Feelings

If I’m totally honest, I loathe the phrase “all the feels”. I don’t know why it bothers me so much. Maybe it’s because I don’t like feeling the feelings. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to break.

For a long time, I felt that it was weak to cry. There were days in middle school and high school when I cried all the time. Bad grade? Tears. Bad hair day? Tears. Someone looked at me funny? Tears. I couldn’t help it, and I hated it. For a few months of my life when I was growing humans, I cried over things like when my husband made dinner and didn’t let me prove what a good wife I was- I really pled my case there, huh?

Later in life I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I did everything I could to avoid tears. I was applauded for my strength, and I developed a stigma. At my job in the hospital, we deal with the difficult. I tell students all the time that it’s okay to cry, as long as the family isn’t supporting us. But I don’t really feel like it’s okay when I cry. I nonchalantly escape to a safe place. I retreat to my office and put a cold juice box on my face til the splotches go away. I fan my face and wipe my eyes and walk out with a fresh smile. All is well. I don’t want to be in my feelings.

Lately, the feelings have been flowing. I joked that I’m sympathy pregnant for my friend who is actually expecting and feeling ALL. THE. FEELS. I wanted an excuse for the highs and lows. I’m out of my comfort zone. So, what gives?

A few things:

God is teaching me not to judge the cryers. Because I’m quickly becoming one of them. Also, Jesus cried, and I’m just trying to be more like Him, okay? (John 11:35)

God is showing me that in my weakness, He is strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God is shifting my perspective from one of pride to one of compassion. Ezekiel 36:26 tells us that God is giving us a new heart and putting a new spirit within us. He’s giving us hearts of flesh for our hearts of stone.

My dear friend says that feelings are real, but they aren’t reliable. My tears do not define me. My exhaustion does not define me. My anger does not define me. My feelings are not an accurate portrayal of me. Today I may cry because I’m genuinely sad, but I might also cry because I’m hungry. I may yell at my son because he didn’t pick up his clothes, but I’m selfishly more upset because my pride is hurt when he doesn’t obey me. My week on the emotional roller coaster could be attributed to a number of things, but it doesn’t make me fragile. It doesn’t make me less-than. It means I probably need more rest, more Jesus, more water, and I need to release my emotions.

It most definitely means I need to pray and open my Bible. And I mean really open my Bible. Not just read the daily devotional passage of the day. I mean pray for wisdom and guidance. I mean search the Word for answers. I mean journal my prayers and focus my thoughts on God, rather than my momentary problem.

I need to accept that God created emotions when He created us. He made our eyes to cry, He made our hearts to break, He made our cups to runneth over. But He also made our mouths to smile, He made our souls to be grateful, He made our cups to runneth over.

What I want to say is that it’s okay to feel. In fact, it’s encouraged. It’s healthy. But don’t be controlled by the emotions. Romans 12:5 says we should rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. In context, the chapter is talking about getting along with others. Don’t be proud. Don’t be evil because someone else is. Don’t seek revenge. The weeping is temporary and frustration is fleeting; elation isn’t a permanent feeling either. On a deeper level, humble yourself. The world isn’t focused on you. It doesn’t, or shouldn’t, really matter if I cry or I don’t cry. I can be free to release my feelings and move on. I can spend my time meeting the needs of others or being productive in what God has called me to do.

Feel what you feel. Learn from what you feel. And help others as they feel. Enjoy the roller coaster and enjoy the solid ground. Both can help you grow if you seek wisdom in the mean time.

All the feels,

Maddie

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A Letter to My Four-Year-Old

Dear Four-Year-Old You,

For your birthday last year, you wore a shirt that says “I am four, hear me roar!” You’ve been heard, little lion. You are fierce. You are loving. You are loud. You are passionate. You are a lot, and sometimes I can’t keep up. You ask questions like, “What will happen to our house when Jesus comes back?” You love to talk about your baby brother we never met. You want to learn a new Bible verse that you’ve never heard before every night before bed. Sometimes to delay bedtime, but sometimes to fulfill your thirst for the Word. You think it should be Christmas all year long, and so we sing Christmas carols on the regular. You say most words correctly, but “wittle” and “bee-nana pudding” slip out every so often, and I’m not saying a thing about it. Your hand fits perfectly in mine, and it’s rare that we aren’t holding them together. No one sings The Greatest Showman quite like you. Choreography and facials and all. If you’re gonna sing, you’re gonna perform.

Sometimes, your fierceness gets you in trouble. Naps are hard for your bubbling soul. You have so much to offer, so many questions, so many things to explore. Sometimes, you just need a pause button, my dear. Don’t ever suppress your hunger for knowledge, your desire to make people smile, your ability to make us all feel like we are your favorite. But just like the Bible says, there is a time for everything. We do have times we need to be quiet. God also tells us to be still. When you have so many emotions you don’t know what to do, take those deep breaths. Put those hands in your pockets. Say a prayer, and ask God for self-control. I know you can pray because you like to tell me about what you say when you’re “talking to God”. This mama heart is full when you tell me those things. You told me yourself you believe that God can do ANYTHING! Even help you remember to keep your hands to yourself.

