Heart Stuff

  • Fighting Through Fear

    I went through my first haunted house when I was 8 years old. My family had gone to the Enchanted Forest and it took some convincing, but I promised my parents that I would be just fine and that I would definitely not have nightmares.  

    My dad and I stepped through the creaky old facade and into a single, dimly lit room. Darkness closed in around us as the doors swung shut with a boom that I could feel all the way down to my Keds. The room was completely empty, except for a 10-foot statue hung on the wall directly ahead of me like a 3-D portrait. It was a sinister imp-like creature with horns and glowing red eyes. I stood glued to my spot, absolutely petrified. My legs no longer seemed to work and my voice left me. All I could do was stand there wide-eyed, searching for a way out. My dad had gone ahead, thinking I was still in step with him, but in the darkness, I had lost sight of him.

    I began to cry and I could hear my dad’s voice calling out, “This way. You have to come this way.” I couldn’t see him, but I squinted in the direction of his voice. As my eyes adjusted, I could see a narrow hallway leading out to the next room. The problem was that in order to get away from this terrifying picture, I had to walk directly toward the thing that had me paralyzed in fear, and then to face unknown terrors that surely lay ahead.

    It felt like a full fifteen minutes before I could convince my feet to move, but finally I managed to side-step along the wall until I reached the place where I would have to cross the room directly under the picture. I took a deep breath, opened my eyes, I saw my dad standing just an arms length away, under the most beautiful, glowing, green EXIT sign.  I mustered all my strength and ran to him as fast as I could. Relief washed over me as he grabbed my hand and led me outside into the fresh air and bright sunshine.

    While life is not always like a haunted house, it can feel equally scary sometimes. Have you ever been so afraid of something that you became paralyzed from taking action? Maybe it’s fear of failure, or making a the wrong choice in a difficult situation. Sometimes, simply fear of the unknown can be absolutely terrifying.

    When we allow fear to reign, it blinds us from seeing the way out clearly. Instead of walking forward toward our Heavenly Father, we allow fear to keep us immobilized and backed into a corner. In these moments, our minds are focused on our fear instead of on Christ. We are really questioning, “Can I trust that God can see what I cannot? Do I want something better, or will I stay here, feeling stuck and afraid?” Dear friend, the only way out of that dark corner is to grab hold of God’s hand and follow Him out into the fresh air and bright future He has planned for you.

    When we submit to the perfect love of Christ, it permeates every dark corner so that all fear is driven out and we are left with the courage and boldness that comes from living in Christ.

    “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7)

    Today is the day to decide to stop allowing fear to paralyze you from the great things God has in store for you. In Christ, you have all you need to achieve God’s best for your life. Put timidity and fear aside and take hold of power, love and self-discipline! Go! Even if you have to side-step along the wall to get to Him, God will be there, waiting for you. He will give you authority to overcome all that lays in your path. Exchange fear for faith; trust today and live the life you were intended to live!

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  • Finding Gratitude in Truth

    I broke my favorite glass yesterday. I was rushing around, trying to get out the door and the iron fell over and bumped the glass. It shattered it into a thousand pieces. I swept up the glass and simultaneously held my dog back with my foot to keep her from stepping on the glass. In that moment, I was consumed by a flurry of negativity and frustration and started to cry. Despite having been a good day up to that point, at that moment, it felt like it was all falling apart.

    Have you ever had a day like that? First one thing goes wrong, then it seems like everything else does too. Normally, I’m a pretty optimistic person and I like to find the bright side of things, but when my day starts to feels out of control, it is easy to perseverate on the negative. It’s easier to feel gratitude when things are going our way and life seems pretty smooth.

    Growing up, we used to sing a song in church based on Psalm 100:4 that went “I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter his courts with praise..I will rejoice for He has made me glad…” It is a song that I know by heart and often sang without really thinking about the words. It is a song of gratitude and praise, but it can mean so much more depending on how you hear it.

    When I hear the lyrics, I think of expressing gratitude for the day, for being alive, for God’s creation and power, and a call to rejoice and be glad. A friend of mine was going through some difficulties in her life and heard the lyrics from a different perspective. She heard it like this:

    “I WILL enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart. I WILL enter his courts with praise. I WILL say this is the day the Lord has made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.”

