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The Person in the Mirror

By MARY GEISEN

I woke up and walked into the bathroom just like every morning. One wall is flanked with a large mirror and I can’t help but catch my reflection as I walk by. The first look in the morning is not my favorite, but on this particular morning a new awareness filled my line of vision. The person in the mirror is now a single mom. I no longer belonged to another and instead, I was beginning a journey of walking through life alone. The realization hit me hard and threatened to knock me over with a truth I never thought would be mine.

Flash forward thirteen years. What I know is that I chose to let the title of “single mom” weigh me down and hold me back for far too long. In the moment of raising teen-age sons, working full time, and trying to keep my head above the water, I just wanted someone, anyone to recognize how hard this was for me. The person in the mirror looked like me, sure, but some days I didn’t recognize the face staring back.

While thirteen years have passed and while I am still a single mom, that alone no longer defines my story. My sons are grown, married, and successful. I finished a career as an elementary teacher and am now retired. And I just became a grandma for the first time to a beautiful grandson! I am so much more than the title of single mom that I believed I needed to carry and wear as a badge of honor for the rest of my life. The person in the mirror feels more like me.

I want to encourage you that your reflection is one that is so much more than that one thing you might be claiming about yourself. If you are a believer, you have the incredible gift of a new life in Christ. You can let go of the burdens of who you think you are or the titles others call you and claim your identity in Christ. My life as a single mom has brought me such wonderful friends, connections, and strength in God that I am much more than that one part that defines me.

Guess what?  The same is true of you.  You are so much more than that label.  Whether you are allowing your past to define you or are carrying a burden based on a choice that you are not proud of, you are deeply loved by a Father who declares you good, worthy, and loved. Let these words from Galatians speak a new truth over who you are as a child of God created anew in Him.

My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine! (Galatians 2:20 TPT)

 FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Take time today to really look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Who do you claim you are? Is the person staring back a reflection of who you really are, or is it a made up view of what you tell yourself?

Let me encourage you to read Psalm 139 and let the words God proclaims throughout this psalm become your truth. My life verse is Psalm 139:14-and I say these words daily to affirm what God says about me: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Think about finding a verse today that will guide you toward a richer, more meaningful identity in Christ.

PRAYER  Heavenly Father, You say I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Today I ask that you fill me with this truth as I look in the mirror. May the reflection of who I am shine back as the truth of what you say about me. On the days I doubt, point me to your truth and show me that your love is enough. I thank you and praise you that you made me in your image and you say I am wonderfully made. Amen.

 

You can connect with Mary Geisen in the following places:

Website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Out of Place

By SARAH DAVIS
I walked everywhere I went during my incarceration experience. Even after rolling off my top bunk and fracturing my ankle in the middle of the night, I limped along for the longest time. We looked like a colony of ants wearing shades of blue on that compound of two-thousand women. And not a pretty shade of blue either. Not like cobalt or ocean or turquoise. Although, perhaps no shade would’ve been pretty fashioned as a state uniform.

My body acclimated during that time, and I learned to adapt to being outdoors often in all of Ohio’s unpredictable weather. In the sweltering heat warnings of summer, I would long for air conditioning and relief, realizing how much I had taken for granted. In the crispness of Fall, I would dream about scented candles and my favorite sweaters and carved pumpkins for the porch and home. And once during Spring, when the sun began to show itself again and hope returned, I was on one of those everyday walks when I noticed something amongst a heaping pile of rubble.

It was inside of a fenced demolition site. A former building that used to house women, now condemned and torn to the ground. A pile of rocks and debris and memories of what used to be, symbolic in the way of my own life and the lives of the women inside those razor-wired fences.

It stood there between the rocks, and I couldn’t help but do a double take. The way one does when you spot something on your everyday route. Like a new billboard or a new park bench that wasn’t there before. I couldn’t help but linger for a moment, even though I wasn’t supposed to linger “out of place.” Ironic, because this wasn’t home and I always felt out of place. It was a dainty thing, budding and pushing its way up into the light and into life. A small white flower with a yellow center growing right there in the middle of all that had been demolished. I am not a gardener, so I couldn’t tell you what lovely type it was. Maybe it was even one of those weeds that grow wild and pretty. But regardless, I couldn’t help but admire its beauty.

I could go in many different directions with what I want to say next. I could tell you that there is so much good that is still present even in the most challenging seasons of life, and that would be true.

I could tell you that endless beauty can come out of the most devastating and heartbreaking things you will go through in life, and that, too, would be true. 

