Stepping Forward

Stepping Forward

I started blogging in 2007, before blogging was popular. (And I’m now told that it’s dying, like all things print, because people only want to watch or listen. Gosh, I hope this isn’t true.)

When I created this site on Blogspot, before there were other fancier forums, I titled it Obeying the Call because that’s what it felt like. Every post seemed vulnerable to share—and to do so was always my act of obedience. 

I’m an introvert—and not the kind that thrives in virtual spaces where I could have a larger-than-life personality. I’m afraid my online persona is basically the same as me in real life. (To give a slightly embarrassing example, even social media posts that get a lot of comments can sometimes overwhelm me, and I’m always in awe of those who can reply (cleverly) to each person. Meanwhile I’m like—ahh, all. the. people.)

And so, here I go again—sharing and being vulnerable—because I feel God nudging my heart to pick up my pen more in 2021. 

2020 was awful. I think we can all agree. 

I lost two friends.

I had COVID twice.

I had two non-elective surgeries.

You see a pattern there? 

I started studying the significance of the number two, and although not the only symbolism for this number, two can represent division or contrast or opposites. Like a line in the sand—that’s the picture God gave me. 

The number two represents a choice.

Life or death. 

Light or darkness.

Faith or fear.

Spirit or flesh.

Peace or anxiety.

Tree of Life or Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Two masters: God or money.

The narrow gate or the wide gate. 

There are always two paths. We always have to choose. 

God continually invites us to go deeper. Writing that sentence reminds me of a dream I had years ago where God opened the door to a staircase and said, “Come.” 

There’s always a new step, a deeper level of discernment, a stronger capacity for faith, a fresh understanding of His Word. 

We’ll never have all the answers.

We’ll never have Him all figured out.

We’ll never know everything there is to know about His Word.

We’ll never not need Him. (Yep—double negative there. That’s how strong this truth is.)

Aren’t you glad? 

In 2021, God is still opening doors to staircases for me, still extending His hand, still saying “Come.”

And He offers you the same invitation. 

Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we asked for, but do you know what He never withholds? His presence. His goodness. His faithfulness. His joy. His love. 

And when we look back, when we reflect, we see that He’s always answering, always working, always making a way. Sometimes it’s a new path. Sometimes it’s the same. But we have to move, participate, engage.  

We have a choice this year, this day, this hour. 

I’m taking a step forward. How about you? 

We would like to thank Laura Brandenburg 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 Quiet

Contentment in the Quiet

Are you craving some quiet?

Your soul needs quietness to thrive. Depending on what season of life you find yourself in, that may not seem possible. You might have to grasp for whatever snatches of time to yourself that you can find. Let me encourage you that it is so worthwhile!

Regardless of our personality types, we all benefit from some span of time to be alone or be still. This is true whether we are naturally introverted or extroverted. God’s Word says, “In quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15). Learning to embrace the quiet is a vital soul-care practice that strengthens us in our inner being. If it’s uncomfortable at first, don’t give up. Relax, breathe, and let your mind wander. If I’m finding myself antsy or distractable, I’ll try a couple things. First of all, I set a timer, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. I decide what I’m going to do — just until the timer goes off.  Also, I keep my sticky notes nearby to just jot down any thoughts that bubble up or distract me. The important thing is just to pause during your day and recenter.

Sometimes in these unstructured moments, creativity will rise to the surface. Imagination. Impressions. Stirrings of God’s voice. Sometimes I look out the window or move outside and notice nature. Sometimes I pray or meditate on a song or verse. Other practices of quietness for me: reading for pleasure, walking (without earphones), doing jigsaw puzzles, journaling, puttering in my flowerbeds.

But guess what? Your child’s soul needs quietness to thrive too. But that same child may never know it unless you help him discover it. This practice will have to start small, but try it and see where it leads. It can be a vital piece of developing peaceful rhythms in your home.

