Total Transformation

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” 2 Corinthians 5:17

I have been on a roller coaster of a journey for several years that consisted of short highs and long seasons of lows. Last year was a major turn around for me both career wise and financially. This year I took my health back. I also am practicing walking in full surrender to His will and His ways. I still have shortcomings and a whole lot of “me” mentality to work on but it’s amazing what a little discipline, a lot of faith, full surrender and breakthroughs in prayer can do in a short time span!

Here’s a before and after of me in the same dress, two and half years apart. The 30 pound difference is a combination of Weight Watchers and letting go of heavy burdens, including forgiving my enemies. One day before my 44th birthday, I feel more free and joyful than I ever have. All glory to God for it is because of Him that I am a new creation!

Christmas Joy

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'” Luke 2:10 NIV

We are two days away from another Christmas holiday.  Many have already begun celebrating a season that is supposed to represent peace, love, hope and joy.  It’s the season of giving and receiving.  For Christians, it’s also the season to celebrate Christ’s birth which represents miraculous events that can only be explained through a belief system that supersedes human logic.

Christmas can also be a season of stress, exhaustion, worry, depression and sadness.  In two days there will be children waking up to no presents, not even a Christmas tree and maybe even no food or heat in their homes.  Families will gather for dinner with at least one empty seat reminding them of a loved one whom they lost this year.  Kids will divide their time between households of split parents who may or may not get along.  Somebody is going to get drunk or misuse drugs to self medicate.  Fighting and abuse will increase.  Not every household in our neighborhoods and cities will be filled with love let alone experience Christmas joy.

Personally I have seen life threatening illnesses attack family members and community members.  There are people who will be fighting for their lives over the Christmas holiday.  I have also seen marriages and relationships recently come to end.  In two days there will be people experiencing Christmas without their spouse or significant other whom they lovingly shared this holiday with in the past.  If children are involved, they will be spending this holiday away from at least one of their parents adjusting to a new normal.  People have or will lose their jobs or perhaps have been jobless for months.  In  a season that is supposed to be happy and joyful, suffering seems to insurmountably increase.  So the question is, how do we find joy in such desperate and heartbreaking circumstances?

The answer? Joy in all circumstances is found when we turn our focus to Jesus.  Christ’s birth is the perfect example of bad timing and finding joy amidst dismal situations.  Mary was a virgin who’s fiance’ thought she gave herself to another man.  Joseph married a woman pregnant with God’s baby and couldn’t consummate the marriage until after Christ was born.  The mockery and judgement they must’ve endure would be enough for even the strongest in faith to question God.  But then in the end stage of Mary’s pregnancy they have to travel a distance for census purposes.  This was not flying coach or calling an Uber.  This would consist of riding a donkey or camel for days.  There was no telephone or internet to make reservations ahead of time so when they arrive in Bethlehem they find no lodging available.  One innkeeper offers them his barn to sleep in.

I’m going to interject right here-this is Mary, carrying God’s child.  God, the creator of all universe, all powerful and all knowing, knew Mary and Joseph’s story all along.  Nothing surprises Him.  God knew before He ever put Jesus in Mary’s womb exactly how Jesus would enter this world-in a barn among farm animals.  This was not a clean or sterile environment.  I can only imagine that this was not the ideal place Mary would have chosen to give birth to any of her children, but especially to God’s son.  If Mary’s faith was like mine, she would’ve had super high hopes for an elaborate birth and be sorely disappointed when she was laboring in a barn.  But when it was all said and done, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NIV)  Jesus was born into a world filled with sickness, disease, addiction, abuse and heartache.  He was born into this world because it was filled with such sadness.  His purpose was to save us all from the demise of a fallen world.

Cancer, stroke, heart disease, pneumonia, divorce, discord, anxiety and debt do not care that Christmas is 2 days away.  Bank accounts don’t magically have excess for Christmas presents and special holiday dinners.  Loneliness doesn’t take a vacation on December 25th.  Christmas doesn’t gift the return of a loved one who passed away.  There is nothing in this list that exudes joyfulness or describes Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.  Yet God calls us to joy.  Choosing joy means praising God amidst the storms that heap pain, sorrow and devastation.  Choosing joy means clinging to God’s promises and faithfulness even when He feels so far away and we question what His plan is.  Choosing joy means gratitude for another day to celebrate Christmas even though our worlds may be crumbling.  Choosing joy means knowing God’s timing is always perfect and victory will always be His even when it seems as though our enemy is winning.  If nothing more, choosing joy is simply an act of obedience because God tells us to choose joy in all circumstances (Philippians 4:4.)

Christmas carols celebrate joy.  Decorations are adorn with the word “joy.”  No matter what we are facing today there is always a choice to live in our feelings or to choose joy.  Joy in all circumstances will always bring peace that exceeds human wisdom.  When you know that kind of peace your faith will soar because you will finally believe God’s promises will be fulfilled no matter what chaos is happening right now.  Every circumstance reflects a season.  Christmas is a season of joy in spite of our circumstances.  Take time to sing the lyrics to this Christmas classic today and every day this week with a mindset of choosing joy.  When you hear these words, “JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD HAS COME…” Belt it out with a heart that chooses joy and watch how unshakable your faith becomes.

