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A Lesson on Perseverance

When I think about the word perseverance I picture the running man.

“The running man,” as I’ve come to call him, is an older gentleman in my local area who has been pounding the pavement for as long as I can remember. He is tall, lanky and, by now, quite old. Although I’m not sure how old he is precisely (it would be improper of me to roll down my car window and ask), my best guess is early to mid-seventies. Despite his age, the running man has never abandoned his exercise routine which just so happens to be a long distance run along some of the busiest roads not far from my house.

For decades, I’ve spotted this man out on his runs which he faithfully takes in every season and through all sorts of inclement weather. And, for decades, I’ve been wondering how much longer he can keep up this exercise. Even twenty years ago, when I first started noticing him, he ran at such a slow clip I feared he might keel over right then and there. From my perspective, the man’s labored stride looked unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst.

About ten years ago I noticed that the man’s running pace had declined into a forced prodding. As uncomfortable as it looked, I couldn’t help but admire his determination. Muscle degeneration, stiffness and aging couldn’t stop him from pressing upward and onward (both literally and figuratively since his running route covered quite a few hills). And, yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

I truly didn’t believe that the running man could get any slower or become any clearer a picture of perseverance – until yesterday.

To call what I saw the man doing a “run” would be an inaccurate description of his arduous effort. In the past year since I last saw him out for his exercise, the running man’s pace has progressed from slow to snail. His every step is painfully strained and strenuous. Even from afar I could see his heavy breathing as he jerked his arms back and forth while shuffling his legs ever so slightly. And yet, he refused to be deterred or defeated. Even if he had to move slowly, the running man was clearly determined to keep moving.

The running man simply will not give up and that’s what makes him such a striking picture of perseverance. Webster’s defines perseverance as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” In other words, the refusal to quit just because it’s hard. To persevere is to press on even when the road ahead is wrought with challenges; push through pain and overcome discouragement. When a person perseveres, they keep moving forward even when it isn’t easy, and the progress made doesn’t look promising.

Most importantly, those who persevere know that speed is not the ultimate measure of success. Faithfulness is. Dedication is. Resoluteness is. Those who practice perseverance know that the true prize is the character developed on the way to the finish line.

Obviously, these perseverance principles are important for physical training, exercise and running but where they truly shine is in spiritual training.

As God’s word says, “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things.” (1 Timothy 4:8) And key to godliness is perseverance. In order for God to strengthen the spiritual muscles of His people He must test and try them, just like a runner tests and tries his physical muscles. But if we, the spiritual runners, simply give up we will never reap the reward God has in store for us. If we hang up our spiritual sneakers, so to speak, we will miss all the blessings God longs to bestow upon as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us. (Philippians 3:12)

But, you might be wondering, how is it possible to persevere? When the going gets extraordinary tough, how can weak and feeble people find it in themselves to keep going? Is it by our own effort? Are we supposed to soldier on in our own strength? I thought the Bible said we are supposed to be weak so God can be strong. How does that align with this perseverance talk?

The answer is found in James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

The key to spiritual perseverance is joy. When we respond to our challenges with a sincerely joyful heart it is as if we are inviting the Holy Spirit’s overcoming power to come and indwell us. When we choose to rejoice in the fullness of faith instead of complaining and finding every excuse to give up, the Spirit of the living God begins to produce within us the fruit of perseverance. He sows the seeds of resolve and determination that, in time, work in us a harvest of spiritual maturation and completeness.

Beloved, even if the road ahead looks daunting and your spiritual legs feel exhausted, consider it pure joy. Rejoice and refuse to be deterred or defeated. Even if you have to move slowly, keep pressing on and into the challenges ahead knowing that God will use every labored step, no matter how small, to cultivate the fruit of perseverance within you to the glory and honor of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

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While it was still dark

If you’re like me, you tend to move on quickly after a holiday. Take, for example, Easter.  The build up to resurrection Sunday, marked by a number of special days on the Christian calendar, lasts for weeks. And then, after the big day, the celebration comes to an abrupt end. While dining room table decorations come down, I often find that my spiritual streamers get packed up, too. I move on from the empty tomb of Jesus and return to “life as usual.”

But the resurrection of Jesus is worth celebrating 365 days of year. The good news found in the closing chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospels is worth exploring all year long, not just on Resurrection Sunday.