I could repeat the saying, “Bloom where you are planted,” because you should. I knew a girl there who taught herself Spanish and French while incarcerated. Fluently. You should bloom.

But this is what seems most pressing at this moment. It’s a Mexican proverb I heard once, and it goes like this:

They tried to bury us. But they didn’t realize we were seeds.

That’s why I couldn’t take my eyes off that little wispy flower blooming right there in the middle of all that rubble. Because I felt that I had been buried in my own life; like the Sarah I used to know was gone, along with any hope for the future.

Little seedling, there are things you will go through in life that will try to bury you, sometimes just because life happens and life is hard. And sometimes, because of the mess you have made. One shovel full of dirt at a time, until eventually, it will seem and feel like it is over. Curtain call. Bad ending. Like nothing could come out of this wasteland of a situation. Like all hope for the future is lost .But I urge you to slow your walk and look again.

Remember that just because you feel buried doesn’t mean it’s over for you. If you have breath and a pulse, it is not.You, my dear, are a seed. Keep pressing on. Learn a new language. Dare to believe that God has good things ahead for you. Don’t you dare not bloom.

 FOR FURTHER THOUGHT As I think back on this time in my life and other difficult seasons I have walked through, I remember feeling it was difficult to hope that my future would ever hold anything more than the pain I felt in the present moment. I could only see the ashes of all that had been lost. One of my lifeline verses during those times was from Isaiah 61:3 where it says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

This is the good news, that God redeems our pain and rebuilds our future. It’s the hope that we can hold onto and rest upon.  Choose to anchor your soul in Jesus.

PRAYER Father, in moments where I cannot see a hopeful future for myself, remind me of this good news, and of your faithfulness and the promises in your word to restore beauty in my most broken places.  When all I can see is what isn’t, help me to search for the flower in the rubble, the beauty that still exists in the midst of my pain and confusion.  Help me to remember Your comforting presence is always there for me, even when I can’t feel it.  Amen.

Patience?!

Somewhere in my early 40’s I clearly remember having a conversation with someone who told me, “You know, you’re really patient.  You always seem to have this peace about you.”  I thanked them, and I thought, Hmm. I am patient.  God has really taught me the beauty of patience. I’m glad I’ve gotten that down. 

Bwaahaahaa!  It must’ve been like I’d issued a challenge out to the universe that said, “Please.  Come and give me every occasion to test the true plumb line of my patience.  Now!”  Within a week or two, challenge after challenge started coming my way, and I very quickly learned, No.  I am not patient.  In fact, sometimes I am anything but!

Over the years I’ve learned that as soon as I think I’ve “arrived” somewhere, God shows me a whole new layer of that very thing I need to grow in.  And thus begins a deeper exploration of my character, stretching me into a fuller understanding of what it really means to live a genuine, peace-filled, faith-driven life.  Through the process, I’ve come to understand that my solutions tend to be results-oriented.  I am a true child of the microwave society.  I want it hot, fast and now!  But God seems far more interested in carving out my character through relationship with Him over time.   It’s not that wanting results are bad.  God put that drive in me for a reason, and I get a lot accomplished because of it.  I believe God put that drive in me and when I allow Him to harness it, He does some pretty remarkable things through me, ordinary though I am.  The difference lies in how I approach it.  Will I direct my steps, or will I submit to the Lord and let Him direct me?

When God’s directing, it always leads to rich blessing and peace.  I love the results, and they are far more abundant than anything I get on my own.  TRANSLATION=IT’S SO WORTH IT!!!  But, when God leads the results aren’t often immediate or clear.  His direction sometimes makes no sense to me from my very limited human perspective, and I don’t understand the why’s or the how’s, something my inner control freak deeply craves.  It’s in those moments my faith and my patience are put to the test, where I can struggle to trust in the Lord and in His mighty power.  I start to get this crazy idea that somehow I can do it better, even though every experience has shown me the lie that statement really is.

Then there are the times I’m asked to sit still and wait.  That is the direction since I don’t have clarity. Lack of clarity from God doesn’t mean run ahead, therefore, and do your own thing.  It actually means I need to WAIT.  I immediately think of Proverbs 19:21 which says, “A person may have many ideas concerning God’s plan for his life, but only the designs of His purpose will succeed in the end” (TPT).  I’ve learned sitting still isn’t a place of stagnation.  It is actually an active space of listening, of frequently checking in with my Creator to allow Him to gently guide me forward in His timing since His plan work best.  Running ahead has only given me a bruised forehead and bloodied knees.  I still arrive where God would have me go, but I made the journey far more laborious and sometimes more traumatic than it needed to be out of my impatience and deep seeded desire for control.