    What she heard was a choice–-a determination to worship and be thankful. Despite the tough stuff she was facing, she was choosing joy and gratitude, even when hope seemed elusive and life was hard.

    Gratitude in all circumstances, good or bad, is a decision made in the heart and the mind.

    It is on the mind that I want to focus especially. Our thoughts have the power to shape how we see ourselves and the world around us. Because of this, it is so important that our thoughts be firmly established in truth.

    Paul gives us some great imagery of taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. In every situation, we have a chance to stop right in our tracks and choose which way we will allow our thoughts to take us. Will we see everything that is going wrong and let our thoughts control us, or will we capture those thoughts and turn our mind toward Jesus instead? It will take practice and we will have to work at it, but the reward is peace and incomparable joy.

    After my favorite glass broke and I had swept up all the precious pieces, I sat down and caught my breath. I ate some food and enjoyed the silence of the house for a moment. I prayed and asked God to re-orient my thinking and give me strength. I focused on the truth and remembered that my day really hadn’t been a bad one. Work went well. I made it home safely. My husband had fed the kids and they were all at the baseball game where I would meet them to enjoy the rest of the evening. Peace washed over me, and I was filled with gratitude that I could come to Jesus with even the smallest of things.

    Things completely turned around from there. My family had a wonderful time together and we enjoyed the day and one another. If I had left my thoughts unchecked, I would have been stressed out, grumpy and distracted instead. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the game or be patient with my kids. It would have robbed us all of a lovely evening.

    When stress has me tangled up in knots, I am learning to pause, reconnect with God, re-orient my thoughts and choose gratitude and joy. When the unexpected happens and all you want to do is throw your hands up in the air and say “Jesus take the wheel!”, practice the pause. What thoughts do you need to take captive today so that you can find gratitude in truth?

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  • Exchanging Worry for Joy

    “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

    “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9

    Every once and in awhile, I wake up to a day when my insecurities and worries threaten to get the best of me. It starts subtly, but can quickly spiral into a full-on questioning of the meaning of life! “Who am I? What if people don’t like what I have to say? What if I didn’t really hear God right and I’m not the right person for the job?”

    Do the worries of life sometimes overwhelm you? Maybe the little everyday stressors stack up and weigh heavily on your heart. I have recently realized how easy it is to become trapped in a prison and it’s called worry. You may know it by its other names…anxiety and fear. These things can immobilize you and keep you from the joy and peace that God intends for you. It is a slippery slope off the path that leads to peace and joy. It starts small and grows until all you can see is that worry or fear.

    Good news! God has given us a way to be set free. In this section of Scripture, Paul tells the church in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He follows it by saying, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything.” Although these two phrases may not seem related, they are meant to go together. He knows we cannot fully rejoice until we let go of the worry and fear. Joy and worry are opposites in nature. Worry threatens to take our joy. Fear is out to destroy our peace. We must give our worry, in every situation, to God through prayer. When we lay them down in His capable hands we are set free from the hold they have over us. We trust in an all-powerful God, our Heavenly Father, who knows and loves us. He takes care of our worry and need, and gives us peace instead.

    Maybe your worry isn’t over a situation but rather a matter of the heart. Some of my biggest worries are over my own insecurities. Paul reminds us that there is a way out when the insecurities start to surface and whisper lies into our heads. The first key is relinquishing our worries to God. Once we allow God to take them over, we need to start filling up with truth.

    In John 8:32, Jesus said that, “the truth will set you free.” In Ephesians, Paul talks about putting on the armor of God and the very first item is the belt of truth that wraps around us. This is why he goes on to say,

    “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

    Paul is reminding us to fill up our minds with truth and goodness. This can help us take every thought captive for Christ as we compare it to this list. When the narrative in my head starts to spiral out of control, I can stop and ask, “Is this true? Is this right? Is it lovely or admirable?” When I stop to line my thoughts up with these questions, I often realize that my thinking is not grounded in the truth. I am caught up in the lies of the enemy. Satan wants us to remain ensnared by the untruths that tell us that we are not capable, not good enough, not called, that we are unlovely or unloved. He wants us to feel alone and paralyzed by worry, fear and insecurity.