And so, with that truth in mind, I invite you to join me in the gospel of John and linger a bit longer in the message of Easter.

“While it was still dark.” That’s how John begins his account of the very first encounter with the risen Jesus. Before dawn even reached the break of day, Mary Magdalene was already at Jesus’ tomb, bearing oil and spices to mourn and honor her Messiah. She never expected the tomb to be open and empty. Nor did she understand what prophecy said. But she was compelled by undying love and devotion to be as near to her Lord as possible – even if “near” meant seated outside the sealed grave.

Although physically, emotionally and mentally, Mary was in the dark, her soul was drawn to the Light of the world. Christ’s miraculous power captivated her. Even from the grave, His spirit called her. What she had seen and learned from her Teacher before His crucifixion convinced her that Jesus was who He said He was: the Savior she had been waiting for.

Of course, we know that Mary did not come to find a dead body but a resurrected King!

When Jesus first spoke to her, Mary didn’t recognize Him through her crying eyes. But the moment He said her name, her tears of sorrow were transformed into tears of joy. Her Savior was alive! Her Messiah was risen from the grave!

Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Jesus is incredibly noteworthy and not just because it’s the first to be recorded in the gospels. It is even more remarkable because the miraculous meeting took place in a day and age when women were not given any special privileges. At that time in history, women had limited religious standing according to the law and yet Jesus chose to reveal His risen life to Mary before anyone else.

Why was that? Could it be because her faith was so sure that she sought Her Savior even in the dark? Or maybe she was blessed with such an extraordinary glimpse of Christ because she went looking for Him, even when she didn’t have the advantage of light to help her see?

Even when the evidence was against her, Mary still believed in Jesus. Even when she thought her Messiah was still in the grave, she faithfully followed Him. Before Mary had confirmation, Mary had confidence that God would keep His promises. And, in response to her unwavering faith and unshakable belief, Mary was abundantly blessed.

May it be so for you and me.

 

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.

John 20:1

 

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Fear Not

“You should be afraid.”

My neighbor’s words took me aback and I didn’t know quite how to respond. I was just being lighthearted, trying to infuse the coronavirus pandemic with a little “social distancing” humor. Apparently, she didn’t find my joke comical. I would have tried to pick my jaw up off the sidewalk, but I was too stunned to think that clearly. Her violent reaction to my harmless banter left me completely speechless.

When I finally found words, they were lame. “Are you seriously telling me I should be afraid?” She confirmed that she was indeed dead serious and then expounded, making it very clear that I was not only a fool – I was offensive, too.

I walked away from that exchange feeling like both the victim and the perpetrator of the crime.

The mix of emotions was unsettling and, in the hours that followed, I struggled to shake them. While replaying the scene over and over again in my mind, I felt like Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail, as she lamented her inability to come up with zingers on the spot. But it wasn’t a “gottcha zinger” that I wished I would have produced in that moment. It was a “God’s got this witness” I kicked myself for missing. I wanted to rewind time and go back to the sidewalk so I could tell this neighbor that I’m not afraid because I trust God and His perfect providence. I joke, banter and laugh because I am at peace knowing that God is in total control. There is no need to fear the past, present or future because Jesus has already won the ultimate war – the war for the sinner’s soul.

Had my facial muscles and brain been firing on all cylinders, I would have gone on to tell this woman that I learned not to be afraid of death, sickness and uncertainty in the fires of disease. Then I would have undoubtedly expounded, explaining how, two years ago, I was sixty-eight pounds, living with a “comatose” blood pressure reading that caused many a nurse to go ghostly white. I would have told this woman that, against all human logic, God carried my body throughout that storm, making it possible for me to stand before here today as a living testimony to His sustaining and overcoming power. If only I had confidently and joyfully told her that I don’t need to be afraid of a virus because I know the Great Physician!

But, more than a physical story, I would have told her about Jesus’ story that makes it possible for anyone to live free of fear – regardless of what storms they’ve faced in the past.

When Jesus hanged on the cross of Calvary, He bore all of our sins, shame and burdens. He took eternal death to the grave and, when He rose again three days later, He left it there. When Jesus resurrected, He opened the door to Heaven so that every man, woman and child can join Him there forever. And all He asks is that we accept Him and turn our lives over to Him. Pretty good trade off, don’t you think? We surrender our earthly life – fears and all – and, in return, He gives us eternal, abundant, overcoming life. Jesus graciously takes our heavy load upon Himself and gives us abounding hope and unshakable assurance instead.