I love that every day is a party. You live well. Sometimes it’s hard to tell those precious freckles “no”, but you know I have to. You know I have to reprimand you when your booming voice turns to yelling during nap time. You know I have to correct you when your hands seem to be a little, or a lot, too rough. One day you’ll get it. One day, I’ll see an amazing young man who, slowly, but surely, became a man after God’s own heart. A man who loves his family well, a man who praises God for His goodness, and a man who seeks God in all circumstances.

I wouldn’t change a thing about you, because it’s all shaping you up to the person God created you to be. You put a smile on my face every day, even if you add some tears and gray hairs along the way, too. I’ll love you forever, my sunshine, my baby, my four-year-old.

Love,

Mommy

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We Remember

I’m always amazed at how things line up. In the hospital, you might switch days with a coworker, and you end up with a life changing patient. You might be covering for someone on your team while they are off, and you end up meeting the needs of a patient you would have other wise never met. It happens all the time.

In other instances, you may make plans months in advance, never knowing what the day will bring. You schedule a flight, only to have it cancelled due to weather. You buy tickets to a concert, and end up with a stomach bug. You sign up to run a race, and you need surgery. We just never truly know.

Today, we celebrated the lives of children who passed away this year at my hospital. It’s an annual tradition that brings hope and comfort to our families. It helps bring closure to staff members, and it allows us to be humans, rather than stoic scrub-clad healthcare workers. We get the opportunity to pray with families, sing with them, and remember.

Today, my step dad remembers the life of his father. A World War II veteran who fought for our country and saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers. He lived to be 97, yet the thought of his time at war still brought tears to his eyes. He always welcomed us to the table to share a meal at his favorite restaurant. He loved his town. Today, we remember.

Today, our country remembers the life of Barbara Bush. Always the class-act, in her pearls and signature blue, she inspired many women to succeed. I remember my own grandmother, as I wear her pearls today, too. What strength it took to represent our country as the First Lady and later, the mother of a President. We don’t have to think too hard about how her hair became so white. She loved her family well, and will continue to inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

When our team planned the memorial service this year, we had no way of knowing what else we would be remembering today. We didn’t know if the weather would be rainy or gorgeous. We couldn’t have predicted who would be sick or who would have a last-minute emergency. We didn’t know who would come. But God did.

God knew today would be a day of remembrance. He asks us to remember, and so we reflect and remind ourselves of His goodness. We look through pictures of the people we love, who smiled and, in return, made us grin from ear to ear. We remember the stories-some we can tell, some we can’t. We remember their struggles and rejoice that they are over, new forms of grief taking their place.

Why do we need to remember? The Bible asks us to remember His covenant. In 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, it says:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said,“This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (CSB)

We must remember what the Lord has done for us. He gave His life so that we might live. If we don’t remember that, then we will not follow His law. If we don’t remember that, we will end up in a life that looks nothing like Jesus’.

God created our minds for remembering, and He lines things up so we will do just that. Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I observe your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you set in place, what is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?” (CSB)

Did you catch that? He remembers us, as well. Just as we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), we remember Him, because He first remembered us.

When everything seems to be lining up in a crazy way, on those days where it seems almost like the plot line to a TV drama, ask God what He’s trying to show you. Today, I’m remembering- precious lives, His goodness, laughter, and family. Coincidence isn’t really something I believe in, but I wholeheartedly look to the One who is orchestrating this life I’ve been given.

I Gave Up Social Media for Lent

…And I didn’t die! The world didn’t end! My life, as I know it, continues!

Forty-five days of no Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat. Forty-five days to pray in place of those things. Forty-five days away from status updates, retweets, likes, view counts, and posts. Has it been hard? Yes. Has it been freeing? Yes. Have I prayed the same amount of time I would have spent online? If I’m honest? No.

So what have I done? I’ve spent more time taking pictures for my own memories instead of a tally of thumbs up. I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve watched movies with my family without distractions. I’ve talked with my husband about theology. I’ve paid attention to Hudson’s baseball games. I’ve played and chatted with Harrison while he took his baths. I’ve prayed for my neighbors when I thought about missing something online. I’ve loved people better in real life. Maybe it’s because I didn’t know what they had for lunch and we could have actual conversations about their days. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to love someone when you aren’t annoyed with his or her grammar.

The break was both good and difficult. I know I have missed birthdays, pregnancy announcements, birth announcements, clear scan announcements, inside jokes, hilarious videos, wedding pictures, friend requests, and more. My fear of missing out had to take a back seat. People in my life made sure I was kept up to date. A lot of stories began with “Did you see… Oh wait! You’re off Facebook, let me tell you…” I had actual conversations, y’all! I truly think I’ve been more grateful in the moment. I’ve compared less. I haven’t sought validation from a thousand people I may or may not know on a real basis. I haven’t sold a single book on Amazon since January. But, the beat goes on.

