What I’ve Learned from Lent and Easter

Lent and Easter are both over, and we’re at the beginning of a normal week. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned over the past forty days. It might not be what the church expected me to learn, but I know I have heard words from Jesus.

It’s because I have a burden. A burden for the person who comes to church alone for whatever reason. In our churches, we have a default setting. A setting where every adult is part of a married couple. And if people are different from that setting, there is pressure to conform. It’s not done purposefully, I know. But it’s done often enough that people who are alone can often feel like they’re the third wheel. It can happen with the college student who doesn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and it can happen with the person who is widowed or divorced. It can happen with the person whose spouse doesn’t come to church or with the person whose spouse serves somewhere else. I think the last one is the hardest. You know your spouse is doing what Jesus has called them to do, but it is hard to see everyone sitting in couples. I won’t deny it.

People are generally oblivious as well. They ask if you’re going to celebrate a holiday with family not thinking there might not be any family to celebrate with. In fact, there is only one person I’ve ever known who has the gift of including a single person in their family gathering without making them feel weird. My college mom. From the first time I met her and her family, I knew I was always welcome. I remember fondly all the Sundays and holidays I spent at their homes when I was in college and across the country from my own family. They truly showed Jesus’ love to me.

But I digress. I was talking about Lent and Easter. Over the past forty days, I’ve spent a lot of time alone with Jesus–in prayer as I’ve worked through my Lent book. He’s brought me to the end of myself as I’ve asked questions that have been on my mind and heart. Especially this question. Why is the “church as a community” always talked about when all anyone ever wants to do is spend time with their own families, their own tribes. It’s frustrating to see things like “community” be given lip service when there are so many people in this world who are alone and hurting, people who are different from us, people we might not typically see.

Jesus reminded me that He saw them, and He still sees them today. He told me He sees all who are alone, even me when I don’t fit into church culture. It’s funny to talk like that when we’re told all the time not to try to fit into the world, but we also ask people to fit into a mold at church instead of loving and appreciating their differences. We’re all imperfect so loving other people is going to be done imperfectly until we go to be with Him. I know I’m imperfect, and I bet you all know you’re imperfect too. It’s overwhelming to think of all the mistakes I make as I try to be Jesus’ disciple in this world and make a difference, but not ever feeling accepted anywhere because I am so different.

But, maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m not supposed to be accepted anywhere, not even at church. Maybe I’m supposed to love without any expectation of being loved back except, of course, by Jesus. And then, my eyes were opened, to all of the times Jesus was there for me yesterday even when I felt like I had failed. He was there when two children asked for me to play with them. He was there as I counseled my own son who had been feeling like a third wheel in the middle of “couple-land.” I was able to give him good counsel because of all the times I have felt like a third wheel even though I am part of a couple. Jesus was even there when I got in line behind a family taking communion together. Boy, that hurt, and I cried.  I won’t gloss over it. There’s nothing like feeling alone in the middle of a group of people. But, of course, I couldn’t admit it to said group of people. I was able to admit it to Jesus later on though, and that’s when He reminded me He was there, even through the tears.

So, that’s what I learned during this Lent and Easter season. I learned that Jesus is always there for me even when other people are clueless or selfish. I learned that “community love” will always be broken and imperfect at least until we are with Jesus. And I learned that Jesus wants me to pay attention to the burdens He puts on my heart even when I’ve been told no by a “church person.” Because God always provides a way even when it seems impossible.

Father God, help me to put into practice the things I have learned. Help us all to pay attention to who we meet so we can share your love. Help us not to be clueless and selfish and help us to reflect your love in a world that desperately needs it. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

God bless you all!

Holy Curses

Another week has passed so it’s time for another post in my Lenten series from the book 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. I wasn’t sure I’d do the post at first. In fact, I had to read the entry several times to understand what the author was talking about. I’m still not sure I completely understand, but I had to put my wrestling into words, to write down the questions I’ve been considering about my faith.

So, the phrase this week is “holy curses.” The author connects this phrase with the  Scripture where Jesus curses the fig tree for not having any fruit on it and says for it never to have fruit again. Then, He and the disciples walk by it again later, and Peter remembers what Jesus had said. The fig tree had withered because Jesus had cursed it. The author calls it Jesus’ only “destructive miracle.”