Followers of Jesus can endure every earthly problem and pandemic with peace and confidence, knowing that their Savior has already overcome this world. They can smile, laugh and experience joy in the midst of suffering and uncertainty because their greatest fear – the fear of eternal separation from God – has been put to rest.

Unfortunately, I didn’t speak any of those glorious truths to my angry neighbor and since I have a feeling she’ll be social distancing herself from me in the future, I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to share what I so wish I would have said in the moment. Fortunately, God’s ability to save my neighbor (or any of our fearful neighbors) is not limited to my ability to recite a spellbinding testimony on the sidewalk. He does not need my words to do His work. And although I hope to witness to His majesty with more power, joy and love in the future, I know that He has already forgiven me for the past. The moment I sought His mercy, He extended it without delay, graciously assuring me that there is nothing added to my record of wrong that can’t be washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Nor is there anything I said or left unsaid that His Holy Spirit cannot overcome.

The more I’ve pondered the scene on my humor fail, the more I’ve been compelled to pray for my neighbor. I cannot undo what was or was not said but I can take the situation, my regret and my hopes for this woman to God. He knows my heart and He knows her. And, what’s more, He can restore, heal and deliver us both.

So, that’s my prayer for her. May God restore her soul, heal her heart and deliver her from all her fears.

 

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

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Nothing But the Truth

It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a pen (or put my fingers on a computer’s keyboard) to write about life with a chronic illness. But my silence has not been on account of absence. My silence has been on account of fear.

Since moving to Nashville, I’ve shied away from typing about, talking about or testifying to the reality of my disease out of fear that it will define me and this new season of my life. The last thing I wanted when I made this move was to have sickness follow me. Illness had been my shadow for long enough and I wanted a fresh start with a new identity that didn’t include a devastating disease and debilitating ailments.

So, I tried to hide from the reality of my present suffering. I took the tree falling in a forest approach, reasoning that if I didn’t acknowledge my health struggles, maybe they would cease to exist. I did everything in my power to make myself and others believe that my sick days were dead and buried, going so far as to write my disease’s obituary and celebrated its defeat. In my desperation to turn the page and begin a new chapter, I disallowed myself from giving voice to persistent pain and lingering physical dysfunction that plague my daily life, arguing that no one needed to know about the storm brewing on the other side of my smile.

I thought that by rejecting my reality, I could reinvent my identity but, instead, I wound up removing myself from the peace and confidence of God. I began living in a state of denial which, as I came to learn, is like being buried alive. Denial is like trying to have a funeral for that which isn’t actually dead.

From inside my body’s lively grave, I’ve heard symptoms whispering in my ear with a troubling voice that can’t be ignored or outrun. “You’re living a lie,” the voice says, “you’re withholding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about your life. You’re trying to write a new reality – one that God hasn’t given you yet.”  

By trying to keep my circumstances a secret, I slipped into the destructive territory known as “the double life.” Broken on the inside but “pretty much fixed” to the outside world; revealing my struggles only to those closest to me while telling the masses “I’m doing well.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in wearing a smile and having an upbeat attitude but those qualities aren’t meant to mask the truth under a cloak of denial. A smile and positive outlook can’t be the façade for trying circumstances. If that’s the foundation for a cheerful disposition, then it isn’t truly genuine. A sincerely joyful countenance isn’t just a face to hide hard circumstances; it is a spirit of faith in the midst of hard circumstances.  

But the negative implications of denial don’t end there. Living with denial is a double-sided coin with destructive ramifications on both heads and tails. If heads is the double-life disunity between the public and private persona, tails is the disconnection between God’s glory and our story.   

Throughout the many years when I wasn’t living in a state of denial, I watched God use painful ailments and disquieting symptoms to mend and shape my heart. Using disease as a sculpting tool, He carved out a purer, more complete faith in Jesus Christ. I wrote about that process regularly and rejoiced in it even when my body was falling apart.

But during the last year I decided that my time of being chiseled by disease was up. In my mind, I was past due for a new storyline and so I told God I wanted a new challenge. I no longer wanted to “bloom” in the garden of Lyme disease in which I was planted. I didn’t want to spend any more time on the potter’s wheel of pain and physical suffering. So, I determined to bury my old trials – even if it meant I was burying them alive. Little did I know I was burying the peace of Christ and joy of His Spirit along with it.