I’ll See You Soon…

“I have much more to say to you, but I don’t want to do it with paper and ink. For I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face. Then our joy will be complete.”

‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

There’s a movie titled Dear John. It’s a love story about a couple who spent most of the beginning of their relationship in separate countries. Their occasional face to face encounters were short lived because other commitments kept them going in different directions. The bulk of their relationship consisted of letter correspondence.

Throughout their relationship, the couple never said goodbye. They parted ways and ended their letters with “I’ll see you soon.” To them, “goodbye” was something final and permanent. Because they wanted to be in each others’ lives, they chose to part ways with a sentiment that would remind them that they would be together again no matter how long they were apart.

Even when their relationship seemed to be permanently over, it’s really not the end. The final scene leads the viewer to believe their relationship rekindles. There’s also a voice over of the woman reading a letter to the man. The letter closes with this:

“…no matter how many years go by, I know one thing to be as true as it ever was, I’ll see you soon.” Those words are a depiction of an incredibly powerful connection and a love that was never ending.

In the scene where the relationship ends, the man burns all the letters he ever received from the woman who was rejecting him. Oh how I’ve “cleaned house” to rid myself of past relationships in an effort to heal a broken heart and move on. In fact I recently unfollowed certain social media pages just to forget about a close friend whom I’ve parted ways with. A close friend that I used to say “I’ll see you soon” to. A close friend that if I’m being honest, I loved as more than a friend but a real relationship never came to pass.

The very day I decided to remove all that reminded me of him, Dear John aired on TV. My hardened heart tempted me to change the channel but the Holy Spirit prompted me to keep watching it. Truth be told, I didn’t get why until I tried writing this post. I’ve deleted two drafts and quit writing briefly before realizing what the Holy Spirit was showing me.

God used this movie to remind me He keeps people in our lives in His way and for His reasons. Some people come into our lives to help us develop our character, to test our patience and to stretch our ability to forgive. These are people we sometimes beg God to remove from our lives but He keeps them near us-sometimes too close. But there are others who’s purpose in life is to grow our hearts to a love that supersedes anything we could ever imagine (like what God promises in Ephesians 3:20.) These are the people we want to keep that God may take away. He does this, not because He doesn’t love us but because He knows that heart break grows a compassion that produces more love. I am a walking testimony to that.

If you’re reading this-I believe God has a message for you through this post. God wants you to know how much He loves you and just how deep He wants to grow His love within you. If you’ve written off the idea of loving someone or ever being loved, don’t say goodbye just yet. Instead, place your wounded heart in Jesus’ scarred hands and let Him fill it with a love that will make you feel as though you’re going to burst. The process is painful and overwhelming. It will bring you to your knees and even make you sob. But oh the joy that is felt when you are filled with a heart that is hand crafted by Jesus. Don’t say goodbye to love my friend, simply tell love, “I’ll see you soon.” It’s then and only then that our joy will be complete.

Moving Slow but Working Hard

“Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.”

Hebrews 6:15NLT

My freshman year of college I lived on the 4th floor of Robinson Hall.  This dormitory had no elevators, only stairs-many, many flights of stairs.  There’s a “freshman 15” saying referencing the amount of weight you gain your first year of college.  The amount of times I went up and down those stairs on a daily basis I am confident I lost fifteen pounds and then some.  Along with the stair climbing you had to walk across campus multiple times a day for classes, meals, etc.  For a girl who at one point lived across the street from her high school, this world of walking a country mile and climbing stairs that equated to scaling the Empire State Building on a daily basis was a tad much.  It was even worse when I was running late.  Speed walking doesn’t get you to class much faster than normal walking and even at eighteen years old, my knees were not built for running, especially carrying several textbooks on my back.  Have to admit, twenty plus years later, I think my freshman year of college was a mini boot camp for this diva.

After I graduated college, I moved back home.  I had big dreams to change the world and ended up with a minimum wage job at a retail store.  My college relationship ended and I found myself partying multiple times a night.  I found a job that was a remote fit to my degree but it wasn’t stable and it wasn’t satisfying.  I came to a realization that I was going in circles.  Going in circles gets you nowhere. Going in circles, simply makes you dizzy.  I took out a map and I picked a city to move to.  About six months later, I was settling in to a city seven hours away from home only knowing two people in the entire area.  I secured a job in the downtown area and gained many lifelong friendships from working there.  I also walked a lot.  You see, in most cities, there are parking structures that cost money to park.  People who worked downtown typically would spend $40-80 plus in monthly parking fees.  Paying for parking was a foreign thing for this small town girl.  So I found free parking, on the outskirts of a rougher part of the city, and I would walk about six blocks to my office in high heels.  At lunch time I would walk a round trip of about another six blocks to grab a meal and eat it at the office.  On the weekends my friends and I again would walk from bar to bar to go dancing.  You basically drove to the downtown area, just to walk to where you needed to go.