The power, the freedom, the growth and the peace all come into play when I choose to surrender.  My timing, my need for control, my impatience and my desire for results are laid on the altar before the Cross.  I have to forcefully pry my fingers off of what I’m holding onto through prayer and the reading of God’s word, sometimes one finger at a time, until I release fully what I’ve been holding onto and lay it at His feet.  The very feet that were pierced for my transgressions, that walk ahead of me so my path could be easy and light when I faithfully surrender and trust (Matthew 11:29-30).

So, I wrestle to let go. I wrestle to surrender.  I allow the truth of God’s word to continually cut off the head of that slithering two-headed beast called Impatience & Pride.  I embrace the sometimes waivering, not always straight-forward faith of my heroes like Moses and Peter.  I remember that even Jesus, perfect though He was, had to cry out to God with fervent cries and tears in order to obey fully (Hebrews 5:7).  In that space of reaching for God, I find rest for my soul.  I find blessing upon blessing.  My eyes see more clearly the beauty of all that is around me.  And yes—my ability to embrace patience grows.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  God shows us His path for us in many ways.  Sometimes it comes through prayer and reflection, or fresh insight. Sometimes it’s a door that is clearly wide open and we feel His nudge to walk through.  It can be a scripture that jumps out and hits you in a new way, or the exact words being spoken or sung that you needed to hear.  But don’t forget that God will also nudge us to do the uncomfortable.  To wait when we want to move.  To knock on a door that feels very closed.  Or, a sense that we shouldn’t move through a door that seems wide open and easy.  Those are the moments when our obedience is put to the test.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:33, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (KJV). Oftentimes for me, it’s not that I’m confused with what I’m being asked to do; I just don’t like or fully understand it.  Yet my greatest growth moments and times of blessing have blossomed and flowered from choosing obedient faith even when it’s counterintuitive, even when it’s hard.  Don’t quit when the going feels rough or unclear! Keep fighting to open your hands and surrender to Jesus that which you seek to hold onto.  Remember His words of encouragement to us: “When the time was right, I answered you; on the day you were delivered, I was your help,” and “I’ll make all my mountains into roads, turn them into a superhighway” (Isaiah 49:8, 11 VOICE, MSG).

God alone can level those mountains in your life and smooth out your path.  Choose surrender.  You’ve got this because God has YOU!

PRAYER  Lord, how impatient I am.  Like a petulant child, I want it my way and in my timing. I want my path to always be simple and easy.  I don’t like to struggle.  Yet I know and fully acknowledge that it is through my trials You have shown me the depths of your mercy, kindness and infinite love in a way that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.  Thank You that You are always patient in the midst of my impatience, and faithful in the midst of my complete lack of faith.  Your ways are not my ways, and Your thoughts are not my thoughts.  THANK YOU for that!!  I love what You do in my life, and I have learned and continue to learn how much richer my life is when You are the one leading it.  Help me to open up my hands, especially in those moments where they have become tightly clenched fists, and surrender to You all that I am.  Help me to find Your fresh paths of adventure and peace You have laid out for me before time began.  Thank You especially that You remember I am but dust, so You are incredibly humble and gentle with me even when I am unkind with myself.  How good You are!  How mighty! Your love overwhelms me in the best of ways.  May I honor You with my obedient choices today, Papa.  Amen.   

Visit Barb Lownsbury and The Dented Fender at FACEBOOK or on INSTAGRAM.  Or, click HERE to order her book Using What’s Broken to Boldly Shine at the DF Store.

Be Brave

By KRISTAN DOOLEY

Moses was dead and the Israelites were trembling. No doubt, Joshua was intimidated. The task before him was great. Not even his famous leader, Moses, had been able to lead these people into the Promised Land. They spent years (40 to be exact) wandering in the wilderness because of their inability to trust in the provision of the almighty God.

Shaking in his sandals, Joshua stood before God, his people and what would become his biggest conquest yet: taking possession of the Promise Land.  Joshua was shouldering an intense amount of pressure in this moment.

Spiritually speaking, the act of taking on new land is no easy task. To go somewhere with God you haven’t been before can be intimidating, scary and confusing. Joshua had followed God right behind Moses for as long as he could remember, but now it was time for him to follow God more closely for himself.

