Mountainside Chats With God

Mountainside

I met up with a friend tonight. Mostly because another minute home alone was going to do me in. Sometimes my thoughts are too loud and my bedroom walls amplify them, as if that’s possible. That’s what happens when you overthink and re-evaluate every decision you’ve made….well, since you started making your own decisions.

We walked along the aisles of a chain bookstore as she spoke of disappointments and frustrations. The questionings of the mid-thirties mind. I wonder if the world has us going through midlife crises sooner or if this is how it’s happened since the beginning of time. Either way, I remind her she isn’t alone.

And she isn’t. You aren’t, either. We’ve all experienced it. Regardless of age, marital status, job placement or ministry opportunity there comes a time where we wonder if we are doing anything of significance. Are we truly living out are calling? Are we making a difference? Are we just wasting time?

We decided to take a drive up to a place called Harris Hill. Depending on the time of day or night, there’s a variety of activity there. We pass the go-cart track, the old timey children’s rides, the park campgrounds, the museum and reach the lookout. From there you can see the valley wedged between the surrounding hills. It’s dusk which means almost all of the benches and swings are full. All but one, so we settle in to watch the last red sliver of sun go down. The air is cool, surprisingly cool, considering it’s been in the 90’s all day.

Everything is green. Fresh. Alive. Lush. The river weaves in and out of the forestry below. We sit perched taking it all in. It’s beautiful.

“So what do we do now?” She asks.

“Wait just a few more minutes.”

“I mean, about life.”

“I feel like the advice is the same.”

As we look out at His kingdom, we pray. For guidance and wisdom and strength to get through the next few minutes. And then, the next few after that.

After our whispered “Amens” we are reminded of Jesus and how He would often go to the mountainside to pray. He needed those moments to connect with the Father and hear His voice. Those moments recharged Him so He could do what He was called to do– heal the sick, love the unlovely, and disciple a ragtag band of misfits. I can only imagine how tiring it all must of been. Because, I mean, people.

I’m not sure what those mountainside chats between God and Jesus sounded like. Maybe they sounded like the prayers that my friend and I offered. “God, we just want to be faithful to what you’re calling us to do.” I imagine God smiling, both at Jesus and two silly girls on a mountainside, and saying, “I am so pleased with you.”

You see, I’m not sure it’s all about the doing. Sure, I believe we’ve all got a holy calling. Unique callings that ultimately all have the same goal: to bring glory to our Heavenly Father.

So, I guess, the most important thing we can do is continue meeting with God just like Jesus did. Keep asking Him what to do and when to do it and He’ll help us do the things we are supposed to do when we are supposed to do them.

Let’s commit to a few more minutes in His presence. May our mountainside chats with God, wherever they may take place, prepare us for whatever tasks or Heavenly assignments come our way: this week, this month and every day until the day we meet Him face to face.

To God be the glory!

 

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Pressing Through To Jesus

Pressing Through To Jesus

Warning: this may be TMI (too much information) for some people. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve had “the issue of blood” (we all get what that means, right?) basically every day for the last 7 months. Just in case you are worrying, I’m aware of why it’s happening, but at this point it’s just something I have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s annoying, frustrating, sometimes scary and sometimes painful. This week, I was especially frustrated and let out a disgruntled sigh.

“Jesus, why is this happening to me?”

I hadn’t expected a response, but in the middle of my frustration God encouraged me. I was instantly reminded of the story of the woman with the issue of blood found in Mark 5:25-34, which I’ve read probably a hundred times. This morning though, it took on a deeper meaning– not just because I could relate to the woman on a very small scale.

The woman in Mark 5 lived with her sickness for 12 long years. She tried everything she could possibly try in order to get relief. I’m sure she even tried essential oils because a friend on Facebook told her to give it a try. I joke, but this woman was desperate. She visited doctors and tried a variety of procedures and literally spent all the money she had in order to get better. In the end, she only got worse.

Until Jesus.

A desperate woman who had tried everything else pressed through and found her way to Jesus. She knew He was her only hope. In reaching Him, in that very moment, she was healed. Instantly, I might add.