Last year, our church fasted from various things for Lent, and we saw amazing things happen. This year, I can’t say I’ve seen the fruits of our labor in such a clear way, but I fully believe we’ve planted seeds for the harvest. Regardless of results, the discipline of sacrificing is not wasted. We’ve sacrificed with purpose, and we’ve replaced, at least a little, with God.

So what do I do now? Do I continue to check social media like it’s my job? Do I go back to draining my phone battery by 8pm each day? I hope not. I intend to be more intentional with my online time. I don’t need to check each outlet incessantly. I don’t need to post everything I do. My online presence will take a backseat to my real life presence.

I know it’s not the norm to step away from social media. It may be weird or boring to some, but maybe it’s okay to be boring. Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (CSB). In other words, Christians aren’t supposed to look like everyone else.

Galatians 1:10 is an excellent reminder to base our actions on what pleases God versus what pleases men. “For am I now trying to persuade people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (CSB). You just can’t do both.

Some final food for thought:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. (1 Timothy 6:6-8 CSB)

So let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. (2 Corinthians 10:17 CSB)

I really do love connecting on social media, but I have to look at it as an outlet, not my power source. I’ve learned over the last forty-five days that my time can be better spent, but I can also use some of my time wisely on social media. There are a lot of benefits to being on these apps/websites, but as in everything, it’s my heart behind it that matters. As the Bible tells us, “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 CSB). I hope to use these outlets with a pure heart, basing my identity on who God says I am, instead of basing it on a number and using my time for true connection, rather than mindless scrolling.

By the way, if you need me, I’ll be checking my 247 notifications and eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs.

 

Why We Need the Church

Our church has faced tremendous loss over the last four months. Devastating traumas have shaken us to the core. We’ve said “goodbye” to people, way before we have been ready. We’ve prepared for funerals that shouldn’t have needed to take place. We’ve prayed earnestly for miracles. We’ve cried tears over prayers that were answered in ways we still don’t understand.

Amidst the sadness, I’ve seen generations of believers coming together in love. I have watched two women, who lost their adult sons, embracing, decades between their losses. I have seen families stepping up to serve meals. I’ve witnessed selfless acts of giving. I have observed love in a very tangible way.

A lot of people have given up on church. So many people turn to their own version of church, claiming that the rest and refreshment on Sundays is what they are looking for and what God wants for us. Online services make it really easy to be filled and move on. It also makes it easy to fast forward through what we don’t want to hear,

One of the Ten Commandments says, “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11 NLT) 

Yes, it’s important to rest; it says so right there. But it also says to set it apart as holy. Holy means “dedicated or consecrated to God”. Now, I love a nap as much as the next girl, but I cannot say that my nap time is dedicated or consecrated to God. I may feel more like reading my Bible or singing praise songs when I’m rested, but there has to be an element of God to my Sabbath.

Here’s the other thing about church: It doesn’t just happen on Sundays. For my fellow Baptists, it doesn’t just happen on Sundays and Wednesday nights. The Church is a body of believers. It is the Bride of Christ. If you’re married, do you only consider yourself a spouse one day a week? Of course not; it’s a 24/7 commitment. Church happens on a random Tuesday when another member needs a ride. Church happens when a husband gets laid off and the family cannot afford groceries. Church happens when a teen mom cannot pay for Christmas gifts. Church happens when a loved one dies and you don’t know how you’ll get out of bed the next morning. These connections do not happen through a livestream.

Even though I wish I could take every hurt away from my friends, I also wish I could effectively explain the beauty of seeing God’s people acting as His hands and feet.

Acts 2:42-47 says, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” (NLT)

THIS is church. THIS is what God wants for us. Sunday mornings help us establish discipline. They help us set apart a time to learn God’s Word and to sing praises to Him in a collective way. Hearing a choir of voices gives me the tiniest glimpse of heaven, and I absolutely love it. How beautiful that sound is to God. Wednesday nights at our church are set aside for prayer. We read a chapter of the Bible together, and then we pray. We make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6-7). The Bible assures us that when two or more are gathered in His name, He is with them (Matthew 18:20). There are other opportunities for teenagers, children, young adults, not-so-young adults, women, men, etc. to fellowship (AKA eat), learn more about the Bible, sing, and have fun. It’s usually in these “extra” church moments where we grow the most.

I know it’s kind of a joke in churches that some people only come on Christmas and Easter. But, Easter is this Sunday, and I would be honored if you joined a local church body for services. And maybe even the Sunday after that. We need each other. God wants us to love and support each other. Jesus named it among the top two things to obey (see Matthew 22:38). If you aren’t around people, you won’t know their needs, and they won’t know yours.

As we remember Good Friday today, truly reflect on the sacrifice God made for us. Sunday is coming, but it took Jesus’ death on the cross to get to the celebration of the resurrection. Remember that Jesus spent His last night on earth with His twelve disciples. Remember that it was a crowd of Jesus’ followers who stood at the foot of the cross. They comforted each other, processed with one another, and rejoiced together three days later. He recognized community, and He wants it for us, too.

See you Sunday.

