Paralyzed in Fear or Reenergized in Faith- A Reminder and Charge to Followers of Jesus

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In light of the news coming out of Texas yesterday and this morning, I wrote these words to my sisters at Centerpoint Sisterhood but I feel they are relevant and appropriate to all followers of Jesus. As a community of believers, we all need to be reminder of God’s promises and His Sovereignty. If you are a follower of Christ, I hope these words will be encouraging to you too. And please know I pray for you! I pray the words I write would be helpful, uplifting, and encouraging in your lives and in your journey of faith and that they find their way to those who could use them. If you have questions of faith, my message box is always open. God Bless you and yours! 

Dear Sister,
It seems as if every day there is a new story. A heartbreaking, devastating story of senseless evil and violence, but I encourage you to take heart! He has overcome the world! Jesus knew these things would take place and He gave us His words in John 16:33. Words for times like these. When things make no sense in logical ways, when it seems easier to place the blame on policies and illnesses and motives, when the darkness seems to have won, remember He has already won! He has overcome and He reigns! He is sovereign over all things.

In these times, look for the good. Look for God’s grace and His glory. Do not be paralyzed in fear but reenergized in faith. The enemy wants us stopped cold in our tracks, he wants people to be fearful to walk into churches, scared to gather in Jesus’s name. But we will not be stopped!

We will continue to gather, continue to serve, and continue to praise and lift high the name of Jesus!! And we will be women of prayer! We will pray, pray, and pray!!! Pray for the victims families, pray for those who are suffering, pray for all those who are lost, pray for our community, pray for the world, pray for peace, and for God’s strength to continue to do the work he has started in us for His glory.

I am praying for you today. Praying that the Lord would give you spiritual sight to see the truth and see the spiritual battle at hand. I’m praying you would put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. I’m praying that the Lord’s would give you courage and strength so you can step forward in faith. I’m praying you would find time to dedicate to prayer and time to rejoice in the fact that our God is not in the bit surprised by any of this and that He is sovereign over all things. I am praying for you, for peace and comfort and that you will shine brightly for the Lord in a darkened world. Go! Serve and love others in Jesus’s name!

With love , your sister, Shanna xo

August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar with Reflection Questions

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August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar

July’s Scripture Writing Plan focused on God’s movement in our lives. The idea was to set aside ten minutes a day, copy the scripture and circle the verbs found within the passage. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, I hoped we would ask God to help us recognize His activity in our lives and journal our reflections.

Each morning,  I tried to slip away to a quiet place to open the Word of God. This worked best when the kids seemed occupied or when I turned on the TV to occupy them (just keeping it real…sometimes you got to do what you got to do.) Some days I was more successful at this than others, but on the days when I was able to give my complete attention to God, His Word and His voice, I felt the time spent prepared my heart and mind for the day’s constant barrage of requests and demands thrown at me. I noticed my reactions to other people seemed more gracious. I said “yes” more than “no.” I was less distracted with social media and more aware of relationships. Heavenly, eternal things seemed way more important than the earthly, fleeting things. I was filled with peace and joy. Don’t get me wrong, life was not perfect, easy or without challenges. There were still trials and life to work through but how I approached those challenges was different. I found myself prompted to rely on the LORD’s strength and reflecting on the words I was hiding in my heart and mind.

Growing up, my dad always said, “Garbage in, garbage out.” I have always remembered that phrase (see Dad, I was listening.) I do not think we give enough thought to what we are filling our ears, eyes, heart, mind and even our mouths with. What we allow in our lives will shape and mold us and eventually those things will impact the way we think, speak, act and respond. This month (and every month), I am choosing “Truth in, Good out.”

The August Scripture Reading and Writing Calendar contains scriptures that refer to our reactions to God. For deeper reflection, I have included question for each passage. My hope and prayer is for you to join me as we dig into the scriptures and ask God to align our reactions to His word.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

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July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts-Actions of God

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July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts

This summer I am co-leading Margaret Feinberg’s  Bible study called “Verbs of God-How God Moves on Our Behalf.” The study focuses on the active nature of God even when our emotions, moods and circumstances makes it hard for us to see Him, hear Him or feel His presence. God is always active, engaged and fully involved in our lives. He continually redeems, restores and renews us. He draws us closer to Him and desires to have a full, loving relationship with Him. Relationships take two people though. How can we get to know God and His nature better?

As I was preparing for this week’s session, it was put on my heart to create a scripture writing plan and prayer prompt calendar to further focus on God’s movement in our lives. The idea is to take ten minutes a day to copy down the passage and circle the verbs found within the words. Using the daily word as a prayer focus, pray that God will help you recognize His activity in your life. Listen for His voice and journal any reflections or revelations you may have. I hope we will be able to find specific themes by the end of the month. (The word/passages correspond with the ESV and NIV translations of the Bible.)

