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!

 

 

My Beautiful Year

Untitled design

I’m not usually the type of person who comes up with themes/motto/words for the New Year. Actually, I was always kinda judgy when I’d hear people talking about their theme words: Ignite, Pause, Empower, etc. The list goes on and the options are endless. Pick a word out of a hat and boom you’ve got a theme. Or, if you could use more help, there are websites for this kinda thing. I’m not even kidding.

I’m not sure why I hated the idea of a theme for the year. Possibly because for many years my unspoken theme word was “survive”. I just wanted to get through the minutes, the days and the year. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent my days just trying to get to the next one. From one big event (or chaos) to the next and the painful, life-less cycle continued on.

Looking back, my heart is grieved that I allowed myself to have that kind of outlook on life. I understand why I did it though. Life is hard and when life gets hard, some of us turn on survival mode and hope for the best. The problem with that is when we’re consumed with simply surviving we miss out on the things that make this life enjoyable.

I had no intention of 2016 being any different, but frustration has the potential to propel you into action. The only thing I knew to do was pray and ask God to help me. I couldn’t go through the motions of another year with the same crappy outlook and attitude. So, I prayed.

“God, I need a miracle.”

That’s my go-to prayer when I have no idea what to pray. I feel like it sums things up pretty effectively and gives Him the freedom to do whatever it is that He wants to do. I’m smart enough to know I don’t have all the answers on how a situation should or could be fixed and praying that kind of simple prayer keeps things in perspective. I need God to do something…I can’t do this alone.

His answer was pretty surprising and it seemed too easy: “Find beauty every day.”

Uh, ok. You got it boss.

Because I’m a writer I decided it’d help me if I wrote down the beauty I saw each day. If nothing else, it’d be a way to stay consistent. I tend to keep up with things that involve a check list of some kind.

Write about something beautiful I saw today. CHECK.

In the beginning, there were times I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find something beautiful. I’m now 3-months in and I can assure you there hasn’t been a day that has gone by where I didn’t see some kind of beauty. Admittedly, beauty sometimes came in unexpected places like the day that was heavily clouded with grief. Even on that day, God showed me beauty. It was in that moment that I was convinced that God was giving me my miracle.

A life that was once centered on survival was much lovelier than before. Had anything really changed? No. The only thing that changed was my perspective. I could walk out this life seeing only all the pain, frustration, circumstances and trials or I could allow God to show me the beauty despite all of those things.

Life is still hard, but now it’s also beautiful.

The beauty has come in a variety of forms and from a variety of places. Some days the beauty was found in the faithfulness of a friend who was willing to pray for me before I went into work. Other days, I saw beauty in the loving glances of a little girl who had crawled up in my lap. It’s not always big and dramatic. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cup of coffee and the ability to take a nap after two overnight shifts in a row.

Let me encourage you in this: look for beauty. You don’t have to start a journal like me or write a blog post about it (again, guilty!), but train yourself to look with a different perspective. One that isn’t blind to the pain, but is discerning enough to see there’s more than that. It’s a diamond worth mining. You’ll be surprised the treasures you’ll find.

If you decide to do this, I want to hear about the beauty you find. Tell me about it either in the comments below or by using #MyBeautifulYear on social media! Even if it’s months or years from now because it’s just as encouraging to hear about the beauty others are finding too!

 

My Story of Redemption

There are memories that get etched onto our brain or our hearts and they stay there forever. Sometimes the memories are beautiful and sometimes the memories are ugly, but regardless they remain and are a part of your story.

Then there are times when an ugly memory is made beautiful. God takes a past hurt, or difficult circumstance, and uses it to make something much more beautiful than you could ever imagine. It’s in these such moments where I see the redemptive work of God in my life up close. I don’t think I would have believed it unless I saw it myself. I’m stubborn that way.

Let me start at the beginning: the ugly memory.

Growing up, until the age of 13, I lived in a home that didn’t feel safe. My step-dad was a raging alcoholic with a temper. My mother had her own addictions to deal with and anger problems stemming from a variety of sources including being married to an abusive alcoholic. Home was a battle ground as much as I’d do my best to tippy toe around the landmines, but it was only a matter of time until one was set off. I wasn’t sure when the explosion would happen…only that it would happen.

