Heart Stuff

  • Tangible Hope

    Have you ever stayed up way too late reading a good book? You know, those stories where the characters seem to come alive and practically jump off the page? You can picture each one vividly and envision the landscape all around them as if it were painted on a canvas in front of you. That happened to me recently. I was so engaged in the book that time seemed to stand still and before I knew it, it was 1:00 am! 

    If you’ve ever been consumed by a good book like that, you know that by the end of the story, you can almost begin to predict what the characters will say and do. They feel more like familiar friends than just words on a page. And while there may be plot twists and turns, if the author is good, the nature of the characters is consistent throughout the entire book. 

    As Christians, sometimes it can feel challenging to get to know the character of God as well as we know some of the characters in our favorite books. I’ll admit, sitting down to read the whole Bible can feel intimidating. It can seem impossibly long and in many places downright confusing, but ultimately, the Bible is a book that reveals the very nature of God. From beginning to end, the Bible is a story of God’s tireless and unfailing love for us, and His willingness to stop at nothing to secure our future with Him.

    It is through the pages of the Bible, and especially through the life of Jesus, that we see God’s character unfold. We can see it in the way Jesus interacts with people and loves them. We can taste the dust in the air as the crowds shuffle and press in to see Jesus heal another person in desperate need of a miracle. We can smell the salty sea and feel the mist on our faces when Jesus walks on water toward the disciples and pulls Peter up from the waves. We can witness how Jesus turns society upside down, elevating the lowly and championing the marginalized. It’s thrilling when we notice that He is calling people to more than mere survival, He’s inviting them to live abundantly as citizens of God’s Kingdom. And it’s humbling the moment we realize that we are invited to that same abundant Kingdom-life too.

    In Romans 15:4 we read that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” 

    The Bible was written to help shape us and to give us hope! As we spend time in God’s Word, we begin to know Him better, and we see His character unfold in the scriptures. Before long, we begin to recognize glimpses of Him working in our lives all around us, because we recognize Him. This, my friend, is tangible hope. 

    It’s a hope that is perceptible, we can reach out and grab it and feel it and experience it because our relationship with God is a real one. We are not talking about placing our hope in a pleasant thought, nice idea, or imaginary friend, but in the one true and living God who sees you, and loves you, even as you’re reading this sentence. 

    The word remember means to relive, hold dear, to know by heart. When we keep the truth of God’s character close, we can know Him by heart and look back to see how He has worked in the past and is working now in our lives. Remembering God’s character grounds us in truth and gives us a hope that we can hold on to.

    There are reminders about who God is throughout Scripture:

    God is…Love (1 John 4:8)

    God is…Holy (1 Peter 1:15)

    God is…Steady and unchanging (Hebrews 13:8)

    God is…a promise keeper (2 Peter 3:9)

    God is…strong enough to carry you (Isaiah 41:10)

    God is…the Redeemer (Psalm 103, John 3:17)

    God is…Creator of all things (Isaiah 40:28)

    God is…Giver of all that is good (James 1:17)

    God is…perfect and true (Psalm 18:30)

    God is…present in our circumstances (Isaiah 41:8-10, Matthew 28:20)

    God promises that if we when seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him. He won’t hide, he wants you to find Him. He’s been pursuing you all along. 

    So take a little time this week to learn more about the character of God. If you need a place to start, pick one of the verses or stories in this devotional. Ask God to show you His love that is woven throughout Scripture, and to help you see where He is working in your life. As you spend time with Him, you will begin to know Him by heart, recognize His handiwork, and experience the tangible hope we have in God.

    Read more

  • Hope for the Hopeless

    A few years back I was rehearsing with my church choir for our annual Christmas program. To be honest, I didn’t want to be there. My Christmas spirit had up and left. It was difficult for a spirit of joy and anticipation to thrive in my mental state of mind on that day. There was just no place for joy to take root in my spirit of negativity and self-doubt. I had been fighting intrusive, negative thoughts most of the year and I was tired. Tired of not being good enough. Tired of the world being a broken place to live in. Tired of fighting to put one foot in front of the other. And that tiredness was manifesting itself into hopelessness. I was starting to believe things would never get better.

    Then, we sang the first verse of “O Holy Night”: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new a glorious morn.” 

    These words spoke directly to how I was feeling. Pining means mental and physical decline, especially because of a broken heart. That explained my heart exactly. By allowing negative intrusive thoughts to rule in my life, my heart was broken, and it was hard to feel joy. When I read the news headlines or ran into an unkind person in the store, it added to the sense of brokenness I felt. But “O Holy Night” revealed what God did to help that broken heart.

