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You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.

2 Samuel 22:29 New International Version (NIV)

At the beginning of each year, God gives me a theme word.  This is a word that I apply to everything I’m going to do in the next twelve months.  This year’s word was ‘unencumbered.’  Ironically, one of the first things I encountered this year was an illness that sidelined me for the better part of six weeks.  In fact, I’m still not 100% healed from the illness, but at least I believe the worst of it is behind me.  The first six weeks of 2017, I felt anything but unencumbered and at times, I wasn’t sure He had anything left for me to do at all.  I was slowly, but surely, being depleted of all hope.  One of the major goals that I had set was becoming more and more elusive as the medications I was on caused me to gain weight when I was in fact, trying to lose.  Needless to say, by the time I was feeling better, I wasn’t sure which way was up anymore.  I was feeling extremely encumbered and very much in the dark.

They say the harder we pray and the more we attempt to shine the light that God has placed in us, the harder the devil works to extinguish it.  This has been proven in my life time and time again.  Every time I have gained any momentum toward the vision that God has placed in my heart, there has been a major setback.   The most obvious of these occurred even before I was fully walking with God again.  For several years in my marriage, my now ex-husband and I were trying to have more children.  I had miscarried one time before our daughter was born, so when I got pregnant again about a year after she was born we were hoping everything would be okay.  Unfortunately, I miscarried early on.  But we tried again….and again…and again.  Each time, I would get further into the pregnancy and each time, I would lose the baby.  By the fifth miscarriage, I was so broken that my depression and anxiety threatened to overtake me.  I also hadn’t realized that after my daughter was born, I suffered with post-partum depression.  I thought it was just me being me.  I had always had issues with depression and I figured it was just more of the same misery I had been carrying for most of my life.  Even though it felt different, I just chalked it up to my tendency to be depressed.  But this is where I found God again.  There, in the darkness and pain of all that loss.

The thing about hitting bottom is that when we finally reach the point of all despair we really only have one choice.  That choice is to pick ourselves up and find a way out of the darkness.  Some find a glimmer of light here and there and they allow that to sustain them, but that glimmer only serves you for so long.  You find yourself right back at the bottom wondering why you can’t fix it.  But there is something very different about the light that God provides.  When we seek Him, we find something that won’t let darkness overtake us again.  When we are truly trying to develop our relationship with Him, He carries the light.  The more we let Him in, the more the light lives within us.  If we only seek Him superficially, we only get the most superficial part of the light.  It is much like the difference between a light fixture in your home and a small flashlight.  When the light is installed in you home, it brings light to a much larger area than that of a small flashlight.

Imagine if all you had to work with in your house was a handheld flashlight that you carried from room to room.  Some of us go through life just like that.  We carry the smallest possible source of light with us in hopes that it will somehow illuminate every area of our lives.  Most of the time, it leaves us vulnerable to attacks from things we simply cannot see in the darkness.  The solution:  We need a bigger light.  We need a brighter light.  We need a more constant light.  Only then will we be able to see what we need to see to operate in the fullness of God.

It may seem like a silly analogy, but it really makes sense.  Where there is darkness, we stumble.  Simply put, when we can’t see well or at all, we are at risk of getting hurt.  There are those who swear that light doesn’t make a difference.  They don’t care if they get hurt and they don’t seem to care if they hurt others while operating in that “blindness.”  Darkness, for them, hides all of their flaws.  It keeps people from seeing anything that they don’t want others to see in them.  But what they are forgetting is that it also keeps others from seeing what’s good about them.  And it keeps them from seeing what is good about everyone and everything else.  How much light are you letting in?  Can you see everything you need to see?  Or are you still stumbling over things that are hidden from your sight?  I challenge you to turn on the light.  You won’t need any extra bulbs and it’s not going to drive your electric bill up.  All you need to do is pray to God to light the way.  He is your source and His light is everlasting and full of power.  And in it, you will be able to live unencumbered.

The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.

Isaiah 60:19 New International Version (NIV)

 

 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1 NIV

In these days when everyone is scrambling for their fifteen minutes of fame, I sit and think about whether or not I want to be a part of any of it.  I’m an author…a writer…a hack who likes to share my feelings, perceptions, opinions, daydreams, etc.  But in truth, I’m really nothing special without God’s power.  And I don’t even think there is anyone that I would want to be if God isn’t a part of the equation.  So, it boggles the mind how so many people can be trying so hard to be noticed for who they are when who they are really doesn’t matter if God isn’t a the center of it all.

We all have a story and it is very important that we share those stories with one another.  But not so that we can be recognized for the story we tell.  The point of sharing what we’ve been through and how we got through it is to bring glory to God.  He is, after all, the only reason we make it through any of what we endure.  Superstar, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson used to do a bit whenever he would come out into the WWE ring.  He would start talking to whoever he was facing off with and then ask them their name and before they had a chance to answer, he would abruptly say, “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOUR NAME  IS!!!!”  This could be the best possible response to any and every person out there who is trying doggedly to get people to notice them and to notice what they are doing. It really doesn’t matter what your name is.  It doesn’t matter who you’re wearing, what brand you’re using, who you’re following or who’s following you.  I don’t care what you are writing, making, selling, supporting, etc. if the sole purpose of all you do appears to be to bolster your own ego or somehow validate yourself by gaining the acceptance of a culture that has no clue why God is important.