God is faithful to meet us right where we are and give us exactly what we need to move forward, and for that I am most thankful. Leading a new church has put me in over my head.  How do we find a building? How are we supposed to make a mark on the community around us? Now more than ever, I need the Father to show us the way forward. If left up to my own emotions, my faith would waiver and my fear would overtake me. I don’t fully know how we conquer the giants in front of me, and yet I know fully the one who already has.  

Every day, you and I are responsible to stand bravely in front of Him as He boldly reminds us who He is and what He’s prepared for us.  Read the charge God gave young Joshua that day: “Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them.  I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do”  (Joshua 1:2-3,5-6,9).

What would your life look like if every morning you woke to the voice of God whispering that same truth over you? Today you are going on a journey. From the looks of it, it is a hard journey. It may be uncomfortable at times. It may feel costly. You may want to turn back, but, I want you to be strong. I want you to be brave.  Do not be afraid, do not panic, everywhere you set your foot you are stepping on land that I have given to you. What you are looking for is already yours. The roads you travel have already been paved. It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to happen. You just focus on Me, be brave and step out.”

For me, it inspires me to move forward despite the uncertainty.  It helps me to trust when I can’t see the road ahead.  I don’t know what you are up against, but I do know you can put your brave face on because He goes before you. He walks with you. He will never leave you, forsake you, fail you. You are never alone.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  In Deuteronomy 31:8 it says, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”  Faith presents us with an open invitation into an unknown journey. A journey promising mountains and valleys, rainy days and maybe even the occasional tornado, but also one that will blow our minds with overwhelming abundance should we chose to bravely stay the course.

He has something for you, more than you could ever imagine. His plans will blow your mind, but you will need courage. Will you accept His call and start walking forward to take on your new land? Will you stand up and march into the unknown knowing you have an all encompassing, all consuming, all knowing, ever faithful Father that has prepared the way before you?  Where do you need to be brave today? What is one step forward that you can take in this situation? Who is one person you can tell?

PRAYER  Thank you, Father, that you have already won the battle. I don’t have to fear the unknown giants in front of me because You’ve promised to take them down. Stir up in me a spirit of bravery. Stir up in me a spirit of victory. Stir up in me a spirit of faith. Help me to step more firmly into the words of faith You speak over me.  I love You and thank You in advance for strengthening me. Amen.

 

Today is Your Day

BY MARY GEISEN

There is nothing like a “thank you.” Whether the words are spoken or written, this simple acknowledgment goes a long way in making my day. The first time I heard the words “thank you” from my sons, it left me speechless. The sweet blessing of knowing that I was doing something right boosted my confidence. I am learning there are no better words than when another person takes time to recognize the good in you.

Today we celebrate Mother’s Day and I pray you all feel celebrated for who you are and the legacy you are creating in your own life. Sometimes all it takes is a “thank you” to help you on a challenging day. Other times, the presence of those lives you’ve touched are exactly what you need. It doesn’t matter if you have a child of your own. You have the gift to build life into those you meet.

I wear many hats in my life–daughter, sister, mother, Mimi, friend, teacher, and writer. Each one of these is a reminder to me of the beautiful life God has provided. But sometimes you and I think of other titles that can define us that look more like: single parent, divorced, estranged from family, motherless, lonely, unloved. Though I hold the title of divorced single parent, the good news is that my story does not end there. Instead, God showed me that He sees me as a mom of two wonderful sons. A Mimi of a brand new grandson and His daughter. God also sees you as His chosen son or daughter. He loves nothing more than for you to know you are loved and worthy of celebration.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
 Your children hasten back,
and those who laid you waste depart from you. Isaiah 49:15-17

God promises He will never forget you. Your name is engraved on the palm of His Hands. God knows you better than you know yourself. He doesn’t look at the titles you have chosen for yourself. You are known and celebrated by God. I discovered this truth for myself when God redeemed my singleness with the truth that in His eyes it didn’t matter. All that mattered is living my life as a reflection of the One who created me. Today I celebrate you and all those you have touched just because of who you are. I thank God that even when you are not sure if you make a difference, He knows you do. Mother’s Day is a day to remember, reflect, and thank those who have crossed our paths and made a difference. It’s a chance for you to pause to recognize that who you are is a gift to God and all those who know you.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT Who are the people who have loved you well and speak life into you? Take some time to say “thank you” and let them know the difference they have made.  Who are the people you love well and you grace with your wisdom, comfort, and God’s truth? Thank God for them as well and recognize the legacy you are creating in the lives of others.

Remember that Mother’s Day is a day to honor both men and women. God anointed us all to care for others and to be present in the lives of those around us.