    “Till He appeared…” Those living in the times of Jesus, were living in a broken world as well. They were under a harsh Roman rule. There were high taxes. Roman soldiers on every corner watching you. The religious leaders had created a law that was impossible to follow. It indeed appeared hopeless. Those that tried to throw off Roman rule were killed. Those that didn’t follow the man-made religious law, were outcasted. Their one lifeline of hope was the promise of a Savior. The promise of the Messiah, God’s anointed.

    “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…” One evening some 2000 years ago, the long awaited day arrived. The promised Messiah, our hope of salvation, entered the world. Luke 2:10-11 describes the angelic birth announcement:

    “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”

    Luke 2:10-11

    Isaiah 9:1-7 shares the hope the Messiah would bring to broken, hopeless hearts.
    “No more gloom for those who were in distress.” (vs 1)
    “People walking in darkness will see a great light.” (vs 2)
    “He will increase their joy.” (vs 3)
    “The yoke that burdens the people would be taken away.” (vs 4)
    “He will establish justice and righteousness.” (vs 7)

    The Messiah was coming to take away the hopelessness and replace it with joy. He gives us hope that brokenness is not a place we have to live in any longer. In the gospels, we see time after time how Jesus shared hope with others. Jesus, forgiving the sins of the lame man on the mat, gives hope that living in the depth of sin is no longer a reality we have to live. Talking with an outcast woman at the well, He gives us hope that despite our past choices we can receive love and acceptance from Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection secures our victory over death giving us hope that no matter what happens in this life, we will rise to an amazing eternal life with a loving God.

    The gospels show Jesus offering and proclaiming hope to those who believe, so why was I living as if Jesus never came? I struggled with living in the hopelessness that I am not good enough. That God will never fully accept me because of my shortcomings. That there is no hope for my brokenness or my broken world. As I lived in my false sense of hopelessness, I found myself giving up, becoming a recluse inside myself and my house. I realized, that is exactly where Satan wants me to be–living a life disregarding the fact that Hope has already entered the world, ignoring that Hope had chosen to live inside me though the Holy Spirit. When I live that way, I am unable to use the gifts and talents He gave me to bless the broken world I live in. But I don’t have to live in hopelessness and neither do you! God already gave the remedy for it–He sent Jesus on that “O Holy Night.”

    “Yonder breaks and new a glorious morn…” The Christmas story reminds us of the ‘hope to which we are called’ (Eph 1:18). Hope came into the world, but we have to claim it. We no longer have to live in the darkness of hopelessness, but we can choose to stand in the light of a new morning filled with the hope and joy that we are loved despite our faults. To live in the joy that God still works and lives within us, transforming us into his vessel of hope and joy. To live in the truth that no matter what happens we have victory over sin and death, and a promised eternal life with God. Beloved, I hope that this Christmas you will be able to lay down any burden or hopelessness you carry and run like the shepherds did, to the presence of Jesus and rejoice.

    Read more

  • Grateful for God’s Enduring Love

    As we get closer to the end of the year, I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to feel a little worn out from all the ups and downs that this year has brought. In my moments of stress or fatigue, it can be easy to forget the many ways God has lovingly brought me through each thing I have faced this year. But the great thing about the end of the year is that we typically end the year with a season of gratitude followed by a season of giving!

    There is no better way to close out a long, hard year than with a opportunity to remember all that we do have and the ways God has brought us through this year. This season is a time that we have set aside to appreciate our family and friends and all that we have. It’s a time to pause and remember that God is good. Even through the hardships we are currently facing, God is still good. He is with you and upholds you with His love.

    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever…Give thanks to the God of Heaven. His love endures forever.”

    Psalm 136:1, 26

    We give thanks because His love for us endures always. He is God yesterday, today and forever. He has made us in His image and we are His children. His faithfulness to us never ends. His love for us started at the beginning of time, it broke into the world the night that Jesus was born, and He demonstrated His love for us when His son Jesus went to the cross.

    Not only did He love us then, He loves us now, and He will love us tomorrow. His love endures forever. His love lasts, it remains firm, it is unyielding. In a world where love seems to come and go with no real certainty, knowing this kind of secure love from God brings us so much peace and joy. Romans 8:38-39 says in Christ, there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from God’s love.

    As we reflect on this past year, we can see the many ways God has shown us His love through the people in our lives, His blessings and provision, through answered prayers, and even unanswered ones. We can look back and see His loving touch in so many details of our lives.

    Thank you God for loving us with an unending love. It is hard to grasp “forever”, but we are thankful for your love that is both ancient and new every morning. As we reflect on the ways you show your love to us each and every day, we give you thanks. In Christ, Amen.

