There will be war

As I sit here and watch the beautiful green leaves rustle and the branches swaying in the wind, I am in awe of all the shades of green I see.  The grey clouds over head unleashed a fury of rain in the night.  New growth of green is evident on most of the evergreens. The image is beautiful and serene even though it is tumultuous, like my heart.  This space is my favorite place to write.  I am surrounded by large windows that give me a front row seat of God’s awe inspiring creation.  You can find beauty in most places if you are willing to see.  It is in this place that I come to connect with God.  My Bible is open and my pen is beside my open journal. 

My heart feels turbulent, like the weather I am watching.  There is beauty and life and tumultuous winds all in one space.  I find it beautifully fitting that the very first verse I read says “May God give you grace and peace.”  1Thessalonians 1:1

Yes please!

I feel that these past two years have been a wild ride of challenges, emotions, big life decisions and it has challenged me and forced me to look deeply for what I believe to be truth about God.

There was once a time in my young adult mind where I had a very idealistic concept of what a Christian is.  There were upright and moral. They did not sin because they were God following people.  They overcame temptation, they overcame their weaknesses, and they did not yell or swear or lose their temper.  They never drank too much, they were always joyful and happy to help and serving others was second nature.

Right. 

I learned very quickly that idealistic view was and is not possible.  I am human and human nature is inherently selfish which can only mean one thing. 

There will war. 

War between who I am and who I want to be.

 I remember some years ago when this realization first dawned on me.  I was in church and we were singing a worship song.  It was as if the room of hundreds of people became silent, and God spoke just to me. It was unmistakable and perfectly clear.  I would mess up again and again, but God’s grace is real and He is waiting for me to come back to Him each time I make a mistake.  I realized in this moment, that there are weaknesses I may never overcome.  The victory is that I choose to come to Jesus each and every time and ask His forgiveness, and get up and try again. And repeat. And never quit.  This is the good fight.  And not just trying again on my own willpower, but relying on Christ to help me.

“For I do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13

I can get back up again, and try again because God gives me the strength.

We live in a broken world, there will be brokenness. That is unavoidable. The victory is choosing God’s grace and not quitting. Not staying down when we have fallen, but getting up and standing tall knowing that we serve a God who relentlessly loves us.

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Devotion is hard work

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Colossians  4:2 “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”

Devotion is not something that comes easily to me.   

The definition of devote is “to give all or most of one’s time or resources to a person or activity.  

I see devotion as discipline which is driven by deep desire or moral calling.

I find for myself, that I can be deeply moved and desire to be devoted, but I find the daily grind of choosing to show up and then actually showing up requires great self-discipline and persistence.  I would love to get up early each morning and pray, but showing up every morning and actually praying takes way more self-discipline and persistence that I imagined.

Human nature seems to naturally take the path of least resistance.  I try to remind myself that nothing great has ever been accomplished by being mediocre. 

That it is actually in the mundane of choosing to show up daily, when the greatness happens;

When the breakthroughs happen;

When overcoming bad habits happen;

It is here when the change happens.

We do not one day wake up having achieved our goals.  If anything, we wake up and realize that we have done nothing to achieve the goals we desire and have wasted so much time on a course of least resistance.

It is my desire to be woman of faith, who wholeheartedly seeks God, and who is known for devotion to her God.  But the world’s pull is a strong one.  It pulls my heart, it pulls my thoughts, it pulls my time, it pulls me.  I really believe this is why Paul says, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.”  Paul knew the pull of the world was strong.  We have to make a stand, we have to deliberately walk again popular culture and choose devotion to God and prayer.

And we have to choose an alert mind.  This means being quick to notice any unusual and potentially dangerous or difficult circumstances; vigilant.  I have written about this before, but it still amazes me.  I have found this in myself, I can be pursuing the right course, and before I realize, I have completely lost focus and wondered off the path I was pursuing.  Being ALERT is incredibly important if we are choosing to live a life of Godly integrity.  The devil is our enemy, and he would love us to fail, and will use the most innocent looking bait to achieve that. Be alert!

And the last part of this very short verse is….a thankful heart.  Do not underestimate the power of gratitude.  It has the power to completely change your heart, your outlook and your perspective.  Gratitude is being thankful, showing appreciation and returning kindness.  I make this a regular practice in my life, especially if I am noticing myself grumbling or becoming bitter.  I stop, take a moment and thank God for 5 good things in my life. 

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I suffer from back pain, and there are days I am hurting and bitter.  These are the moments I must realign.  I choose to thank God for the health I do have.  I thank Him that I can still lead an active life.  I am grateful that my longstanding injury is not worse for it sure could be.  I thank God for resources that help me with my back pain. Gratitude changes bitterness to joy; it changes hopeless to hopeful; it changes sour to sweet.  Gratitude does not make us unrealistic or unaware of reality, instead it allows us to find peace and be fully present and aware in our current reality.

Today, I challenge you and myself to devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.

Declare it out loud

If somewhere were to ask you right now to describe your vision statement for your life, what would you say?

This has been on my heart lately.