This decision, even if subconscious, was an act of rebellion. By refusing to live in my God-given reality, I cut myself off from letting God’s glory shine through my story. Pretending that my circumstance didn’t exist was essentially like telling my Maker and Savior that His way wasn’t right, good and perfect. While trying to bury that which God hadn’t put in the grave just yet, I became enslaved to my secret instead of empowered to honor Jesus with the truth.
 
The depression of living a double, disconnected life has taught me that it is simply impossible to deny my circumstances and, at the same time, give glory to the Author of them. I cannot bloom when I reject where I’m planted. I cannot live in a state of denial and expect to escape spiritual, emotional or physical defeat. In order for there to be harmony in my heart, fruit in my spirit and healing in my body, I must joyfully accept where God has me and embrace my weakness so that it can become a looking glass for others to see the overcoming strength of Jesus.

This is why I have decided to return to the grave of my disease and dig it back up again. I’m taking a shovel to the ground of my sickness and asking God to revive my spirit as I face the reality of where I am in His perfectly timed healing process. I’m uncovering my Lyme without fear of being defined by it, knowing that my identity is not determined by my physical condition. Because I am a daughter of the most-High King, who I am is rooted in the spirit of the Risen Christ who conquered the grave and defeated death so that I can victoriously rejoice in the midst of suffering, not just praise His holy name in the absence of it.

Even if I go to my grave with disease still coursing through my veins, I will praise God by rejoicing in the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because this is God’s story and it is all for His glory.

But I’m in the very presence of God
    oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
    God, I’m telling the world what you do!

– Psalm 73:28 [The MSG]

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Confessions of an Overthinker

I’m an overthinker. It’s a trait I was born with; woven into my DNA. I’m a wonderful ruminator with a knack for pondering, contemplating, and considering. There must be an off switch to this brain of mine, but I haven’t discovered it yet.

Although being an overthinker doesn’t have to be a negative, overthinking certainly has the tendency to become unconstructive and downright damaging. The trouble is what overthinking naturally leads to. Namely worry which leads to unrest. 

Whenever I begin overthinking, my next natural step is to worry. Once this happens, I rarely come up with a fantastic idea, enlightening revelation or great breakthrough. Those miraculous moments almost always arrive in a flash, at the precise moment I thought I was “under” thinking. What I do come up with in these moments of worrisome thought is fear being projected into the future and an absence of peace to enjoy in the present.

When speaking to His disciples, Jesus said, “do not worry.” Or, as the Message version puts it, “don’t get worked up.” Period. End of story. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it; no noted exception to this rule. Jesus made it clear that His followers must actively choose not to worry which, for some of us overthinkers, requires intentionally intervening in our very active – and at times destructive – minds.

But before we can get intentional about fixing our overthinking problem, we must first admit that we have one. We must get brutally honest with ourselves and these five self-diagnostic questions can help:

  1. Do I often find myself WONDERING what if?
  2. Do I have to stop myself from OBSESSING about what might be?
  3. R: Do I catch myself REHEARSING worst case scenarios?
  4. R: Do I find myself REACHING for ways to take control?
  5. Y: Do I secretly (or not so secretly) YEARN for a way out?

If you’re an overthinker with a worrying problem, you might get uncomfortable reading that list. I know I sure did. This list is revealing and, if we’re candid, downright convicting. We know that worrying does us no good (and that Jesus explicitly told us not to do it) but the unrest of worry is an easy, albeit upsetting, trap to fall into. But, praise God, it is NOT an impossible trap to get out of.

A fertile mind and the capacity to create thought is a gift from God but it comes with a responsibility. If we aren’t careful, our busy brains can and will be used against us by the enemy to steal our joy, rob our peace, and destroy our contentment in all circumstances. Thankfully, the enemy’s power to control our thoughts is limited and grossly inferior to the power of God to rule and reign in our minds. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave can and will free us from the trap of overthinking. And all we have to do is resolutely reposition ourselves before God and take every thought captive at the foot of Christ’s cross.