    Read more

  • Praying When The World’s Got You Down

    Lately it feels as though the world has been falling apart at the seams. A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling especially bombarded and weighed down by the mess of the world around me. I had been consuming more news than was healthy for my well-being and had ended up in tears, finally admitting to my husband how sad I felt about the state of our world.

    But as I talked through it, something began to happen. We got to a place where, in the midst of all the hopelessness, we started speaking truth to each other about those problems, pulling each of them back into the warm glow of God’s presence. I began to sense God’s clear, calm voice piercing through the fog of all my fears, saying, “It’s alright, my dear. Take some deep breaths. I’m with you and I’m still on my throne. Come talk with me and tell me the things that are troubling you. I know the world feels chaotic right now. I can see everything you’re seeing and much, much more. Give me your worries and let me carry these heavy burdens. I can handle ALL of it – don’t be afraid.”

    In that moment, God’s Spirit shone so brightly through the dimness that I saw with clarity the reality of our fragile humanity and my own desperate need for God and prayer. Not the tidy, practiced prayers we say around the dinner table, or the flowing ones we read into a microphone from a church platform, but the raw cries for help driven by fear, sadness, uncertainty and grief. The prayers we whisper with tears streaming down our faces as we fear the worst. Prayers that offer all those fears and worries back into the hands of our eternal and omnipotent God, asking for His help and direction through each and every step. These types of prayers exercise our faith in a way that stretches far beyond our limited human capacity.

    Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

    Hebrews 4:14-16

    How often we forget! We have a high priest – the most powerful advocate possible, Jesus the Son of God, working daily on our behalf. He longs for us to come to Him, partnering with Him in prayer. That time in prayer not only informs and directs our actions, but also reminds us to entrust the end results to God. No matter how ill-equipped we may feel to bring all the change we want to see in a chaotic world, we are far from powerless – in fact, we have been granted full-access to the most powerful One through the gift of prayer. This truth is foundational to our faith. As we pray, Jesus the advocate, hears our prayers with compassion and works on our behalf, tending to the wounds of a world we ourselves are unable to heal.

    I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6

    “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

    These are just two out of countless verses from the bible that speak of our human need to turn to God in times of trouble. Today, let’s decide to remain faithful in prayer, no matter what happens. Communicate with God about what’s going on in your life today and in the world around you. There is so much more happening behind the scenes than we can even begin to see or understand – but God sees and knows all. His Word tells us that He can and will supply ALL of our needs. So instead of getting lost in the maze of trying to solve all the world’s problems, we can pray to God, the one who supplies all our needs, as we give our burdens to Him.

    There is power in prayer to connect our hearts and minds to the all-powerful God. Our Father knows that we are not capable of bearing the weight of the world or of knowing all the answers to every problem, so why do we think we can? Let’s continue to come to the feet of Jesus, one day at a time, knowing that He’s still got the whole world in His hands.

    Read more

  • God Is Always At Work

    “MOMMY! I HAD A BAD DREAM!” I could hear my 4 year old calling to me from his room and the fear in his voice was palpable. His little frame was shaking as the scary scenes from his dream were still fresh in his mind. I scooped him up in my arms and stroked his soft curls as I whispered, “It’s ok. Mama’s got you. You’re safe.” I repeated the words until slowly, his little body began to relax and his strained expression faded as a look of peace washed over his face. After a while, I tucked him back into bed with his favorite blanket, and as I began to rise to go back to my own bed, he looked up at me pleadingly and asked if I would stay with him, “just until he falls asleep.” I agreed, and within moments he was sound asleep, without a trace of distress left on his sweet little face, trusting that I was at work, watching over him. 

    Mom or not, we have likely all experienced a scenario similar to this. Perhaps you were the little one, pleading with a parent to watch over you while you slept. Maybe someone close to you just felt safer and more at peace having you there with them. Maybe you long to have that same sense of safety, peace and rest in your own life, knowing that someone is at work watching over you. 

    A couple nights ago before bed, I was feeling especially anxious. I always do my best worrying at night and true to form, as I tried to sleep, one thing after another kept popping up in my mind. 

    “That dental bill was expensive and there’s more work to be done. How much is that going to cost us?”

    “I have so much to do tomorrow. Call the repair guy for the grout, schedule appointments for the kids, plan a birthday party and schedule playdates…oh and I can’t forget to call back my friend that called me over a week ago. I hope she’s not mad at me…”

    “A lot of people are getting sick with this new Delta variant of covid…what if the baby gets sick? What if we all get sick?” 

    “What is school going to look like for the kids this year? Will anything ever feel normal again?”

    “I don’t think I’m spending enough quality time with the kids, I need to find ways for us to get more quality time in.”