But, wait a minute. I thought cursing was a bad thing. And sure enough, the four other times in Scripture where this Greek word was used talk about how we’re to love our enemies and not curse them, about the cursed who won’t be in heaven, and about the taming of the tongue which can be used to curse others. I especially liked the reference from James 3:9-10 because I’ve been in a class studying this book of the Bible. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”

By this example, I’m pretty sure God is telling us not to curse. He wants us to live together in community with His love at the center of our hearts and beings. So, what does the example of the withered fig tree mean? The author uses two verses from John 15 which talk about bearing fruit. Verses 5-6 say, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me  you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

I quote these verses and say all this to come closer to what I think the author means and to come closer to the questions I’ve been asking myself. As part of our faith, Jesus wants us to bear fruit. The things we do for our faith are not necessary to come to faith. They are what is supposed to come afterwards. I agree with and understand all of that.

I guess my question is what exactly is that supposed to look like. Does that mean we take every class or go to every activity that the church offers? Do we bear fruit in our families, in our jobs, and with our friends? Do we take the risk of letting the guards on our hearts down so we can wrestle with the things Jesus taught us? Do we deny self in our pursuit to bear fruit? I believe the answers to these questions come in pieces and are all related to the denial of self. One person’s fruit is not the same as another’s. So many people I know are doing so many different things for God, it’s almost impossible to count them all. Among my friends, I know someone who is living a life dedicated to her family and to the children in her classroom. She doesn’t make it to church all of the time, but I know she would be there for me if I ever needed her. I have another friend who runs a ministry to the least of these. Some of the people she ministers to are not welcome in churches, but I believe she is bearing the fruit Jesus wants to see. And, finally, I have a friend who has opened her home to me more times than I can count. When I was in college, she let my car stay parked at her home for more than six months while I was recovering from mononucleosis on the other side of the country. I believe all of these examples are examples of the fruit Jesus wants to see in our lives.

And that makes me wonder. Do I bear the fruit Jesus wants to see? If I were to be honest, there would be many times I would have to say no. Times when I’ve used my tongue unwisely. Times when I haven’t loved like I should. Times when I’ve not denied self. Times when I’ve been hypocritical. I look at these words and feel deeply inadequate to this task Jesus has called me to of sharing His love. Have I borne the fruit Jesus wants me to bear? Have I shown His Name is the only Name that matters? I won’t know the answers to these questions until I am with my Lord and Savior, but I hope that by considering them now, I would consider my words and behavior each and every time I consider the question what would Jesus do. And I hope, that by writing these questions down, you would consider them too.

God bless you all!

Holy Gets Angry

Today, I’m going to spotlight the second of the phrases I found in my Lenten book, 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole. The phrase is “holy gets angry.” There aren’t many instances of Jesus getting angry in Scriptures. I am sure though we are all familiar with the most quoted instance of Jesus’ anger with His clearing of the temple. Until now, I had always heard sermons of why Jesus cleared the temple–the religious establishment was cheating those who had come to worship. But, I had never paid attention to the words of how he had cleared the temple. So, I went back and read the verses that stated the how.

John 2:15-16 says, “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

The other Gospel writers covered this instance and at least one more–one at the beginning of his ministry and the other towards the end. Jesus was seriously angry about this–serious enough that it was covered in the written accounts of his ministry.

But, anger is not a nice emotion, right? It’s not nice just like grieving isn’t nice, and people don’t know what to do with it except maybe to tell people they shouldn’t be angry about a particular situation. Now, I agree. There are many instances where we shouldn’t be angry. Anger can have a negative effect on emotional and physical health. Getting angry can result in violence you really don’t mean to happen. It might be the result of a misunderstanding. Or it might be the result of a legitimate situation. God knows we get angry just like we grieve, and He doesn’t condemn us for it. It’s part of who we are as humans.