If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry (pun intended). Scripture tells us exactly how to reclaim our mind in the name of Christ, inviting joy, peace, and contentment to rule and reign in our hearts again. It’s as simple as W-O-R-R-Y:

  1. WORSHIP God for who He is and His great mercy, faithfulness and love. Lord, you are my God;
    “I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.” (Isaiah 25:1)
  2. OBEY God by taking the next right step that is right in front of you.
    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
  3. REFOCUS your thoughts on today.
    “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:35)
  4. REJOICE in the blessings you’ve been given.
    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)
  5. YEARN for more of Jesus with all of your heart, mind and soul.
    “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” (Matthew 22:37)

Friends, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” – go ahead and overthink about such things. (Philippians 4:8) You can simply never think too much about the goodness of our great and glorious God.

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House Hunters & Spouse Hunters

Confession: I have a slight obsession with HGTV.

Of all the shows on HGTV, remodeling series are always my favorites, followed by House Hunters. If you haven’t seen one of the nearly two thousand episodes of House Hunters, congratulations. You have successfully avoided a major time suck. But, for the sake of this post, it would be helpful for you to know the basic gist of the show.

Every episode of House Hunters follows the same formula. First we meet the hunters who are embarking on their home search with a list of “must haves,” “can’t live withouts,” and of course, a very specific “location, location, location.” When visiting potential residential candidates, they tend to make snap judgements based on “curb appeal” and “love at first sight.” Before they even make it over the threshold, they are likely to be either over the moon or convinced the house is terrible.

Once inside, the house hunter’s priorities get all twisted and out of whack. Structural concerns are overlooked in lieu of stainless steal appliances and bathrooms with double sinks. A crack in the foundation?… Well, yes, there’s that. BUT did you see that jetted tub?

After visiting three contenders and deliberating over a cup of coffee or glass of wine (I’m convinced that step is written into the filming contract), the hunters excitedly pick a house and, thirty seconds later, are moved in and enjoying a new, picture perfect life.

I must admit, House Hunters drives me a little nutty.

While watching, I have to restrain myself from yelling at the TV. I’m like a Steelers fan watching Sunday night football, schooling the ref on how to “do his job.” But, instead of plays, I get worked up about ridiculous housing objections. If you watched the show with me, chances are you’d hear me say things like, “Just rip out the carpet!” And, “Double sinks aren’t the secret to a successful life!”

Given my angst with House Hunters, one might wonder why I persist in watching it. If it annoys me, why don’t I turn it off? That’s a good question and I have a good answer. I keep watching House Hunters because it raises my awareness of my own tendency to become a spouse hunter.  

There was a day not so long ago that I too had a “must have” list with the “can’t live withouts” underlined. There was also a day not so long ago that I had an online dating account with a search narrowed down by “location, location, location.”

Before even making it past the first “hello,” I know that I’m prone to make snap judgments based on “curb appeal” because, even after much rejection, a little part of me still believes in “love at first sight.” And if some person were to make it past the curb, I know that my flesh would be tempted to justify significant concerns on account of romance, attraction and chemistry.

For those of us who have stood on the single sidelines, watching many of our friends fall in love and get married, we feel the pressure to do the same – ASAP. We must search because, as society tells us, clocks are ticking and potential life partners are getting snatched up. We better act fast or someone might walk away with our husband or wife. We have to get out there, mix it up, find that special someone and get moved into our new, picture perfect, holy matrimony life.

But those of us who are unmarried need not become frantic, stressed out spouse hunters. There is a better way to “I do.”

The better way to matrimony begins with throwing out the “must have” list and creating a “must be” list instead. Before I can expect to meet a man of God, I need to be a woman of God. To do this, I must stop focusing on the characteristics I want my future husband to have and shift my focus onto cultivating Christlike characteristics in my own life. (Bonus tip: see Galatians 5:22-23 for “must be” list ideas).

The second step is to look beyond the curb and hone in on the foundation. Watching silly home seekers settle for a crumbling foundation while making much of superficial improvements has opened my eyes to the fact that my flesh is susceptible to compromising, settling and rushing into relationships for the wrong reasons. But the exterior is only temporary. What’s inside is forever. Just like judging a book by its cover could cause me to miss a really good read, judging a man by his appearance could cause me to miss a really great man after God’s own heart. (Bonus tip: look at a man’s (or woman’s) Bible for an indication of Who has their heart. And memorize 1 Samuel 16:7)

Lastly, but certainly not least in importance, is to let God take care of the hunting. The bottom line is I am not supposed to be my own spouse hunter. Before I was born, God hand picked my husband and He doesn’t need me to go on the hunt for him. All God asks is that I seek His Son, Jesus, with all heart, mind and soul while remaining hopeful, patient and content as I wait on His perfect timing.