    But God’s message is different. He gently calls us as a loving Father, to hear truth.
    “Come to me, my child. Give me all that weighs so heavily on your heart. Let me remind of what is true. You are radically loved. You are uniquely and wonderfully made by me and I make no mistakes. I have called you to be my child and be a light in this dark world. You have purpose and significance–there is work in this world that only you can do. I have given you everything you need to do my good work and I will provide for all your needs. Put your trust in me. You are never alone for I am with you always and will never leave you or forsake you. I will take your worries and give you peace that will guard your heart and mind”

    So today, if you find your worries and anxieties spiraling out of control, put these things into practice. Ask yourself, “Are my thoughts based in truth? Does the message in my mind match the message of God’s truth?” If not, talk to God about it and let him know what is on your heart. Trust Him with all that burdens your heart and mind and allow His peace and joy fill you up. He will give you a peace that rises above your circumstances, so that you truly can rejoice.

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  • Choose Joy

    We all have that friend who just always seems happy and content with the world. She seems unruffled by adversity and undaunted by the challenges of life. You simultaneously want to hug her and smack her because she’s so stinking loveable.

    I have a friend just like this. Despite battling and overcoming breast cancer and juggling everything else in life like kids and work and marriage, she always has a smile on her face and peace in her heart. She radiates the joy of the Lord.

    The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines joy as being “closely related to gladness and happiness, although joy is more a state of being than an emotion; a result of choice. One of the fruits of the Spirit. Part of the experience of being a Christian.”

    This definition of joy is so full of hope and promise. While joy is related to happiness, it is also very different. We have a choice to experience joy regardless of our circumstances, because our joy has its foundation firmly in Christ. As Christians we know that we are beloved by our Heavenly Father who works all things out for good, for those who love Him.(Romans 8:28) We are confident that we are more than conquerors of the obstacles inner lives, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:37-39) Our situation and circumstances will change, but God’s love for us does not, and that gives us great joy.

    It is important to know that having joy is not simply pretending to be happy when you are not, or “faking it till you make it”. We don’t have to manufacture joy on our own. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. Time spent with God through reading the Bible, prayer, worship and fellowship changes our thinking and aligns our priorities with God’s.

    Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the evidence, or fruit, of the Holy Spirit at work in us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.” None of these things are qualities we can conjure out of thin air. Rather they are a gift and a byproduct of living a Spirit-filled life.

    So what does that look like on the ground, in action? There are moments throughout our day when we can lean into God and experience true and lasting joy. It may be writing notes of gratitude, or listing our blessings. We can focus on truth instead of the lies the world tries to sell us. We can choose to turn our gaze outward and help someone else in need. We can be living proof of a loving God, in a world desperate to see Him up close.

    Each day we have an opportunity to choose joy. What will you choose today?

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  • Made New In Christ

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

    With flowers popping up, and Easter just around the corner, the optimism of a new season is all around. Especially coming out of dark winter, the light and new life of spring offers a welcome reprieve, full of promise and hope.

    I have been inspired by all this newness to do some spring cleaning. I opened up the windows to let in the spring breeze and air out the stale corners of the house that haven’t seen the bright light of day in a while.

    Personally, there are parts of my heart that need the same treatment, corners in my heart that haven’t seen the bright light of day in a while. Parts of me that are still holding on the old ways instead of walking in the light of Christ as a new creation.

    That’s the beauty of this Scripture. As Christ-followers, we can throw open the shutters of our hearts and let the light of Jesus in to sweep through and renew us. We can breathe deep of new mercies. We are released from the slavery of sin, and are made new by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. In Christ we are raised to new life, to walk in new ways, with new hope.

    Every Easter, we remember that the story of Jesus did not end at the cross. The cross was the plot twist-Jesus overcame death and the grave, and rose to life again. We have that same power living in us through the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus we have the power to leave the grave behind us and walk forward as a new creation.