The harsh reality is that no matter how hard we work to be accepted here, in this world, it will never be enough.  If our focus is on how many people we can get to “buy” whatever it is that we are putting out there, be it a product or a persona, then we have missed the point.  While it is all well and good to promote our work, the point of all we do should be about so much more than how much of ourselves we can get people to buy into.  It’s not about us.  It’s about using this life, this body, these skills and talents to reach out and help others overcome challenges and obstacles.  It’s about seeing someone in need and knowing that if we just take a minute to talk to them or we spend some time showing them a better way to live that we will have used what God has given us in the way that He intended for us to use it. It’s not about a hashtag or getting more likes.  It’s not about seeing who can get the most followers or bring in the most money.  If we’re not truly reaching out to others, then all we are doing is the busywork of living in Satan’s world.  If you’re not Kingdom-building, you might as well be watching paint dry.

Kingdom-building is about talking to that young cashier who’s having a hard day or saying hello to the old man sitting on the park bench as you walk past him to get to work.  It’s about stopping to have a conversation with the people around you instead of trying to see how many people we can move through each day without making any real connections.  It’s easy to just encapsulate ourselves and act like we don’t notice the people around us.  We can all soapbox until the cows come home about abortion, women’s rights, immigration, the economy, and whatever else tends to be the hot topic of the day, but how many of us would be willing to take time out of our busy schedules to seek our opportunities to talk with young girls who are at risk for unwanted pregnancy?  Who among is willing to talk directly to women about how they can break free from a cycle of generational oppression?  Who is willing to take immigrants into their home to prove the point that love builds no walls? Who would sponsor a single mother for a month or even a year so that she doesn’t have to grovel and jump through the many ridiculous hoops set up by a dysfunctional welfare system?  Who of us would set aside our own need to be heard or noticed just to take the time to make a real difference in someone’s life?  Would you?

If every person out there took up any one of these causes in this way, the world would be a very different place.  It would no longer be about the masses fighting perceived injustices.  It would be about each individual person, using the resources that God gave them to show the love of God to one another.  Is it likely that we will ever see this in our lifetime?  I certainly wish it were.  The sad truth is that it is so much easier just to sit back and complain about everyone else’s shortcomings that we’ve almost convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t be worth the effort to take actual initiative to make changes.  God never meant for this life to be one big audition for a reality show.  He means for us to live it and walk out the principles of His word.  He wants us to show Him that we understand what He means when He says to love thy neighbor.  He wants you to be an example of His love and grace to the people around you.  The more we show Him that we understand how to do this, the more we will begin to see widespread change in this world.  This world is not our Creator and we did not create ourselves.  All we create is an identity and that identity, if it is to mean anything at all, needs to be rooted and grounded in Christ.  Anything else is simply not who we are.

 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 

1 John 3:1 NIV

 

And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
    how faint the whisper we hear of him!
    Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

Job 26:14 New International Version (NIV)

This is not going to be a happy little post about New Year’s resolutions.  This is going to be a post about something that has been bothering me for a while.  Maybe, after you read this, you’ll be able to create resolutions that mean something, however; that really isn’t the goal here.  There has been an ongoing theme this year.  No matter how loudly God is speaking, the majority still seems to be refusing to listen.  We all seem to think we know better than Him and that we can make choices that will serve us better than anything He could possibly show us.  Why do we do that?  Why do we continue to stuff God into this little box that we only open when we have a problem?  Have we forgotten that He is a God of miracles?  Have we ever really understood that His power is the greatest and that ultimately, He holds all the cards?  He knows how this is all going to end and if He’s giving you direction, it’s because He knows what would be the best option for you in any situation.

This is probably the biggest reason why I decided to fold my formal “ministry” over the past year and simply wait for God to show me what it is that He wants me to do to serve Him.  I was trying so hard to fit my ministry into some sort of pattern of good Christianity, but everything around me was contradicting what I knew in my heart that Jesus actually meant for us to be.  He doesn’t want us to count all of the people we help.  He doesn’t want us jumping through hoops to beg for a few dollars from the government.  What He wants us to do is to step outside our box and truly look at the people around us.  He wants us to get to know the people we work with and live near.  He wants us to care about what’s happening to each other.  He wants us to use what we have to help those who are hurting when we have the ability to help them, not go through the motions of living a good “Christian” life, yet ignore the misery that our fellow man, woman and child may be enduring.

Many of us think we are good people…and by our own standards, we might be.  But our standards are not His.  No matter how good we think we are, if we can turn away from someone who is in need or hurting, then we are not living as Jesus intended.  Yes, it is hard to reach out, especially when we may not know the person well or when we’ve convinced ourselves that we should mind our own business.  To a point, we should respect each other’s privacy, but if God has placed someone in our field of vision and we choose to ignore their pain instead of at least asking if there is anything we can do, then we’ve missed an opportunity to let Him work through us.  He created us to be vessels of light and to allow Him to work through us whenever possible.  He gives us free will so that we can decide how much of Him we let in and how much of Him we let out and it is up to us to give up our pride and our need for control so that He can use us for the purpose for which we were designed.

This doesn’t mean that we all have the same personality or that we can’t have different ways of showing His love to others.  In fact, we should understand that God is so much more than our little minds can imagine that He is.  Imagine every good person you know and all of the quirks that make them beautiful to you.  That, my friends, is who God is.  He is not stuffy.  He is not boring.  He is not limited in His ability to entertain others.  He is not without a sense of humor…obviously.  Just look around at what He has created and you can see that.  But He is also not one to be mocked.   He is the one who has the power to change this world.  And He will do so by any means necessary.  He will not be politically correct.  He is not bound by the laws of this world.  He is, for all intents and purposes, the final word on all things.  And not all of us will agree with what He says is right and what He says is wrong.

The choices we make every day show Him how willing we are to serve Him.  He knows our hearts and even though we may stumble, He gives us every opportunity to turn to Him.  Our constructs do not negate His power.  No matter how much “good” we think we are doing by allowing each other to continue living a life that dishonors God, it is not our blessing that they need.  It is His.  We cannot continue to allow someone to hurt themselves or others and still believe that we are somehow being “Godly” for letting them “be themselves.”  If being ourselves is in conflict with what God says He wants us to be, then  we are getting it wrong; even if our actions and lifestyles are completely okay with the world.