    “Man, my hubby and I need a date night without the kids.”

    “I should go check on the baby.”

    And around and around I went. So I started making plans. 

    I lay there wide awake, troubleshooting plans A, B and C, hoping to engineer the best possible outcomes for all the things. In the back of my mind, I knew I trusted that God was working, but because it’s sometimes hard to see exactly how, I came up with plans X, Y and Z, “just in case”. 

    Now I’m not knocking a good plan, I think that’s part of responsible adulting and a normal instinct when things start to stack up and get overwhelming. But in that moment, my planning was a feeble grab for control in a world in which I have very little. It was coming from a place of self-reliance instead of prayerful dependence on God. 

    After a short while, I found myself wishing I could just put everything down and give my brain a rest from its ceaseless planning and fretting. I wanted someone else to stand watch over my fears and anxious thoughts and work through the problems of the world, so I could just close my eyes and sleep peacefully.

    I picked up my Bible. I had been reading the book of John and had just gotten to chapter 5 where Jesus heals a paralyzed man by the pool in Bethesda. The miracle happened on the Sabbath and when the Jewish leaders found out about it and began harassing Jesus for breaking Sabbath rules. Jesus’ reply to them in verse 17 commanded my attention:

    But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” (John 5:17 NLT)

    As I slowly repeated His words in my mind over and over, the weight of their meaning began to sink in and my shoulders began to relax for what felt like the first time all week. In that one sentence from Jesus, I was reminded of two very important things. 

    First, Jesus is stating with authority that He is the Son of God. As the Son of God, Jesus is much better equipped to solve life’s problems than I am. He has an eternal perspective greater than anything I can conceive, and it is His wisdom I should be depending on instead of my own. Through Jesus, I have direct access to the Father, and all the power and resources of a child of God. When I pray I have a personal audience with Him and the very best plans always start in a conversation with God. 

    Second, I was reminded that God is always at work. Not just part-time, not whenever He can get to it or when He remembers. Always! He is constantly at work, healing us, forgiving us and providing for us. He doesn’t phone it in or do anything halfway. He gives us His very best, putting into place detail after loving detail. God never tires or wearies. His strength is boundless and His stamina endless.  

    And because God is always at work, I don’t have to be. 

    My mind doesn’t have to churn out solutions to all of the problems in one night. I can hand God my worries, my stresses and my best laid plans and He will go to work. He will stand watch over my fears and anxious thoughts, so I can just close my eyes and sleep peacefully. I can trust Him to stay with me, and remind me that He’s got me, and that I’m safe. 

    And while I sleep He continues to work. He goes before me and makes plans and provisions. He works powerfully on my behalf, but He doesn’t stop there. Because God can see the bigger picture of all our lives, His plans always bring about the most benefit to the most people. If He works something out in my life, I guarantee that it will bring blessing to others as well. His goodness and love ripple out like waves in the water, touching many hearts and lives all at once. He truly is a good, good Father. 

    Dear friend, if you are like me and struggling with whatever is swirling around in your head today, know that you can set it all into the capable hands of Jesus. If you want, play the song at the link below and imagine Jesus right there beside you, gently whispering words of comfort to you. Picture God wrapping you up in His strong embrace as He lifts the weight of the world off of your shoulders and exchanges it for a peace that passes all understanding. You are safe and you can rest, because God is always working. 

    Cecie’s Lullaby song, by Steffany Gretzinger

    Read the lyrics here

    Read more

  • Learning To Trust

    Have you ever had that feeling in life like the bottom is going to drop out? Like if one more thing goes wrong you will just crumple like a pile of yesterday’s laundry?

    Some years ago I had a season like that. Everything seemed to be going wrong. Unexpected job transitions, health problems, super tight finances, and family conflict on top of trying to raise the kiddos, keep our marriage afloat and somehow not lose my mind completely.

    It seemed like life wouldn’t slow down enough for me to catch my breath, let alone gather my strength. When I did catch a moment of peace, I spent it frantically writing lists, trying to plan my next move and anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop. Again.

    On top of that, I wasn’t taking good care of myself. I had completely packed my schedule, so I was always on the go and sometimes double booked myself thinking I could somehow bend time to my will. I wasn’t getting enough sleep and was constantly eating on the way to or from someplace. I found myself needing to drink coffee all day to stay sharp and try to keep all the plates spinning. Then in the evening, I was so tired, wired and anxious that I would find myself turning to a glass of wine to relax and dull the anxiety pains in my chest, hoping that my brain would let me sleep that night.