    I love this song by Audrey Assad called New Every Morning. It reminds me of God’s love and the lengths he went to have relationship with us.  I hope you enjoy it too.

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  • You are Loved!

    Did you know that God’s Word is a love letter to you? The whole Bible is a beautiful story of God pursuing us out of His great love for us. The kind of love God offers is unlike any kind of love we can find on this earth. It is a love that surpasses all understanding. That God would go to the ends of the earth and into the depths of hell itself, to save us and redeem us and call us His own, is beyond anything I can imagine.

    Unlike God’s unconditional love, the kind of love the world gives is conditional and is often fickle. It comes and goes and isn’t always reliable. I’ve experienced my share of heartaches in my life that left me feeling alone, insecure and unloved–afraid to risk showing love to others. Seeking love that the world gives only kept me striving to earn love and prove that I was worthy of love.

    When I experienced God’s love and began to understand that He loves me no matter what and that His love will never leave me, it was so freeing. To know that He is a God who keeps on loving me, no matter my success or failure, no matter if I was less than my best today or if I over-commit, or if I get it all right or I get it all wrong–He keeps on loving me. That is what it means to be loved unconditionally.

    Being firmly grounded in the security of His love allows me to be brave when I would otherwise be insecure. Being safe with Him by my side allows me to love others freely and without reservation. My self-worth is no longer wrapped up in whether or not someone returns my love but grounded in the knowledge that I am forever loved by my Heavenly Father. It defines and shapes my identity as one whom God keeps on loving–no matter what.

    I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.

    ~ Ephesians 3:17-19 NLT

    When we are grounded in God’s love and begin to grasp the richness and depth of His love, we are filled up with the fullness of God. The Bible tells us that God is love. It isn’t a characteristic He has, but rather who He is. He is love and you are His.

    My prayer for you today is that you understand fully this love God has for you, that you embrace it with all of who you are, and let it be the defining force in your life that gives you courage to love freely with the love of Christ.

    You are forever His. You are LOVED!

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  • A New Year, A New Creation

    “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

    2 Corinthians 5:17

    Happy New Year! This is the season that we instinctively look back at the year that has passed, take stock of the good and the bad, and plan for a new, hopefully even better year. For some, putting 2017 in their rearview mirror couldn’t come soon enough. For others still, 2017 may have been a banner year and they are entering 2018 bright-eyed and full of optimism. Most of us probably experienced a mix of blessings and trials, ups and downs. Regardless of how you are kicking off your new year, we have an amazing gift in Christ to start new, to be refreshed, to experience revival.

    This year I have spent more time in God’s Word, resting in His promises and trusting in His timing. It has not been an easy task, but it is shaping me. It has taught me to see differently. Through Christ, I can say goodbye to the old, and hello to the new. This more than setting resolutions, this is inviting Jesus to continue to renew my mind, to revive the dead and broken in me, and help the areas where I am made new to flourish and grow. It is not something I can do for myself, it is something Christ does in me. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that I begin to see myself as Jesus sees me. It is in Him that any new healthy habits can take root past the next two weeks. It is by His strength that I am the best version of myself, and am able to show God’s love to family, friends and strangers. In Him, I am a new creation.

    What do you want God to make new in you this year? What has He already been cultivating in you that you want to continue to see flourish? You don’t have to navigate it alone! Comment below and let us pray for you! And may God bless you beyond all you can ask or imagine this year!

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  • Never Beyond His Reach

    There are times in my life when I get super busy and days will go by before I realize that I have forgotten to take time to acknowledge God in my busyness. I remember this was especially true when my kids were babies and toddlers. I was so exhausted all the time. A few minutes of time to myself was a rare commodity, let alone time to spend reading the Bible and praying.

    We all have seasons in our lives when it is harder than others to draw near to God. Sometimes it’s seasons of busyness, while other times its a seasons crisis or grief. What I learned during these times, is that even when I forget to draw near to God, He draws near to me and is already here with me in whatever I’m facing that day. God isn’t someplace where I have to go find him, but rather He is with me wherever I go and in whatever I do. In the diaper changing, He is there. In the driving from one appointment to another, He is there. In busy work day or in the exhaustion from an illness, He is there.