This habit can apply to all ages. Yes, our children thrive on interaction and engagement because we were all created for meaningful connection. But even infants can be content without constantly being held or soothed. Babies can even learn to put themselves to sleep. (One of the best routines we ever developed early on!) Toddlers and preschoolers can play alone in a playpen or inside a gated area for limited stretches of time. (I have one little friend who can happily occupy herself for long periods in her play tent with just her finger puppet “people.”) School-age kiddos can entertain themselves without external stimuli. Tweens and teens are not beyond this practice either.

Choose a time that works for your own schedule and lifestyle. Pre-determine the length of time appropriate to your family members and their ages. Assign a personal area that works for each one. Set the expectations ahead of time about what this quiet time will look like. This is not punishment! This practice is different from naptime or screen time. Provide a limited number of quiet activities that each individual child may select from, such as reading, puzzles, colored pencils, individual games, or soft toys. (Limitations like 3 choices per day boost the likelihood that your child will get creative and really engage in an activity instead of bouncing from one thing to the next.) Music or audiobooks could be optional, but this is not the time for electronic stimulation.

This habit also helps provide an environment where your child knows how to flourish within boundaries. What a life skill! Here are some examples of the guidelines that we trained our kids to follow during different seasons:

● Stay in the room or space assigned to you; we do not come in and out.

● Choose calm activities and a quiet volume; we do not raise our voices.

● Trust the adult to let you know when the time is up; we do not ask questions or pester about how much longer. 

These ideas are flexible and adaptable to your own style and preferences. You can expect the experiment to be most successful if you start small and add one layer of expectation at a time, with lots of practice in between. Most of us need encouragement and training to become comfortable with this habit. Then get ready to see the creativity, the independence, and the self-awareness skyrocket. The art of establishing some type of quiet time in your home will allow each of you space — including you, Mom! — to figure out what makes you feel the most like the person you were made to be. 

We’d like to thank Jill Brown for writing this post!

Contentment in My Family

Contentment in My Family

Editor’s Note: 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.

Do you ever look at your husband and think he has it better than you? That his role as a man seems a lot better or easier than yours as a woman? After all, it seems like all he does is go to work and provide the money while you pretty much take care of EVERYTHING else. Well, my friends, that’s exactly how I found myself during this season of my life: sulking, frustrated, and pondering those things.

This summer was not an ordinary season for my family. My husband works as an electrician for a company that travels all around the U.S., and typically, the summer is when his work slows down and he is home. However,  due to Covid-19, his crew has been out working more than usual. In fact, he was gone for a little over two straight months. During this time, it has been easy to look at my life and become resentful over the role God has given me as a woman. It has been easy to think my husband got the better end of the stick. He’s traveling, seeing the country, and has no responsibility other than providing for us and making phone calls to us. Meanwhile, I’m home dealing with the house, the kids, a child that just had surgery, a new grand baby, bills…blah blah blah! 

But God, in His sovereignty and because He loves me, opened my eyes. An opportunity came up for the kids and me to spend 2 weeks on the road with my husband, something we have never done for an entire 2-week period. We travelled with him through 4 states, stayed in hotels, and ate out for two meals every day. As much as I thought I would love to be in his place, this taught me what all my husband truly endured as he loves on and provides for our family. He drives hundreds of miles to his job sites, works long hours in the hot sun, then returns to an empty hotel room to eat his takeout or fast food alone. He doesn’t complain or act like it’s a burden; instead, he willingly does these things to give us a good life. And here I was, complaining about being a wife, staying home, raising kids and paying bills. 

In our first week on the road with him, all I could do was repent for ever believing that my husband’s role was more glamorous than mine. God has graciously opened my eyes to see the beauty in the specific roles He’s called my husband and me to. Neither role is more important than the other, but together, each one fits perfectly into God’s created order and design for balance in a marriage.

When we choose to embrace our roles as women in whatever place God has called us to, we can really begin to understand what it means to live in contentment and satisfaction.

So, dear friends, wherever you find yourself today in relation to your role as a woman or your role in your marriage, I pray that God will reveal to you the truth about who you are and what you contribute to this world. You are meant to be you—not your husband, not another woman—YOU! I hope He graciously opens your eyes to this beautiful and freeing truth just as He  did mine.