So much of what we see around us implies that it is perfectly okay to disregard God’s laws or the teachings of Jesus as they are presented in the Bible.  And many times, even those who are reading and studying the Bible have interpretations of what is in there that are so far from God’s intent that it is hard for anyone to believe that being a Christian is worth the effort. But misinformation is abundant; whether that be inside or outside the church.  This is why it is so very important to read and study God’s word on our own and to listen, truly listen, for Him as we attempt to carry out His will.  So that when we are in the midst of false teachings or demons who are trying to persuade us that God really doesn’t matter, we can answer them with strength and confidence and still walk away with the ability to be a genuine servant of God.  It isn’t what you think it is.  Listen…and He will tell you.

This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 NIV

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.

“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

Matthew 20:22 New International Version (NIV)

Today, I was thinking about the times in my life when I refused to see Jesus for who He was.  During those times, I believe that I presented myself as a martyr in hopes of somehow making the people in my life love me more.  For whatever reason, those who were supposed to love me were focused on other things and their love wasn’t always apparent to me.  I took that to mean that I wasn’t important to them and in fact, that they probably didn’t love me at all.  But looking back, I understand that we can’t always show people how much we care about them in the way that we would like to.  Sometimes, we are overtaken by pain that cripples our ability to show love.  Other times, we are overwhelmed by how much we love someone and we either hold back or we smother them with it.  Since we aren’t perfect, it only makes sense that an emotion as powerful as love would be hard for us to control.  But God gave us the best example in the Son He sent down to earth.  God gave us the teacher, but many of us decided to drop out of school before we could learn the valuable lessons He provided. 
Even as I write this, I understand that what I want to say here may not come out exactly the way I want it to.  My understanding of where God has been with me is almost overwhelming at times and when I try to tell others about the things He has done for me, I sometimes miss the mark.  I want to be able to share just how great His healing has been in my life, but in truth, I’m the only one who can realize this in absolute clarity.  My situation is just that…my situation.  And your truth will come from the experiences that He gives you and from where He has walked with you through those experiences.  What I know for sure is that there were times when I was sure that I was being punished for not being worthy of God’s love.  I was certain that these things happened to me because He didn’t love me.  I realized later that there were lessons in each of those things that were meant to show me the power that God had given me to overcome challenges.  Instead of seeing the trials, what I needed to see were the victories. 
The longer it took me to figure out what I needed to stop doing or saying or thinking, the more opportunities He gave me to practice.  And where I still refused to accept God’s will, I ended up being more focused on showing the world why they needed to love me instead of showing them how much I loved them.  Jesus did the opposite when He came to us.  He spent no time trying to convince the world to love Him.  His time was spent trying to get people to understand that He loved them and that they should love one another.  So, this thing we do.  This desperate plea to make others see how great we are or why they should like us or love us or worse…worship us…this is where we have missed the point.  Once God lives in us, we are supposed to be showing others how much we love them.  And often, our need to gain their approval keeps us from giving until we get what we think we need or simply, what we want. 
We forget that the sacrifice He made for us cannot be duplicated.  And in fact, we aren’t supposed to try and gain the sympathy or admiration of others in order to prove that God loves us or that He has made us into something special after a period of brokenness.  Sadly, there are those who prefer to spend their lives seeking the love and admiration of others in order to heal the brokenness in their lives.  Or those who seek God’s healing so that they can look down on others who are still broken.  Instead of allowing God to fix what’s wrong, they look for the answer in others or in addictions or preoccupations with anything and everything but Him.  Or if they really do allow God to heal them, they never learn that the point of being healed is to help others receive healing.  And everything becomes about the sacrifices they believe they’ve made instead of the one that Jesus made. 
I see now that there were so many times when I thought He had taken something from me and I was absolutely wrong.  He had actually given me something that I needed to grow stronger and to help me see the point of showing others how to love Him.  I still miss the point on nearly a daily basis, but things are a lot clearer than they were when I thought I was the answer.  Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us, yet many of us continue to see our sacrifices as being so much more painful than what He gave.  I wonder how many of us have said to God, “If You will just take all of the pain away from the people that I love, I will gladly give You my life,” Did we would actually mean it?  Or did we give Him just the little bit that we could force ourselves to let go of and hope that He would keep them safe?  What would it look like if the “sacrifices” we think we make were anywhere near the scale of the sacrifice that He made?
I don’t say these things to make anyone feel bad, I’m just trying to give some perspective.  Often we see our meager offerings as something that should make God want to pat us on the back.  We think that the little bit of money or time that we spend on God’s work should put us in some great “Christian Hall of Fame,” when in reality, all it really warrants is a participation certificate.  It is our job to serve Him.  And if we are seeking compensation, recognition, or admiration as part of what we are willing to “give” Him, we might as well keep it to ourselves.  It’s really not a gift at all. 
In this season of “giving,” I often wonder how many are giving things that are worth getting and how many are simply putting things into circulation so they can be counted among the givers.  When we stand before God, will we present Him with something that He wants or will we expect Him to receive a cheap knock-off of the soul He truly loves?  It’s all well and good to give things, but when it all comes down, are you loving the people in your life?  Are you giving them a part of you that has meaning?  Or are you hoping that they’ll be happy with a materialistic representation of who you want them to think you are?  The stuff is good, but a genuine relationship with you is always better.  Just as a genuine relationship with God is always better than some shallow interaction with Him.  Try it on this season, it’s one gift You’ll never want to exchange.