It’s been seventeen years since I’ve moved back to my home state.  Where I live, walking to work or to get my kids to school or even to the grocery story is only a possibility if you’re in the shape of marathon runner.  In fact, the only extensive walking I do now is 1-3 times a week on my lunch break as a form of exercise.  Other than that, I am driving every place we need to go.  Now, walking isn’t a form of transportation, it’s simply a form of exercise.

I have been battling with car repairs and unreliable vehicles for the past decade.  Since moving into the home I’ve raised my children in the past 10 years, I have owned four vehicles.  Each one has needed multiple repairs and each one has left me stranded a time or two.  Some repairs have been routine needs like new brakes or tires.  Others have been incredibly expensive and/or major safety issues.  Each one causes a great stress in figuring out where to get it fixed, how to pay for it and how to get to work and other places I need to go while the vehicle is being repaired.  At some point, the repairs get to be more than the vehicle is worth and then I pray extensively for the Lord to provide a better, more reliable and more affordable vehicle.  Each time, God answers.

Two years ago, God provided me with the nicest vehicle I’ve owned in several years.  This vehicle seemed to fit all my needs and even handles very well on bad wintry roads.  It’s needed a few repairs here and there but it’s all been routine maintenance until last year.  At the beginning of the year, I noticed a loud banging sound when I would drive over bumps. I kept checking the area where the sound was coming from and couldn’t see what would be causing it.  One day I got to my office, checked it again and discovered my entire wheel well was broken.  If you know anything about vehicles, the wheel well holds the rear shock into place.  If the well is broken, the shock bangs up and into the trunk area of your vehicle.  Not only is this a safety issue but it’s an expensive repair.

A family member did a free weld repair on it first.  This lasted several months and I was incredibly grateful.  However, in December of last year, the weld broke and replacing the wheel well was unavoidable.  It was Christmas time and very cold outside.  It was also the time of year where it’s dark until about 8am and dark again around 6pm.  My commute to/from work is 70 miles (112 kilometers) and given the time of year, walking to work daily wasn’t a realistic option.  Neither was driving my vehicle in the condition it was in. Given that fact that is was also Christmas time, financially speaking, this kind of car repair would break the bank as they say.  I prayed a lot.  I cried a bit and I reached out to others for prayer and help.  God answered in a mighty way. My vehicle was repaired, I was provided a loaner vehicle while mine was in the shop, my children had an overwhelmingly abundant Christmas and I suddenly found myself in a position to bless a family in need with an abundant Christmas also.  All this happened in a three-week period.  All this happened because God used friends and family and other avenues to provide for my children and me.

About a month ago, my car broke down on the freeway.  It actually just shut down as I was traveling.  Fortunately, it was a slow motion occurrence where I was able to safely pull to the side of the road before losing my brakes and power steering.  I couldn’t get it started for a bit.  It was raining and vehicles were passing me at speeds high enough to shake my vehicle as they went by.  I prayed and asked God for help.  Tried to start the vehicle again with no success.  This happened a few times and I found myself quickly losing my patience.  At one point the high maintenance diva side of me came out and I actually asked God this, “Do you expect me to walk down the freeway, in the rain, in my high heels? Is that what you’re expecting me to do right now?”  He answered by starting my vehicle and getting me to a safe park N ride area.  I was able to call my mechanic who arranged for a tow truck and delivered me a loaner car to get me home that night.  My car was repaired the very next day.  I thanked God for His continued provision and embarrassingly humbled myself when I thought about those who walk in the rain without shoes because they have no other means of transportation and cannot even afford a pair of shoes.  Who was I that I thought I was too important to walk in the rain in heels?

The past two weeks I have battled yet again with another needed repair.  This time, it’s a second broken wheel well.  This one is worse than the first.  The Lord provided the financial means to repair this one rather quickly, however, the body shop doesn’t have an opening to fix it for three weeks.  I drove the vehicle (after consulting with professionals who said it was ok) for the first week.  However, the noises grew increasingly louder and the damage worsened.  I tried to get the repair done sooner with no luck.  I reached out to a few friends for a possible loaner vehicle, with no luck either.  I prayed asking God to show me what to do for transportation over the next two weeks until I could get my car into the shop.  I didn’t ask nicely, mind you.  I had a world class toddler style meltdown over the whole thing.  In fact, I remember two things I prayed out of anger in that moment-1.)  I told God I didn’t want to learn whatever lesson He was trying to teach me and 2.) I was deeply disappointed in His method right then.  I even tried venting to two people I trusted and was told I was venting to the wrong people.  It was a whirlwind moment of deep discouragement.  My frustration grew as I could feel God going silent-just letting me have my rant.   In December God overwhelmed me with help.  This time, it felt like I had been left alone to figure it out.

