Then God Said…

Every summer I take more time to dig into the word and to study and pray. Yes…this should be my routine year round, and I am really going to work on that when school starts back up, but I am a work in progress. I really cherish this quiet time in the morning, when I am not on a schedule and can spend this time reading and listening to what God has for me.

One morning this week, I went back to the Old Testament and re-read the creation story in Genesis. This is probably one of the first Bible stories I ever learned as a child and I have heard it, read it, and even studied it many, many times over the years. But this time, as I studied it, something brand new jumped out to me. I love that so much about God’s word. I feel like he allows me to see new things each time I dive in…according to what I truly need or what I am seeking.

As I read through the story of the creation, one phrase jumped out to me. “Then God said…” This phrase was used ten times when describing the creation. Then God said.

I have been battling really bad anxiety lately. Battling – but losing the battle. My thoughts and worries always jump to the worst case scenario – I catastrophize. I’m anxious over things that I normally have under control. I am not at peace. So when this phrase “then God said” jumped out to me it stopped my thoughts and worries in their tracks.

God is at work. God knows. He has not left me. He knows what is on my heart and on my mind. And God is at work on all of it. Soon, God will have his say in all of the things that are troubling me. Soon, my “then God said” moment will be here and he will show me the way through all of it. And that’s what I am holding onto to steady me through the storms.

His eyes are on me

I have always been a note-taker at church during the sermon. Partly because taking notes helps me stay focused and engaged in the message. I have listened to countless sermons through the years and have notes in journals, loose slips of paper stuffed in the back of my Bible, and many written right in the margins of the Word. As I have gotten older, I have learned to love going back through my notes and really spending time thinking about the points that were made in those numerous sermons. Sometimes its all just too much to take in in the moment, so I find that I can go back and read my scribbles and really get a lot more out of sermons.

Currently, we are studying the book of Jonah at church. If you were raised in the church, you have most likely heard the story of the man who ran from God’s directions and ended up in the belly of a whale for three days. As I type these words, I can hear my mother’s voice singing the children’s song that I loved so much and that always evoked giggles while singing it. “Who did, who did, who did, who did, who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah…” As children it was a “simple” albeit amazing story that Jonah was punished for his disobedience by being swallowed up by a whale and sitting in his belly for three days (now that is a serious time-out!)

Even as a grew older, I thought of Jonah’s time spent in the belly of a fish was punishment. But this past week, Pastor Shawn Spradling taught this story in a way that makes so much sense to me about who God really is and how he shows his love for people – in just the way he knows we need it.

“God sent the fish to SAVE Jonah, not to punish him!”

Jonah was definitely running from God and knew that he was being disobedient to God’s instructions for Him. Jonah recognized that his defiance was causing harm to the men on the ship that he had boarded. He knew in his heart that HE was the problem. He through himself into the water. God sent the whale to swallow him up – but God had a reason that was not a punishment for Jonah. For three days Jonah sat in the whale’s belly. Three days. In that time, he came to realize his deep need for God in his life. He prayed to God . He reached out to him in his dire situation. And God was there all along. What I had so long thought was a punishment was really God saving Jonah! And here is the quote from this sermon that has been on repeat in my mind and heart since I heard it…

“My circumstance isn’t God’s payback, it’s God’s bring back!”

God used the whale not as payback for Jonah’s disobedience but to bring him back to Him! And God is still the same God! He doesn’t do paybacks. No matter how many times I fail, try to run, doubt, or downright disobey him. He only ever works to bring me back to him. When I am so full of anger watching a loved one battle an awful disease, God does not turn his back on me. When I doubt that God gave me any gift to use on this earth, he patiently waits. When I rely on myself to battle smothering anxiety rather than give it to him, God is still present. His eyes are always on me. God is using my circumstances to bring me back – closer to him. He is waiting for me to lean into him for strength and comfort and unconditional love. What a reassuring truth to know that God always has his eyes on me. Waiting. Watching. Open-armed and loving.

Waiting for Sunday

It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming. This is phrase has been all over social media this week as we get ready to celebrate Easter the the resurrection of our Lord. This phrase has also been on my mind a lot. It is so powerful. I try to imagine what Jesus’ close friends and followers were feeling on this day – the day between His death and when He rose from the dead. I’m certain they felt a huge sense of hopelessness. They must have felt confused and perhaps even a bit lost. Fear was probably surging through them as they wondered what the last few years had been about. Confusion most likely have them questioning all that they had seen while closely following Jesus and His teachings.