So, with that negativity against anger, is there ever a good reason to be angry? To get angry, yes, but to stay angry, no. That’s where forgiveness comes in. Anyway, I did some thinking before coming back to writing this paragraph, and I realized that Scripture shows us the way. God wants us to use our anger on things that affect others. I’m not talking about a hashtag campaign on hot-button issues like abortion or poverty either. I’m talking about getting down in the trenches with someone who needs help and getting angry when the church refuses to help. I’m talking about not condemning a person for their “sin” and instead loving them in Jesus’ Name. We all sin. There is not a one of us who sins less than the other. In fact, the only person who never sinned was Jesus, as we all know.

I’m talking about walking with the person who is being abused, walking with the woman or couple who is facing an unexpected pregnancy, walking with the person who is not the same race or income level as you, or walking with the person who is addicted. God doesn’t want us to stay in our comfort zones. He wants us to get in the trenches with those who need to see His love.

I guess that’s why I get angry when I see news coverage on any of the hot-button issues. There is never a solution, only angry words offered–from both sides. Even from Christians. What happened to sharing instead of greed? (And don’t tell me only one side is greedy. I’ve seen greed on both sides.) What happened to hope instead of despair? And finally, what happened to love instead of condemnation? When I consider the answers to these questions, I get angry at others and at myself. Because, we’ve all sinned in this way. I think that’s when God gets angry too. We’re not living the way He wants us to live.

So, as I finish this, consider the answers to these questions in your life. And then, when you get angry, are you angry because something hasn’t gone your way or are you angry on someone else’s behalf? How can this anger then be turned to show Jesus’ love in our sphere of influence?

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

God bless you all!

Called on Purpose

It took me awhile to wrap my head around the theme my church has for this year. It’s not that I don’t understand what Jesus is calling Christians to do. The Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20 states it plainly. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I also understand the Scriptures my pastor used yesterday, one section of which showed how people were amazed by Jesus and how He found favor with God’s people and then, how people were amazed by the apostles and the wonders and signs they performed. I especially liked the Scripture from Acts which described the first century church. From Acts 2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I’ve always thought the ideal time for the church was when it was first formed. Now though, it is over two thousand years later, and we need to know what God wants for the church in the 21st century. For many years, I considered myself inadequate for God’s calling. I would look at Scriptures like the ones in Titus 2 and tell myself I looked nothing like the women in those Scriptures. I didn’t consider myself a good role model. (still don’t) My interests didn’t lie with anything  having to do with the home. I felt inadequate with the way God made me. There was no way God could have called me for anything on purpose. Not as a follower and especially not as any kind of leader. I loved Jesus, but I didn’t feel like I was any good at anything.

I had to go through that tension to know God made me the way I am for a point and a purpose. He is calling me to show His love in a way that is different from the person on my right and the person on my left. God is calling for me to be a part of a faith family, but He is also calling for me to use the gifts He has given me whether it is in my church or in the world. So, my called on purpose will look different from everyone else’s except for the overarching theme of showing God’s love.

What will that look like for me during the next few months? I’m still planning some things, but I’ve also got some things on my calendar. I’m going to participate in a 5-K walk to end cancer. This is a first for me as an adult. I never thought I would be in good enough shape to participate in a run or a walk, but things have changed since I made physical activity a priority. I’m also going to an anime convention with my son and husband next month. I’m looking forward to becoming more familiar with one of my son’s passions. And finally, I’m going to a writing workshop which is one of my passions. These things don’t even count the times my husband and I will be serving a meal at my son’s campus ministry in the next few weeks.

I look at all the things I wrote in the previous paragraph, and a point is becoming clearer to me. These are all events in my community and not in my church.  Maybe, that is what “called on purpose” really means. 🙂

Have a great day, everyone!

Christmas and December Birthdays

It’s a week until Christmas Eve. Some of us might be about to put up our Christmas decorations and embark on a frantic week of shopping, baking, wrapping, and traveling while others of us have had our decorations up for weeks. We are drinking hot cocoa at night and listening to Christmas music having finished the Christmas shopping weeks before. I know people at all ends of the spectrum. 

In my home, we’ve done it differently each year. Right now, I am looking at a decorated home with many presents under the tree. There’s more left to wrap and just a few small things left to get. I don’t feel rushed, and I’m grateful. I’ve been able to focus on Jesus and the meaning of the season as well as listen to Christmas music. 