But then He answered.  He answered by sending a family member to look at the vehicle once again and advising me on how long I could drive it.  He answered by providing transportation for my kids to get to/from school and by giving a dear friend a willing heart to drive me to/from work.  He answered by the generosity of another friend who loaned me a vehicle for this entire weekend.  Although I don’t have a solid plan for this upcoming week regarding transportation, I know He will answer because He promised to take care of my children and me and God is faithful in keeping His promises.

Now, if you’re still reading this, you might be asking, what do car repairs and where I lived in college have in common.  My answer would be this: turtles.  You see my freshman year of college, 4th floor Robinson Hall had t-shirts designed for each resident.  The shirts had a couple turtles on the front and the back read, “4th Floor, Robinson Hall, Moving Slow but Working Hard.”  I was reminded of this motto this week when I watched a turtle attempting to cross a busily traveled country road.   I actually found myself asking God to please help that turtle make it safely across.  Then I thought about how slowly turtles move.  There is no rush or urgency in a turtle.  They simply were not built to move quickly.

Turtles crossing the road is very common where I live.  Many times, humans intervene by picking up the turtles and moving them out of the road in an effort to save them from getting smooshed by vehicles.  But other times, the turtle has to get across the road by the grace of God only because there is no human intervention.  That was the case of this particular turtle.  Nobody was stopping to help it.  I saw a few cars drive around it and hoped anyone encountering it would do the same.  Aside from darting cars, from the outside looking in, that turtle was on its own to make it safely to where he or she was journeying to.

In life, and especially when dealing with a broken down vehicle, I feel like a turtle.  I can see where I need to go, I can develop a plan on how to get there, I usually choose the shortest route possible and then race off to the finish line.  That’s when I encounter delays or other roadblocks that slow my pace down or bring me to a sudden stop.  Delays and roadblocks trigger my impatience.  There are things in my life,-plans, goals, etc.-that I want to happen in hare speed, not turtle speed (if you’re not familiar with the Tortoise and the Hare story this analogy may not makes sense so google “The Tortoise and the Hare” for a better understanding.)  I especially get impatient when I know how to get something done but delay puts me in a position where I cannot get it down on my timeline and I have to depend on others for help during the waiting process.  I am a very impatient waiter (unlike Abraham who waited “patiently” and received the Lord’s promise.”   God knows this.  He also knows I learn best when He answers with “daily manna” instead of delivering everything I ask for all at once.  Because this year is the year He is developing my character to reflect how He designed me to be, He is slowing my life down to turtle speed, putting me in positions to be dependent upon others and in position to be totally dependent upon Him.

I’m gonna be real right now and admit that this form of character building, I. Do, Not. Like.  But God tells us in James 1:2-4 to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let the steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (ESV).”  The NLT version uses the word “endurance” instead of steadfastness.  This word “endurance” is also found in Romans 5:3. “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.” Verse 4 ties it all together with this; “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (NLT,)”  Instead of acting like a toddler, God gently reminds me that I should be rejoicing through these trials because He merely developing more of my character through them.

If you’re going through a trial, even something as trivial as lack of transportation, remember this-God uses all circumstances to refine us, especially the ones He knows will really put us through the test.  Our fiery furnace doesn’t have to be something major.  It could be taking the same “test” over and over again until we learn to not let that circumstance rattle us.  Maybe your test is a different financial struggle, dealing with a toxic person, having the same argument with your spouse with no resolution in sight, struggling with a rebellious child or something more intense like battling with a life threatening illness or job loss.  Whatever the circumstance, you may be feeling like you’re going in circles, this journey seems endless, God is silent and your trying to walk through heavy traffic (get through this situation) at a turtle’s speed.  There will be times you will feel like God uses others to pick you up and carry you to where you need to be quickly.  Other times in this journey you will feel like everyone is bypassing you and you’re at the mercy of your own strength to get across that road.  Just remember this, whether a human moves that turtle or the turtle makes it across because travelers choose to swerve and avoid it, God’s divine intervention is what truly gets that turtle safely across the road.  No matter how God delivers your miracle, know this-it’s coming from God, in His time and in His way.  Don’t give others more credit than they deserve and don’t be a hare trying to rush through life on your own.  It’s in the turtle speed that we notice more around us and are even gifted moments of pausing (like when you’re waiting for someone to pick you up.)  You’d be amazed at how beautiful life truly is when you’re not rushing and you’re not rattled.  You just keep going, moving slowly but working hard.  You do what you can, and then trust God to do the rest.

One last note-as each vehicle passed that turtle, it never once stopped or hid in its shell.  It kept its eyes toward the direction it was heading and it kept moving forward. That is the epitome of unshakable faith.  When we’re faced with delays, roadblocks or feel like we’re metaphorically trying to cross a road through heavy traffic, there’s a confident trust we can exude by keeping our eyes focused on where God is leading.  We must continue to move forward believing He will get us to the other side completely unharmed.  God used that turtle to teach me this:  I can look at the problem and worry about how to solve it-or I can look to Jesus and trust Him to bring the solution even if it means hours, days, weeks or years of roadblocks and delays.  God used Abraham’s journey as a testimony that He is never late but always on time in delivering His promises, even delivering car repairs.