Obviously, I can only speculate on the way Jesus’ friends and followers were feeling. However, I feel like being human, just like them, I can fairly make these assumptions. Thinking about this phrase, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming” I understand, to some extent what that waiting feels like. Of course, I cannot fathom in on the same level by any means, but I think that there are some real parallels for me and maybe for you too!

This week for me personally has been especially troubling. I was blindsided by two events – both personally and professionally – and I feel like this week has been my Friday. (Please know that I am not in any way comparing my troubles to Jesus’ death – just drawing a parallel!) Stay with me. When faced with the uncertainty of the week’s news, I have been hit with a mix of so many emotions. Fear of the unknown, hopelessness, confusion, and questions. I’ve wondered why? I’ve asked how? I’ve spent sleepless nights tossing and turning while worry envelops me. Trying to find some peace in all of it, God has gently reminded me that He is in control. He has sweetly whispered to me to remember that Sunday is coming. He’s pulled me closer in the waiting and comforted me with the reminder of the answers that Sunday brought.

In our daily lives, we must remember His faithfulness to His promises. He did not promise a trouble free, worry free, “easy” life. However, He did promise that He is always with us. He did promise that He will never forsake us, nor will He leave us. And when Sunday came, and Jesus walked out of that tomb…well, who can argue with the fulfillment of that promise. God is with us in our waiting.

I don’t know how either of the situations of this week will turn out. I don’t have all of the answers. But I do have ONE answer and it is this. God knows it ALL and He is in it ALL. He is constant and ever-present between our Fridays and our Sundays.

Bloom

Tonight I am going to dinner and then to a Women’s Conference at a local church with some ladies from my church. I have only met a couple of these ladies out of the group that is going. I have been at my home church for almost 5 years and I have not met a lot of people (that’s all on me!), so I am excited to get plugged in and make some new, like-minded friends. I am excited, but I am also nervous and my anxiety is taking over. Since we are meeting for dinner before the conference I will be going straight from school. This morning I was in the closet trying to figure out what to wear and it truly was like a typical “I have nothing to wear” scene from a movie. Outfits flying everywhere. My train of frustration gaining momentum by the second. The all too familiar battle cry “I have NO clothes” ringing through the house. But why? Of course, I want to look good, and feel good about myself – those are completely normal things. But as I sit here sipping my coffee trying to regain my composure and prep for an ALL DAY FUN DAY with twenty 9 and 10 year olds, I know that there is more to it. We as women are way too hard on ourselves to look a certain way. And it’s because we are so conditioned by the fact that we will be judged by each other. Sadly, we often make it into a competition. Just being real. We want to look as good as everyone around us – and by “as good” I mean better. We want other women to “approve” of us. We want to be “good enough.” (I’m saying we – but I guess I should say I).

Here’s the thing…I am attending a Bible conference with a group of amazing Christian women. I am certain that this group of women is full of love and grace and will be all welcoming to every single woman there. I truly do believe that. I’m sad that society has jaded me into worrying so much about my outer appearance, when I really have a whole lot of work to do on the inside.

Ladies, let’s stop competing and start building each other up. Let’s celebrate each other’s gifts and beauty rather than silently judging them against our own. Let’s look in the mirror and see ourselves as daughters of the ONE true King – made in His image. Let’s raise our daughters to understand that each flower blooms in its own perfect way and that they are all beautiful.

I am thankful for the opportunity to meet new friends tonight. And I am thankful that through the simple struggle of trying to find something to wear, God stopped me in my tracks to remind me of this lesson this morning.

A Cheerful Heart

For the past few weeks I have been battling my fibromyalgia pain in a BIG way. Most of the time I can manage the pain and it stays around a 2-3 (1-10 scale). Lately, I have let anxiety and worry really take me over and I know that my rising pain levels are a direct result of that. For the past few days my pain has been a consistent 8 or 9. Those levels make it so very hard to function day to day with all that is on my daily to do list. I have let it get me down. I have cried a lot of tears and felt pretty hopeless. This has been the worse bout of my fibro pain since I was initially diagnosed. As the pain persists, my mental and emotional state has begun to deteriorate.