 

Cleaning Out My Closet

I don’t go shopping for clothes a lot. I’m a huge fan of buying online. I tend to buy things before a trip or for certain events. It’s not a hobby of mine, for sure. But when my mom comes in town, we go shopping. I had a great shopping day on Friday, and it got even better when my sister let me shop in her closet as well!

When I finally had a minute to organize my new clothes, I realized how unorganized my closet had become. My shoes had been haphazardly flung inside, my scrubs, which typically lie stacked in a neat pile, had fallen over into my jeans. I had bags, pictures, and books piled in every crevice. I became disgusted at the chaos, so I grabbed a stool and began the process of refolding, rehanging, and replacing. One task became two, and eventually,  I spent about an hour on the spontaneous project. I needed to purge. Clothes I had been hanging onto were suddenly ready for the giveaway pile. I found things I had been looking for for weeks. All in all, I pulled out two full trash bags worth of clothes and shoes to donate, and one grocery bag of trash. Then, because I needed a true, deep clean, I grabbed the cleaning supplies to dust and sweep. Mary Poppins would be proud of my end result.

I sat there and stared at the clean closet. I sent a picture to my sister to show her my handiwork and to let her know her clothes were feeling right at home in my possession. I was proud of the job I had done, and I was resting more easily with the disorder resolved.

Of course, I don’t want to blog about my cleaning escapades. I want to show you the connection that God laid on my heart. 

When we make a decision to follow Christ, He doesn’t immediately make us “give up” our former ways. He doesn’t ask us to change or fix our bad habits, He just calls us to come. Slowly, but surely, He leads us to a better way. He shows us the way to live through Jesus’ example. We begin to pick up new habits like reading our Bibles, singing praise and worship songs, praying, and attending Bible studies during the week. When we start adding those to our routine, the old things start to look undesirable. They become easier to throw away. We start to hate the sin.

I feel like I clean out my closet pretty regularly, yet every time I decide it’s time for another clothes detox, I find more things to get rid of. It’s not that I’m adding so many things that I need to clean out more often to make it fit, it’s the fact that as I buy new things, my old clothes start to look dated. I can no longer remember how long it’s been since I wore them last. I am ready to turn away from the old to make room for the new.

To grow in Christ, we have to hate our sin as much as God does. We have to see our “little slip ups” as unacceptable and disgusting. Proverbs 15:9 says, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves him who follows righteousness.”(NKJV) 

It’s hard to live in community with God when we allow sin in our lives. As humans, we can never completely eradicate sin, but we can learn to avoid it. The book of 1 John is very clear about living in sin while we are in fellowship with God. 1 John 3:6 says, “No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.”  (ESV) and 1 John 1:6 says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (NKJV) Ouch! 

My closet is not huge. I could not continue to buy new clothes and keep all of the old. I physically have to clear some out if I buy new things. Having too much stuff also limits the functionality. When I am wise about what I keep, I can more easily maintain an organized system where I know the layout, and I know where everything belongs.

When we declutter our hearts, our relationship with God makes more sense. It’s hard to praise Him for forgiveness when we continue to do the very thing we are asking forgiveness for. It’s confusing to people who see a two-faced lifestyle; it hurts our witness. It won’t ever be perfect, but it will be a step in the right direction.

My closet will not win any major awards for organization or efficiency. It’s most definitely a work in progress, but it’s progress, nonetheless. Philippians 3:14 tells us “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (NKJV) It does not say “I’ve won the race”. We press on.

Don’t settle for chaos and confusion. We read in 1 Corinthians 14:33 that “God is not the author of confusion but of peace” (NKJV). If you’re confused about something in your life, it’s probably not of God. Pray about it, seek guidance from more mature Christians, and sort it out.

It’s time to clean out your closet.

Identity

Last weekend, I was blessed to have an opportunity to speak to a group of junior high and high school girls. When I asked ahead of time what topics they might need to hear about, my friend mentioned anxiety, self-image, family, peer pressure, and identity. Identity really struck a chord with me. I know as students, this struggle comes up a lot, but I’m gonna be honest- it’s something adults struggle with as well. We all want to know that we are “somebody”. That we are making a difference. That we are “the person God created us to be”. And it seems like a daunting task to figure out what exactly that means.

We are given names. We are born with certain physical features. We develop personalities and interests. We are labeled.

Smart. Kind. Popular. Athlete. Mathlete. Stupid. Single. Taken. Sister. Friend. Daughter. Dancer. Runner. Lazy. Ditzy. Black. White. Snob. Christian. Fat. Skinny. Pretty. Ugly. Rich. Poor.

We label everything. Our food, our clothes, our cars, our pets, ourselves. Sometimes we wear a lot of them. Most of the labels I wear have placed on myself or have had them placed by someone else. They may all be true, but they are not what God calls me. So what does He call us?

I am a child of God.

Galatians 3:26 says, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”. What does it mean to be someone’s child?