    I would pray throughout the day, but it was more of a distracted cry to God to help me get from one task to the next. “Lord, give me strength.” I’d mutter under my breath as I refilled my coffee and reviewed my never ending to-do list.

    One day, in the midst of this particularly messy season, I had spent the morning pouring over my planning notebook, venti coffee in hand, stressing and brainstorming how to get through another week. I knew God was just waiting for me to stop and turn to Him and really spend time with Him, but it felt like one more demand on my time that I couldn’t afford. Oh, how the devil loves to make us believe that lie when we are running on empty. The reality was that time with God was the one thing I couldn’t afford to miss!

    But that morning, for some reason I remembered Jesus and how when the crowds were pressing in, and the demands on His time and resources were at a zenith, He often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:15-16). Spending time with the Father was how Jesus recharged and realigned His perspective. I knew it was long past time to sit down with God and recharge.

    I put down my planning notebook, picked up my Bible and found Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT):

    Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.

    I sat quietly with His words in front of me, took a deep breath and said, “Hey God.”

    My walls were still up, with a fierce independence in my heart. I hadn’t slowed down like this in so long, it was hard to let my guard down. I was fearful that letting Him in meant letting all of my emotions out and I wasn’t sure I could handle that.

    After several minutes of silence, just sitting in His presence, I remembered who I was dealing with. This was the God who has been with me all along. He has pursued me in my darkest moments only to show me love and kindness. His very nature is love. He has set His heart on me, why shouldn’t I lay my whole heart before Him?

    My shoulders started to relax, my breathing slowed down and I began to pour out my heart to Him. I sat on the floor, spilling my guts, and leaned against the edge of my bed as though they were His arms and cried. I told Him all I had been feeling and thinking, all that I needed and hoped for.

    A couple of things happened in that moment, as I began to pour out my heart to the Lord.

    First, my trust in Him was renewed. As I prayed, He reminded me that He was the God of all my moments, the One who has seen me through the best and worst of life. I could come to Him with anything, anytime. He would not only understand, He would hold me up and reign over every detail in my life with attention, love and kindness. He reminded me that He would provide for my every need, physical, spiritual and emotional. He would be my rock and my refuge, my redeemer and the ultimate source of my victory.

    Secondly, my heart began to change. Spending time with God and praying to Him was not just an opportunity to get some things off my chest and make my requests. It was a time to renew my heart and my mind. For Him to show me where I was wrong and where I needed to change.

    In His loving kindness, He brought my sins to light so that I could hand them right back to Him, asking for His forgiveness and for His help. I wanted to live in a right relationship with Him and in the abundance that He calls His children to, regardless of my circumstances.

    That meant I had to trust in Him at all times. Not just when it fit into my schedule and I had the bandwidth for it, or when I had run out of other options. I had to adopt a rhythm of consistent and intentional relationship with Him. No more stubborn self-reliance and winging it on a latte and a prayer. It was time for real help and real transformation. Time to trust the One who could be trusted with everything.

    Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I began to make changes. I started creating margin in my schedule for rest and for God. I sought wise counsel and stopped relying on my own strength and the coping mechanisms of the world. No longer would I be ruled by my to-do lists and calendar. No longer would I be a slave to my stress and anxiety. I would trust God with all of it and allow Him to work in and around me in all situations.

    While all of these changes are good things, they alone didn’t immediately alter my circumstances. The stresses would still be there for a while longer. But because of God, I had changed. My perspective had changed. My trust in God had changed. And in trusting God with my heart, I found peace that passed understanding and a strength that surpassed my own.

    In God’s perfect timing, jobs eventually stabilized, family conflict resolved and relationships healed. Our marriage and kiddos thrived and we never went without anything we truly needed. Even when things worked out differently than we had imagined, God provided for us beyond all we could ask or imagine, and my faith was bolstered once again by God’s faithfulness and love.

    We have all had seasons in life that felt like it brought way more than our fair share of hardship. Those times when we feel all we can do is wave the white flag and cry out to God for rescue. Sometimes there isn’t even anything in your heart that needs to change, you are just weathering what feels like an impossibly difficult season.

    In these times, to hear “Pour out your heart to God and trust in Him at all times” can sound like such a platitude. But the truth is, God is faithful, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He does not fail, He sees us in our mess and is not idle. He works powerfully on behalf of His people and when we remember that we are His children, nothing can shake us! Trusting in Him will never leave us empty handed or unfulfilled. Even if things turn out differently than we imagine, we can be assured that God sees us, hears us and loves us so very much.