PRAYER Father God, I thank you for the gift of all mothers and fathers–spiritual, biological, and all those who work to build into the lives of others. You promise to never forget us and for this I am grateful. On the days I am not sure I am making a difference, you see all that I can’t see happening. When I struggle to remember that, all it takes is one “thank you.”  May I know you believe in who I am and You’re thankful for me.  Wow. I’m humbled and amazed!  May all those who love others well feel celebrated today and every day. You are a gracious and loving God. Amen.

 

You can connect with Mary Geisen in the following places:

Website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

Letting Go of Fear

By SARAH DAVIS

Row 38, seat B. That was my assigned spot on the flight of my worst nightmares. My husband will tell you that I am being dramatic. Maybe. Maybe not.It was a windy day, a turbulent flight and call me crazy, but my idea of fun does not include bouncing around in an airplane up that far from the ground.

It almost sounds like I hate to fly, but that’s not true. I love traveling. I love airports. I love the speed of taking off and seeing the aerial view. It’s just that I only enjoy it when it feels safe and under control.

At one point during the flight, my husband looked at me and asked how it felt not to have any control over the pilot. To not be able to nudge and direct the driver the way I do my spouse when he’s behind the wheel.

Terrible, I thought.  But here’s the reality. Flying is good for me. I like feeling a sense of control, and when it feels removed, it puts to test everything I claim to believe.

I sat at a table the night before attempting to talk one of my son’s away from nosediving over a cliff of fear about this very flight. I looked at him and told him about a time in my life when I was struggling with high anxiety and fear. Frequent trips to my primary care doctor. Frequent trips to the ER. A misdiagnosis of asthma, when in fact I was being ruled by anxiety.

I leaned in and looked at him. “Don’t let fear rule your life. It will stop you from doing the things you want to do.” And I could only speak that truth from a place that I have lived through and learned from.

We live much of our lives under this subconscious illusion of safety. Not that all things are outside of our control, hence the reason there are certain daily practices I have that help me feel safe.

Locking my door.
Wearing my seatbelt.
Trying to eat healthy and organic.
Having my cell phone on me in case of an emergency.

But what I have learned in my moments of feeling like my safety is compromised or I feel a loss of control, crucial parts of my emotional and spiritual development occur.

You see, the pilot knew there was turbulence ahead. He knew how to steward the plane accordingly, and he was not fazed by it. In fact, he came over the intercom and announced that there was a bit of turbulence and that he would get us to our destination safeand sound.

I like those words. I want predictable outcomes. I love feeling a sense of control over my life and my fate.

And in the moments that don’t feel safe and sound, my heart is in the process of being recalibrated to know that my safety is in God alone. He is my shelter.No matter my location or my circumstance. Whether I am in the statistically “safe” part of town or the region labeled dangerous. Whether I am facing health issues or dreading that phone call from the doctor. Whether I am thirty-thousand feet in the air encountering turbulence or with feet planted firmly on the ground.  In those moments, I remember, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2).

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT In walking through my own seasons of worry and anxiety, I have learned that they are often symptoms of something deeper in my heart, like the inability to trust God or doubting His good intentions toward me. In Psalm 23, it says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The future is unknown to me, but not to God. Although I don’t like being taken out of my comfort zone, it is good for me. It stretches me and causes me to assess if I am living my life in self-awareness or God awareness. It leads me back to a place of peace.

What is a way you may struggle with wanting to stay in control?  During those times, reach for prayer.  Reach for scripture.  Remind yourself that God always has you even when you don’t feel it. As you and I wrestle to land in that place of peace, God will grow us in the process. 

PRAYER Father, thank You for being a safe place that I can abide and turn to when my heart is consumed with fear and the unknowns in my life. Remind me in those moments that You can be trusted fully and that You are always with me. “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  May I hold firmly onto Your words of truth and experience the strength it brings. Amen. 

 

Do You Want to Get Well?

By KRISTAN DOOLEY

As Jesus traveled through Jerusalem to attend a Jewish festival he encountered a paralyzed man in need of healing. It was normal for people with a disability to lay near the pool – the blind, lame and paralyzed – because it was believed that when the water was stirred the first one to enter the pool would receive the healing they desperately desired.  This man, in particular, had spent thirty-eight years alongside the pool hoping to, just once, be the first one in.

Jesus saw the man there, sitting in brokenness. Looking deeply into his eyes, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6, NIV.) Without even hesitating the man responded with an excuse. “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else always goes down ahead of me” (John 5:7, NIV.)