  • We are loved
    • Romans 5:5 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”
    • John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, He gave his one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”
    • Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” (Notice it says UNFAILING. That means it never ends. That means even if we mess up, even if we run, even if we fail to acknowledge Him, He still loves us.)
  • We are provided for
    • Psalm 145:16 “When you open your hand, You satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing.”
    • Philippians 4:19 “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”
  • We are connected to a family
    • John 1:12 “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”
    • In Paul’s letters in the New Testament (Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, etc.), he refers to us as brothers and sisters. While we may have iffy feelings about our earthly brothers and sisters, there is something cool about sharing a gene pool with someone. Even if our gene pool is the blood of Christ, and not DNA.
  • We are heirs
    • Romans 8:17 “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share His suffering.”

I am chosen.

  • We don’t have to beg. We don’t have to pull a Meredith Gray, “Pick me. Choose me. Love me.” He’s already done it. We’re not the last ones left in gym class. We don’t have to impress Him. It’s done, and it was done before we were even born.
  • Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
  • 1 Peter 2:9 “You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”
  • Colossians 3:12 “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”
    • Being chosen comes with a command. Since you are chosen, you must…
    • Just like in sports, once you are chosen, you have a job to do. You are part of the team, and you have responsibilities.

 I am redeemed.

  • We hear this word a lot in “church speak”, but what does it mean? It means that something or someone has compensated for our faults and flaws. It means to gain possession of something through payment- but not in a creepy way. Jesus paid the price for our sins. His death on the cross means that any sin we commit, have committed, will commit, is paid for already. Forgiveness is ours if we ask for it.
  • We hear it paired with “set free”. We are free from our sin. People get confused by freedom in Christ and think we can just behave however we want. Here’s the thing. God doesn’t make us do anything. He doesn’t make us love Him. He doesn’t say “you can’t do this, this, or this.” He tells us what we shouldn’t do, and He makes it clear how He wants us to act. But He gives us free will. Freedom in Christ means that we are not enslaved to our sin. If you’ve placed a label on yourself, it’s not stuck there. Praise God I don’t have to keep committing the sins I’ve done. I’m free from my past mistakes because God has forgiven me and shown me a better way. I am redeemed by God, and that IS a label that can stick.
  • Ephesians 1:7 “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace”

 I am bought with a price.

  • So, if redemption means we’ve been bought with a price, what did we cost? Are we each worth something different? Did I cost more if I have more sins to forgive? Am I worth more because I’ve been going to church since I was born? No. We were all bought by the blood of Christ.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20 “God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”
    • Like the verses we talked about before that say we have a responsibility that comes with being chosen, we have a responsibility that comes with being bought. It’s not that God hangs His sacrifice over our heads, but it’s the idea that we should WANT to do everything we can to thank Him and glorify Him for His great sacrifice. That means our bodies, our gifts, our talents, our money belong to Him.
    • Revelation 5:9 “By your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”

 I am a sheep.

  • One of the most well-known Bible passages is Psalm 23. It starts out with the line “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want”. The whole Psalm compares us to sheep that desperately need a good shepherd, which God is.
  • Sheep are easily led astray. They need a shepherd to keep them safe. We need a leader, and we have all of this in God.

 A flower, quickly fading.

  • We aren’t invincible. We are only here for a short time. We cannot rely on the labels we give ourselves to stick around. Our looks, our abilities, our possessions are not going to last, but God will.
  • 1 Peter 1:23-25 “For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.””

Salt and Light

  • Lately, “salty” means angry, bitter, or upset. That’s not what I’m talking about. We’re going with salty like the food. That crawfish boil salty. That perfectly buttered popcorn salty.
  • Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”
  • Salt preserves and salt enhances flavor. You, as a Christian, can lead others to Christ, therefore preserving them, or leading them to salvation through Christ. You can also show them the richer life. Not necessarily wealthy, but rich as in more meaningful, more colorful, and ultimately, the better way. The world says Christians are boring- maybe we are. God hasn’t called us to be Tony’s- salt mixed with a lot of other junk. Yeah, it tastes good, but it’s not serving the purpose of pure salt. We may not look like the world, but we have the answer to eternal life. We have the God who created the universe on our side. We have a Father who hears our prayers and seasons our lives richly. He preserves us and enhances our lives. Let’s live as a reflection of this!
  • What about light? 1 John 1:5-7 tells us, “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”

I want you to understand that identity in Christ doesn’t just happen. If you’re struggling to figure out who you are, or you’re wondering if you are enough, go to the Word. Read your Bible to know your Bible. Hide God’s Word in your heart so that when Satan tempts you to think you are worthless, you can fight back and claim 1 Peter 2:9- “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light”. When you think you aren’t good enough for salvation, you can boldly proclaim Ephesians 2:8 “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” When you’re paralyzed by fear and anxiety, you can shout 2 Timothy 1:7, which says “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind”. To know the labels of God, you have to learn them from the Bible.

So who does God say you are?

Child. Chosen. Worthy. Redeemed. Loved. Purchased. Beautiful. Defended. Holy. Salt. Light. Sought-after. Pursued. Cherished. Forgiven. Free. Spotless.