We would like to thank Brenda Martinez for writing this post!

Contentment in the Workplace

Contentment in the Workplace

Editor’s Note: 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.

Working in education is completely new this school year. I’ll bet you can say the same about your workplace, too, whether you work at the bank, at Walmart, or in medicine. Even though I’ve worked at my job in the same school for the past 22 years, teaching this year has come with some challenges that I’ve never faced before. Will it be possible for us to learn to find contentment in our workplaces, even in times like these?

In 22 years, I’ve found a good deal of enjoyment in my vocation; otherwise, why would I still be at the same place? I’ll admit, though, that I’ve gone through days or weeks of doldrums, discouragement, and discontent, too.  Most of the time, looking back, the deciding factor between the good days and the bad days has more to do with my attitude or disposition than with any circumstance or challenge in my job.

How do you see your workplace? To maintain contentment there, it has to be more than a paycheck: it needs to be a mission and a calling. Colossians 3:23 tells me, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”  When I consider that I’m working for Him, my work becomes a calling and a ministry, not just a job. As a teacher, the last line on my contract says, “Other duties as assigned.” To me this means that there will be divine appointments taking place throughout the day, and I’m in that school to meet needs that may have nothing whatsoever to do with teaching kids to read or write. I might get to pray for a co-worker, comfort a student who has had a loss, encourage another who is struggling, or visit with a parent who is worried about her child. What kinds of divine appointments do you see at your workplace on a daily or weekly basis?

Thomas Merton wrote, “Before the Lord wills me to do anything, He first of all wills me to ‘be.’ What I do must depend on what I am.” God’s Word has some great advice about contentment in all parts of our lives. Philippians 4:11 says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.”  If Paul can learn to be content in his work, we can learn the same in ours. He continues in verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Let’s look at some practical ways that we can not only be content ourselves but create an atmosphere of peace and contentment within our places of employment and among our colleagues.

The words we speak are creative. They are either creating a positive or negative environment around us. In John 6:43, Jesus tells people, “Do not grumble among yourselves,” and Philippians 2:14 advises us to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” A workplace where employees grumble and complain about the job, about co-workers, or about the boss is going to be stirred up with negativity. Our words feed the spirit of the places we work, and since we spend the majority of our time there, we are submerging ourselves in peace or stress with every word we speak. If we have to complain to someone, Psalm 142:2 directs us: “I pour out my complaint before Him.” Taking our frustrations and aggravations to Jesus will prevent us from muddying the atmosphere at work with negative talk.

Working with other people can be stressful. Colleagues or customers will rub us the wrong way at times. The stress in people’s lives now magnifies trouble. Paul tells us in Ephesians to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (4:32). If we can make the decision to forgive before we have ever been offended, we can walk in peace, no matter what happens. Romans 12:18 in The Passion Translation says, “Do your best to live as everybody’s friend.” Sometimes in workplaces, there can be a lot of drama. The lunchroom or the lounge can turn into gossip-central, if we are not careful. Living as everyone’s friend means that we will allow the Holy Spirit to guard our mouths and let love cover over other people’s faults.

In the workplace, everyone has his or her own idea of what is important. We all want to be recognized for our contributions, but Philippians 2:3-4 tells us, “Don’t allow self-promotion to hide in your hearts, but in authentic humility put others first and view others as more important than yourselves.  Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests.” I’ve found that when our staff works as a team, covering each other and helping each other, rather than staking out our own territory, there is much less friction.

Finally, communication is so important for a peaceful workplace. Part of my job this year is to take the Pre-K students their breakfasts every morning. My principal asked me to do this about the second or third day of school. I began going in at 7:30 and getting breakfasts for the students as they came in. I noticed that the cafeteria director seemed more and more annoyed with me every day. Finally, about a week ago, I asked her if there was anything I could do to make things easier on them. She said, “Well, it’s just that I was told that no one would be coming in to get the breakfasts for the Pre-K until 7:45.” I had never been told that before! So, we made a deal right then that I would not come in anymore until 7:45 to get the breakfasts. Sounds like a simple thing, but miscommunication, or lack of communication, was compounding her stress level, and it was a simple fix! If things don’t seem right, ask if there is any way that you can help or make things easier. Opening up communication will prevent so many misunderstandings and save some hurt feelings.