    So be still before Him, let your guard down. With God, you are safe. He will never be careless with your heart. You can trust Him to hold you up and sustain you. Let Him lovingly show you if you are relying on anything other than Him to get by. Maybe it’s deep diving on social media or binge watching Netflix to escape. You could be leaning on staying busy (even with good things) to avoid turning to God and trusting in Him. I invite you today, instead, to ask God if there’s anything you need to change, and then step out in faith to ask for help when you need it.

    We aren’t meant to navigate the struggles of life alone, and trusting in God is no different. We can encourage one another with our stories of God’s faithfulness and spur one another on to a deeper faith and trust in God. Chances are there is someone you know right now who is struggling to trust God with something and your story might just be what encourages them!

    We want to be here for you as well. If you could use some prayer, encouragement or just someone to listen, drop us an email or comment and we will pray for you. God can be trusted with whatever you have going on in your life and He is there right beside you. Allow yourself to fall into His loving embrace, knowing that He will never let you down.

    Read more

  • Spirit of Freedom

    This year, my family missed out on watching fireworks for the Fourth of July. It’s been so hot and dry in our area that the city completely banned them due to fire risk. We were totally bummed out – especially since it also happens to be my son’s birthday and he loves them! But at the end of the day it was all ok because we still found other meaningful ways to celebrate.

    It reminded me that the way we celebrate isn’t really what matters most – it’s what (and whom in our case) we’re celebrating that matters. Fireworks or not, we found ourselves incredibly grateful to be alive and free and together. And that was enough.

    Since the beginning of time, people have yearned for freedom; sometimes to the point of spending their entire lives trying to gain it or protect it. We honor those heroes and their sacrifice because freedom is worth fighting for.

    But as we sit with this, we need to remember that not all freedom looks the same. We tend to think first of the physical freedoms of a country – its laws, economy, and practices. But the internal freedom of our hearts was fought for too – bought with the life and death of Jesus, offered to us freely by God, and experienced through His Spirit. (Gal. 3:14; Col. 1:13-14; I Tim. 2:5-6). That’s the best news we’ll ever hear!

    So what exactly does our God-given freedom look like?

    There’s a moment I love in Luke chapter 4 where we find Jesus returning to His hometown Nazareth after 40 days of testing and temptation in the wilderness. He goes to the synagogue and stands up to read scripture. As they hand him the scroll of Isaiah, He searches until finding this passage:

    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18-19)

    Then He dramatically rolls up the scroll and sits down, saying to the speechless crowd, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21)

    This story gives me goosebumps. I can just imagine the shocked, maybe doubtful looks on everyone’s faces as they look at this familiar yet unrecognizable man – the one they watched grow up from a boy – filled with the Holy Spirit and fulfilling prophecies. Jesus the Christ was boldly proclaiming His identity! He was filled with God’s Spirit, and He knew exactly who He was and what He’d been sent to do – to bring freedom. This was God’s plan all along – for all people to have access to His kingdom, healed and free through the power of His Spirit.

    All throughout the Bible when the Spirit of God is present, incredible and miraculous things happen. People who were bound up with disease and illness are healed, demons are cast out, the last become first, the “unlovable” are loved, and we are all set free from the grip of sin and death itself through Jesus.

    It’s all too easy to find ourselves looking at the world around us for the keys to our freedom – things like having a picture perfect life, or climbing the ladder of success, or believing that electing the “right” politicians will magically solve all the world’s problems. But none of these things will fill us up or save us from despair. John 8:36 tells us that “who the son sets free is free indeed.” Nothing and no one on this earth can bring us true freedom except God through His Spirit. As our creator and savior, He is the first and best advocate for our freedom that has ever been or will ever be.

    His Spirit at work in us leads to freedom from comparison and striving for others’ approval, so that we are no longer held captive by the world’s definition of perfection, beauty or success. We can live freely in our identity as beloved daughters of the King! Friends, let’s take our eyes off all the constant distractions of life, rally around each other in support, and draw closer and closer to God, the source of our ultimate freedom.

    Read more

  • Approaching God with Freedom & Confidence

    I cannot wait to see Jesus. Not because I need an escape from the troubles of this life–though I totally get that and have been there before. I just can’t wait to finally see Jesus face to face after all that we’ve been through together. 

    In my mind it plays out like one of those old cheesy movies where two people who haven’t seen each other in ages run in slow-motion toward one another. Tears of joy stream without shame and my face is radiant as I look into the eyes of my Savior that has loved me through it all-the good, the bad and the ugly. I won’t slow down as I get closer, instead I’ll throw myself into the best hug I’ll ever know, wearing the biggest smile I’ll ever smile. 