But, there’s a part of me that doesn’t feel like Christmas is about to come until after tomorrow. It’s been that way for almost twenty-two years. Let me explain. When I was growing up, more effort had to be put in to planning my birthday parties because, you guessed it, I had a December birthday. And, inevitably, one or more of my friends couldn’t come to my parties over the years because they were going to some Christmas event. I resented that when I was younger, but not so much now, and I’m not complaining now. That’s just how it was. I did learn the importance of one historical event during my growing-up years because of my birthday, and it led to a fascination with anything related to World War 2. Now, when someone asks about my birthday, I tell them I’m a Pearl Harbor baby. If they know their history, they know when my birthday is. 😉 

I say all this to give you background for the next part of the story. When I found out twenty-two years ago that my first child would be born close to Christmas, I decided I would make a point of celebrating his birthday each year and making sure he knew how special he was to me. The years have passed quickly. He will graduate from college in May and start his own life. There is no way I can tell you how proud I am of him. We’ll go out tomorrow night for dinner, have birthday cake, and have him open presents. Celebrate the anniversary of his birth. The conversation among others might be all about Christmas, but there are other important things to celebrate in my home. 

Now, after tomorrow, my focus will be solely on Christmas and the “reason for the season.” (This phrase is almost trite now, but I try to take each word and put meaning and thought behind it when I say it.) I’ve often wondered if God has a problem with my divided focus during the season. Of course, everyone in my family acknowledges the importance of the birth and death of Jesus. It’s part of the faith we all hold, after all. But, it’s important to me that my son doesn’t feel forgotten on his birthday, and, if I’m being honest, I don’t like feeling forgotten on my birthday either. Fortunately, over the years, I have had many friends who have made sure I haven’t felt forgotten on my birthday. My family has also done a good job of making me feel loved. My husband likes to say that he remembers our son and I so well, we forget his birthday at the beginning of January.  Not this year though. He’s just as special as the rest of us. 😉 

But, back to my question. Is God upset with my divided focus during the Christmas season? I don’t think so. My son and I and many more of his children are born during this month. We are all made in His image just like the people born in the other eleven months of the year. And, He loves us all. He loved us enough to send His Son Jesus all those years ago to be born and to die for us. I wrestle with this every day. How could someone love me that much? My heart would be broken if I had to watch my son die like Jesus died. But, he did that for me and for all of you. That’s why I don’t think God minds my divided focus. Because, you see, love doesn’t divide. Love multiplies. May you know the multiplying nature of Jesus’ love during this Christmas season! 

God bless you! 

Remembering God

Earlier this year, I blogged through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. Remember? I took each devotion and wrote about how it impacted me–hot mess and all. In the process, I learned about bravery and how being brave has impacted my life even when I haven’t felt brave. I also figured out that being brave didn’t necessarily look like what I thought it looked like. During this time, Ms. Downs became a favorite author. God used her words to touch my life. Why am I bringing this up now? She has a new book coming out tomorrow entitled Remember God which I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing. I know God will use her words to impact my life just as He used her words from her previous book. In the meantime, I wanted to share what remembering God looked like for me.

When I typed “remembering God” and “remember God” into the You Version search engine, it came back with many results like I expected. Scripture does a good job of showing where God calls us to remember Him and where humans call on God to remember them. It’s like a lot of things in life. Sometimes, we forget about God’s goodness and need to be reminded. God doesn’t forget though, and I think that might be why we are called on so often in Scripture to remember Him. Here are some examples. From Psalm 78:35, “They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer.” God spoke of remembering Israel in Leviticus 26:42. “I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. Luke 23:42 says, “Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'”

There are also many instances in Scripture where people asked God to remember them or thanked God for remembering other believers. Nehemiah 5:19 says, “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.” Also, in Thessalonians 1:3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” I especially like Ephesians 1:15-16 because I’ve personally used these verses to tell people I’m thankful for them. “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

With all the references to remembering in Scripture, why do we forget God and all He has done for us? I’m not sure, but I think one of the reasons might be because of the fall. Satan doesn’t want us to remember what God has done for us because his job at getting us to believe his lies would be more difficult, and he wants things to be as easy as possible. Doesn’t evil usually work that way?