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.” Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

2 Kings 4:2-4 New International Version (NIV)

Right before Thanksgiving, I took some time away from a certain social media site.  I had been spending a lot of time on there and what I was seeing was making me so negative that I was starting to dislike people that I’ve loved for years.  People were being so hateful and I really didn’t want to see any more of it.  It has always been very important to me to maintain contact with the people that God has placed in my life until He sees fit to remove them from my life or to remove me from their lives.  I feel like it is our job to build relationships and to live out our purposes together for as long as it makes sense to do so.  With that said, after a significant break, I’m now back on the site and hope to spend my time there encouraging others as  much as possible.  I’m hoping this post will help as well.

I was recently at a gathering of “friends,” co-workers to be exact.  While I’m grateful that I’ve been able to meet and become friends with so many great people through work, sometimes I see a side of people that is just disheartening.  We were playing our usual Christmas gift exchange game and basically, the strategy is that you open one of the gifts that are lined up on the table and if no one steals it from you, you get to keep it.  It’s a white elephant gift exchange which means that you run the risk of getting things that you may not want.  But that’s what makes it fun.  We always have lots of fun playing the game, however, this time around I was struck by some comments that were made about a particular gift that was selected.

As the recipient opened up one of the more “ridiculous” gifts on the table, he revealed that one contained jewelry from a company that is well-known for helping women build their own business.  This company is evidently looked upon by some as being tacky or trashy from the snickers and comments that were made as he held up the jewelry.  Ordinarily, I would just shut these sorts of things out, however, I thought back to my adolescent years and much of my young adult life and remembered how my mother had sold this jewelry and products from this company year after year as a means of supporting us.  I immediately felt bad for whoever had brought in the gift as I’m sure they were sitting there cringing and hoping that no one would connect them to this item.  For the most part, no one knows who brought in a particular gift, so the giver can remain fairly anonymous.

That’s really the point.  We don’t really know what a person has had to do to keep afloat.  Some families go through hard times, but no one would ever guess that they are struggling because they have a person who is working their rear end off at one, two or even three jobs just so their family can appear to be as “normal” as everyone else’s.  So, while it may have seemed like something to poke fun at to most of the people at the party, I’m sure there were more than a few of us whose mothers had worked doggedly through this very enterprise to be able to provide a few extras or maybe even the necessities for their families.  Many times, the very thing we are belittling may have been the saving grace that someone was very fortunate to have had when the bills were due.

As a single mother, I’ve joined up with several different companies over the years to try and make extra money so that my daughter could have a couple more gifts around Christmas or so that I could make enough to cover emergencies when my day job wasn’t enough to make ends meet.  I know so many wonderful people who hustle each and every day to sell their products.  They set up their tables and they spend hours telling people what they are selling, in hopes of bringing home even an extra twenty dollars or so for the week.  It’s hard work, often with very little reward.  But it gives them something to shoot for.  It gives them a sense of purpose and it can be the one thing they do in their life where they feel like they can develop an identity using the strengths and talents that God has given them.  Once you find your particular niche, you can build some pretty substantial self-esteem through each sale you make.

In this holiday season, I encourage you to support local businesses and salespeople.  Not only are you getting good stuff, you are making meaningful connections and helping someone to build a life.  Of course not everyone who has a side business is struggling financially, but I believe they get more than just financial support from what they do.  And wherever we can encourage one another, we should absolutely try.

Aside from that, be aware of the words you speak.  Understand that what may seem funny or ridiculous to you, may be another person’s lifeline.  The old saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” definitely rings true in situations like the one I was in recently.  Even if I didn’t think much of the particular product, I knew that selling that product had often helped put food on our table.  And my mother had never been too proud to go out and do the work in order to make sure her children were fed and clothed.

God works in mysterious ways.  Just when you think you don’t have enough money to pay for that prescription or visit to the doctor, that’s when He comes through with an opportunity that nets you just enough to cover the expense.  I can’t tell you how many times He has done this for me.  If I hadn’t been willing to humble myself, I would have done without.  Like the woman with the oil, in 2 Kings, gather what God has given you and have faith that He will show you how to use your resources to get what you need.  Never let your pride dictate the lengths to which you are willing to go to do God’s will.

Sometimes, God’s will for you is simply that you take care of yourself and your children.  And when the time comes, He’ll give you something else to do.  And if you already have what you need, seek out ways to help others get what they need.  Give opportunities where you can.  It isn’t always about money.  If there is a job that someone can do for you, hire them.  If you are in a position to promote someone and they are qualified, promote them.  If you can help them tell their story, help them.  If you are able to heal them, heal them.  Don’t be afraid to use your gifts to help someone find theirs.

Have a wonderful Christmas and prepare yourself for a year full of blessings.  We have not been this way before, but if our eyes are on Him we are headed in the right direction.

God Bless!

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

Luke 3:10-12 New International Version (NIV)

 

 

 

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

1 Chronicles 16:9 New International Version (NIV)

 

I awoke today with a song in my heart.  Actually, I woke up with more than just one song; I also had a plan for what to do with those songs.  God often speaks to me through dreams and though this year has been confusing and I’ve struggled to make sense of what I’m supposed to be doing in this season, I am finally more clear than I’ve been in years about what it is that I’m supposed to be doing.

Music has always been very important to me.  I have always loved to sing.  I loved hearing my dad sing when I was growing up.  As an adult, I’ve enjoyed music of all types and I’ve never experienced more joy than when I have been at a good worship concert or listening to a great worship team offering it all up to our God.  It has also been the number one way that I connect with my thirteen year-old daughter.  Music is and always will be extremely important to me.