    It wasn’t always that way though. For a long time, even though I knew God loved me, and knew that He had sacrificed everything for me, I only felt guilty and undeserving of His love and sacrifice. I hadn’t yet experienced the love of Jesus in a way that I felt free to approach Him with confidence. I felt like I was perpetually on shaky ground, with the memory of my most recent screw-up fresh in my mind. I didn’t feel excited to talk to Jesus in my prayer time, let alone see Him face to face.

    I think a lot of us have felt like that, holding our breath each time we stumble and fall, waiting for God’s grace to finally run out. 

    Dear friend, making us second-guess God’s love is one of the devil’s oldest tricks. He will twist our thoughts and parade our failings before us until we shrink away in shame and self-doubt. He’ll tie us up in knots, until we are prisoners of self-loathing. He wants to make us forget who we are, and believe that we’ve wandered beyond God’s reach.

    It’s the biggest lie ever. 

    Eph 1:5-8 reminds us of the truth:

    “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” (NLT)

    God is the God of freedom and grace, not used up chances and unforgiveness. It makes Him happy to bring us to Him through Jesus, and make us part of His family unconditionally, forgiving our sins and lavishing His love upon us.

    Ephesians 3:12 says “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

    Because of this truth, we can run right up to God, heart in hand, and let Him scoop us up into His arms like a beloved daughter. We can be confident when we go to God, not because of our own strength or goodness, but because of Christ’s faithfulness. Not because we are perfect, but because we are forgiven and loved. When we make mistakes, we can go to Him and ask for forgiveness and He gives it tirelessly because He delights in us as His children. 

    So my dear friend, if you have been shying away because of past mistakes, or feeling unconfident in His love, please let these truths settle deep into your heart: 

    You are never too far that He won’t run to meet you in the middle of your mess. 

    He loves you and has planned all along to adopt you as His own. It is His desire and His delight to call you His daughter.

    Because of Jesus, you can throw off the shackles of fear, shame and inadequacy, and live in the freedom that His love provides this very moment. You can come to Him in prayer today without hesitation or doubt, confident in His faithfulness and love. 

    And when the day comes that you see Him face to face, you can run straight toward Him, into the best hug you’ve ever known, with the biggest smile you’ve ever smiled, confident in your identity as a daughter of the King.

    Read more

  • Hope Set High

    “Don’t get your hopes set too high.” I can still hear my mom’s voice gently teaching me at a young age how to manage my hopes and expectations. She was great at planning fun things for me and my brother growing up and on several occasions, she told us about fun family outings or vacations ahead of time so we could prepare and share in the excitement as a family. Now, she would only do that if she was 98% sure that things were going to go to plan, but sometimes if she suspected there was even the slightest risk of disappointment, she would remind us “not to get our hopes set too high” until we were 100% sure. It was a way to help us look forward to something, while still being at least a little prepared in case something didn’t work out. As a parent now myself, I see the wisdom in that, since sometimes life gets messy and we can’t always control the outcomes (try as we might). 

    Getting our hopes up is a natural tendency all throughout life. We hope we get what we want for Christmas, we hope that we’ll do well on our final exams in school, we hope for a job that is fulfilling and pays the bills, or to take that dream vacation. Yet as life twists and turns, we learn to manage our expectations and adjust our hopes to match the reality of the possible outcomes. You might not get exactly what you want for Christmas, but it’s the thought that counts. And the job may not be as fulfilling as you had hoped, but it pays most of the bills. 

    You’ve probably heard the expression “Plan for the worst and hope for the best.” I think it perfectly reflects our pragmatic acceptance that life will have its high points and its disappointments, and we will experience both. 

    The risk of this practical outlook is that sometimes we try to manage our expectations of God the same way we do the rest of life. We start to hold back parts of our heart, wary of disappointment. We hesitate to pray expensive prayers and downplay our expectations, just in case things don’t work out the way we imagined or hoped. Without even meaning to, we can end up placing our hope in the outcomes that our limited imaginations can conceive, instead of God himself, who is our ultimate Hope. 

    The thing is, God isn’t “practical” as we understand it. He doesn’t need to plan for the worst possible outcome, He is Lord in every outcome. His view is unlimited, His power unmatched, and His imagination is infinitely better than ours. He will blow our minds with what He can and will do for us. We don’t need to temper our expectations with God–He is able to do immeasurably more than anything we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20-21) 

    Romans 12:12 encourages us to “Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.” (NLT)

    Biblical hope is based on God’s unchanging character and unwavering faithfulness to keep His promises. When we remember the true nature of God, His faithfulness, love and power, we experience true hope and can have confidence in it. 

    Remembering who God is also makes it possible to be patient in times of trouble. It allows us to more readily trust that God is working in all things, and that regardless of the circumstances or their outcomes, our hope stands secure. 