The workplace is where we can let our light shine. If we can walk into our jobs filled with the Holy Spirit, ready to lay our lives down for our co-workers, and prepared to serve people as if we are directly serving God, what a difference it will make in our places of employment. What a witness to the world around us that we can really walk in peace in the midst of chaos.

We would like to thank Sheri Warren for contributing 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!

The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden

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. 

The Garden of Eden. What comes to mind when you hear those words? Something about it seems so far away, so mystical…so other worldly. Yet it was a very real place. The garden was a paradise where God would come down and walk and talk with Adam and Eve—the pinnacle of His creation—in the cool of the day. It’s where He would commune with His children; it was a place where Heaven and earth overlapped. There was no separation, no sin. This was God’s original intent for the state of the world.

Well, we all know what happened. Eve just messed it all up and now it’s ruined for us forever, right? Well, not exactly. You see, God had a plan. He had a plan not just to give us a road back to Heaven when we die, but a plan to bring Heaven to earth. In Jesus, once more Heaven and earth were joined together: fully God and fully man. He lived a perfect life. He died as a sacrifice for all of humanity, and He sent His Holy Spirit to once more create a space for Heaven to overlap earth—through US.

So how do we experience that? Is that just a gift reserved for pastors and really “spiritual” people? I would say not at all. God has made His presence available and accessible to all, and one of the best ways to find it is through worship. Have you ever noticed how the atmosphere of your home, or car, or workplace just changes by simply playing worship music? There’s a reason for that. Psalm 22:3 says that God inhabits the praises of His people. INHABIT=to live or occupy a place. To bring Heaven down to earth. You see, God’s not waiting for us to all fly away to be with Him. He wants to walk with us in the cool of the day, just like He did with Adam and Eve. He wants to commune with His children. He wants to speak to you as well as hear your prayers.

That all sounds so glorious, doesn’t it? But the truth of the matter is that like anything that’s good for you, it may be simple, but it’s not always easy. It’s not easy to make the time. It’s not easy to unplug. It’s not easy put down a phone, or turn off Netflix, or whatever it is that we run to in order to pass the time. And just in case you think worship leaders automatically just wake up in the third Heaven, it’s not like that. We all have to be intentional to get into God’s presence. That seems a little ironic since He lives inside of us, doesn’t it? Worship doesn’t just bring God’s presence; it also reminds us that He’s been there all along. It stills our hearts and brings us to that peaceful place in the garden that He’s put inside our hearts; a place where we can walk with Him and talk with Him, free from the distractions and worries of the world.

I remember a time when I first started playing on the worship team. I was coaching at the time and had just had a super busy and exhausting weekend. I realized that Sunday that I was scheduled to play for a worship night that evening, and I had such a poor attitude. I was tired. I didn’t want to go. I was in such a bad mood. That all changed right before we started when I felt God whisper to me, “May I have this dance?” He continued to ask that same question before every song, and for the first time in a long while, worship became personal to me again. That’s who we serve—a personal God. He couldn’t care less if we raise our hands and jump around if it’s all about externals. He wants something deeper, something more intimate and personal. He still longs to come and spend time with just you, to walk and talk with you in the garden. Perhaps He’s calling you to make room for Him. Perhaps He’s holding out His hand. Perhaps He’s asking the question that stills my heart 20 years later…

May I have this dance?

May I take your hand in Mine?

May I hold you close right here with Me,

As the music keeps time?

May I take the lead?

May I show you how this dance goes?

Don’t you know I’ve been watching, waiting, asking Will you follow?

May I have this dance?

I want to encourage you to take a few minutes sometime today and click on this link. Spend some time in the garden. And P.S.…it’s a great song for a waltz. 

We would like to thank Becca Wilhite for this blog 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!