Prayer is simply a two way conversation between you and God.

-Billy Graham

One note on prayer….Prayer doesn’t have to be a long-winded “speech” filled with big words and deep theology. Some of my best prayer times have been short prayers filled with unrefined words drenched with emotion. God pays attention to what is in our heart and our posture towards Him. If praying hasn’t been “your thing,” don’t worry, start small and say what is on your heart and mind. Prayer is also about being quiet and listening. There is no right or specific amount of time you should pray for. It is okay to say a few words and be still before God.

If you want some ideas of what to pray for, here is a visual to use. (It is a great resource for teaching kids how to pray too!)5 finger prayer

 

I hope you will consider joining me this month and I pray that you will see, hear and feel God working in your life.

July Scripture Writing Plan and Prayer Prompts

WONDER-FULL WEDNESDAY- WONDERMENT- PART 1

hiking adventure

It has been days since I have returned from my hiking trip and I am still trying to process my time in the mountains. In the four days we were there, so much happened physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was a step back in time, a place away from the busyness of the world, a time filled with extreme gratitude and wonderment.

Wonderment is the best way I can describe the trip. The feeling or emotion sparked by curiosity, awe and surprising things. I hiked in wonderment as the strength of my mind and soul overtook the physical strength of my body, pushing it to new limits, building new confidence and holding tight to Jesus. I felt wonderment gazing at valleys and mountains and thinking about God and His Creation. I listened in wonderment to new hiker friends share their stories of mountainous accomplishments. Challenging, peaceful, life-changing, and fun are other words but really none of them best describes the time as wonderment.

The only thing I hated about this trip was my last step from the sanctuary of the shadowed woods into the bright, blinding sunlight of the trail head’s parking lot. A place where two worlds collide. As my eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, I wished I could turn around and run back into the woods. I wanted to keep exploring, keep pushing my body, keep discovering new things and seeing what was around the next bend or over the next boulder. I think this might have been the exact moment of when my new hiking addiction started.

Before I get too carried away, I guess I should start at the beginning, at the trailhead. If you have been reading along, you know this was my very first hike longer than a day’s trip. Four days and three nights backpacking with a 20-25 lb pack through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There were five women on this trip. Five women who are now bonded together by sweat, tears and great respect for each other and this shared experience. I will lovingly refer to them as Loving Leader, Hot Mama, Sweaty-Sweet Diva, and Courageous Jade.

Those are not their official trail names (more about that later.) I was the only one blessed to received an official trail name on this hike, complete with a ceremony and pledge. “Melon Ball” was given to me because of my bright melon-colored rain gear and my sweet, joyful, refreshing personality (or at least that’s what my friends told me.)

melonball

 

 

Loving Leader was very smart to start our trip off on the right foot. We arrived at Crawford Notch’s AMC Highland Center Lodge in the early evening. A good meal and good night’s sleep was in order before we hit the trail in the morning. The lodge’s accommodations were warm and comfortable and the atmosphere was joyful and peaceful. Hikers coming and going, some fresh from new adventures and some anticipating great ones to come. These were luxury accommodations compared to the hut’s lodging complete with warm running water, towels, comfortable beds and bedding. The food was plenty, delicious and filling!

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Lupine

At sunset, the five of us walked around the lodge admiring the mountains and pretty wildflowers. In the serene setting, I found myself evaluating my current state. I was running on empty, high on adrenaline. A few hours earlier, I had left my house filled with visiting relatives. It had been about a month since our home was inhabited by only our family of five. It had been good to see everyone and I was glad everyone was able to come. But it had been tiring and emotional. I hate saying goodbyes and as much as I try not to think about it while my family is here, I always think of our time together as a countdown before I have to say goodbye again.

Besides all the company, various loved ones and life circumstances were weighing heavily on my heart and mind. I stood there facing the setting sun and started to breath. Deep breaths of fresh mountain air were met with exhales, releases of stress and control over unknown circumstances. The air and the views started to cleanse and prepare my heart for something bigger. I could feel God replace the heaviness with the lightness of joy, peace and new discovery. I felt myself leaning in to hear His voice on the wind and watch the majesty of trees and a mountains bow down at His feet. Standing there, I felt very small and it felt so good. So good to know the Almighty God, mighty and powerful enough to create the great mountains on His command, is the same Almighty God who is loving and kind enough to be gentle with the current state of my tired heart and soul.