For me, singleness is my “issue”. At times, it can be frustrating, annoying, scary and painful as I try and walk through this journey with faith. I’ve tried everything and still find myself waiting for this season to be over. From dating apps to being set up by friends and waiting for that guy in small group to ask me out to coffee. There are moments I get to the end of myself and pray prayers similar to the one I shared at the beginning of this article.

“Jesus, why is this happening to me?”

His answer, “Press through these circumstances and get to me. I want you to come to me because that is where you will find wholeness.”

It is there, in the presence of Jesus, that we find healing. Healing from a break-up or healing from the heartache of not having been on a date in years. Maybe your healing isn’t connected to your relationship status– maybe it has to do with an attitude you have towards someone or that every day you wake up feeling anxious and overwhelmed.

All I know is whatever we need, can be found in the presence of Jesus. In that area where you need healing, press through to Jesus. He wants us to come to Him. He loves it when we do because it’s admitting our need for Him. And I don’t know if you need the reminder, but you do NEED Him.

My encouragement to you: Press through. Don’t let people, diagnoses, hurdles or difficulty get in your way. Get into Jesus’ presence and it’s there I know He’ll do a miracle for you!

 

 

When Holidays hurt.

when holidays hurt

Holidays don’t summon happy memories for some people.

No matter how many happy moments have tried to crowd the painful ones, the painful ones still remain. Sometimes these memories are hidden in the dark corners of our hearts where only a few have been allowed in.

As much as we don’t want our past to effect our present, we struggle to forget. Believe me, we wish we could. We long to forget. Instead, we do our very best to celebrate with those who are celebrating.

But what about grieving with those who grieve?

It’s a toss up, I’ll be honest. It’s not that I want people to be miserable. Hell, I don’t want to be miserable. I want to be celebrating with everyone else– wearing red and green flare, singing Christmas carols and giving off that Holly Jolly vibe. Ok, maybe not that much Christmas spirit.

Instead, I feel like I’m in a hole. I can see the colored lights, hear the singing and smell the homemade cookies, but all around me is dark and lonely.

Lonely.

I’m not lonely because I am alone. In fact, I am not alone at all. I have some of the most amazing family and friends around me. You can’t fix an internal problem externally, though. As much as those closest to me shower me with love, my heart still hurts.

On December 4th, I had given up. I texted my best friend and told her how badly I wished for this dumb holiday to be over already. All I wanted was to get through it in one piece. I was a broken, weepy mess.

As she tends to do (thankfully) my bestie brought it back to Jesus.

“I just want to enjoy Him,” she confessed.

::sigh:: Me too.

It would mean I’d have to turn my eyes from my grief to someone else. Someone much more beautiful than all the pain and hurt.

So, I decided to do something I had never done before. I decided to celebrate Advent.

christmas

Since then, I’ve been reading portions of Scripture that talk about the birth of Christ. The reading isn’t super in-depth, a verse or two in length making it easy to follow through on daily. I made a similar calendar for my best friend, too, so we could share the experience. Just the thought that at any minute she could ask me if I’ve done my reading is enough motivation (…guilt…) to keep me on task.

Confession time….I’m still sad. I’m still hurting. I still feel like I’m in a hole. Some days, it feels unbearable.

What gives, Jesus?! I thought if I did the Christian thing that I’d get my happy shot and be good to go until Christmas. That all of a sudden my frown would be turned upside down and I’d be walking around with a smile plastered across my face. Instead of choking back tears anytime someone asks me “How are you doing?”

Maybe you’re like me and you’re hurting, too. I don’t know your story or the reasons why you’re hurting. I won’t pretend to have any answers. All I can do is tell you what I’ve decided to focus on despite the pain.

His name is Immanuel, which means God WITH us. That simple, but profound truth is the hallmark of my days. The powerful reminder that He is:

With us in the pain.

With us in the tears.

With us in the brokenness. The anger. The grief.

The nights I have fallen asleep with tear stained cheeks, He’s been there.

The days where I can barely respond to a text message asking how I am, He’s been there.