One of my earliest memories is of me running barefoot to my next door neighbors house late at night asking them to call the police. There were many, many nights like this.

At a very young age, my grandma started taking me to Sunday school and I learned how to pray. I was confident God heard my prayers, so each night I’d pray and ask Him to keep me safe. Many nights, I’d ask Him for a new family, which He ended up giving me. A family that would keep me safe and love me unconditionally. A family that would make me their own.

Even with my new family my nightly routine didn’t change much. I’d still talk to God while I was in bed and ask Him things like, “God, how can you make anything good out of my life?” For a long time, I struggled with that question (and still do). It seemed like maybe I just had to deal with the fact that my childhood was hard but that was the past and it would remain this ugly part of my story.

Everything I knew about God told me that wasn’t how He operated though. He is a God who redeems. He takes old things and makes them new. He takes broken people and makes them whole. He takes the lonely and gives them a family.

I wanted God to bring redemption to my story. 

This past week I served at a children’s camp where 111 kids got to experience the love of Jesus in a powerful way. If that wasn’t good enough, and it would have been, it was there where I saw God’s redemption first hand.

What I didn’t tell you is that at the age of 8, I started attending this very same camp as a camper. It was at this camp that I experienced Jesus and learned about Him and honestly just fell in love with Him. I remember responding to altar calls and having my counselor pray for me. I remember feeling the love of God around me like a warm blanket. I remember hearing His voice and knowing that He was going to take care of me….even if it meant living in a place that felt like hell.

Now 23 years later, I’m standing at the very same altar. There’s a line of children in front of me who are asking for prayer. As each one comes forward I ask them what they’d like prayer for and each one confesses a need and then we pray. It’s a powerful time that’s hard to put into words, because you see the depth of their faith and it’s overwhelming and inspiring.

As I’m praying, one little girls comes up to me for prayer and when I ask her what she needs prayer for she looks at me intently and says, “I’m afraid when I’m home. My parents fight.” My heart freezes for a moment and it’s as if I’m looking into little 8-year old Holly’s eyes. I see the fear and feel it deep down in my soul. I remember it vividly.

So, I do all that I know how to do and I pray. I pray desperately as the little girl wraps her fingers around my hands tightly. My heart aches as I pray and the tears trickle down my cheeks. There is sadness, but there is also hope.

If God could bring me peace in the midst of my chaos, God can certainly do the same for this little girl.

It was there in that moment where I heard God whisper, “I brought her to you because I knew you’d understand. You would have the words she needed to hear.” My story that had looked so ugly now looks more beautiful because God was able to use it to bring hope, and Light and peace to someone else.

That is my story of redemption. 

If you’re reading this, and you feel led, please pray for this little girl. I believe one day, she’ll be the one standing at the front of an altar praying for children who are afraid and in that moment she’ll see God redeeming her story as well.

May you be reminded that God is in the redemption business– for her, for me and for you.

Why We Suffer

Why We Suffer

We live in a world that pursues pleasure. We are looking to “get rich quick”, “lose 10 pounds by Friday” and “live our best lives now”. We want to do what feels good and makes us happy and we want to do it NOW. Anything that hurts or is difficult is avoided at all costs. If there is time or commitment or cost involved we shy away thinking there has to be an easier way. This is nothing new. It’s been happening since the very beginning.

I think that’s been part of my struggle in the harder seasons. Don’t I deserve to be happy? Why can’t things be easy for once? I question and I cry and I wonder where I’ve gone wrong or why God is punishing me.

Woe is me!

I’m getting dramatic, but that’s how I feel in the midst of it all. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. And I don’t like it. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever *like* it. In this difficulty though I believe I’ve found some clarity on why we suffer. It isn’t because God hates us and wants us to hurt. It isn’t because we are screwing up (although that can be the case). It’s because He loves us.

What?!?! I know what you’re thinking. That’s crazy talk. I must have lost my mind. No, I’m not doing drugs and I haven’t been drinking (I know you asked yourself that).

God knows that suffering has the opportunity to produce something good in our lives and because He loves us and wants the best for us He let’s us walk through it. What good could it possibly produce? I’m glad you asked!