Jesus looked intently at him and said, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” (John 5:8, NIV.) At once the man was healed. He no longer needed someone to help him into the pool; he stood before the ultimate healer himself. The healing he searched for didn’t come from the cool water below him; it came from encountering the Jesus in front of him. Jesus was in town; which meant he had everything he needed to be healed right there!

Jesus changed the crippled man’s perspective. He showed him the truth behind the healing he sought.  It wasn’t about what was broken, it was about who was fixing it. The most effective thing I can do in moments of brokenness is stop analyzing what’s wrong with me or my circumstances and make eye contact with whose right. In other words, I need to repent, to turn around and  face a new way. Without repentance, I stay locked in place.

What if I told you Jesus stands behind you, waiting? That what you have been looking for is one turn away? Jesus comes asking, “Do you want to be made well?” Our answers show in our movements.  We answer with what we do. Jesus isn’t looking for a, “yes, but.” He is looking for a change in direction.

“Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do” (Jas. 1:8, NIV).  

Ouch! No way do I ever want to come across as divided between the things of this world and the things of God. My loyalty lies with God, but so often, with my inability to turn to Him when dealing with my brokenness, my loyalty becomes divided.   

Early the other morning I texted my friend Dana, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but I feel heavy inside. Will you please pray for me this afternoon while we are together.”

A few hours later we sat together in a meeting. Once the meeting ended and the room cleared, I confessed what I thought the problem was. “I feel like God has asked me to take every thought captive. I cannot allow the enemy to run rampant with what’s going through my mind about the future and things I cannot control.”

“That sounds right,” she said, “tell me how you are doing that?”

“I’m noticing the direction of my thinking and putting a stop to the thoughts that are not uplifting,” I answered her, “but it’s not going away, the heaviness, it’s still there,” I said with big tears running down my cheeks.

She put her hand on my leg, “I wonder if you are supposed to do a little more than just stop the thoughts.” She kept talking but my mind immediately went somewhere else. That was it! That was exactly what I needed to hear. God was trying to get my attention. He asked me to receive healing concerning my thoughts. I had turned, but I hadn’t turned all the way. I was the crippled man sitting by the pool recognizing healing was available, yet not actively embracing it.  Once again, I chose to look up toward Jesus and healing.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Our Father has an unlimited supply of patience. He is not worn out by our strong will. He stands right behind us, arms out, extending healing. If you aren’t sure, take a minute and notice Him. Stand or sit still, really still. Take a deep breath. Breathe in and breathe out slowly. Do you feel Him? Is He there, right behind you, arms out, extending healing? How is He asking you to respond?  Don’t feel Him? That’s okay, too. Continue to create space to be still and invite His presence in. He promises that those who seek Him, find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).  In time, you will hear His voice, and it will feel like healing and freedom.

PRAYER  Thank You Father for Your presence. Thank You for Your grace, for Your mercy. Thank You that my healing is not too much for You. Help me today to take my eyes away from my limitations and focus instead on Your invitation for healing. Pull me to my feet and move me toward Your mercy.  I love you and I need you. Amen!

 

Mind Full vs. Mindful

By JENNY SEYLAR

It seems that lately I have been running myself ragged in an effort to get everything done. At home and at work, there just seems to be so many irons in the fire: taxes (yep, had to file an extension), work and ministry obligations, spring yard work, home repairs, time with family and friends, and on and on.  The To-Do List seems to be infiltrating my thoughts and occupying much of my time. Because there are so many things clamouring for my attention, it has been difficult to focus on just one idea at a time. Even my quiet time with God in the morning is no longer sacred. The many tasks seem to edge their way into this time which I have set aside for centering my heart and mind for the day ahead.

I have discovered that when I attend to the barrage of thoughts, it only requires a few minutes of attention. Then I can refocus my mind on building my relationship with God.  What helps to refocus when the To-Do List starts ticker-taping through my consciousness is to temporarily stop. I attend to the baggage filling my mind by writing down the items, set them aside, and then return to my quiet time. By doing this I know I won’t forget to do these tasks later, and I will no longer be distracted by them. Once done, my mind that was full is now better equipped to attend to the one task of growing in my devotion with God.

Unfortunately, I have discovered that some of the items that get written on my list are intangible. Occasionally those things creeping into my mind are feelings of worthiness, anxiety about the future, and occasional loneliness. It’s been helpful to set these aside just like the To-Do List items.  Once written on paper, I can spend a more time and energy discovering why I am often plagued by them.