The days when my little girl heart was crushed, He was there.

And He’s there with you too. In all of your loneliness, in all of your unpleasant memories, in all of the questioning He’s there. I know you may not feel Him. I know you may not hear Him. But I pray that you would. That in this holiday season, you would experience Jesus…IMMANUEL…in a deeper, more real way than you ever have before.

My Modern Day Miracles

mochaloca

One Sunday after church, I decided to stop by a store to check the Clearance racks for some items friends mentioned needing. Girls, you know how those conversations go: “Hey, next time you’re out, will you see if you can find such-and-such for cheap?” It’s like a fun scavenger hunt to find the best deal. My mom has taught me well. She’s perfected this game, knowing what days certain stores do their discounts and where they’re located in the store. She could teach classes. She’s a pro.

This particular Sunday, I was feeling down. Getting dressed for church that morning, nothing seemed to fit right. My bed held the clothing casualties from my rapid search for something to wear. It was awful. Knowing I’d never be pleased, I decided on the last outfit I had tried on and resigned myself to the fact that it would just have to do.

While I was at the store, I decided to quickly browse the new dresses that had come in for the new season. I love dresses. There’s something about a dress cut in at all the right places that makes you feel feminine and beautiful without trying too hard. That’s the beauty of dresses– one piece and “Voila!” you’re ready to go!

There’s one dress that I’ve been searching for that I hadn’t found yet. I’d been looking for a dress that had lacy half sleeves. I saw one on Pinterest and had the image stuck in my head. Every time I was at the store I’d look for one like it. I hadn’t found it. Until that day.

It immediately caught my attention. There it was– the perfect dress– hanging on the wall. Everything I had wanted. Everything except for the price. Also like my mother, I’m an immediate check-the-tag shopper and never buy anything full price. Buying something at full price is a luxury that I cannot afford. And this dress would safely be filed under the “could not afford” category. The only dresses that I had spent that kind of money on was bridesmaid dresses.

But it was so lovely. So, like a little girl, I decided to play dress up. I knew I couldn’t buy the dress, but I could at least try it on and enjoy it for a few minutes.

Part of me hoped it wouldn’t fit or that it would look horrible on me. Sometimes that happens. You see something that looks amazing on a hanger, but you try it on and you’re sure that a brown bag would look more flattering.

If there are guys still reading this–please, stay with me. There’s something here for you, I promise.

I tried it on and it was….perfect. I loved it. The green of the dress made the color of my eyes stand out. The lace sleeves were the exact length they should be, which is usually a problem for my 5′ tall frame. It cut in at the smallest part of my waist–win! I examined myself in the full length mirror and I didn’t feel disgusted. So, I snapped a few pictures because that’s what we do now, right?

dress

As I put the dress back on the hanger and then back on the rack I thought to myself again: “It’s just so lovely.”

At home, I was sharing with a few girlfriends about the dress and how beautiful I felt in it. I showed them my mirror selfie and they agreed that it was indeed the perfect color and cut and that I looked amazing in it. One friend in particular, saw the picture and immediately knew she needed to buy me that dress. I told her that I didn’t expect her to do that– to spend that type of money on me– for a dress! But she said, God laid it on her heart to do it and who am I to refuse such an offer!

This past year, I’ve seen some huge unexpected expenses come in– from my emergency 6-day hospital visit this time last year or the car maintenance that drained my savings account this month so I could get it to pass the New York State inspection. It seemed like the moment I got over one mountain, I’d take a giant sigh of relief and there’d be a new issue to deal with.

This past year, I’ve also seen the many ways God was taking care of me– from free laundry detergent, free pie, free dish soap, car bills paid, free flowers, a free laptop and now a dress. A dress I don’t NEED, but that I wanted.

God isn’t just concerned about your NEEDS, but He cares about your desires. Even the unspoken desires. Even the things you haven’t dared to tell anyone you wanted. I don’t know about you, but that’s a beautifully humbling thought.