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

It produces endurance and character and HOPE. And I need hope.

In the midst of the pain it’s hard to remember that something good can come from all of this. Recently, a friend shared with me this expert from the Streams in the Desert devotional and it was a powerful reminder to me that this process is necessary and the results are beautiful.

“Several years ago there was found in an African mine the most magnificent diamond in the world’s history. It was presented to the King of England to blaze in his crown of state. The King sent it to Amsterdam to be cut. It was put into the hands of an expert lapidary. And what do you suppose he did with it?

He took the gem of priceless value, and cut a notch in it. Then he struck it a hard blow with his instrument, and lo! the superb jewel lay in his hand cleft in twain. What recklessness! What wastefulness! What criminal carelessness!

Not so. For days and weeks that blow had been studied and planned. Drawings and models had been made of the gem. Its quality, its defects, its lines of cleavage had all been studied with minutest care. The man to whom it was committed was one of the most skillful lapidaries in the world.

Do you say that blow was a mistake? Nay. It was the climax of the lapidary’s skill. When he struck that blow, he did the one thing which would bring that gem to its most perfect shapeliness, radiance, and jewelled splendor. That blow which seemed to ruin the superb precious stone was, in fact, its perfect redemption. For, from those two halves were wrought the two magnificent gems which the skilled eye of the lapidary saw hidden in the rough, uncut stone as it came from the mine.

So, sometimes, God lets a stinging blow fall upon your life. The blood spurts. The nerves wince. The soul cries out in agony. The blow seems to you an apalling mistake. But it is not, for you are the most priceless jewel in the world to God. And He is the most skilled lapidary in the universe.

Some day you are to blaze in the diadem of the King. As you lie in His hand now He knows just how to deal with you. Not a blow will be permitted to fall upon your shrinking soul but that the love of God permits it, and works out from its depths, blessing and spiritual enrichment unseen, and unthought of by you.” (Streams in the Desert, J.H. McC.)

I believe and trust that God is taking all of these moments– the moments filled with tears and questioning and pain– and using it to do a deep work inside of me. The answer to why we suffer isn’t easy. It’s not easy to hear that suffering is for our benefit, but we can be confident that it will produce an unfathomable strength and beauty in us.

As always, if you are in need of encouragement or prayer please let me know by leaving a comment below. It would be my honor to do that for you! You aren’t alone.

His Glory: Hope for the Hurting

WORLD NEWS

The world is a place full of people who are suffering. All you need to do is listen to the radio or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed to hear about another tragedy. There’s famine, disease, terrorism, even acts of nature ripping through cities, regions and nations. Destroying families. Hurting individuals.

We (you, me, us) all go through seasons of suffering. Seasons. Plural. For some people it may feel as though you get through one and walk right into another.

We all experience it from time to time. It can include portions of our childhood. Or those painful high school years. Maybe it was after the death of a loved one. Or during the sickness of a friend. Maybe you couldn’t even pin point why things hurt so bad– all you knew is that you hurt.

You aren’t alone. That’s one of the most important truths when going through suffering. There are other people out there who feel or have felt like you do right now. We can fall into this trap that tells us no one understands, but that’s a lie. A lie to keep us alone. Even more than that though there are people out there who are for you. They care about you. They may not have been through the same exact circumstances you are walking through, but they can understand pain. They also know how to pray….and make brownies. Both of which I’ve found are helpful and necessary.

In the midst of pain it’s important to keep people around us. We’ll want to isolate and keep to ourselves. We tell ourselves its to shield others from our misery, but honestly we just want to be left alone to pout. That’s what I’ve done at least. I’ve stopped replying to text messages, stopped answering phone calls and hidden away in my room for days at a time to sulk. Those were dark times, times I could have/should have chosen to cling to community instead.

God placed us in community for a reason. We need each other when it feels like the world is closing in. We need people to speak truth to our hearts and our souls because we’ve somehow lost the words. Pain will try and silence you, but your community will be your voice.