    King David knew this and wrote this down in the Psalms for us to remember as well:

    You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

    Psalm 139:5, 7-9

    Even though David was a King, he faced many hardships over the course of his life. Many times he was running for his life and other times he was running from God. Despite all this, he was still known as a man after God’s own heart. David recognized that there was nowhere that he could go and nothing he could do that could remove God’s loving presence from his life. Even if he went to the far reaches of the earth, up into the heavens or down into the depths of the ocean, God will still be there with him. He believed that God created him and loved him beyond measure. This truth allowed him to weather the toughest of circumstances and helped him lead a nation. Even when he ran from God or sinned against God, he knew he could always return to the one who calls him His.

    We too can turn to God in everything. Even in those times when you reach your darkest hour or those times you have run in your own direction, God is still here with you. When you are going a million miles a minute and haven’t stopped for three days because life has run away with you, God is still here with you. He goes before you and follows you; He lays His hand of blessing upon you, to guide you and hold you fast.

    Take heart, dear friend, God is with you in whatever your day brings you today. Reach out your hand and God will firmly grab hold. His love for you is beyond measure.

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  • Fear Overwhelming You?

    “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” Isaiah 43:1-3

    I must admit, lately I have been struggling with fear. Not the healthy kind of fear, but the horrible kind that can immobilize you and keep you from living life to its fullest. The kind that can get a grip around you and make you worry about the worst case scenarios. The problem is that I start to make decisions based out of this fear. Fear changes how I see the world, myself, and others.

    During a time of prayer this week, God brought the verse above to mind. At first, I wasn’t sure why, but as I read over the words I realized something: the opposite of fear is trust.

    In the verse above we see that God starts the verse with “fear not”. As we keep reading we see that he says that we don’t need to fear because He has a firm hold on us; we belong to him and he will protect us. As I read this, it makes me think of how a parent would comfort a child who is afraid. When my daughter is in bed at night and fearful of the monsters lurking in her closet or under her bed, I come alongside her and hold her. I tell her that she does not need to be afraid because I am there and I will protect her. More importantly, I tell her that God is with her and He is bigger than any monster. 🙂

    Our fears may not be imaginary like the monster under the bed. You may be facing some real fears such as not having enough work to make ends meet or of the future or of being alone. But God still draws near and whispers in our ear, “Fear not, I am here. I am the Lord your God and you are mine. I am mighty to save.” Something amazing happens to our hearts and minds when we choose to trust. In trusting, we are no longer giving power to our fears. We lay each fear into the hands of God and that trust will bring us peace.

    So whatever fear you are currently facing, God is bigger than them all. Trust in Him. As the river of fears this week attempt to overwhelm you or the flames of your worries rise up, remember that God is with you. He can calm the waters and douse the flames as we lean into him, trusting him to be who he says he is—The Holy One of Israel, our Savior!

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  • Every scrape upon my heart

    “…Every scrape upon my heart, tells the story of your grace.”– Ryan Kennedy from Letting Go

    I first heard this lyric at the Gospel Music Associations’ Immerse Conference last year. Ryan was performing it live and it moved me then as it does even now.

    When I was eight, I slipped and fell on the sidewalk while running through the sprinklers. I scraped up my knee and it was the first time I would need stitches in my life. It took only two stitches, and a place for my poor mother to lie down before she fainted, to repair the wound. It left a pretty good scar, one I still have and when I see it, I remember the story vividly. The same way the scar on my knee tells a story, the scrapes on my heart tell one too.

    They tell of unrequited love, misguided efforts, disappointed hopes, loss and grief. My little heart has been put back together again and again, by the One who created it. I couldn’t ask for a better physician and friend. And while the scrapes on my heart hurt for a little while (some longer than others), they tell a story of God’s grace. Of His tender hand guiding me, healing me and setting me on my feet again. They tell a story of victory.

    I hope you enjoy my friend Ryan’s song. Catch him on iTunes and YouTube for the latest tracks.

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