This year was difficult in terms of music.  Earlier this year, two of my all-time favorite musicians passed away.  I never got to see either of them in concert and in fact, it had been on my bucket list to meet both of them.  Sadly, I never got to fulfill those wishes.  Their deaths were a shock and the sadness I felt at having missed my opportunity to let them know how much I had enjoyed their music was just short of overwhelming.  I am not one to idolize anyone, but when a person’s work has this sort of an impact on you, you know that God has ordained their talent.  Neither of these artists were necessarily Christian artists, however, both made it plain throughout their careers that they would not be afraid or ashamed to express their love for God, their Creator.

The dream I had this morning reminded me of my earliest days as a Christian.  I had been heavily involved in the worship team, especially in leading the children’s worship group.  I remembered having led the group in song many times during the opening sessions of our services and then singing for hours with my church family after we had left service and reconvened at someone’s house to continue praising God.  Even at fifteen, I had been filled with the Holy Spirit and had wanted nothing more than to sing out to God at every opportunity.

Later, I had fallen out of church and I didn’t sing for a very long time.  In fact, the next time I sang was when my cousin convinced me to sing karaoke at a bar that I frequented.  Yes, I went through a very dark period that was characterized by heavy drinking and other things that I had no business doing.  But through that time, I knew that God was still with me.  He was pulling me and I was pushing Him away.  And for a while, I was content to just self-destruct.  But something started to happen in me.  Although I wasn’t singing worship songs at the bar, the singing I was doing started to bring me back out of that pit.  I began to enjoy using the gift that God had given me, even though I had very little confidence in it or in the fact that God really wanted me to use it.

This glimpse of the light was short-lived, though.  I eventually stopped drinking and had no place to go that would allow me to sing for no apparent reason.  I had no real desire to hang out in bars and sing and I wasn’t about to go back to church at that point, so once again, I was quiet.  But a few years later, I made my way back to church and there it was again.  Beautiful music!  This was the stuff that really spoke to me.  This was where I felt like myself.  But there was still a problem.  I was no longer singing and I felt that I had no business trying to be a part of any worship team.  After all that I’d done in my time out of church, how could I stand up and sing as though nothing was wrong with me?  Sadly, it felt as though others may have seen that way, too.

But God has a way of making us see the truth.  This entire year has been so “quiet.”  I’ve not allowed myself to enjoy music the way that I have in the past.  I haven’t even enjoyed the concerts I’ve gone to as much as I used to.  I stopped attending church because I was so put off by the “performance” aspect of it and I was searching for something deeper.  But the truth is that without the music, I don’t connect.  Without hearing those worship songs and old hymns, I don’t feel His presence as strongly as I once did.  I need to hear the music and I need to sing the songs.

I’ve been loathe to accept my call to be a worship leader or even to be part of a worship team and I feel that He has, without a doubt, shown me that this is what He means for me to do.  He means for me to step out and do what He has given me the ability and the heart to do.  He means for me to get out of my own way and stop being so afraid of the spotlight that comes with being in front of other worshippers.  The only time I didn’t worry about this was when I was leading worship at my church so many years ago.  Since I came back to the church, I’ve been so preoccupied with not wanting to appear smug or full of myself that I didn’t want to step up and ask to be a part of any worship efforts.  The last thing I am is over-confident and I would never want anyone to think that I am seeking glory for myself.  I may not have the same style as other worship leaders, but I have God in my heart and He wants to hear me sing again.  How long can I justify staying quiet knowing this?

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5 NIV

 

 

 

 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:50 NIV

I watch one of my favorite movies just about every night as I go to sleep, but tonight I actually paid attention to its message. Tonight, the words struck me as I sat up at 4 in the morning watching the subtitles dance across the screen. The words, “I have wasted too much of my life being quiet,” jumped out at me and I thought about all of the “possibilities” that I’d let slip by me over the course of my life. Though I have said in the past that I have no regrets, I guess I have been lying to myself. I do have some regrets. I regret not always going where I wanted to go. I regret not talking to all of the people I wanted to talk to. I regret not believing the ones who said they loved me. Moreover, I regret believing the ones who said they did, but didn’t really mean it. I regret not speaking up when something was on my mind. I regret often having a more dynamic inner monologue than my outer one. I regret ever saying that I probably couldn’t do something. But most of all, I regret not always trusting God with all of my concerns.

The movie I was watching was Last Holiday with Queen Latifah and LL Cool J. I love this movie and have probably watched it over a hundred times. It’s comforting to me. The message is good, “Don’t wait until your last days to live truly your life.” I’ve been feeling a lot lately that instead of “living like I was dying,” that I’ve been living as though I were already dead. The things I once enjoyed, I no longer do. I things I do, I no longer enjoy. Mostly. With the exception of raising my daughter and writing, there is little that brings me joy. Of course, my God makes me happy, but He and I have been at odds for a while and I’ve been trying to make sense of that. The last few years have been emotionally straining and somewhere in the midst of all of the chaos, the intensity of my relationship with Him began to seriously decline.

I was going to say more here about why my relationship with God seems to have declined, but this is not the right venue to go into great detail on the matter.  Instead, I will say that the heart of the matter is that my expectations of others have caused me to be greatly disappointed.  Even though I know that we simply cannot hold others up to a standard of perfection that none of us will ever achieve, it still hurts when someone you once loved and trusted goes out of their way to hurt you.  One day, I’ll write a book on the subject, but for now, I’ll just say that the whole experience left me feeling a little salty and it has definitely had a negative impact on my overall sense of peace.  Although much of what has happened has been over with for nearly a year now, I’m still feeling the residual effects of being branded with something just short of scarlet letter by our local good ole’ boy’s network.  And every time I read about women being mistreated by powerful individuals in our society, it brings all of my anger back to the surface.