In this most recent season I’ve had a bit of a revelation of my suffering and it’s this:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)

There is a glory that will outshine all of this suffering. Our suffering won’t even be a distant memory, but will vanish in comparison. That’s where I’m choosing to fix my attention. Because He deserves my attention. He deserves my affection…even when I’m hurting. And when I choose to look at Him, instead of my pain, I’m reminded of all that.

I know what it feels like when I focus on my pain. It doesn’t ease the hurt, but magnifies it. It becomes the only thing I think about consuming all of my thoughts. That type of thinking sends us down a very dark pit. A pit full of despair and hopelessness.

Does it take away our current heartache? No. Will there still be suffering? Yes. I’m not wanting to belittle the pain. The pain is real. It does hurt. But there’s more for us. Something better in the midst of this or despite it all. It is the hope of His glory. (Col. 1:27)

If you need some encouragement or some words of Truth spoken to your heart, please comment and let me know. I know what it’s like to need words…and for those words to come from others. It’d be my honor and my joy to do that…and to remind you that you are not alone. 

Praying for Blue Skies

Praying for Blue Skies

I’ve been doing a lot of praying for blue skies.

Winter seems to be lingering in Upstate New York. The air has a bitter bite to it’s blow and the grey clouds mask the sun entirely. Everyone is sick of the dreariness, myself included. I’m counting down the days to a fresh pedicure and flip flop season.

The blue skies I’m praying for aren’t merely physical. 

It’s been hard to get out of bed lately. The snooze button has become my morning companion and my mental math has greatly improved. I can barely form comprehensible sentences in the morning (ask any of my previous roommates), but I can add 9-minutes to the current time in a jiffy. And I’m not just talking about hitting the snooze once or twice, but for an hour. AN HOUR.

The lack of motivation goes far beyond just getting out of bed. It has bled into every (if not all) areas of my life. Including writing. Every time I sit down to write I feel like I’ve gone dry….as if the last article I wrote would be the last article I’d ever write. It’s been as if there’s just nothing left to say. Maybe I’m not really a writer, but I’ve been living on some borrowed grace.

So, it’s had me wondering, “Can someone go through a mid-life crisis at 31?”

I was sitting at my desk typing late one night, when I looked down at my hands and noticed a spot that I had never seen before. It could have been the poor lighting, or the fact that my eyes were tired (isn’t that an old person excuse?!), but I could definitely see a spot. An age spot. I had already been noticing some grey strands trying to hide between my blonde locks. In an attempt to hide them, I decided to make a slight change in where my hair parted. No one else can see them, but I can hear them laughing maniacally and calling out, “I’ll get you my pretty!” like the Wicked Witch of the West.

At a recent family dinner, I was struck by how mature my 14-year old niece was looking. She was wearing long dangly earrings and there was a faint shimmer on her cheeks. Make-up was once used for dress-up and now she’s using it for real. Like for real. What happened to her holding me hostage on the couch to read…and then re-read…every Berenstain Bear book she owned?

Then, talking to my mom that same night, I remembered this year marks 10 years since I graduated from college. That might have been the final straw.

From my lack of motivation to the intense sadness at realizing I’m getting older to feeling like I’m always going to be in this rut– all I’m seeing right now is cloudy skies. I’ve been praying and crying and praying some more begging God for some relief. While running some errands this week, I started praying again. As I drove, there were grey clouds ahead of me and grey clouds in my rear view mirror. I was surrounded.

Passing an airport, I noticed an airplane taking off and I began remembering the different times I had flown. Each time, the same thing happened. Eventually, we’d get above the clouds and above the clouds there was sunshine. Glorious sunshine. On the ground, the clouds may have shielded the sun from me, but once above them there was nothing hindering my sight.

Here below, it may look like there’s no sun at all. Miles in every direction you may see nothing, but clouds, but I can assure you there is still a sun. It shines big and bright and warm. It’s everything you remember it to be and more.

Just keep climbing. Don’t level off at a lower altitude before you’ve broken through the clouds.

I know things are hard right now, but this is all temporary. Your current struggles are your future victories, but (as much as you want to) you can’t give up. You’ve got to hold on to Hope as a lifeline– constantly pointing your face towards the sky for the moment that the break in the clouds finally comes.

But for now, as we stare at the clouds, this is my prayer for you and me (taken from Numbers 6:24-26): The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.