Sometimes, we have this idea that we are lost in the multitudes, but then God does this amazing miracle and our eyes are open to the fact that He hasn’t been blind to our yearnings. Maybe that’s how the woman with the issue of blood felt (Luke 8:43-48). There was a multitude of people surrounding Jesus. It was loud and chaotic. And there she was an outcast of the Jewish society because of her ailment. She was hoping to stay unnoticed, not asking for prayer, but just simply touching His garment and then heading on her way.

But Jesus noticed.

The moment she touched Him, He knew it. The Bible says, He felt the power leave His body and she was immediately healed. He looked at the crowd and asked who it was that touched him. His disciples laughed– “Uhhhh, errybody, Jesus. Don’t you see them pushing and shoving and trying to be close to you?” He wouldn’t let it go.

I’m sure the woman didn’t want to be pointed out, but I can only imagine how hard her heart must have been beating. How intense the encounter had been for her. How real. I wonder if He looked her in the eyes with a knowing glance and if it was in that look that she felt the comfort to come forward and admit it was her who touched Him. No longer just another bystander in the crowd, but a receptor of a miracle.

I don’t know your needs and wants, friend. I haven’t heard the whispered longings of your heart, but He has. And those whispers, those prayers have not fallen on deaf ears. God notices you. Even more than that, He loves you. Deeply. Intimately. Knowingly.

He shows us His love in so many ways– as a reminder that He’s aware. That He is very much present.

As I shared this story with a friend over lunch this week she said, “It sounds like God is just bringing you closer to Himself.” And that’s what all of this boils down to. Every gift. Every blessing. Every encouragement. Every struggle. Yes, every pain, has been there to bring me close to His heart.

He’s there– I’ve just got to reach out and grab Him.

Lies We Believe About Singleness & Book GIVEAWAY

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Singleness is hard.

The struggle takes place in our mind with the same question on repeat, “Why am I single?” I have this list I’ve started with reasons that could try and explain why I’m 30 and still single. Most of them are just silly. For example, I’m still single because I don’t make my bed every morning or because frequently I’ll start a conversation with, “Ya know what I heard on the NPR today?”

There are some reasons floating around in this head of mine, though, that are a lot less funny. Like maybe I’m not beautiful enough for a man to love me or maybe I’m too much of a mess. I mean, there’s got to be a reason and I’m assuming that must mean there’s a problem with me.

When I think these thoughts– these lies– I text a friend for encouragement or open up my Bible and start inserting Truth into my mind to combat those lies.

And reading Allison Flexer’s book, Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman is the perfect mix of those two things. It’s like I’m sitting down with a close friend over a cup of coffee and she’s listening to me spout off the things I’ve been thinking about concerning my singleness. She hears the hurt, the loneliness, and the lies. The lies that tell me that I’m unlovable and unworthy of love. The lies that tell me that I need to settle because if I don’t I’ll die alone. The lies that tell me that life is in some kind of circling pattern until I get married.

Like any good friend, Allison reminds me where my value truly comes from– that it’s not wrapped up in a man (even a bearded, flannel-wearing man). In her book, she discusses 10 common lies that we can struggle with in singleness. Each chapter brings the Truth to the lie and backs it up with Scripture. We all need reminders of the Truth found in her book.

A WORD FROM ALLISON: I started writing Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman when I was 33 years old and very much single. Having just quit my corporate job, I was dealing with a lot of emotions regarding self-worth and my identity. As I wrote, God began to reveal lies I believed and the negative effect that deception had on my life. As I filled my life with God’s healing truth, I wanted to share it with other single women. I’m so passionate about single women believing they are valuable and loved and beautiful. For all of the single women reading this: There is nothing wrong with you. Your marital status doesn’t define your value nor does it make you second class. God delights in you, and He’s the one who can satisfy your deep longings to be fully known and loved.

GIVEWAY ALERT  And because I’ve been encouraged by this book and the truths found inside: I’d like to give you a copy. Well, not all of you, but ONE lucky person. In order to be entered into the random drawing, please share this blog post on FB (there’s that super easy share button at the bottom of the post) and then leave me a comment below. That part is important, because if you win I’ll need to know how to contact you! The drawing will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 15th, 2014!