What Fruit is Your Tree Producing?

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭12:33‬ ‭NLT‬‬

For the past few months I have been obsessively craving oranges. I can eat six of them or more in a day sometimes. Definitely can eat several over the span of a week. But I’m a bit weird with how I eat them. I can’t peel just one and then eat it. I have to peel several at a time and store them in a dish so they’re readily available whenever my belly craves them. If I don’t peel them all at once, they tend to sit, rot and get wasted.

Tasting the juicy sweetness of a ripe orange and throwing away one that’s mushy and covered in a fuzzy green substance reminds me of God’s calling on all of us to be fruit bearers. In Galatians (Chapter 5 verse 22 and 23) we read about the fruits of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, kindness, perseverance and self-control. These are all characteristics God requires of us to display in our day to day lives. Reading the list sounds easy and I am confident there are many times practicing all of these have come natural to all of us. But what about the times when it doesn’t? Let’s look at some scenarios.

When a person cuts us off on the road it’s human nature to react in a harsh manner (not practice gentleness.) when someone wounds us deeply or continues to disappoint us, it’s human nature to stop loving them, maybe even feel hatred toward them. When we’re grief stricken if feels impossible to experience joy. Addictions make it incredibly challenging to practice self-control. When life feels out of control it’s easy to worry and be anxious instead of choosing to be at peace fully trusting Abba. If you’re a parent dealing with a toddler meltdown or a disrespectful know-it-all teenager it’s super easy to lose patience. On days when we’re just feeling grumpy it’s easier to lash out at others rather than practice goodness and kindness.

Then there’s the concept of being known by our fruit. If we are a person bearing good fruit we should be identified as such. But what about those who constantly bear bad fruit? What about the people who cross our paths who appear to be mean-spirited, toxic, hard-hearted or down right evil? What about those people who seem so hard hearted that no amount of prayer covering seems ever possible that they will ever change?

First and foremost if you’re a Christian who’s known for bearing bad fruit (maybe you hold grudges, is unwelcoming, always arguing, gossips, harbors hatred toward others, loses your temper easily, over spends/over eats or even over works) it’s time to take a long hard look in the mirror, confess these attitudes and behaviors and ask God to cut off the branches that aren’t bearing good fruit. Until you refuse to repent, you will be a tree that produces bad fruit and bears a false witness as to what being Christ like is all about. If you repent, God promises to prune you in a way that will make your tree overflowing with His fruit once again (John 15:2.)

Dealing with nonbelievers who bear bad fruit is a bit more challenging. None of us hold the power in our human strength to change a human heart, including our own. Part of bearing good fruit is being a seed planter for those who bear bad fruit. If you have any knowledge of botany (which mine is very limited) you know that some plants actually populate from having their seeds spread elsewhere. This happens in both plants and weeds which means Christians can plant both good and bad seeds in the lives of those whom we cross paths with. If we want to be good fruit bearers, we have to be good seed planters also (read Mark 4 regarding Jesus’ parable on seed planting.)

How do we do that? We practice the fruits of the Spirit at all times. Think about being a comedian performing on stage for the first time. Your audience boos you and throws rotten tomatoes at you. This is the epitome of being exposed to bad fruit bearers and toxic people. It’s also human nature to want to defend ourselves and to pick up those rotted tomatoes and throw them back. Instead, God calls us to give them good fruit. Sticking with this analogy let’s say when someone throws rotten tomatoes at you, you pull out fresh ripe ones and ask them to join you for a salad. If someone steals from your apple tree, bake them a pie with what’s left. By doing so, you will be planting seeds of the Spirit that God can use to grow your enemies into good fruit bearers also.

This is definitely easier said than done. Trust me-I struggle daily with practicing any of this. I tend to live out my feelings instead of practicing self-control. I lose my temper and throw gentleness, kindness and goodness right out the window replacing them with anger, harsh words and unforgiveness. I wallow in my sorrows and give the enemy my joy. When I try problem solving in my own human wisdom, I get engulfed in worry and anxiety which suffocates any ounce of His peace within me. There are days I make a conscious effort to choose His fruit instead though. Just like choosing healthy food gives your body more energy, choosing His fruit gives my spirit a supernatural energy boost that produces more fruit within me. The more we pour out into others, the more He pours back into us. To keep using a scientific analogy, this would be a spiritual osmosis!

Whether you’re in a season of seed planting or fruit bearing remember three things-one, just like growing a garden or planting trees takes a length of time before the plant is fully matured and fruit is produced, so it may take years before you see changes in those you are discipling to, including even your own children. That’s where consistency, perseverance and the power of prayer play their biggest roles. Just because you can’t see anything growing, doesn’t mean there aren’t roots forming beneath the surface. So don’t give up.

Second, you may not be the person God uses to fully change their hearts. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:6 that he planted the seed but Apollo watered it and only God actually made it grow. This verse reminds us that some hearts may take more than one person to soften and that no matter who God uses, He ultimately gets the glory. It’s His power alone that truly changes hearts. We are just His tools.