I remember my first real job interview in healthcare.   I was still training to be a nurse and I had an interview to work as a health care aid while I was still in school.  I highly underestimated this interview.  I sat in front of a panel and was grilled with one question after another that had nothing to do with health care, but rather personality.  At the end of the interview, I was asked what the mission statement was for the hospital.  Although I had walked past the mission statement sign countless times, I had no idea what the mission statement was. My twenty-one year old self thought that was a ridiculous question, but thankfully I kept my opinion to myself. I did get the job, finished my nursing and twelve years later, I still work at that same hospital.

But I have never forgotten that interview.

Mission statement-a formal summary of the aims and values of a company, organization, or individual.

One evening a few months ago, I was feeling overwhelmed.  Life can have so many demands and pressures as a wife, mother, nurse, friend, good neighbor, etc.  Add in the struggle to walk the straight and narrow; some days it just feels like the bar is always a little bit too high, in sight but out of reach.

It was in this moment, that I just started declaring out loud what I want my life to be.  This is where my mission statement was first created.  I declared out loud who I am and what my purpose is.  It does evolve but the foundation of it stays the same.

My mission statement

“Jesus is my Lord and Savior and I will put Him first.  I am a woman of integrity.  I am loved immeasurably and saved by grace.

I do honor my husband and support him.  I choose to love him every day and to be faithful to him, and build him up and pray for him.  When I mess up, I am humble and apologize to him.

I am a loving and gentle mother to our daughters.  I will not yell at them.  When I mess up, I will show a humble heart and apologize to them.  I lead them with godly integrity and teach them to how to grow up being strong, independent women who know their worth and that they are immeasurably loved by God.

I am a friend, sister, daughter, neighbor, co-worker who loves and is kind and generous.  I will encourage others.

I will invest in my health.  I exercise and choose to eat foods that honor my body.  I will listen to my body and give it rest when it is needing rest. I teach our daughters to honor their bodies and to treat them with respect.”

Having  your own personal mission statement gives you clarity and direction for your life. 

I challenge you to write one out.

When you start to wonder or lose focus, read it out loud and remind yourself who you are and what you are fighting for.  Let go of the things in your life that do not line up with your mission statement.

As a Christ follower, my foundation needs to be Christ. As a human, I do lose focus of this. I need a daily reminder to reset my focus for that day. Because even with the very best of goals and intentions, if you do not have a crystal clear daily vision, you will wonder off course. It is human nature to take the path of least resistance. It takes intention to live a God centered life of purpose.

Do not waste this beautiful gift of life. Show up daily, be intentional and set your course and follow through. No one loves mediocre.

Be exceptional.

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Hope in the midst of hopelessness

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I have been challenged in my own life lately. I often realize that as I work on growth in my personal life as a Christian, the more the growth, the greater the resistance.

The more I see positive change, the bigger the problems I have to deal with.  It often feels like a tug-a-war.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”Eph 6:12

Does that not make you uncomfortable?

It certainly makes me uncomfortable.  It explains the tug-a-war; the good versus evil.  It explains the push-back when there is positive growth in my faith.  It is not always easy to talk about evil and sin, but whether or not we are willing to see evil for what it is, does not change the fact that it is indeed real and a powerful force.  Fundamental to the Christian faith, is acknowledging that evil and sin is real.  It would be hopeless if it stopped there.  Watch national news for one day, and you get a very clear picture of the broken, sinfulness of humanity.

But it does not stop there.

In the depths of despair and hopelessness, Jesus won.  He defeated death and sin and brokenness and despair.  Light shone through the darkness.  There is power in our God, you just have to believe that He died for you and your sin and brokenness, and believe and accept that He is the One and Only God, and that once this life is over, that you will be with Him in heaven.  There is hope and there is purpose to your life. “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty of our sins.” Romans 3:22-24

All this gives meaning to life.  In the midst of a dark, broken, sinful and hurting world we can have hope, healing and meaning.  In my college days, I turned my back on my faith.  I did it willingly and purposefully.  I was done with God and church and faith and Christians and I wanted nothing to do with any of it.  My life spiraled downward and these became the darkest years of my life.  My life came to a place where I no longer recognized who I was.  My life was once so full of hope and purpose, was now broken and lonely and controlled by addiction and lies.

Call it divine clarity, but God allowed me to see myself and what I had become.  I remember that day with perfect clarity. 

And I hated it.

I hated who I had let myself become.  In the absence of God, I made horrible decisions for myself.

If my story ended here, it would be hopeless.   But it does not.

For the first time in years, I got on my knees and prayed.  I do not always pray on my knees, but in that moment, it felt right.  I cried out to God.  I asked forgiveness for my decisions that led me to this hopeless place.  I apologized for all the bad choices I made, all the lies, all of it. 

And I experienced God’s grace in the most profound way, possibly the most profound way I have truly felt God in my life.

I did not deserve His forgiveness.  I had done so much wrong. And yet God forgave me.  He forgave all of it.  The weight of my past that I was carrying around with me every day was suffocating.  And in that moment of truth, of me admitting my brokenness and sin, I felt the heaviness and weight of my sin lift and disappear.  The shame was gone.  I could physically breathe easier.

That is grace.  God’s grace. And it is available to anyone who asks.

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