I also think we let the busyness of our days crowd God out. God is waiting for us to remember, to want to talk to Him, to have a relationship with Him, and sometimes, we just forget He is there.

Finally, we have mistaken impressions of how we need to be when we approach God. Everything needs to be perfect, and we think we need to display the Christian joy everyone keeps talking about. No sadness, and no pain allowed. But, God wants us to come to Him as we are. He wants us to remember Him as we are so He can work in our lives and in our hearts. Then, we can share about His love with a world who desperately needs it.

As I end this post, I want to remind all of us how important it is to remember God and how He is a part of our stories. And, we don’t need to just remember Him. We need to share our stories and how God is important in each of them. Your story might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but it is just as necessary to God and His Kingdom as those stories that have a larger reach. Thankful for the chance to share my stories in this space!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Invisible

I said last week I was going to be honest when I was in a dark time or a dark place again. Yesterday, I was in one of those places. With a dark heart and dark emotions. I was blocked from something I felt called to…again, and it’s made me wonder why I’m even here. My husband is valued for what he does. My children are valued for what they do. But, me, I’m the back-fill. I’m invisible unless no one else is available. And, if someone else is, too bad for me. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but every time it’s happened to me, it has hurt down to my core.

I don’t even feel like I have anyone I can call when I struggle with faith questions or with service questions. I’ve yet to find anyone who truly understands or is even willing to listen to my hurting heart because it’s hard to understand my hurt.

I know I am valuable to God, and I know He is always there. I know that for a fact. If I didn’t, I could refer to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son for me. Jesus died on the cross for me. I believe that and accept it.

I believe in God’s grace too. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

My Lord and Savior. I let regular people drive me away from Him once. I won’t ever do it again. But, then that begs the question. What about regular people? My son has a thing he likes to do when he drives somewhere. He parks at the furthest place he can park because he says he “hates people”. Now, what he hates is the way they drive, but it got me thinking. What if we all hated each other? Would anything ever get done for God? Would be willing to share about Jesus’ love? My guess is we wouldn’t be. Why would we want to if we hated each other?

God had something to say about that very topic too. I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Then, there’s I John 4:8. “Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love.” Jesus says this in John 15:12. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” And, finally, there’s Romans 12:10. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

So, we’re supposed to love each other as well as love God? Yes, we are. But, can we do it on our own? I think I’ve demonstrated we can’t. We can’t unless we have Jesus in our hearts. He is the only one who can make it possible to love the people we might naturally hate.

But, what about the people who wound us, especially those who are in the church. I’ve been thinking about that recently. About people who have wounded me and my family in the past and people who have wounded me recently. The hurt can be overwhelming. It seems that once I’ve forgiven someone, another person steps in to take their place. And we’re supposed to forgive them over and over like it says in Matthew 18:21-22. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” That’s biblical language for forgiving over and over. 🙂

Being wounded can hurt though. It can hurt a lot. And it can help us know how Jesus must have felt on His way to the cross. He was carrying the sins of everyone in the world. I felt a knife slicing into me yesterday as I thought of how much it must have hurt Him. All of those hurts piled on top of mine. And those were just the ones I could imagine. Jesus had so much more.

So, I’ve been thinking and praying and talking to God about all of this. About how I feel wounded and invisible. About how I’m tired and wishing Jesus would come back. About how I wish I could do this church thing by myself and not have to deal with people. I’ve had the chance to crawl into my Father’s lap, and it has helped so much. It has helped me release my burdens and forgive the people involved. This is a good thing.

But, in case you might think I’ve opened myself up to being invisible again, my talking with God has also done something else. It has helped me realize that I need to be in prayer about everything I do in my life whether it be for the church or anywhere else. I want to be in God’s will and have His leading in my life. Just because someone thinks I should do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what God wants me to do, and that is something I need to remember whether the other person likes it or not.

Isn’t that what it boils down to? We need to care more about what God thinks of us than other people. So, when I feel invisible again, all I need to listen for is God’s voice. “I see you, daughter. I see you and appreciate your willingness to seek my heart in what I have called you to do.”