If you’d like more information on Allison, please check out her bio below.

flexerAllison K. Flexer is an author, speaker, and blogger who is passionate about communicating the love of God to others. Her first book, Truth, Lies, and the Single Woman (Beacon Hill Press), tells the story of her single journey and gives practical steps for letting go of the lies that destroy the joy and confidence of unmarried women. Allison was also a contributing writer for Fulfilled: The NIV Devotional Bible for the Single Woman. You can connect with Allison on her website at www.allisonflexer.com or on Twitter: @allisonkflex.

Use What You’ve Got

Use What

It seems like everybody is asking these questions:

What are my dreams?

What is my calling?

What am I meant to do in life?

You know you’ve asked them. Don’t deny it. In bed at night, unable to sleep, you wonder if you’re doing what you were made to do. Or maybe you’ve been sitting around a table drinking coffee with friends and someone asks the “If you could do anything, what would it be” question, which always leaves me wanting to put my head through the wall. It’s such a HUGE question.

Geez. I don’t know. Most days I struggle picking out what I want to wear to work.

I mean, if it were up to me, I’d have married my bearded lumberjack and have had babies by now–to be a wife and a mom. That was….is….my dream.

There’s more than that though. And I know it. There’s these passions in my heart that up until a year ago, I hadn’t even dared to pursue because of fear. Like this blog, for example.

I started writing when I was a teenager. I didn’t have a traditional diary, but a “Jesus Journal” as I called it. Each entry begins, “Dear Jesus,” and I share what’s on my heart. The struggles and endless “why…” questions. I wasn’t always super deep. I told Jesus about the boy I was in love with (that week) and how I wanted to know if he was “the one”. Or how I was mad at my friend for inviting my sister over and not me. I’d say my notes have matured with age, but I’m just using bigger words now.

Then, in 2008, I felt like I was supposed to go back to college and get my BA in Writing. I had already graduated from Bible school and had been working as a full time youth leader and had no intentions of going back to school. God had other plans. He wasn’t just calling me to go back to college to get a degree, but to rekindle the calling He had on my life.

I was meant to write.

Let me back up to three years earlier. I was in my Senior year of Bible school and as is the tradition there, our teachers pray for us before we graduate. When it was my turn, the person praying mentioned the scripture Ezekiel 37 in regards to my calling. The story behind Ezekiel 37 is pretty amazing– I’ll give you the Holly notes version. Basically, there’s a prophet named Ezekiel and God brings him to a valley full of bones. The bones are dry and lifeless and God asks Ezekiel if the bones can be brought to life.

Ezekiel’s a smart guy. His response to God is brilliant, in my opinion, “Only you know that God.”

Ya. You got that right.

So, God tells Ezekiel to speak breath to the bones and he does. And there, in that valley of death, God causes the bones to grow ligaments and muscles and skin and they become living, breathing bodies! In verse 10, these once lifeless bones are now called an exceeding army.

What’s this got to do with me and writing?

You see, God hasn’t called me just to write. He’s called me to speak life to weary bones. Weary bones that are just trying to make it through the day and aren’t seeing any hope. Bones that are grieving over loses or unfulfilled dreams. Bones that have been bruised and hurt (including those hurt by Christians). Bones that feel unlovable and unworthy.

When God asked me to write, He asked me: “Holly, do you believe I can use your words to bring life to people?”

And all I knew to say was, “God, only you can know that.”

I know some of you may be thinking that you don’t have what it takes to fulfill the dreams and calling God has on your life. Maybe you feel deficient in some way and you tell yourself you’ll pursue it once you get a little more training or schooling. Or once your kids are grown. Or when you’ve got more money or more time.

Let me give you one more Bible story to help you with all those excuses.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read the story of little David and big bad Goliath. Goliath was a monster of a man and caused grown men to crap their pants in fear. For 40 days, this mammoth would stand before the Israelite army and insult God and would dare any man to come fight him one-on-one. The winner would take all. Literally.