    Prayer is the common denominator in both confident hope and patience in times of trouble. Talking to our Heavenly Father bolsters our confidence in Him and broadens our view to see things from His eternal perspective. It allows us to hope as we might never have before–not merely that things will work out just how we imagined, but hope that no matter what, we are safe and secure as in God’s Kingdom. 

    When I first started my career in radio, I felt called by God to step out in faith and apply for a full-time morning show host position. It came down to me and one other candidate and I prayed earnestly that I would get the job. I could envision every detail of what having this job would look like, and was excited and hopeful that it would all work out at least close to how I imagined. Instead, the other candidate was chosen and I was hired for a different position in the marketing department, with the opportunity to do some training to work part-time on the air in a different role. It was not at all what I had envisioned, in fact it felt like a total side-step to what I thought were my goals at the time. But in taking the marketing position, I learned skills and gained invaluable experience that I otherwise would not have. I got to be close friends with my supervisor, a friendship that has blessed me beyond words. And I still got to be on the air part-time which as it turns out, suited my family schedule even better! From my limited perspective, I never could have imagined all the blessings that were waiting for me. All I could do was pray and lean on my hope in God. 

    That is our role in hope, to pray and lean into God. He does all the rest. We don’t have to plot or plan or engineer our fate, we need only to pray hard, and lean on Him. Then, instead of feeling stuck in the waiting, we begin to look for where He is working. We can believe that He is in every detail, working things together for good. Even if an answer to prayer seems long in coming, do not give up hope. God is still there. It is through our times in prayer that we find communion with Him that allows us to see the bigger picture and trust that He will use even the hard times to ultimately bless us and shape us to be more like Him.

    So lean in hard sister, don’t give up hope. Take heart and be confident that God is faithful and keeps His promises. Our Heavenly Father does all things well, so set your hope high on Him, keep on praying, and let God do the rest.

    Read more

  • Strength for the Weary

    It’s 10:30 pm and for the first time since sunrise, the house is still, peaceful and quiet. I can feel the muscles in my shoulders slowly start to let go of the stresses of the day as I melt into the corner of the living room sectional couch that fits me like my favorite sweatshirt. The day is done, or at least I’ve done all that I am going to do. Another long day down, with another long day tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. 

    We all experience weariness at some time or another, whether from life’s circumstances, events beyond our control, or just running ourselves ragged. Day-to-day stuff like job demands, kids sports schedules, appointments, and day-to-day responsibilities and obligations can eat up any margin we may have had in our daily routine. Life left to its own devices can exhaust our physical and mental strength and make us feel weary. And it’s all too easy to rely on our own strength and ingenuity when we are working hard to keep all our plates spinning. Even youths (the people we would least suspect of being weary) get tired and weak when they are running on their own strength.

    But in Isaiah 40:29-31, we are given the antidote to weariness…HOPE!

    He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” 

    Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength! Renewing my strength sounds fabulous, but what does it look like to hope in the Lord? In Hebrew, the word for hope is quavah and is defined as the anticipation of a future that is better than the present. Biblical hope is not based on circumstances but on trusting in God’s character. Helping the weary and helpless is part of God’s character!

    In the same way that God was faithful to save the Israelites in the days of Isaiah, He is faithful today to work on our behalf. Hope is being confident, knowing that God’s character does not disappoint and He never abandons us. When we lean in and hope in the Lord, it allows Him to breathe new life into our lungs. His Spirit stirs in our hearts and we can begin to imagine how it just might be possible to have a better day ahead. Even when we are powerless, we miraculously find the strength to stand, and then to step forward by His strength and power!

    We can tap into that power by doing what Jesus did: spending time with God. In His presence, we are renewed, our strength is restored, and we become more and more like Him. In the presence of His Spirit, He brings order to our chaos.

    Spend time with Him, pray to Him, bring your cares and worries and fears. Lay them at His feet and He will give you His perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

    I can imagine Him whispering in our weakness…

    Your power is limited, but mine is infinite.

    Your perspective is shortsighted, but I can see the whole big picture in one view–have hope!

    Your heart can only take so much, but I am here and can carry it all for you.

    I love you infinitely more than you can fathom.

    You may stumble and fall but I will pick you back up again. Over and over.

    You don’t have to be perfect because I am and my grace/love/favor is enough.

    You don’t have to struggle and strive to engineer your future. I know every step you have taken and will take and I have great plans for you.

    Stop pushing past your limits. You don’t have to manufacture strength, instead draw near to me and my presence will give you strength and peace.

    Spend time with me, learn to recognize my voice and how I move in the world. Get to know me and I can lead you through anything.

    Stick close to me, have hope and together we will SOAR.

    Read more