Each day I have been intentionally seeking tangible ways to be in the moment by being mindful. For me, to be mindful includes inviting God in and letting go of all that is not critical to the present moment. One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  To be mindful is to seek ways to be still, and especially to seek God amid the stillness. Recently I read the Psalm 46:10 from Eugene Peterson’s THE MESSAGE. It has a more contemporary spin on the passage: “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at Me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” A mind that is full has difficulty pausing to spend time with God, “above everything” else.  

Even Elijah, a man who was greatly favored by God, could only connect with God when all was quiet. ‘The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.’ (1 Kings 19: 11-12) God was in the whisper. How often do you listen for God’s whisper?

When I turn to God, turning away from distraction, it is then that I am more mindful with the task at hand.  I feel less empty because I am no longer pursuing so many things all at once. I realized that I do not need to be all things to all people.  I just need to be the person God created me to be. God wants me tuned in enough so that I may allow God to guide me. At times that means saying “no” to some things so that I am able to say “yes” to the opportunities that God puts in my path.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  As you explore the many things that fill your mind, take some time to write them down. If the same things get written down day after day, try to discover why that is occurring.  Are there things that you feel obliged to attend to? Might they be the intangible things that can only be addressed at a deeper level inside yourself? What things bring you great joy?  Whatever the reasons they keep entering in and filling your mind, give them some attention, but try to do so one at a time. Seek ways to be mindful toward those things filling your thoughts.  Seek to be fully present by inviting God into your mind so that you might be able to hear God’s gentle whisper talking to your heart.

PRAYER  Lord of Life, there are so many things going on in my mind and life that I don’t feel like I am doing any of them very well. Help me to prioritize my thoughts so that I am better able to order my day, manage my schedule, and keep my mind focused You.  As I explore what brings me joy, help me, Lord, to say yes AND no appropriately as I go forward from here. Guide me to be mindful each day so that I don’t succumb to having such a full mind that I am missing out on the opportunities that You provide. Guide my mind and dwell in my heart. Amen.  

Jenny Seylar serves in ministry at the United methodist Church in Iowa.  As a pastor and youth director, she is passionate about walking with youth, young adults and people of all ages as they journey in their faith.  She believes in creating authentic relationships in order to walk alongside folks wherever they are.  You can read more about Jenny Seylar and her ministry at www.lovelylane.org or her blog “Journey From Despair to Hope” at https://journeyandstrength.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/through-the-lens-of-grief/

 

 

In the Waiting

By SARAH DAVIS

I whispered his name because I couldn’t find any other words. The name I chose for him all those years ago on that cold winter morning of his birth. The name I’ve whispered in moments of tender affection. The name that I’ve been guilty of raising my voice at in exhausted frustration. A name that holds years of sweet memories my heart treasures.

But there I found myself that morning standing in my bathroom, sleep deprived and with tears, snot, and a heart that was bleeding. There is nothing that will wound your heart like when one of your children are hurting. Especially when it’s a hurt that you can’t fix. Gone are the days of a bandaid and a kiss to make the tears stop. It will make your heart feel fragile and with amnesia for all the other difficult things you’ve survived in your life.

So I just whispered his name and offered it up to heaven in helpless surrender. And with his name was an unspoken plea of my heart. “See him… please. Don’t forget this child of mine.”

There’s this story in John, chapter eleven, that I see myself in. It opens with a very sick man and his sisters have sent word to Jesus that, “the one you love so very much is sick.”And yet, Jesus unapologetically arrives on the scene four days too late. Four days in the wake of grief, disappointment, and silence feels eternal. Ninety-six hours of waiting. Five thousand and seven hundred and sixty minutes of a slow ticking clock. Eternal.

Like the smell of antiseptic and lack of color in a hospital waiting room.

Like the silence of the car ride when following a hearse.

Like the chill of winter in your bones when the ground and everything that was once living feels frozen and dead.

It’s agonizing and can’t end soon enough. When you’ve sent for help from the only One who can help, and that help finally arrives, you run out of the house like one of the sisters did to see what’s about to happen, right? No. Not always.

Then the text says this, “Mary remained in the house.”

And that is the part of the story where I see myself. Sitting there in the house with my doubts, confusion, and anger. And so many questions.

Had her faith collapsed? “Four days have passed. This situation is way beyond hope.

Did she feel unseen and alone in her pain? “I called for you, and you dragged your feet in getting here? Do I matter that little to you?” 

Was she raging with bitterness in her heart? “Where were you when I needed you? How could you let this happen if you love us?” 