It is no big secret that women aren’t properly valued or respected. And for “those women” who act or have acted in such a way that labels them as unworthy or of little value by society’s standards (whatever those standards may be), I believe that they are or have at some point been the victims of abuse and/or neglect. There will always be a few people out there who have made their own hell and suffer the consequences of their behavior as a result. But moreover, I’ve seen women who were raised to believe that they were nothing and could never be anything. I have talked to women who placed so little value on themselves that they allowed others like those in the family court system to tell them that they were unfit to raise their own children all because a man accused them of being unfit. These women were so beaten down by the system that they had begun to believe this lie. I once knew a woman whose husband had cheated on her and then invited the mistress to their house with the daughter they had created as a result of their affair. He actually expected his wife to take care of the child for his mistress….WHAT!

The point is that there are many women out there who would sit back and take this without trying to fight back because they don’t value themselves. They may have been conditioned to feel this way by parents or by abusive husbands or boyfriends. They may have grown up feeling as though they could never speak up for themselves because even their church had been incorrectly teaching them to be “submissive” to the men in their lives. Anyone who has wisdom of the Scriptures understands that the “submissiveness” that is talked about in the Bible was never meant to be a permission slip for anyone to abuse or belittle women.  It is more about understanding what men are supposed to be able to do in our relationships as protectors and providers and knowing what we are expected to do as the ones entrusted with child-rearing and nurturing and respecting everyone involved.  These “incorrect” influences come from all over and the damage is far-reaching. My own testimony on how these attitudes have impacted my life goes so far back that I couldn’t begin to cover all of the details in a mere blog post, but then, maybe more than a blog post is needed to carry out the mission that God has placed on my heart. I have wasted too much of my life being quiet and I don’t plan to stay quiet any longer.

For all of the media buzz about our political candidates and their respective disrespect of women, I have this to say. If we truly believe that the problems we face as a society are the direct result of either Donald Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s husband’s behavior; we are sorely mistaken. Their behavior is a direct result of what has been broken for years and years. Women have been undervalued, discounted and abused for centuries. Sometimes by men, sometimes by other women. But make no mistake, women have never truly been lifted up in a way that shows them their great value and worth. They may have been lifted up for their outer beauty; thus putting pressure on them to stay forever young and beautiful. They may have been lifted up for their physical fitness; thus putting pressure on them to stay thin and active even if ravaged by disease or injury. They may even have been lifted up for their sexuality; thus keeping the thought firmly in focus that the only way a woman can have value is if she is revving up some man’s engine. But they have never been lifted up as carriers of life, hope, and purpose. They have instead been slapped in the face by laws that seek to take away their rights and choices by shaming them into doing what puts money into the pockets of the already-wealthy or what makes a man feel big and powerful. And any woman who threatens a man’s success is seen as a bitch, whore, or a nut-case even if that man had no potential for success to begin with.

So, here I am. A 44 year-old woman with an advanced education and a decent job. I suffer from arthritis and fibromyalgia.  I’m overweight because I don’t take enough time for myself to work out and eat right; also a result of being in pain from the arthritis and fibro. I’m not anyone’s first choice as far as being “sexy” or desirable…at least not that I know of or care to know. I am a mother, I’m a writer, I’m a rape survivor, I’ve lost five babies due to miscarriage. I’ve been a victim of unfair treatment at the hands of the local family court system. I was molested as a young child. I was abused by a few of the men I dated. I was not loved by the man I married. Yet, here I am. I refuse to let anyone’s labels define me. If you don’t know me or you do know me, but haven’t bothered to get to know me well, then you’re missing out on a great friend and ally. If you choose not to know me because I stick closely to my convictions about God and His plan for our lives, I still pray for your health, safety, and happiness. I do this because God made me to be an encourager and a nurturer and a supporter. He made me to love others and to love Him. But He did not make me to be a doormat.  He also wants me to love myself enough to be able to do carry out those roles correctly. If I don’t first see my own worth and value, I cannot see the worth and value in anyone or anything else. I’d be too hung up on what I’m not or who I’m not to be able to give anyone an honest accounting of what I’ve learned over the years.

I have spent too much time being quiet. And I have way too much to tell you to allow that to continue. I’m wondering if there are things you would say if you weren’t so afraid to speak up. What would you do if you had no fear or concern that you weren’t worthy or valued? How would your life look if instead of waiting to be accepted, you went ahead and accepted yourself for who God made you to be? I pray that you will find your voice and begin to tell your story. Understand that talking to hear your head rattle is not what I mean. I mean that your story is meant to show you things about yourself and how you were made to relate to others. I mean that your story is unique to you and that how you grow and overcome the challenges that are set before you is meant to be fuel to someone else’s fire. We are meant to light one another up and help each other move past our brokenness. But we often selfishly hold onto it as though the broken pieces were the gift instead of the repaired soul.

Accept the healing. Tell your story. Share the experience and the love that has or will put you back together. No life is meaningless unless we refuse to accept our meaning. Never let anyone place a value on your life but God. No one else has any clue what He has put into you or what He plans to get out of you.

Start here. Tell me your story. I’ll be sharing a little bit more of mine with you in the posts that follow.

God bless!

*Please Note-I am a woman, so naturally I’m going to speak from my experiences as a woman and sometimes that means saying that I haven’t been treated very fairly by men.  Please do not take offense.  I know that not all men are bad and I don’t intend for all men to be painted with a negative brush.  Try to read with heart toward understanding where I’m coming from.  I will not approve any hateful comments, though you are more than welcome to share your opinion.  My goal here is to give courage to those who have none.  Not to beat up on those who are in no way responsible for the way I feel about this particular topic.  Thank you!

 

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.

