Heart Stuff

  • 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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  • To the heart that is hurting

    The first year my husband and I were married brought all sorts of growing experiences. We laughed harder than ever, and argued more than I imagined (I actually threw a package of Tums antacids at him!) We also grew closer together through one of the most painful and difficult experiences we’ve endured to date, the loss of our first child during pregnancy.  I firmly believe God redeems pain for purpose by allowing us to walk alongside others in their heartache and grief. In this way God reminds us all that we are not alone, and we are able to point one another back to Him, the source of hope, healing, peace and joy. If you or someone you know is going through a tough time, I pray my story could be an encouragement and beacon of hope.  

    I am sharing with you because I have walked where you now stand, feeling alone, like you are drowning in a sea of overwhelming grief.  I have been acquainted with the kind of hurt that keeps you awake at night and makes your heart pound in your chest. I learned the dull ache of my loss being the last thing I thought about at night, and the first thing I thought about in the morning. I experienced the frustration of having my emotions rule me and feeling powerless to bend them to my will. I remember watching myself from the outside thinking “Summer, you have to pull yourself together!” Then, lamenting in the same breath, “But, I can’t!”

    I remember friends saying that things would be ok and God was with me in my grief. While I could acknowledge that truth in my mind, my heart still couldn’t feel it. I found it difficult to even pray since tragedy had struck our family. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to say to God.

    One evening I had curled up on my bed after a long cry; out of obedience, I picked up my Bible. My eyes roved over the delicate pages in earnest hope that God would show himself. And there, wrapped in my bathrobe and surrounded by kleenex, my tired eyes fixed upon these words:

    “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:8-10 (NIV)

    I was especially moved by how the Message summed it up. Something about the phrasing grabbed my attention and soothed my tender heart:

    “You’re Jacob, my first choice, descendants of my good friend Abraham. I pulled you in from all over the world, called you in from every dark corner of the earth, telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’ Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:8-10 (MSG)

    These are some of my most treasured words from God. They broke through my darkness when I doubted His goodness and had questioned His sovereignty and His power in our world.

    “I pulled you in…called you in from every dark corner of the earth…” Boy was my corner dark. Initially, I couldn’t see anything beyond my own grief and pain. I wasn’t being intentionally selfish, everything else just seemed so small compared to the magnitude of my grief. God reached down and scooped me up like a loving dad carrying his daughter to tuck her safely into bed. He reminded me who I am. “You’re my servant, serving on my side. I’ve picked you.” Even when my heart pushed Him away, I was not his enemy.  

    “I haven’t dropped you. Don’t panic. I’m with you.” I needed this reassurance most. I couldn’t see how God was working in my situation. My world felt like it had been turned upside down and I was hanging precariously on the edge of it. My ears strained to hear His voice. I longed for Him to anchor me in my chaos.

    “There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”  The Lord bade me to stop running, be still and let the wave of grief wash over me. He would not leave me to tumble about in the wake. He would keep a firm grip on me. As I continued to read these promises, they began to stir in my heart with little flutters of hope. As each wave of grief washed over me, I emerged, sputtering, but standing, His hand tightly on mine. With each passing day, I saw God’s hand holding on to me. I began to accept the loss I had suffered and started to feel peace. God cared for me through family and friends that brought me meals, listened to me and encouraged me. I could whisper faintly in faith that God was still God, and He was still good. That whisper grew as my heart healed and I can now boldly proclaim in full assurance that God is present in your circumstances and will see you through.

    My prayer is that if you are in the middle of a storm right now, that you will not despair, but hold on to a glimpse of hope. You are not alone. This season does not stretch on indefinitely. Do not give up. Even in your dark corner, God is there. You are His and He loves you more than you can see. And when you get to the other side of this, you will know victory. You will know strength. You will know peace. You will see God redeem your pain for purpose as you walk alongside someone else in their storm. And you look back and see God’s hand at work, more than you ever thought you could.

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