But there are positives to be found in all of it. First, I have a tribe of ladies who show up daily to encourage me and pray for me and keep me positive. That is truly amazing. I am so thankful for their sweet voices and thoughts. I feel them standing next to me in my fight. Secondly, I am praying a lot and feel myself drawing closer to God through my morning devotionals and quiet time. I am spending more time in the word, really studying and leaning into what God is saying to me.

This morning, I woke and my first feeling was pain. I had a hard time just getting out of bed and instantly my mood deflated. (Not the way I like to start my day). I stumbled out of bed and poured myself my morning coffee (my cup of ambition – typed in my best Dolly Parton voice) and headed to my office for my quiet time. My morning devotional could NOT have been more fitting! (Don’t you just love when God does small things like that – just when we need them!?). “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” That first line…gave me chills. God was saying the best way for me to feel better was to start with my heart. How? What does a cheerful heart look like? It’s a heart filled with gratitude and thankfulness. It’s a heart that counts blessings! My devotional went on to explain that a cheerful heart can improve one’s health – spiritually, emotionally, and even physically! (Just what I need!). And then this…the line that hit me hard…the words that I’m carrying with me all day…”Let these divine nutrients soak into the depths of your being. Let them strengthen and enhance your health.”  My heart condition (cheerfulness) will affect my health. Does this mean that I don’t need to take my medicine…..NO. It means I need to work on my perspective and focus on what is in my heart. My cheerful heart is medicine for ALL of my being.

Probably not anything earth shattering…not a giant revelation…but rather, the gentle nudge, the small a-ha moment that God knew I needed today. How’s your heart? Would you describe it as cheerful? Make it your goal today to fill your heart with gratitude and thankfulness, and let that be your medicine. Soak in all of that goodness. Have a blessed day. Much love!

He has shown us what is good!

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  ~Micah 6:8

Sitting here with the news on in the background and coming across this verse in my devotional this morning stopped me in my tracks. The weight of the news story of George Floyd has been at the forefront of my thoughts for the past 24 hours. I have cried so many tears over this whole situation. I have cried for a life lost in such a brutal, senseless, evil, public way. I have cried for Mr. Floyd’s family who has lost a brother and has to re-live it over and over each time that deplorable video is played. I have cried for the fact that men who were sworn to keep the public safe chose to abuse their power with such heartless, hate-filled actions. I have cried because there is so much hate in the world and our children are exposed to so much ugliness. We need God. We need Him in every area of our world, and in every moment.

This verse jumped off the page of my Bible this morning. What does God require….? To do justly – to treat others in a fair, non-oppressive way. Treat people with respect and fairness; To love mercy – not just show mercy…to love it, and to act in the way that God would want us to in every way that we treat others; To walk humblynot in a spirit of arrogance or of special privilege, but rather in the spirit of humility, in service to others.

I don’t believe for one second that I “accidentally” happened upon this verse today in light of yesterday’s news. I know that this was God’s way of helping me process the world and to help my broken heart find some peace. This verse will be in my prayers and on my heart for days and weeks to come. May we as human beings plant these words in our hearts and put them into action in our everyday lives. micah

Strength from Joy

joy strengthThis sounds good, right?! This is a great “go to” verse when times are hard. These words make for a great, inspirational social media post for those of us who are feeling run down and weak. But do I really believe it? Am I living everyday (in lockdown mode) with this joy? Is my behavior truly reflected in this quote?

As I sit and soak in the word this morning, I found myself dwelling here, in this verse. Lingering on these words in Nehemiah forced me to earnestly check my heart, and not only to ask the tough questions, but also to answer them.

So, I go back to the way I was taught to read and understand the Bible – one word or phrase at a time. Break it down and listen for meaning. Joy – different from happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances or events, and is primarily about MY feelings. It centers around ME. However, joy is a constant. Joy is a contentment of the heart, regardless of happenings and surroundings. Joy is a purposeful choice. This joy is found in the Lord – it is  the Lord. And this very joy  – is mine! It is my strength. It is what stands in the gap when I am overwhelmed by life. It is there to satisfy my needs when I can’t find my own way. This strength from joy calms my fears, dries my tears, and soothes my spirit – even in the ugliest of circumstances.

It is a promise from the word of God. And I believe with all of my heart that God’s promises are real and true and everlasting. So…..do I believe this “go-to” verse? Am I deeply, truly, strongly “bought in”? YES! I am and I am carrying it with me today and going forward. In this scary, unpredictable world, I will find my strength in the joy of the Lord!