 

(All verses are from the NLT translation)

 

Impossible Comes True

Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.

Recently, our family went to see The Greatest Showman. It was, hands down, the best movie we have seen together in a long time. Possibly ever. And I say that, knowing well the implications of that statement. I sat in the theater with a giddy grin the entire time. I became teary at moments and wanted to shout in triumph at others; I clapped at the end. Ever since we saw the movie a few weeks ago, we have listened to the soundtrack countless times, we have danced ourselves silly to the driving rhythms, and we have celebrated the story all over again.

I recognized certain biblical themes right away. Accepting all of God’s children. What happens when we put our faith in material items. Idolatry. Greed. Faithfulness. One thing, however, has been on my mind. I continue to consider and question why this movie has resonated with so many. Yes, the songs and choreography are amazing, but the entire storyline was striking as well. The lyric that has been on my mind is “impossible comes true, it’s taking over you”. Why are we so drawn to the impossible? Why is the concept of doing something undoable so enticing? Because God placed it in our hearts. God wrote and carried out the impossible story for us and for His glory.

Babies aren’t born to virgins, but Jesus was. Kings aren’t born in stables, but Jesus was. Five loaves and two fish don’t feed thousands, but Jesus made it happen. Blind men don’t just gain sight, but Jesus made it happen. Men don’t walk on water, but Jesus did. Men don’t die and come back from the dead after three days. But Jesus did.

God knew when He created us that we would be drawn to the impossible. He created us to crave Him and the things He has to offer.

Matthew 19:26 says, “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.””

This verse is in reference to our ability to be saved by God. We can’t understand the depth of this gift. We won’t understand on this side of eternity. Yet, it’s ours for the taking. As the Bible says, “He has also set eternity in their heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NKJV).

When we have impossible needs, His word tells us, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NKJV). We can’t do the things God does. He loves to see us revel in the miraculous. When a doctor says, “The only explanation is divine intervention”, God is taking His bow. When we unexpectedly receive the money we needed to pay a bill, He gives us the slightest nod and adjusts His top hat a little. Because He designed our hearts, He can thrill us every time. And we must respond in applause and adoration.

One thing that sets God apart from any other deity is that He shares the impossible with us. He could easily enjoy all the miracles Himself, yet He shares them with us. He allows us to be a part of His Greatest Show.

Just like P.T. Barnum gathered all the people who would have otherwise been excluded, Jesus befriended the odd and unwelcomed. He sat with the woman at the well and lovingly told her the life she was living was not her best (John 4). He invited Zacchaeus, the dishonest, vertically-challenged tax collector, over for dinner (Luke 19:1-10). He cast out demons from Mary Magdalene, and then allowed her to be one of the first to see Him after resurrection (Luke 8:2, Mark 16). We are drawn to these accounts, most likely because we see ourselves in them. We want what we know to be impossible to be possible in our lives, and God has given us that gift.

If you’re a Christian, I hope this is resonating with you. I hope that if you’ve seen the Greatest Showman and you have excitedly told everyone you know to go see the movie right now (like I have), that you recognize the importance of telling everyone you know about your impossible story as well. If you are not a Christian, and you want in on the excitement, I hope your heart is feeling a little tugged on as you read this. I hope you understand that this gift is yours. God has done the impossible, and we just have to accept it (John 3:16).

2 Peter 1:2-4 says, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature” (NKJV). He wants you to be a part of this.

Is TheGreatest Showman an exact account of the Bible? No. And it wasn’t intended to be. P.T. Barnum was criticized for fooling people and for enhancing reality, but every word in the Bible is true (See Proverbs 30:5). There isn’t any smoke and mirrors or sleight of hand. God isn’t tricking us or deceiving us to “up His numbers”, so to speak. God has nothing to gain and nothing to lose, but we have everything to gain with Him and everything to lose without Him.

As the opening song, The Greatest Show, says:

It’s everything you ever want
It’s everything you ever need
And it’s here right in front of you
This is where you wanna be

So tell me, do you wanna go?

Discipline

I think I was about eight years old when I first heard that our parents discipline us because they love us. My eight year old self was floored. In my mind, discipline meant a spanking or losing something important to me. How in the world does that show love? My teacher explained what we know to be true as adults: parents who love their children must use discipline to keep them safe, socially acceptable, and spiritually sound. We all know discipline isn’t fun, on the giving or receiving end. It pains me to take away things my kids love, and it breaks my heart to spank them. But I tell myself all the time, I would rather have them upset with me for five minutes now than be embarrassed by a disrespectful, deviant adult child in fifteen years.

This week, I have been listening to Shannon Miller’s audiobook, “It’s Not About Perfect”. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably know about my love for gymnastics, especially the 1996 Olympic Team. I enjoy watching the events, but I am also intrigued by the preparation that goes into becoming an Olympian. Shannon Miller describes the strict schedule she adhered to and the rigorous training she endured. She physically and mentally prepared for years to become the strong, yet graceful, gymnast she was. She never missed a day in the gym- even during a recovery period for a broken elbow. When she couldn’t put weight on her arm, she continued to strengthen her legs. When she couldn’t swing around on the bars, she hung on the bars. When she couldn’t run a routine full out, she mentally ran through each motion. At competitions, she didn’t focus on scores, hers or her competitors’. Shannon competed against herself. She worried about doing her best, hitting every skill, landing every dismount, making her coach proud.