God’s blessings on you all today!

The Second Greatest Commandment

I’m not sure any of us ever think of the second greatest commandment. I mean, why would we think of the second one when we can think of the first one. Isn’t our society all about who or what is first? Do we remember the people who win silver medals in the Olympics? Do we remember the loser of the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tournament? Do we remember the loser of the World Cup? No, I can honestly say I don’t remember any of those people or teams. It’s in our mindset to remember who’s first.

Don’t get me wrong. What Jesus says is the first commandment is important. It’s very important. From Matthew 22:37-38, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.'” It’s one of the bedrock statements of our faith.

The second part is too, but there is one little part of Jesus’ statement I think we neglect, and it is what I want to talk about today. From Matthew 22:39-40, “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here’s another question. What part am I talking about? Don’t we emphasize all  the words of these verses? Read the quote of Matthew 22:39 again and see what part I emphasize. “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” We go all out on the “loving your neighbor” part. We sacrifice; we serve; we give. All benchmarks of our faith. But, the “as yourself” part, not so much. In fact, if we say we love ourselves, we’re accused of being selfish and narcissistic. Sometimes, I feel it even goes to not admitting sorrow or sadness ourselves. Why should we admit sorrow or sadness? We have Jesus in our lives. We should be happy all of the time. I do know that part is not true, however.

What the author says in today’s devotion from 100 Days to Brave has given me permission to think about these things. She says, “You have to love yourself to love others well.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) I agree with this, and I believe Jesus says it too which brings me back to the messages about myself that have been in my head for a long time. I talked about them yesterday when I was speaking of the words I grew up hearing. “You’re too heavy.” “You’re too quiet.” “You’re too sensitive.” “You’re different.” “You’re not enough like a woman.” “You’re odd.” “You’re too smart.” “What you feel doesn’t matter.”

Lots of messages, as you can see. Though these messages are well-entrenched in my head, I believe I’ve been able to love other people over the years. I remembered what it felt like not to be believed in as the person I was, and I never wanted  anyone to feel the way I felt. Yes, I’ve made mistakes. Plenty of them. But, I’ve done the best I could with what I had.

But, I’ve had to consider something today, and it’s made me wonder if I am a Christian at all. Wow, from the author of a Christian blog no less, but bear with me. The author of the devotional talks about how our relationships could be even better, that we could “love others well” as I quoted earlier, if we loved ourselves. They would be different. I know that. If I was able to live that truth, I know they would be different.

She asked some questions though at the end of today’s devotion that I’ve had to seriously consider. “Do you love yourself? Do you see yourself the way God sees you? Do you recognize how absolutely lovable you are? (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) She goes on to say that loving others is easy when we can see that truth. I can’t though. My answers to all those questions is no. No, I don’t love myself. No, I don’t see myself the way God sees me. And no, I don’t recognize how lovable I am. I know I love Jesus with all of my heart, but I don’t know if He loves me, and I know I don’t love myself.

So, I’m left wondering if I’m even a Christian after these realizations. Because I’m different, I don’t feel worthy of God’s love. How’s that for an ending? 🙁 Don’t worry though. I’m still going to write my way through the rest of this devotional and see if I can figure things out. Figure out if I am a Christian and figure out this bravery thing.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

A Heart Response

For the longest time, I’ve been trying to figure out where my gifts from God fit into His plan for me. My gift is not one of the common ones. I’m not talented in teaching children or working in the kitchen or singing so it’s been hard for me to figure out how I fit in with people wanting to share their gifts from God. In fact, sometimes I don’t feel like I fit in. But, in this journey towards bravery, I’m learning that it doesn’t matter what others think of me or my gifts. It matters what God thinks of me and how I use my gifts for His glory.

I find it appropriate that today, less than a week until Valentine’s Day, the devotional topic is about my heart, about all our hearts. I especially liked the Bible verse that was used. Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. What that means is that God is slow to get angry and has more love than we could know what to do with. Yes, that’s what abounding means. Very plentiful and abundant. And that is how much He loves you and me. There’s no way He could love us anymore than He does because His love goes on forever. He chose me to love, and He chose you to love. We don’t deserve it, but it flows over and over us with no end in sight. It is amazing to think of what my Lord and Savior has done for me and how much He loves me since I have no way to pay Him back.