When I was little, and before I knew heartbreak and shame, I used to play in the creek on my grandparent’s property. It was my spot. Calm and safe. I loved that little creek bed and the shade of the tall trees, the coolness of the water, and rearranging the rocks to make a crossing path. And He saw me there and knew my name. 

When I grew older and gave myself away too young and sought love in the wrong places, He saw me then, and He knew my name. 

When I found myself standing in the ashes of my own wreckage with tragedy and a story I never wanted, He saw me there. He saw me standing in the aftermath with my broken heart and my fists clenched. And He called my name. He asked for me. 

You see, it’s the next part of the story that I love the most. Mary’s sister comes back into the house and whispers in her ear, “Jesus is here, and He is asking for you.” 

He’s here.  For you as you read this. Wherever you find yourself today. In the house with your disbelief and bitterness. In a mess, you’ve made. In that situation in which you feel helpless and hopeless. In the bathroom with you and your brokenness and the prayers you can’t utter.

He’s here, and He’s asking for you. 

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  I have walked through many situations in my life that seemed beyond hope. During agonizing or prolonged situations of waiting, discouragement often sets in and tries to steal our trust in God and our ability to rest in the peace that He gives. Maybe that’s where you find yourself today as you read this. In Micah 7:8 it says, “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” There will be times in  life when it will feel like we are sitting in utter darkness. I have found during those times in my own life, that God always brings light into the darkness as a reminder of His presence with me. It has often been through the voice of a friend or even a stranger. Through some random act of kindness. Lyrics in a song. Or though the promises found in His word. No matter how you may be feeling today, know that God is present in the darkness with you. He is your light and the One you can trust.

PRAYER  Father, thank You for always being present with me and for Your promise to never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). Help me when I go through difficult seasons to be reminded of Your faithfulness to me in the past and to see the ways in which You remind me of Your presence with me.  Help me continue to hold Your hand as I walk forward, confident You have me always.  Thank You.  Amen.  

It Doesn’t Get Any Easier

By KRISTAN DOOLEY

Lets face it, exercise isn’t easy. If I’m pushing myself to the limit and stepping forward into things I couldn’t previously do, hard is a word I mustn’t run from. A burpee will never be something I’m excited about doing, but they will always be something I’m glad I’ve done.

Here’s why I’m okay with hard and why I don’t expect or need it to change. The truth is,  I actually signed up and paid for working out to be hard. I pay for a trainer because I expect to be challenged, pushed to my limits and uncomfortably stretched. I want to burn five hundred calories an hour and sweat right through my shirt. I like the sting of the burn.  I don’t mind a little soreness when I wake up in the morning. I actually feel a tinge of satisfaction with it.

In Corinthians, Paul shows us that he gets this concept as well. He knew pain would bring about better gain. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Even after years of exercise, it’s not easy. I still have to show up,  stay committed and work hard. But from this place of health, I find the strength to continue doing hard things and thus continue to increase my strength and endurance that will ultimately prepare me for even harder things in the future.

The same concept is true for our faith journey. Some live with the hope that one-day faith will be easier. They wait for the moment they no longer have to uncomfortably stretch to reach His invitation into the unknown. And although your faith grows and your ability to activate it will come more quickly over time, there is always going to be an invitation to press into the hard and develop stronger faith muscles. Easy is not a word used often to describe growth.

If faith were easy then it wouldn’t take faith.

Faith is based on being in over your head, and growth is about change. They are basically about risk and challenge, doing things you don’t’ know how to do, believing in what you cannot see, experiencing what you you’ve never known.

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT  Health is not a means to an end.  We don’t do it to arrive somewhere so we can then stop. It’s a lifestyle. If it’s not something we do as a means to an end, then there must be a way to do it in which the hardness of it doesn’t overshadow the goodness from it. Along the way I’ve learned a few things from both the gym and the church. These three things make a significant difference in my ability to keep the faith when tension rises.

First, find good leaders. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith,” (Hebrews 13:7.) Are those you follow leading you in the right direction? Second, find good people.   “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” (Proverbs 27:17.) You become like the people you spend the most time with, so spend time with the people you want to be like. “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19.) A good gym makes all the difference. So does a faith driven, discipleship focused place of worship. You were created to do hard things. The right people and the right places are a key part of the right growth.

PRAYER  Father, thank You that I was created in Your image. Thank You for being my strength builder.  Thank You for developing, growing and stretching me, even when it’s hard. I know it comes from a place of great love. Help me to keep my focus not on what’s hard, but on the good You will achieve from it.  You are always faithful to me, Papa. Thank You! In Jesus’ name, Amen.