In the depths of my heart, I felt his calling to take His hand. The Great Shepherd ready to lead me besides quiet waters and refresh my soul. (Psalm 23) The Creator calling me to “come and see” for He was about to guide me on a heart’s journey to see and experience greater things. When I lay my tired head down and closed my eyes on the first night, I knew this adventure would be much more than I could have ever imagined and I was right.

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Crawford Notch

 

 

 

 

Lessons From a Gorse Bush

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I have sat down to write for days but everything I write seems meaningless compared to my lengthy prayer list.  A list filled with situations riddled with suffering, grief and pain. Intercessory prayers for people close to my heart who are experiencing the hard reality of life. Stark reminders that life is precious and difficult.

My heart is also heavy and broken for my fellow Americans. We share a human condition, a need for love and live within the borders of a country that claims liberty and justice for all. Yet unbelievable, indescribable crimes continue to be committed against innocent people. Sometimes there are no words, no easy answers. When the future seems scary and the state of our soul seems hopeless, when our hearts are perplexed, discouraged, and despaired, there is something we can do. We can respond and our response will define us.

There is a spiky, flowering evergreen bush native to the coastlines and wastelands of western Europe called a gorse plant. These plants are masters of adapting to their environment. They can withstand sun, drought and even fire. Fire which may initially burn the plant down but not destroy it. Their stalks quickly regenerate and the heat of fire can stimulate their hard seed pods to pop open and begin new life.

Like the gorse bush, we must fearlessly continue to thrive in the environment we have been rooted in. We do not stop growing or blossoming because our surroundings have become rocky, stormy or fiery. Our children, the next generation, are watching how we respond to difficulties. We are modeling (sometimes unknowingly) what to say, how to act, where to turn, and how to pray. With the Lord’s help, we must build in them a sense of confidence and courage in Christ. Confidence in no matter what is happening, God is still in control. We must cultivate a place where they can draw from, a place of fertile faith and new hope, so when the fires of uncertainty and tragedy come they might feel burned but never destroyed.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

The conifer leaves of the gorse bush are spiky and spiny. Over time, the leaves harden into long, sharp thorns. Yet out of these hardy stalks and pointy thorns comes life. In springtime, fuzzy little buds start to appear and eventually bloom into glorious yellow bursts. Their fragrant blossoms smell of sweet coconut attracting bees and animals to its thorny retreat. The plant becomes a safe haven for birds and animals who find protection among the spikes.

It can be hard to see good in terrible situations but I urge you to look beyond the spikes and spines to find small specks of yellow hope. Do not let times of uncertainty and suffering harden our hearts. Instead of getting caught up in disagreements, let’s find things we have in common. Trade arguments for prayers and disagreements for love.

You may have had to walk through a period of grief and suffering, I would encourage you to be brave and think back to how you felt during the process. Use memories and forgotten feelings as a catalyst of sympathy and empathy. Ask the Lord for a compassionate heart. Be a doer and a helper. Sometimes that may mean sitting in silence, holding the hand of a grieving person, and praying for them when they cannot find the words to pray for themselves. Be a safe haven for people. Invite them to come and see the true Hope. The One who knows more about selfless suffering than any person could ever experience and know. The only One who can bring true peace to our hearts.

 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33  (ESV)

 

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Gorse Leaves and Flower Buds

 

So, let our responses be sweet smelling among the tough, hard moments of life. Model, pray, love, and believe.  Be patient and do not lose hope. For our responses now will define us later and pave a way for the next generation.

 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.  Romans 8:24-25 (ESV)

The Courage Key

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“MOMMMMMM!!! WE NEED YOUR COURAGE KEYYYYY!!!”

“WHAT???!!!!” I yelled from the kitchen.

“YOUR MOPS Courage Key!” The girls came bouncing into the room. “The  downstairs bedroom door got locked. We need to get in and the MOPS key is the only one that works.”

“Ummm…girls, my courage key is not a real key. It is just pretty necklace and charm. It it cannot open the door.”  I tried to say this as gently as I could so not to deflate their enthusiasm.

“Yes, it can! We have used it before and we need it again!” My girls were confident and not the least bit concerned with my disbelief. They knew how to solve the problem and I was the only one getting in the way of their solution.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go try.”

It turns out that my girls were right. My MOPS Courage Key and a lot of other real keys can open the locked bedroom door. This new bit of knowledge will save me the time and hassle of searching the house for a bobby pin or a screwdriver that it small enough to fit in the door’s tiny, awkward slot and release the lock.

I have wasted so much time looking for things that would unlock “doors.” “Doors” that I have shut and locked with anxiety, my insecurities and fear. Doors that have been held shut by the “what ifs?” and “I can’ts” or the “Is it worth the risks?” Past disappointments and present confusion add to the tangled mess of locked emotions. I have tried releasing the locks with keys that I have forged out of my own power, strength and control. Those keys have not worked. They have only left me more anxious, frustrated and tired.