God doesn’t want us to pay Him back though. His overwhelming love and His grace are the point of this faith we follow. We have done nothing to deserve it and will do nothing to deserve it until the day we die.

So, if we can’t do things to deserve God’s love, how do we respond to this extravagant, abounding love He has given us? I liked what the devotion had to say because it also helps me to honor the gifts He has given me. We can make life choices that honor God in response to His love. I call this a heart response. Our passions are a part of who we are, and God wants us to use them for Him. I had never thought of it that way before. When I am writing a blog post or a story or a book, I am pouring out my love for my Lord and Savior with my words. It doesn’t matter that I don’t fit in with my Christian brothers and sisters. It matters that I am loving God with the gifts He has given me. What a comfort! What a joy! My gift isn’t something I have to hide, and it’s something I can use to show God how much I love Him! Thank you, God, for loving and choosing me, and please help me have the courage to use my gift of writing for you!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

How Jesus Really Sees Us

I’m taking a break from the prompts today to explore this topic because, sometimes, I don’t think we, as believers, truly understand this. I know I don’t.

What do you do when you get up in the morning? Do you take a shower? Wash your hair? Ladies, do you put on make-up? Guys, do you shave? Do you make sure your clothes and hair look the best they can look before you walk out the door? If you do that, you are presenting your best face to the world. Who am I kidding? We all do that. We want the people in our world to see us in the best possible light.

It’s not in how we physically appear either. When we are around other people, we want the best parts of our character to be present so they will love us. We want to do good deeds, have good attitudes, and be seen praising God even if we don’t want to. In other words, we put our best front forward.

As all of us know though, our best front doesn’t stay good all of the time. We get mad. We’re sad about something. We’re difficult to get along with. We’re unreasonable. We’re demanding. It’s all a part of sin nature. And that doesn’t even count the deepest things we hide at the bottom of our souls. Things that don’t come out at all, ever, even on the pain of death. That’s what sin nature is.

Jesus knows everything though. What, you didn’t think He knew? 🙂 Yes, He knows everything, and He still loves you. He died on a cross for you.

Sometimes, though, I need words and imagery to come from another place. And, in this instance, how Jesus really sees me comes from the words of a song. One of my favorite songs, as a matter of fact. If you’ve ever been married or you have participated in a wedding, you’ll understand this. Everyone looks their best on their wedding day. It’s a moment of significance that, hopefully, will last for a lifetime. But, our sin nature still exists underneath all the finery. Jesus knows all the things we’ve done wrong and will do wrong. We should look like dirt to Him, but we don’t. That’s why I love the song “Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns. Even though the words fit a bride more than they do a groom, I believe all of us can take something away from this song. Jesus loves each and every one of us, and we appear perfect to Him though we are not because our sins are covered by the cross. I’m going to quote the verses of this song so you can see what I mean. May we all understand how Jesus really sees us today!

“Wedding Day” by Casting Crowns

There’s a stirring in the throne room
And all creation holds it’s breath
Waiting now to see the bride groom
Wondering how the bride will dress
And she wears white
And she knows that she’s undeserving
She bears the shame of history
With this worn and weary maiden
Is not the bride that he sees
And she wears white, head to toe
But only he could make it so

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says you’re beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

She has danced in golden castles
And she has crawled through beggar’s dust
But today she stands before him
And she wears his righteousness
And she will be who he adores
And this is what he made her for

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day

When the hand that bears the only scars
And heaven touch her face
And the last tears she’ll ever cry
Are finally wiped away
And the clouds roll back as he takes her hand
And walks her through the gates
Forever we will reign

When someone dries your tears
When someone wins your heart
And says your beautiful
When you don’t know you are
And all you’ve longed to see
Is written on his face
When love has come and finally set you free
On that wedding day
On that wedding day”

I am so glad my Lord and Savior sees me with the cover of the cross. May God bless you all today!