Whether you are waiting on the perfect house to hit the market or waiting on the perfect spouse to walk into your life, continue to tarry in joy, thanksgiving and relentless hope as you wait for God to reveal “the one” for you.

“Though it tarry, wait for it.”

Habakkuk 2:3

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Walking Into the Wind

Have you ever been out on a walk when, all of a sudden, a mighty gust of wind sweeps in from seemingly out of nowhere?

I wouldn’t mind these surprise gusts if I could control their direction and guide the wind to push me from behind. But gusts of wind rarely blow the way I’d like them to. Instead, they tend to direct their invisible force square right into my chest and face.

Just the other day, while on an afternoon walk at a park, I encountered this windy phenomenon. As it so happened, the wind arrived at my front at the precise moment that I approached the bottom of a hill. As I made the ascent, the gusts effectively slowed my otherwise quick clip down to a snail’s pace while simultaneously causing my lungs to work a little harder.

The moment I crested the top of the hill the wind mysteriously disappeared. I looked around to observe the trees and they were completely still. It’s as if the wind had only shown up so God could teach me a lesson – which he proceeded to do the moment I turned around and saw who was rolling up the hill behind me. 

As I observed the scene, I saw a young woman in a manual wheelchair completing the windy climb. There was no one else with her to assist with a little push or word of encouragement. She was all by herself, persevering up the windy hill with her own God-given strength and persistence.

Had the woman looked weary and worn out, no one would have faulted her. She had every excuse to feel exhausted and beaten down. But, as I saw her reach the top of the hill, there wasn’t a hint of defeat in her expression. What most people would call a disability did not interfere with her ability to overcome the windy hill challenge while wearing a genuine smile on her face.

As I saw the beautiful woman’s joyful countenance, it hit me like a gust of wind: that’s how Jesus’ followers should carry themselves when walking into life’s winds.

As Christ’s followers, we are called to not only endure the winds of this life but to do so with joy. It is as we walk through trials and tribulations with gladness that our spirit testifies to the goodness of the Lord. As we let God live in and through us, our countenance becomes a looking glass for others to see the greatness of our resurrected King. With a genuine smile, we show the world that we are being upheld and strengthened by the overcoming power of the risen Christ.

Dear friend, next time you face a wind, I pray that you’ll wear a smile on your face and keep moving faithfully forward full of joy, peace and hope. Let the love and grace of Jesus control your countenance as you conquer the climb one victorious step at a time.

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

Romans 12:12

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Can I carry that for you?

“May I assist you out to your car with your grocery bags?”

If you’ve ever grocery shopped at Publix, you’ve probably had a friendly store associate dawning a green apron ask you this question. Offering this no fee, no tip accepted grocery transportation service and complimentary cart return is part of Publix’s commitment to kindness and stellar customer service.

As a self-sufficient (read: stubborn) woman, I usually decline the service. It’s not that I’m adverse to kindness; it’s that I have developed a bad habit.

I don’t know when it started or why, but at some point in my grocery shopping life, I began carrying all of my loaded up plastic bags out to my car without the aid of a cart or carrying service. If you’ve ever seen an individual stumbling through the grocery store parking lot with five full plastic bags on each arm and a pack of soda on their shoulders, you might have been watching me walk to my car. While I admit that transporting groceries this way isn’t very wise (and is definitely painful for the arms), I’ve clung to my habit (and grocery bags) like a dog with a bone, repeatedly declining the associate’s offer of assistance.

The other day, while walking out of Publix with grocery bags in hand (and a few on my arms), I noticed a store employee pushing a customer’s cart to her car. The customer’s posture was relaxed as she strolled through the parking lot without a single bag in hand. While, next to her, a strong young gentleman maneuvered the cart with ease. The two were smiling and enjoying what appeared to be a pleasant conversation.

