healthy relationships; not because of or in spite of skin color, but rather because we are the body of Christ. As Colossians compels us, let us put on love.

We would like to thank Mary Coleman for writing this blog post!

Rescued

Editor’s Note: This summer we will post a new blog every other Thursday. In August, we will start a new series. I am praying that you would be refreshed and enjoy your SUMMER!

In working with kids and teens who have been through trauma, I have learned a term that some call “felt safety” or “psychological safety.” The idea behind this is that kids and teens (and adults, for that matter) have to feel safe in order to react in healthy ways. The people around the child may know that she is safe: The doors are locked, she has caring adults around her, she has enough food to eat. But if the child or teen does not feel like she is safe, she will continue to react out of survival mode. This could look like destructive behavior, disrespect, or keeping secrets.  

In order for all of us (kids and adults alike) to function from a healthy mindset, we have to feel safe. For many of us, this means choosing to operate from a mindset of fear to an attitude of trust.

A few months ago I attended a conference, and one of the speakers challenged the audience to change the way they talk to God. He said, “So often we try to be professional in our relationship with God, and we forget to be personal.” He guided all of us right then to practice talking with God as a loved son or daughter. While the music played, we all started praying out loud. 

As I prayed, God gave me a picture of Him holding me and rocking me in a rocking chair. As I leaned up against Him, God spoke to my heart, “You can come get a hug from Me any time you want.” That spoke deeply to me. And I realized that this is one of the ways God gives us “felt safety.” No matter who we are, all of us have areas where we feel insecure or unsafe. God wants to speak directly to those places. He wants to bring healing to our hearts. He wants to rescue us from our own feelings of shame and isolation and bondage.

Recently, I came across one of the prayers that the Jewish people pray at the end of their Sabbath celebrations each week. After a little research, I found out these prayers come from Isaiah and the Psalms: 

“‘Behold, God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid; 

for the Lord God is my strength and my song, 

and He has become my salvation.’

With joy you will draw water from 

the wells of salvation.” (Is. 12:2-3)

“I will lift up the cup of salvation 

and call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps. 116:13)

I decided to look up the Hebrew word for “salvation” since it was used over and over again in these verses. The original Hebrew word for “salvation” paints a picture of someone coming in from the outside and rescuing us from a place of bondage. It means we have been freed and given victory over our enemies. Because we’ve been rescued, we have a sense of calmness and peace, and we feel safe. When we feel safe, we can flourish and live in prosperity and abundance.

Stick with me here; it’s just getting good. The Hebrew word for “salvation” in these verses is yeshua. The name for Jesus. “And you shall call his name Yeshua—Jesus—because he will save (rescue) his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Let that soak in.

Jesus is our rescuer. Because of Jesus we have freedom. Because of Jesus we have victory. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid anymore. Because of Jesus we have peace, calmness, comfort, and “felt safety.” 

You are free from shame. You are free from the names the enemy wants you to call yourself. You are free from guilt. Because Jesus has rescued you. 

“As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I (God) seek out My sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered.” (Ezekiel 34:12 ESV)

You are safe. You have been rescued. Jesus sees you. Jesus wants you. He draws you near with cords of kindness. His goodness and loving kindness pursue you every day of your life. Rest in the truth of that today, my friend. 

We wold like to thank Heather Dillard for writing this post!

Having Peace While You Wait

Editor’s Note: During the month of May, we will focus on learning to have peace in every aspect of our lives. Lean in and ask the Holy Spirit to cultivate this fruit in you. Let’s “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14) together! 

No one likes to wait. I feel like this is a universal truth. Sure, some people might be more patient than others(ahem…my hubs, not me 🙂), but no one wants to wait—in line, on hold, for an answer, for a decision, even for a gift. 

And I don’t think this is limited to our present time. Sure, we’ve got the “microwave generation,” “the e-generation,”the “Google generation”—and in short, we’re all used to getting what we want in a relatively short time. 

But have you read Sarah’s story? She straight up offered her servant Hagar to her husband when God’s plan hadn’t moved fast enough. That’s not patience. Or peace. 

Did you know it’s possible to have peace even as you wait? 