Lastly, and this part is a sad reality, some hearts will never change. Choosing the fruits of the Spirit is a choice. There are people who choose to be hard hearted and no effort will ever change them. (Matthew 21:19) I believe God will show you when it’s time to walk away from such a person and surrender them fully to the Lord. We can still pray for a miracle in them but walking away means protecting ourselves emotionally and avoiding getting spiritually burned out. You may not agree with this last concept but just remember Judas was a prime example of such a heart. He walked right beside Jesus and betrayed him. Jesus never pursued Judas after the betrayal because He knew there was no changing him.

Jesus forgave Judas and He calls us to forgive our enemies also-even if they refuse to change. Forgiveness is definitely a seed that when planted can produce amazing fruit in ourselves and in those we choose to forgive. Jesus modeled this as He was hanging on a cross enduring excruciating pain, pushing himself up just to take a breath, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” So what seeds are you planting? What fruit are you producing? What is your spiritual tree bearing? Strive to plant seeds that inevitably produce trees that bear His fruit.

Beautiful is a State if Mind

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.”

‭‭Song of Songs‬ ‭4:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you see God’s creation or do you see flaws? If you’re like me you see wrinkles, spurts of gray hair, blemishes, and many lumps and bumps from being slightly, moderately or even greatly overweight. Maybe you even do the whole suck your gut in thing in, buy Spanx or other body shaping items in an effort to smooth our your shape and buy the expensive “perfection” make-up to hide your flaws. But no matter how much you dress up your face and body, when you look in the mirror, if you’re like me, you still see ugly.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with my looks and my weight. When I was a size 3 I thought I was overweight. In my teenage years I would only eat one meal a day for two weeks just to drop ten pounds. Imagine what my mind thinks being a size 16 now and the discouragement I feel when I exercise but don’t drop even one pound. Honestly, I avoid scales. I even reuse to get weighed at doctor appointments. If I don’t want to know my weight when then it’s nobody else’s business either. Lol I have severe anxiety if anyone wants to photograph a full body pic of me. Most of my pics are selfies because I’ve mastered the right angle to make myself look thinner. I tend wear plus sized tops typically to cover up my Puffy stomach and love handles. I also wear high heels to make me look taller in hopes it slims out my figure. I rarely go out without make-up because I think I look incredibly old and completely unattractive without it. I struggle greatly with seeing an ounce of beauty in myself and hearing it from others is very hard to accept.

Recently I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. One that inevitably could effect my weight causing me to gain more and definitely making it difficult for me to lose any. I’ve seen one specialist so far. It was a disappointing appointment to say the least. I was told there’s no cure and nothing I could to do to get better. I cried a a good stretch of my 1 hour drive home from that appointment. I also prayed. Do you know what I prayed as tears flowed down my face-“God-PLEASE don’t make me fatter than I already am.” I kept saying it over and over again. Weight gain is just one facet of this disease yet to me it’s the only one I cannot emotionally handle. But I am a fighter and I tend to fight harder when someone tells me I can’t do something. So hearing I won’t get better has motivated me to change my diet and exercise more with hopes to prove that doctor wrong. I haven’t gained any weight but I’m confident I haven’t lost anything either.

Yesterday I watched an episode of a 1980’s comedy, The Facts of Life. In this particular episode, Blaire, the girl who prided herself on being physically beautiful with a flawless complexion and perfectly coiffed hair, sustained a head injury in an auto accident. When she saw herself with this huge cut and stitches across her forehead she threw the mirrored tray she was looking into. She saw a hideous disfigured face looking back at her. She later dumped the man she was dating because she felt like she was damaged goods. The man however fought for her. He showed her some silly scars he had gained from injuries throughout his lifetime and asked her if she still loved him in spite of those scars. She admitted that those scars had no factor in her love for him. He reminded her that she was less than perfect before the gash on her forehead but that he loved all of her in spite of her imperfections. Of course in a 30 minute 80’s sitcom there’s usually a happy ending and this episode ended with Blaire reuniting with her boyfriend.

The Lord really spoke to me through that episode. In fact as I was walking down the short hallway in my home I felt the Lord show me His scars from the nails in that were driven into His hands and feet. I heard Him ask me if I still loved Him in spite of His scars. He already knew my answer would be “yes.” I also heard Him tell me He loved me no matter how much I weighed or how flawed I thought my face looked. To God, I am beautiful because I am His princess.

I went to bed last night thinking about self-esteem. I realized our self-esteem is not determined by how others see us or value us. Honestly, I always believed my self esteem was based on the people who criticized me and made fun of me growing up. But that just gave too much power to the haters in my life. Our self-esteem is how we esteem ourselves. I can have ten people pay me ten compliments but if I only see myself as ugly, fat or just plain average, those compliments are wasted words. The opposite of that of course would be esteeming ourselves too high and ignoring those who try to correct our arrogance.