As I watched this ordinary scene unfold, Jesus’ voice transformed it into an extraordinary vision of truth and love as I heard Him say:

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Just like the employees at Publix who offer to carry bags for their customers, Jesus offers to carry burdens for His children. It’s part of His commitment to being not only our Savior but our Sustainer, too. Jesus is always at the ready, eager to take each and every bag that’s weighing us down. He longs to lift every ounce of regret, guilt, shame, fear, worry and anxiety from our weak and weary shoulders. It is our Lord’s pleasure to remove the heavy burdens we’ve been carrying and exchange them for His lighter load.

But wait, there’s more!

Because once we accept Jesus’ free burden carrying offer, He not only takes our cares and worries upon Himself, He actually walks right alongside us for life’s journey, just like the bagger in the grocery store parking lot. As we travel in the company of Jesus, He blesses us with compassionate companionship, unconditional love and amazing grace. Our friend Jesus stays with us every step of the way. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. He never drops a bag or gets weary. He never gets frustrated or says, “Here, you take this over now. I’ve carried your bags for long enough.” Jesus is always patient, always merciful and always kind. His faithfulness is unending and so is His strength.

But, just like the bagger at the grocery store, Jesus won’t force His children to accept His gracious offer. We must do so willingly and release our burdens voluntarily. Only then will our hands be freed up and our heart open to receive the peace of His presence and the rest of His easy yoke.

Dear friend, if you’re still carrying your own burdens, why don’t you let Jesus take over? At this very moment, He is inviting you to drop your bags at the foot of His cross and let Him push the cart as you travel in His holy company. Release your burdens and let Jesus load you up with Heaven’s perfect joy, peace and rest.

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IF: A holy invitation

“If” is one little word with huge implications. Especially when Jesus says it.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)  

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)

When Jesus uses the word “if,” He issues an invitation that doesn’t sound like an offer to attend a rocking party. “Die to self and get ready to pick up a cross,” He says. “Don’t forget to bring your patience and persistence because you’re going to be experiencing more suffering, hardship and persecution than you can imagine!” Thanks Jesus, but I think I’ll stay home and watch HGTV.

Just ask Paul, the New Testament disciple who was imprisoned for his faith. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart. It requires continual unconditional surrender and the relinquishing of all control. Giving up your right to yourself is in no way natural. It takes the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit to make it possible. But it is possible and that’s the good news of the Gospel!

Jesus makes sold-out, devoted followership not only possible, but positively wonderful!

When we release our expectations and crucify our fleshly desires, we are freed up to receive the riches of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling that overcomes every trouble in the world. When we embrace, not escape, the cross of Jesus we find ourselves in the perfect position to encounter the fullness of His resurrection power.

Although those who RSVP “yes” to Jesus’ “if” invitation might not experience what the world deems a party-hat kind of life, we must remember that we are not living for its temporary treasures. We, as Christ’s faithful followers, are actually citizens of heaven just passing through this earthly life. Our hope is in God’s heavenly Kingdom and our eyes are set on His eternal crown.

But even before we get to our permanent home, this life need not be a party gone wrong.

Even in the midst of trial and tribulation, this life can and should be a celebration of all that is good, holy and righteous about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When our hearts and minds are set on serving God, we can rejoice in every circumstance, knowing that God has plans to use it to magnify His unmatched greatness.

Have you heard Jesus speak “if” into your life and have you responded yet? If you haven’t heard Him, I encourage you to open up His word and read the red letters. They are a personal invitation written just for you, welcoming you to leave your worldly life behind and experience a new life.

If you’ve already heard the “if” and have yet to respond, I urge you not to hesitate one moment longer. Remember what Jesus said: “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:9)

Confidently leave the old life behind knowing that what lies ahead is infinitely better!

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By Faith

She did it! My little puppy, Faith, finally did it! After months of coaxing and coaching, at last, Faith conquered her fear of cement steps and ascended all three flights of apartment complex stairs!

As I watched Faith bound up those steps for the very first time my heart welled up with parental pride. I felt the joy of victory as my pup, who used to be petrified by the very sight of those steps, leapt up each one with ease. In the blink of an eye, Faith became a stair climbing pro. She even made it to the top before I did. Once safely on the third-floor landing, she turned around and smiled at me as if to say, “look what I did mom! I’m a big pup now!” 

I celebrated Faith’s milestone with many “good dog” affirmations, petting and, of course, a treat. But while I was praising her, my mind began to wander and wonder, “If watching your fur baby conquer steps is this exciting, how amazing must it be to watch your own flesh and blood baby take his or her first steps?” A second after that thought crossed my mind, grief slammed into me like a tsunami as I heard myself utter the words, “you might never get to find out.”