In high school, I was part of a very disciplined dance team. Our moves were precise and crisp. Our uniforms were classic- pressed and perfect. We were expected to behave as young ladies. We represented a tradition of excellence. Before each dance, we focused on the moves while listening to the music and doing a mental run through. We tuned out cheers and shouts from the stadium. We were sometimes mocked as “Russian gymnasts” because of our stoic demeanors. If we missed a kick or fell out of a stunt, our spot in the dance was on the line. If our grades fell below passing or we received a detention, we would potentially lose our ability to dance the following week. Every count was important, on and off the field. That being said, I still have nightmares about forgetting steps or missing practice, thirteen years later.

This kind of discipline is a discipline mostly motivated by fear. Shannon Miller knew the Olympics were on the line. I wanted to dance and avoid disappointing my parents, coach, and team. Neither one of these practices are bad. I think this kind of discipline is good for character building and learning to succeed. But there is a discipline that is more important, and that is Godly discipline.

My natural instinct is not to go to my Bible or pray. My natural instinct is not to wake up early to have quiet time with the Lord. It takes discipline. But even though my natural instinct says to go to my friends to express my concerns or sleep in and skip a daily devotional, my love of God says to keep coming to Him. My ultimate goal is to please God and live a life that brings glory to Him. The only way to do that is to spend time with Him, and the more I do it, the more natural it becomes.

Every dance we did on the football field was followed by a kick routine to Scotland the Brave, as our mascot was the Highlanders, and it was our school song. I can still do the dance, and so can my sister, who was on the team as well. We basically did this dance in our sleep. I was disciplined enough to not only learn the dance, but to know it backwards and forwards. When we put that kind of intense focus on Scripture, how much more is that worth? Can I share the gospel with a high kick? I know “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, but it’s not likely. I can memorize John 3:16, which says, “For God so loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life”, and point someone to heaven.

Shannon Miller says, “It’s important to have a plan, a big picture…It gives you something to work for.” What are you working for? Are you memorizing a verse? Practice saying it every day. Write it, share it, doodle it. Are you reading through a book of the Bible? Set a reminder on your phone to read every day. Are you trying to pray more? Schedule it like a meeting. Eventually, your discipline will become second nature. You will forget what it was like without that sacred time. God will not let that time be wasted. Your time is precious to Him. Psalm 1:2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” Make God your delight. 

My delight in high school was making the dance for the week. I loved putting on my uniform and being part of my team. Shannon Miller felt a reverence for her red, white, and blue leotard. I delight now in my husband and my children. But ultimately, I pray that my delight will be in the Lord. I pray that my discipline will continue to grow into instinct. My goal is for God’s glory to be seen, so I will push toward that goal.  When I can’t swing on the metaphorical bars, I’ll hang on them. When I can’t be God’s hands, maybe I’ll try being His feet. If I can’t go full out, I’ll go all in. As the saying goes, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

What are you working for?

Seventeen

The weather is a miserable cold. It’s the kind of wet cold that cuts to the core. It’s dreary and gray. For a lot of people, it matches the tone of 2017. There has been a lot of devastation, loss, trauma, tragedy, and altogether unsettledness. However, I can’t help but look back at all the ways my year doesn’t reflect the weather. It’s been a good one, and I’m filled with gratitude as I literally count my blessings. Cheesy or not, I’m leaving you with seventeen things I loved in 2017. I hope it brings a smile to your face or a roll of the eyes to brighten up your day!