My daughter has referred to herself as “ugly” before and I cringe when I hear her describe herself that way. She is truly one of the most beautiful people I know and I don’t see an inch of ugly in her. But no matter how often I call her “pretty or beautiful”, how I esteem her is superseded by how she esteems herself. Just like the “ugly” I see staring back at me exceeds any compliment anyone ever pays me. Both of us are believing a big fat lie because the truth is-God doesn’t make ugly!

God is not ugly and we are created in His image. Even Lucifer was a beautiful angel created by God. Seriously the being He knew was going to become his number one arch enemy, God. made. beautiful. If God made His enemy beautiful why on earth would He ever make you or me ugly? He wouldn’t and He didn’t. You are not ugly. I am not ugly. We are beautiful daughters and sons of the One true King.

If you’re struggling with feeling fat or ugly, ask the Lord to change your mind and to give you His eyes to see yourself exactly as He made you. Stand on 2 Corinthians 10:5-take captive every thought that is not of Christ (seeing yourself ugly is definitely NOT of Christ), demolish every argument that is against the truth (call the negative voices in your head what they really are-LIARS!) and stand on God’s truth about you. Go out in public without that make-up covered face and let your natural beauty shine. If you choose to lose weight, do it for healthy reasons not just because you think you’ll feel beautiful if you’re a size 10. Take from the girl who used to be a size 3-no matter your pants size, you will always see yourself as fat and/or ugly if you refuse to change your state of mind and esteem yourself. You are worth loving so love yourself enough to see yourself as the beauty you truly are. (And please pray for me to really put into practice what I’ve preached in this post!)

The Power of Praise

“Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised, And His greatness is unsearchable.”

Psalm 145:3

Praise-a fairly simple word but at times, most challenging to speak and nearly impossible to do.  But it was David’s go-to through many of the trials he endured.  In fact, the book of Psalms is filled with scriptures of praise!  Don’t get me wrong there are many passages in Psalms where David is crying out to the Lord in great desperation but a lot of those same passages start or end with powerful praises also.  In fact, I want to challenge you to look up each Psalm and see for yourself just how much David praised God.  I am going to challenge myself as well. There are 150 Psalms and I will get through each one but in order to not turn this into a chapter book, I will do a series of posts over the next month covering 10 Psalms in each post searching for David’s accolades to God. So get ready to get your praise on!

Psalm 1-There’s no direct mention of praise in the first chapter but it does start out on a thankful note when David talks about how we are blessed when we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on His teachings day and night.  Knowing how God blesses us is worthy of praising Him and having a thankful heart!

Psalm 2-This chapter starts out a bit scornful, but through it, David reminds us to worship the Lord (worship is a form of praise), serve the Lord and rejoice (another word for you guessed it-praise!)  David also ends this chapter with a mention that we are blessed when we take refuge in God.  Remember that focusing on our blessings is an act of thankfulness.

Psalm 3-Let the drama begin!  Verse one opens with “O Lord, how my enemies have increased! Many are rising up against me…”  Now I have read the Bible in its entirety and I have studied David’s life before.  But I’m not a scholar on every Psalm to know exactly what was going on in David’s life when he wrote each one.  I can guess this from Psalm 3-David had a few people who were TICKED OFF at him and he was feeling quite helpless.  But in verse 3 he reminds himself (as we also need to do) that God is a shield for him.  He confesses that he sleeps safely because God is watching over him.  He ends this chapter in verse 8 with, “Salvation belongs to the Lord; May Your blessing be upon Your people.”  Speaking God’s truth in the midst of helplessness, reminding yourself Who God is and how MIGHTY He is, that’s a form of worship and in an essence-a form of praise.  For those who disagree-ask yourself this; when you’re listing quality attributes or characteristics of someone to that person, are you not offering them praise?  Well it’s the same with God.  We don’t have to just say “thank you” for it to be considered praising our Heavenly Father.

Psalm 4-David gets direct with God and says, “Answer me when I call…”  He also gets direct with his enemies (“How long will you love worthless things and seek deception and lies.”) His prayer in this one gets even more direct with God when in verse 6 David says, “…Lift up the light of Your face upon us, O Lord.”  (Did anyone else notice he didn’t say “please”?)  But again, David ends this passage with “You have put joy in my heart…in peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety and confident trust.”  I have to stop right here and point something out that just popped out at me…David ends this passage with “confident trust.”  I’ve gotta be real with you and admit those two words are a HUGE struggle for me.  Anyone else out there wrestle with this or am I the only doubter in the bunch?  Ha-I am confident (no pun intended) there are a few of you who share the same struggle.  I pray this passage and especially those two words inspire us doubters that praise works best when we confidently trust in the Lord.

Psalm 5-In this chapter David is seeking God’s revenge on those who do evil.  It’s reassuring to know that the man after God’s own heart prayed some vengeful prayers.  But again-he didn’t stay stuck in that thought process.  He ends with declaring God’s favor upon himself by saying, “…O Lord, bless the righteous man…surround him with favor as with a shield.” In spite of the fear David wrestled with, the turmoil he was enduring, David knew God’s protection and favor and he declared it over himself and his land.