This month (January 2020) marks ten years since my menstrual cycle abruptly left my body, taking my ability to carry a child with it.

While working through the loss of my fertility I’ve experienced every stage of grief multiple times and cried a river’s worth of tears. After a decade of mourning and processing, I really thought I had come to a place of peace and acceptance. But, as I watched Faith conquer her fear of the stairs, my own old infertility fears and sadness came back with vengeance. 

Sadness came first.

I know that being a Mom isn’t all rainbows, butterflies and roses. Parenting (and pregnancy) has plenty of thrones. But with immense challenges come immense blessings, such as experiencing, firsthand, the miracle of new life. To give birth to a child is a wonderful gift and one that, growing up, I always assumed I would receive someday. Up until ten years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be unable to conceive and carry a child. I never imagined I wouldn’t give birth to a baby. To me, that was a given.

But I’ve had to learn the hard way that nothing in life is a guarantee. Not health. Not fertility. Not marriage. Not motherhood.

With the loss of my fertility I’ve had to grieve the fact that I might never hold my own baby in my arms. I might never see my own baby on a sonogram image or prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I might never get to capture a first smile, first word or first step. I might never get to rejoice in those little, monumental victorious and it’s the reality of all those nevers that has caused me incredible sadness.

But it’s not just sadness that plagues me. It’s fear, too.

As a single, infertile woman, my inability to carry a child has caused me to wonder (and worry) what man will ever want to marry me. It seems to me that most men (especially Christian men) want kids and a family. Given that I can’t provide in that way (barring a miracle of God), I fear that no man will ever want to make me his wife, making me not only indefinitely infertilite but indefinitely single, too.

In the days that have passed since Faith made her stair climbing conquest, I’ve done a lot of praying and asking God to help me overcome my infertility fears and sadness.

Ohm how I wish I could say that God answered my pleas with a clear word like He gave to Abraham and Sarah. My hope was to hear His booming voice from heaven say, “you will one day give birth to a child and call him John” – or some great prophesy along those lines.

But, the truth is, this story doesn’t go that way. Instead of a voice, I heard nothing. Absolute silence. God was as quiet as a church mouse. But, even in the silence, I still trusted that He had a word of comfort to share with me so I sought Him by opening, reading and soaking in His Word. Then I waited.

It took a few days of intentional stillness and silence but, finally, I heard the voice of God whispering two little words that changed everything: “By faith.”

Those two words led me back to Hebrews chapter eleven where Paul catalogues the “hall of faith.” The list includes Noah who, “by faith,” built an ark even though there hadn’t been a drop of rain in ages. Abraham who, “by faith,” left his homeland and journeyed into an unknown future. And, of course, Sarah, who, “by faith” believed in the faithfulness of God even when she was old and barren.

Although the details differ, two common themes run through every name Paul listed in Hebrews chapter eleven: extreme difficulty and incredible faith. The men and women who are commended by Paul are men and women who walked by faith and not by sight. They journeyed through this earthly life with their eyes fixed on heaven, knowing that, no matter what fate awaited them in this world, God was preparing a holy city for them in glory.

Because every person listed in Hebrews eleven was “confident in what they hoped for and assured about what they did not yet see,” God was supremely glorified in their life story. They relied on the Lord to be their strength and, in doing so, their lives testified to the resurrection power of Christ. By faithfully surrendering to God, their histories became a beautiful part of His grand story of salvation, redemption and restoration.

And the same is true for me.

As I walk “by faith” through infertility and singleness, God will use those struggles to magnify Jesus and tell His story. “By faith,” He will transform my life into a testimony of His great majesty and grace.

And the same is true for you.

Whatever fear or sadness you are facing today, God knows your deepest pain, understands your heart and wants to guide you down paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is not asking you to look at tomorrow or worry about what the future will or will not hold. All He asks is that you walk, live and trust Him “by faith,” not sight. His one and only request is that you surrender unconditionally at the foot of Christ’s cross and seek the Lord with your whole heart, mind and soul.

Dear friend, I pray that on this very night you will give God your sadness and release every fear into the hands of Jesus. He can and will heal your brokenness and fill you with the joy of new life as you walk with Him “by faith.”