  1. I’ve been waiting to shout this from the rooftops for about 11 months now. I kept hearing God say, “Wait, I’m not done yet.” So, here goes: I have not had a single migraine in 2017! My last debilitating headache was on New Years Eve 2016. Through a combination of diet, essential oils, and a HUGE answered prayer, my migraines seem to be a thing of the past. I shared with my church at Thanksgiving that I was 11 months free, and I truly believe it is a gift of healing from God. BUT, even if I get a migraine tomorrow, I will praise Him for this amazing gift of relief He has given.
  2. Dancing with the Stars. I know, I know, this sounds horribly superficial, but bear with me. Hudson and I started watching DWTS when Sadie Robertson was a contestant, because we were really into Duck Dynasty at the time. I’ll just put it out there: I fell in love with the show. I love the costumes, the choreography, the stars, the pros…it’s the highlight of my week. Daniel even gifted me with tickets to see the show live in New Orleans in February, so I got to go on a date with my handsome (at the time) 5 year old. I spent two hours with a goofy grin on my face. We were both mesmerized. Yes, it is just a TV show, but it’s brought fun into our house. I grew up in ballet, and I was on our high school’s drill team. Both were very disciplined and every move had to be perfectly executed. It wasn’t truly fun. I can say I had fun moments, but it wasn’t a means of expression, rather, precision. Because of this show, I’ve learned to let my guard down and have a dance party with my kids (and husband!) at least once a week. I don’t have to worry if I am getting the steps right- there are no steps! Also, it is now my lifelong goal to be a contestant on the show. Mark and/or Val, I’m looking at you!
  3. Turning 30. Y’all. I hit the big 3-0. And I’m loving it. How could I not when it started with an amazing weekend of surprises? Daniel and my sister surprised me with a thirtieth birthday party. My lifelong bestie flew in from Texas, and I literally had not one inkling that she was coming. I am not a huge fan of surprises- but that was one for the books. My mom planned to come in, and due to some weather mishaps, had to reschedule her trip (not for lack of trying!), but just knowing that everyone came together to help me celebrate meant the world to me.
  4. Seeing the Astros play in their World Series winning season. I will admit that I’m not the biggest baseball fan that ever was, but I grew up cheering for the Astros, going to games with my family, singing the National Anthem with my school choir, and laughing at my sister mispronouncing “Biggio”. Getting to experience a game in such an amazing season with my family took the cake. My dad has dealt with a lot of health issues and scares this year, but he even made the trek to Minute Maid Field. It was a special night, for sure. Their World Series Win was the icing on my already sweet season.
  5. 443 Miles to Magnolia. We drank the Koolaid. We are full out Chip and Jo Jo fans in the Dumas house. This fall, we made the trip to Waco to visit the Silos and eat the cupcakes. Hands down, the best cupcake I’ve ever eaten. I highly recommend making the trip! Also, stop by Baylor to see their bears, and grab a cup of coffee at Common Grounds.
  6. Nashville. If you know me at all, you know it’s my favorite city. I spent a long weekend soaking up Music City in all its glory. Drew Holcomb at the Ryman, Jeni’s ice cream, the Listening Room, Crema, Frothy Monkey, Parnassus Books. And, to top it all off, Daniel and I got to spend the weekend with some amazing friends! Let’s go back! (#wooooo)
  7. I got a new niece! McKay was born in March, and she is the sweetest little red-head you ever did see. Glad to be May-May to another little.
  8. Gatlinburg. Yes, I love Tennessee. I hadn’t ever been, and #abunchofdumasesonvacation was a wonderful week in the mountains. I fell in love with Dollywood, gained a new appreciation for hiking (new hobby?), managed to sneak in a Gus’s Fried Chicken visit, and I had a lot of time with the boys, and nieces and nephew to read books, watch the Sandlot, and take some good walks. Still not a huge cold weather fan, but it was beautiful.
  9. I read a lot of books. That has kind of become the norm, but I finished my second yearly reading challenge, and I have enjoyed getting to know about people I admire through memoirs, gotten lost in Hogwarts (again), grown in my understanding of the Bible, and shed a few tears over people I just “met”. I read more than a few duds, but I’m thankful for the ability to do it. And I’m immensely grateful for audiobook apps that allow me to feel productive when I’m stuck in traffic and utilize my public library at the same time!
  10. Scripture memory. This year, I memorized 2 Timothy. It was really hard, but I pressed on, and I’m so glad I did. Next up, Galatians. I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but no time in the Word is ever wasted. It should be fun and fruitful!
  11. I joined a gym. I managed to go at least once a week all year, and most often, two times a week. It may not sound like a lot, but in our crazy busy world, this is what works for me. I’ve enjoyed the discipline, and I definitely feel stronger and more confident.
  12. I slept in a really sketchy hotel and lived to tell about it. If we are ever going on a trip, do not, under any circumstances, let me pick the hotel. Yes, I’ve gotten way more laughs than I probably should have out of the experience, but I would rather not repeat it.
  13. I wrote my first professional article for the Child Life Bulletin. I got to combine my two passions of writing and Child Life, and I’m happy to say, I’ll have another article published this spring.
  14. I saw some really great movies. Beauty and the Beast, Wonder, Wonder Woman, and the Greatest Showman. While I didn’t love the Last Jedi, I still ate up all the hype that goes along with a new Star Wars movie, so there’s that.
  15. We got to see a solar eclipse and didn’t go blind!
  16. I saw Hanson for the seventh time. Have I mentioned how much I love my husband?
  17. Last, but probably my favorite, I published my first book! God’s Green Earth hit the stores in June. It was an act of faith and obedience. It certainly hasn’t led to any major publishing deals or worldwide fame, but it’s paving the way for God’s word to be spread. It is a feeling like no other to see your book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble or to get messages from people reading what you wrote and identifying with it.  I’m forever grateful for the calling, and I hope to continue on the path of writing more.

If you’re still reading, thank you! Wrapping up two years of blogging is something I’m proud of and awed by. I didn’t really know if I would have this many words when I set out to create Jesus and Jello, but God continues to speak, so I continue to type. Happy New Year, dear readers. Cheers to 2018.

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”- Revelation 21:1-5 NKJV