~Hebrews 11:1-3 New King James Version (NKJV)~

The past six years have been full of emotion and at times, heartbreaking confusion. In 2010, I left my husband of ten years and attempted to start a new life. I didn’t know what I needed, but I knew that it didn’t look like what I had. At some point during our relationship, it seemed that my husband had stopped loving me, so instead of trying to convince him that he did, I left. At this point, I sometimes wonder if he had ever started loving me.

I have had many friends come into my life and hang around for a while, but then either abruptly disappear or slowly fade out until all I was left with was the memory that once upon a time, there was someone there that I could talk to. I have a hard time understanding this because once someone is important to me; I have a hard time letting them be unimportant. This is true even when they have more than proven that their intentions toward me were nothing short of evil. It has never been clear to me whether this was to be attributed to a big heart or a tiny brain or maybe a combination of the two.

At times I look back over the relationships I’ve had and I wonder what it is about me that drives people away. I mean, I’ve heard that if your relationships consistently fail then you are most likely the common denominator that is causing the failure. It can’t be that there are so many people out there who have little to no capacity to truly love others, can it? The idea that I might be the flaw made me very uncomfortable for a very long time. Today, however, I believe that my inability to sustain something long-term is not necessarily related to something that is inherently unlovable about me inasmuch as it relates to the phase of life that I am in and where those I love appear to be. It’s most likely just a matter of timing and direction. For some, we are clearly on different paths. For others, we are simply at different places on the same path. Not good, not bad, just not right for either one of us.

If I’m honest with myself, I never really wanted to be married. I never wanted to be in that kind of relationship, but I let society tell me that I was too old to be single. I loved my husband, but when we were together, I was not healed enough from the trauma I’d been through as a young woman. I wasn’t trusting enough to share myself with anyone and being married wasn’t comforting in any way that was healthy. But I’ve been divorced for almost six years now and basically relationship-free for well over two years. It has become clear to me that the only relationship I want to focus on is my relationship with Christ. Sadly, it sometimes seems that even He is starting to dislike me. Now I know that this isn’t true, but it sure feels that way at times. In reality, it’s not that He doesn’t love me; it’s more like He is waiting for me to catch up. I was keeping good pace with Him for a bit, but for whatever reason (or reasons), I seem to have fallen back some. Whether I was exhausted by the battles I faced at the time or I just forgot where I was going remains to be seen. The question is, am I going to pick up the pace or sit by the side of the road and cry because I can’t see where He is? It’s not in my nature to sit anywhere and cry helplessly, so I guess I’d better get moving.

Take a breather when you need to, but never give up. He is still right there waiting for you even if He seems to be far away. The path is filled with obstacles and opportunities. Which will you choose to accept?

Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.

~Deuteronomy 5:33 New International Version (NIV)~

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Psalm 30:11-12 NIV

Today, I am celebrating another birthday.  I’ve been blessed with 44 years on this earth and I am happy to say that even through all of the trials, there is nothing I would change about that journey.  Good and bad, it has made me who I am and I’m truly happy with that.  There is a song that my sisters and I sang when we used to go out and sing karaoke, the Landslide by the Dixie Chicks.  I know this is not the original version, but something about the way they sang it just fit.  My two sisters and I have been through a lot in our lives and I believe the song captures where we’ve been and where we are today.  With that in mind, I’ve resolved to do a few things differently this time around the sun.

First of all, I’m going to be more diligent about putting God first in every area of my life.  Sometimes, I tend to take off on my own and try to do it myself before asking for His help.  That just doesn’t work.  No matter how many attempts I make, it never comes together correctly without His intervention.

Secondly, I’m going to move forward…even when it feels uncomfortable.  After a life that has been chaotic at times, my natural inclination should be to settle in and just coast for a while.  But I believe that God made me for better than that and that I owe it to Him to try harder.

Third, I’m going to sing more.  I love singing.  If I could have, I would have done it professionally.  But I lacked the courage to get out there and do it, so it has remained a hidden talent (if it can be called a talent where I’m concerned).  I’ve been encouraged to sing more, so I’m going to.  Hope you don’t mind.

God has been so good to me and I want to fill every moment of this life with praise of Him and all that He can and will do.  I thank Him for all of the wonderful friends and family He has blessed me with.  Also, many thanks to those who have sent birthday wishes today.

Love and many blessings to you!

“Landslide”

I took my love, took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time made you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time made you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too
Oh, I’m getting older too

I take my love, take it down
I climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Will the landslide bring you down?
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Will the landslide bring you down, oh, oh?
The landslide bring you down

by Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

~Psalm 51:17 New International Version (NIV)~

 

Some days I ask myself, “What is still broken?” I should be happy, but sometimes I’m struggling. Of course, at my core, I know that I am blessed beyond all that I could have imagined, but there are days when my greatest fear overtakes me and all I can think of is, “What if I am never able to bring all that He has put into me to fruition?”

The devil works diligently to convince us that we are not enough and he has been working overtime trying to convince me that in spite of all that I’ve been able to do, and all that I’ve overcome, I’m still nothing. The truth is, he’s right. I am nothing. But not in the way he would like me to think. I am nothing because He (God) is everything and the only way that I can ever be anything is to allow Him to work through me. The more reluctant I am to allow Him to work through me, the more nothing I become. No matter how “good” I’m trying to be.

I look back over the wreckage in my life; I see years of pain over childhood hurts, being molested, surviving a rape, losing five babies, a broken marriage, an ongoing struggle to keep my daughter safe, and inner turmoil that pulls me toward following my path and away from clinging to the path that has worn me down. In all of these things, the one component that seems to have kept me from falling completely apart is that God was watching over me and checking my responses to these trials. As I moved past these things, it was Him who gave me the strength to look at these awful things as a source of strength and not as areas of weakness. But even after I had come through them, there was still something missing. At those times, I hadn’t completely surrendered to Him. I hadn’t even completely acknowledged Him in my life and until I did, I never had any peace to go with the healing.