There is one key that never fails. God.

Faith is the key that unlocks the door and courage is the key that helps you walk through it. Courage that is manifested through faith. Hope that is discovered through courage.

Sometimes I find myself asking God, “But it doesn’t look like the key?” or ” How is this going to work?” “Is this key the right one?”  And  I hear God whisper patiently to me, “Trust me. Have you tried it yet?”

Faith and courage doesn’t mean that you will not experience failure or pain. It is not a promise that things will be easy and every “door” you walk through will open into a  “room” that will be comfortable and warm. Courage takes strength to venture and persevere. 1  Courage in faith can help you go from confusion to clarity.  From captive to free. From stuck to unstoppable.

I am willing to guess that I am not the only one who has locked doors. Or the only one standing in the way of a solution.  Let’s stop wasting time and start unlocking doors with faith, starting with the door to our heart. Let’s allow God and the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to help us depend on His strength (not our own) and start living the bravest versions of ourselves.  Grab your keys and walk through those doors!

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9 (ESV)

 

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On Sickness

We had made it three steps into the store, when my son began making an unpleasant but familiar retching sound. I didn’t even get a chance to think. He had already thrown up all over me and the floor of Rite Aid Pharmacy. Helpless and stuck in a puddle of sickness, I was not sure what to do next.

Almost eight years as a mom and this was a first for me. I had been ignorantly hopeful that I could escape a public display of sickness by one of my own.

My thoughts were interrupted by my crying son who was vomiting a second time, this time all over the store’s New England Patriot’s holiday merchandise display. Standing behind me, my daughter looked on in both horror and shock. I could relate! My composure and confidence were gone. I wholeheartedly yelled for help.

Out of the aisles, from every direction, a team of people came.  The first responder was a friendly, emphatic cashier. She spoke to my son in a soothing and comforting voice, “It’s okay, honey. Everyone gets sick sometimes.”  A stout, unemotional, authoritative manager came next. With her she carried an empty, plastic candy container which she tossed at me with skill and the authority as to say, you are a mom, you know what to do, now do it.  The third team member was a pleasant young man rolling a mop and bucket towards us with a smile. Cheerfully and dutifully, he cleaned up the mess with no judgments or a bad attitude, making small talk as he mopped.  When the cleanup was complete, our $300 + damaged merchandise bill was forgiven, and we were sent on our way with our souvenir plastic candy container. What had just happened???

Unfortunately, this was not the only sickness that I have been dealing with. From the outside I seemed a little tired but otherwise healthy. But in the weeks leading up to the pharmacy fiasco, I have been struggling with sickness of my own.  I had let my guard down and allowed lies, self-doubt, discouragement, lack of faith, joy, and hope a place to take hold and grow in my heart and mind. I was tired, some days in a very bad mood, and everything seemed just plain difficult.  I tried to pull myself out of it by halfhearted prayers, routine Bible readings, and depending on the prayers of others on my behalf.

I kept trying to heal myself with everything I knew how to do.  And I wondered why I wasn’t “getting better.”  It wasn’t until I was completely helpless, sinking down in my own puddle of sickness, not knowing what else to do, when I called out wholeheartedly to God, “HELP!”

Out of bends and corners of my heart and mind, the TEAM emerged. A peace that I had prevented myself from receiving started soothing the cracks of my weakened heart and mind. I heard the conviction of the Holy Spirit telling me,  you know what to do, now do it!  Verses and Bible passages that I passively read before, beckoned me to take a second look.  I reread passages about joy and thanksgiving through suffering, identity in Christ, faith, hope and love. I let the words linger and impress on my heart.

It was work. Some days were very hard.

I am still working on it. Some days are still hard.

But with God’s help, I am shifting my perspective and working on setting my eyes to see the good things happening around me. That means even in the sickness, sleepless nights, the hard stuff, the humiliating stuff there is always, always good stuff to see and blessings to be found.  Blessings like emphatic cashiers and cheerful, throw-up-cleaner-uppers.

I am persevering through doubts and lies by repeating and dwelling on the truths that I read. I am constantly resetting my mind to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8.) I have decided to surround myself with people that are uplifting, loving, and that have my best interests in my mind. And I am working to let go of control- my failing, imperfect, human strength and working on holding on to the perfect, all-powerful, never-failing strength of God.

There really is no I in TEAM. Whatever you are struggling with today, I hope you take a moment to surround yourself with a team of loving people, a God who cares deeply for you, and depend on the Holy Spirit to convict and guide you.  Shift your eyes to notice the good things. Find laughter in the difficulties. Come away from life’s situations with souvenirs of peace, joy, and thanksgiving.