David was not a part of the army, but was just a little shepherd boy bringing his brothers (who were in the army) food. While there, David heard Goliath’s rant, and saw no one was doing anything. David wouldn’t stand by and do nothing and goes to King Saul and volunteers to fight the giant. King Saul allows him, and tries to give him his armor.

The problem is, Saul’s armor doesn’t fit David. It wasn’t made for him.

Instead, David goes out to battle without armor and the only tool he knows how to use– a simple sling and a few stones he’s picked up along the way.

To everyone watching, the scene must have appeared ridiculous. David killed that giant though. And he did it using the skills God had given him. God always anoints the gifts He gives. 

So, I ask you: What has God given you that He’s asking you to use? What is YOUR sling?

For me, it’s my words. I may feel like a punk kid among veterans, but I’m going to be faithful to go out and use what God gave me. I’m confident if I’m obedient to do that then He will bring victory upon victory. I believe that for you, too.

Fake Smiles: How to Be a Good Christian

fake smiles

My face is fairly readable. If I’m angry, you know. If I’m excited, you know. If I’m sad, you know.

For a long time, I was ashamed of that. Don’t good Christian girls keep smiles plastered on their faces all the time regardless of how they feel? I thought that a frozen smile was a mark of self discipline or self control. You may be wondering where I got that–I have a pretty good idea.

When I was a little girl, my grandma would drive me to church with her. I’d spend Saturday night at her house so I was up and ready to leave on time. I’m not sure why that mattered though because she was always the one causing us to be late Sunday after Sunday. In the car, I’d sit silently in the front seat trying to gather my muddled morning thoughts. I hadn’t started drinking coffee yet, so my wake-up time was a bit longer than it is now.

My grandma, on the other hand, is a ray of freakin’ sunshine in the morning. She’s singing along to the Psalty’s sing-a-long cassette tape and I’m zoned out staring out the car window. Each Sunday, she’d turn to me and ask why I wasn’t smiling. She’s never wait for a response, but would immediately proceed with the Sunday school jingle: “Jesus takes a frown and turns it upside down and whooooooops! There comes a smile.”

This didn’t make me smile.

Actually, it pissed me off.

The thing was, I was never intentionally frowning…well, until she sang that song. Then, I was frowning with (what I thought was) good reason.

My grandma didn’t have an easy life. She married young and not very long into her marriage, her husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years, she’d watch him deteriorate from being a tall, strong man to someone who needed help with normal everyday functions. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to carry the financial load of her family, raise her three children and take care of her sick husband, but my grandma always did it with a steadfast faith. I don’t ever remember hearing her complain about how hard it was. Never saw her cry a tear over her difficult life. All I ever saw was a woman who praised Jesus– even early in the morning.

This godly woman was an amazing example to me growing up. That example, albeit it a good one, caused me to believe some things that were unattainable for me.

I believed that a godly woman should smile even when she was hurt or sad.

I believed that being “emotional” was a sign of a lack of discipline.

I believed that being loud wasn’t lady like.

The problem was….or rather is… that I don’t smile all the time. My face shows a range of emotions and as much as I’d like to hide those emotions, my face refuses to co-operate. I am emotional and passionate no matter if its a game of Uno with friends (that’s never friendly) or directing a kid’s summer camp. I’m all in all the time. And I’m loud. My laugh fills up a room and my volume button is usually pretty high. All of those things are me. And if that is the case, if they are my qualities, then I believed I was flawed and I’d never be a good Christian woman.

My thoughts about what a good Christian was supposed to look like was wrong.

Jesus never asked me to be fake or pretend I was feeling OK even when I wasn’t. Jesus never told me to quiet down or to stop being so emotional. Actually, He’s pretty happy with me just the way I am. Not to say that I’m perfect because we all know that I’m not, but to embrace the person God made me to be.

Do you want to know what I think the “formula” is to be a good Christian?

BE WHO GOD MADE YOU TO BE.

No three point sermon to spiritual perfection here. Just one amazing Truth that could bring freedom in your life because you’d no longer be bound by trying to be someone you’re not, but enjoying the perks of being yourself. There’s no shame in that.