We waited nine years for our baby girl, who was born last November, and I won’t for one second pretend that I did it all patiently. (That’s why I love Sarah’s story; she didn’t do it all perfectly either.) But what I learned is when I focused on Him, and not on what I wanted right this second, I was not anxious. I could even be content.

The verse I clung to reminds me of this, and I still have a personalized copy on my desk: “You will keep [Laura] in perfect peace when her mind is stayed on You because she trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). 

During our season of waiting, what I found is captured so well in the song “Take Courage” by Kristene Di Marco. Have you heard it? When I’d want to forget, when I’d doubt, when it felt too long, too impossible: 

He’s in the waiting.

The song says, “Take Courage”—the very words Jesus spoke to His disciples in Matthew 14 when the storm came, and they feared for their lives.

A little while earlier, Jesus had sent them ahead of himself. And maybe now they feel abandoned. John 6 says, “It was near dark, and Jesus had not yet come.”

Ever feel that way?

But then, there He is. Walking on the water.

Take courage, He says.

Because He knew. He always knows the outcome.

In this moment, the disciples have the opportunity to witness a miracle, a glimpse of His power.

In this moment, Peter has the chance to go deeper in His faith.

All the events culminate to the here, the now.

Yes, there’s a storm. Yes, Jesus had not yet come, and yes, they feel abandoned.

But it’s like He says, Take courage. Here I am. And I’m giving you something rare and powerful: an experience, an encounter you won’t forget.

Though we face unknowns, though our hearts are full of anticipation, I sense it even now:

He’s here. He knows. He’s got a spectacular story for us. 

For you.

Take courage, my heart. Stay steadfast, my soul. He’s in the waiting.”

Peace is a person. Jesus. And He will meet you wherever you find yourself waiting.

I don’t know what your heart longs for, my friend. I don’t know how long you’ve been waiting. But I do know this, our God is a good Father, our Jesus is never delayed, and our Holy Spirit is present, full of power and comfort and grace. 

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg for writing this post!

Lifting My Eyes To The Hills

My recent reflections have been over Pastor Brad’s past sermons on the attributes of God:  God is love, God is good, God is our provider, God is faithful, and God can be trusted. Our life group question following these sermons was, “So, if God is good, why did he allow [fill in the blank]?” This has caused me to think about “mountain top” vs. “valley” experiences. What a joy to be on a mountain high! On top of the mountain, the air is fresh and invigorating. Looking back down at that valley, you recall a difficult path, an environment full of stress, pain, and insecurity. But now, having arrived to the top, you rejoice in God, for He guided your steps. 

Andy Andrews, Christian author of The Noticer, writes, “Everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you’ll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of a mountain. Sure, the view is great, but what’s a view for? A view just gives us a glimpse of our next destination – our next target. But to hit that target, we must come off the mountain, go through the valley, and begin to climb the next slope. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.” 

Together we journey this valley of “coronavirus insecurity” and individually we have other valleys we travel (health, financial, family, etc.). We all desire to get to the mountaintop. No one is excluded in these unsettling walks. Even as I share this blog, the enemy searches my walls for vulnerable places where I am unarmed. It is crucial for me to carry the shield of faith, fortify my walls with the armor of God by wearing His breastplate and helmet, carry the sword of the spirit (the Word), and pray always (Ephesians 6). 

God’s love, goodness, provision, and faithfulness are seen when our eyes are fixed on Jesus. As the body of Christ, God will lead us in an excellent way to serve our Christian family and community (1 Cor. 12:27; 31).   Look around and see God at work in His people; you don’t have to look too far. It might be a life group member offering services to help, an encouraging text or call, a shoulder to lean on, or knowing with confidence you are being lifted in prayer to the Almighty.

In this valley faith grows and the fruit of the Spirit is manifested through God’s people.   

Stop, look, and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Spirit is at work; His fruit is bountiful (Galatians 5:22-23). I encourage you to share what God is doing during this walk of your life: what has He taught you, how is He directing your path, how is your faith growing, and how is He using you to further His Kingdom? Encourage and pray for one another as we walk through this valley, keeping our eyes on the hills from where our help comes. 

Psalm 121  

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help?  

My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.  

He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  

Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.  

The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand.  

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul.  

The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in   

From this time forth, and even forevermore.

We would like to thank Darla Newland for writing this blog!