Psalm 6-When you read the beginning of this chapter you may think as I did, “David has cracked-the pressure has sunk him deep into despair.” At one point, it almost sounds as if he’s saying, “God where are you?  Can you hear me?  Are you even listening?”  I’m thinking he definitely entertained doubt in this chapter.  But even in his admission of weakness, he finds enough strength to declare that God has heard his weeping, God has heard his prayer and that God received his prayer.  That last part is super powerful.  It’s not enough for us to believe God hears our prayers.  We need to believe He receives them as in He has accepted them and will act on them.  This doesn’t mean He says “Yes” to every request we make.  This just means we know that God listens and moves according to His will when we pray.

Psalm 7-David is still struggling with despair and appears pretty weak at the beginning of this chapter.  He even starts thinking maybe God is punishing him.  So he asks God to judge him and if he has sinned to then allow his enemies to crush David into dust.  David was a true warrior-but I think he also wore his heart on his sleeve and felt emotions on an extremely deep level.  He again though stands on God’s truth reminding himself that God is the judge of the people, not man and that although God may punish those who do evil, God shields and defends the righteous.  Then suddenly it’s as if David gets a bit of boldness and he starts describing God’s almighty wrath as if God was Chuck Norris kicking arse and taking names later! In the ends, David writes, “I will give thanks to the Lord…and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.”  David’s choice to praise God is consistent no matter what he is feeling or experiencing.

Psalm 8-This chapter starts and ends with the same exact phrase, “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic and glorious and excellent is Your name in all the earth!”  This chapter is only 9 verses but filled with affirmation to God and a declaration of who God is.  David even humbles himself when he writes, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”  David is so much in awe of God that he struggles with comprehending God’s favor over him.

Psalm 9-David again begins this chapter with thanksgiving and praise.  Reading this one I picture David standing on a palace balcony or perhaps at the edge of cliff near the cave he hid in from Saul and I can see him confidently declaring God’s victory over his circumstances, reminding himself that God will conquer his enemies.  In a few of the verses he speaks of calamity that will fall upon the wicked but he describes the stability of the Lord when he says, “But the Lord will remain and sit enthroned forever;…” (Vs 7).  He again reminds himself of God’s protection in verse 9 when he writes, “The Lord also will be a refuge and a stronghold for the oppressed…”  It’s as if David is saying, “You may have a tornado of trouble swirling around you but God is not moved by any of it-He is in control and He is your protector and shelter from this wicked storm!”  Now that’s confident trust.  Am I right?  Oh and he uses those same two words in verse 10 when he declares that he will put his “Confident trust” in God for God does not abandon those who seek Him.  Wow!  That verse alone just made me want to lift my hands up in worship and cry out, “Thank you Abba!”

Psalm 10-Holy bipolar Batman!  And no, I am not making fun of bipolar people.  But when you leave chapter 9 with the mindset that David has increase his faith and then read “Why do you stand so far away, O Lord?  Why do you hide in times of trouble?” in the beginning of chapter 10 you may ask yourself, “What just happened here?”  At least I did.  If David was coming out of the pit of despair in chapter 9, he quickly dove right back in in chapter 10.  This chapter is full of questions and grumbles that I am confident a lot of us can relate to.  David’s not taking a “poor me” stance though-this chapter is more of a “Look at how disgusting my enemies are” stance.  Throughout it I think he either gets bold with God or he cries out in frustration because he writes, “Arise O Lord! O God, life up your hand in judgement and do not forget the suffering.” But then he reminds himself of this, “You have seen it (referring to acts of evil he previously described), you have noted [it],” and “you are the helper of the fatherless.”  Now I don’t know if David was orphaned at this point or if he used the word “fatherless” to simply describe either being absent from his father or lacking that influence in his life.  Regardless, he starts pulling himself back out of the pit by declaring that God hears the desire of the humble and the oppressed, that he strengthens hearts and that he does incline His ear to hear.  He also ends this chapter with verse 18 which reads, “To vindicate and obtain justice for the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will no longer terrify them.”  Even in his deepest moments of hopelessness, David not only remembered but matter of factly stated that God. Is. Our. Vindicator.

I don’t know what season you’re in but I can tell you what season I’m in…I’m at a crossroads and I am full of despair.  I’ve prayed for deliverance for what seems like years and seeing very little movement from God.  In fact, at times, it’s as if God, like in chapter 10, is “far away and hiding in times of trouble.”  I have prayed for peace, wisdom, strength-all the things you’re supposed to ask for during this kind of season but still struggle with anxiousness and feeling so bogged down that I’m exhausted and scatterbrained.  I cry Every. Single. Day. When I’m not crying, I’m fighting back tears and pouring myself into my work or house cleaning simply to feel some sense of control.  What I’m not doing is handling this season like David did.  And that is coming to an end today.  These first ten Psalms have really turned my focus off my circumstances and back on God where they should’ve been all along.  If you’re in a similar season, my prayer is that you battle your enemies like David did-through prayer, standing on God’s truth and believing in the unbelievable power of praise!