By the world’s standards, I live an average life. I have an average job. I live in an average apartment. I drive an average car. By my own standards, I feel that I have a great life in terms of those things, but I know that I am missing the mark in some very big ways. Like hearing God when He tells me to move or being obedient when He tells me that I’ve gone in the wrong direction.   I know that I could do so much better if I’d only trust Him completely. After all that I’ve given Him to repair, I feel somewhat sheepish about returning to the shop with one more request. But I don’t know what else to do. I do know that if anyone can fix it, He can. So my reluctance to take whatever it is back to Him is the only thing that stands in the way of that victory.

As Christians, we want to believe that once we “sign up” to follow Christ, everything will magically fall into place and we’ll never feel broken again. That simply isn’t how it works. In my heart of hearts, I know that the reason I am still feeling like something isn’t working is because I’m only about 95% of the way surrendered. I love God with all my heart and I would never want to do anything to grieve His Spirit, but there is something in my nature that won’t allow me to just let go.

The sad reality is that sometimes the thing we refuse to let go of is actually the only thing that is keeping us from stepping into the victory that He has for us. Sometimes He wants us to see things from the opposite side of the spectrum so that we can fully understand the task in front of us. But if we allow our stubbornness to block our view, we will never know whether or not the steps we are taking are moving us toward or away from the ultimate goal He has set for us. It could be that I’ve been staring at the wrong end of the horse, so to speak, and my outlook is now stuck on the limitations of that perspective, if that makes sense. For example, if I believe that the only way to attack an issue lies in what we take in instead of what we get rid of, then my focus will always be on gathering things to put in the pot. But what if the answer is in the purging?

I realize that this post is all over the place. My heart and mind have been so burdened by what I have needed to do that I have failed to take the time to consider what I shouldn’t do. As I write this, I’m making some big decisions regarding my women’s ministry. The focus had been on building women up and helping them to make good choices, however, I’m seeing now that what I need to be doing first is to help them to get rid of the things in their lives that are keeping them from seeing their options clearly. I’ve had to come to a point of almost giving up in order to see the whole picture clearly. Once I stripped away my own hang-ups and expectations, I had a revelation that maybe what I need to let go of has nothing to do with the ministry but with the things that are getting in the way of doing ministry.

I started out by saying that even though I have done a great deal of healing, I still feel broken somewhere inside. This is true. But the reality is that we are works in progress. We will never be perfect. We will never get to a point where we don’t need Jesus. We will get to a place where we doubt, where we fear or where we question whether or not any of what we are doing makes sense. The devil makes sure of that. It is in his best interests to keep us in a state of confusion, or a state of fear, or to instill doubt in us. He wants to keep us wondering whether or not we should trust God. He wants us to give up. And in many cases, he succeeds. We get weary and we decide that it just isn’t worth the struggle. We set aside the things which God has called us to do and we move forward in hopes that we can live a life that is just good enough to keep us from going to hell instead of living a life that brings victory to others instead of just to ourselves. I’ll tell you a secret, though. If the only victory you seek in this life is for yourself, then you have already accepted defeat.

My inclination in the past had been to shrink back and let the more dynamic types step out and do the real fighting. I was happy being in the background and doing the little things to help out. I was perfectly happy tiptoeing along the outside of the conflict and very quietly throwing my opinion into the ring as I hurried by. But the more time that passes, the more I see that the need for God’s people to speak loudly and step boldly is greater than ever before. I had been looking at the problem from the outside; failing to acknowledge that at one point in my life God had pulled me from the very center of that pit so that I could one day help others who found themselves caught in the same circumstance. Once I was out, it was as though I tried to forget that I was ever there…or at least tried to convince myself that having gone through it wasn’t actually the source of my strength, but an indicator of a weakness that I had to let go of in order to be more like my God. I missed the point that without having had the experience, I would be in no way qualified to help anyone else understand it or overcome it.

And so, to have any strength at all, I have to embrace the weakness that once crippled me and show people what it looks like from the other side. Yes, there is still something broken. If there wasn’t, I would have no desire to fix what is wrong. If there weren’t problems, I would have no reason to reach out to others. If there weren’t opportunities for improvement, I would have no personal example of God’s love to show. Even though we all have the ultimate example in Christ’s sacrifice. The function of light is to bring visibility. But you can’t see the difference if there is no darkness to overcome. I’m not saying that we need to be happy when things go wrong; but we do need to understand that darkness and brokenness are our opportunity to show light and healing to this world. We need to be passionate about declaring those truths and we need not see them as deficiencies in our character. The broken parts make up the whole and God seals them with His love, grace, and mercy. It is our job to show others what brokenness can become.

God bless you!

 

Introduction

My name is Rebecca Benston. I'm an author, speaker, and advocate for women and children. My spiritual journey has led me to many questions about what is right and how to live out the purpose that God has set for me.

I am finding that after considering all other possibilities, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that without living a life that acknowledges the blood of Jesus we are lost. Yet, there are many who claim to know Him and understand His teachings who spew hatred and look for any and all opportunities to judge others instead of seeking them out to lead them to Christ. The goal of this blog is to work towards removing the animosity that exists between followers of Christ who subscribe to different doctrinal approaches and beliefs about what is expected of a "good" Christian. Also to draw the unbeliever closer to Christ through practicing His love and patience and to help all followers understand that love and true faith cannot co-exist where hate, intolerance and a sense of superiority live.

I also hope to open a dialogue with people from many different religious backgrounds and to work together with followers of this blog to break down some of the barriers to harmony that exist in our society. I hope you will join in the conversation!

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