Constant Companion

Do you ever feel completely alone and lost? Whether physically or mentally, feelings of being alone or away from God’s presence can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s easy to get stuck in that rut of thinking when our earthly plans, or even plans that we believe with 100% certainty that God is ordaining, go totally awry with a dramatic life detour.Don’t you just love when God begins to speak something over you in not one but two places. Presently, I’ve been reading Genesis in during my quiet time, and for fun it’s been Tony Evan’s book, Detours. (It’s an easy and relevant read. Go for it.) The story of Joseph came up simultaneously over the past week, in both locations.While in Genesis 39 the phrase, “The LORD was with Joseph” stuck out to me like a bruised thumb. In fact, it’s used three times in that particular chapter. This covenant making, covenant keeping LORD proclaims through scripture that he was continually with Joseph in times where most would feel lost and alone.

As Joseph was being sold as a slave to Potiphar, an officer to Pharaoh in Egypt, “The LORD was with Joseph”. (Genesis 39:2)

As Joseph was being accused, stripped of his responsibilities in Pharaoh’s house, and thrown into prison, “The LORD was with Joseph”. (Genesis 39:21)

As he served in prison, “The LORD was with Joseph”. (Genesis 39:23)

Throughout these detours into slavery and prison, Joseph’s respect and desire to serve God is revealed. Out of his fortitude and desire to not sin against God, Joseph stands for what he believes to be true – no matter the cost. I believe we see a maturity taking place as God provides opportunities for growth in his faith and character.Joseph’s big mouth and haughty attitude got him into trouble in the first place (Gen. 37), but God never left his side. We are all a work in progress, and we serve a God of completion - even if it takes some drastic detours to get our attention. I have more questions than answers through these chapters in Genesis, but one thing is for sure. God does not leave His children.Generations of our spiritual brothers and sisters are told countless times by the LORD that he would never leave them or forsake them, promise. I believe that promise is carried on to us too. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always,” I believe that’s a promise we too can hold on to.No matter where you find yourself in this present moment, God is with you. I believe that with every fiber of my being. Our Great I AM is always with us, and will never leave or forsake us.Put your name in the space provided, it’s taken from Genesis 39:21.But the LORD was with ___________ and extended kindness to him/her.How might you be able to open your heart and mind to knowing you are not alone, but securely in the LORD’s presence? Could you be willing to patiently extend your hand with me in receiving His kindness today?Comment below if you'd like, and I'll be joining you in prayer over these things.With Gratitude,Amybut the lord was with joseph and extended kindness to him.

Growth and Vulnerability

January and winter, I think it could be a gardener’s favorite and least favorite time of the year. The seed catalogs are eagerly awaited surprises in the mailbox, then drooled over with pen in hand as we dream of the coming season. Then, a longing for dirt under our finger nails grows to near desperate levels as we countdown the days and watch temperatures like a hawk. Spring seems to be so close, yet so far away as a longing for fresh growth increases.My word for this year (2019) seems to be ‘growing’ – it’s fitting, given I was a plant science major in college. But this year it’s more than just growing plants, it’s growing a trusting faith and vulnerably surrendering to a process that I can’t always see. Growing children who are happy and maturing, growing a farm that started from a dream, growing relationships that are more valuable than gold. Growing a deep relationship with my Creator, rooted in love and trust. It’s embracing growth that happens little by little, in places often unseen.As plants grow they are vulnerable to the elements, easily broken or bruised, and tender. I wonder how this might be reflective of our growth? Newness is always exciting, but it’s just that – new and tender. If a seedling is separated from its soil and transplanted into a larger container too soon, it becomes a set back. More fertilizer causes cells to grow too fast, resulting in weak branches. Too much water, and roots suffocate. Too much sunlight can burn tender leaves.Good, quality growth takes time, patience, attention, and hopeful trust. The investment can be risky. What if I plant a seed or nurture a dream, and it fails to grow? What if I step way out of my comfort zone only to be met with nothing in return? Is growth worth being vulnerable? I believe it is. Without that risk, life is boring and flat - stagnant. When I think about growth, its full of life, wonder, and mystery.God is a gardener. Within the first two chapters of God’s Word we’re told, “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden…” (Genesis 2:8) In John 15:1 Jesus tells us, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” In that same chapter of John 15, Jesus goes on to tell us that we are to bear fruit. We are called to growth and cultivation. We are called to love one another; that sounds pretty vulnerable to me. Yet in that space of tender growth, we are called to a place where we can trust the Gardener. Entrusting ourselves into His capable hands and process.Last week on the blog it was all about growing in 2019, and asked the question about where God might be growing you this year. Today – What does being vulnerable to growth look like for you right now? What step can you take? It doesn’t have to be this huge life changing decision, just a small step. Marathons are completed one step (or stride) at a time.This list of scriptures on growth from Propel Women may inspire you in this season.With Gratitude,Amygrowing

Give Thanks In Everything

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18The last couple weeks we’ve taken a brief look at verse 16,  “Rejoice always,” and then verse 17, “Pray Constantly”.  Today we peer in to our third and final directive found in verse 18, “give thanks in everything”. It seems a bit cliché to write about thankfulness during the week of Thanksgiving, but it fits. This series on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is all about posturing our heart towards the Savior, and I know no better way than a heart full of gratitude.The concept of gratitude is everywhere, signs adorn the walls of our homes and journals have been specially crafted in order to focus on the idea. Along with tangible reminders surrounding us, hundreds of studies have been done on thankfulness and gratitude. According to one article, thankfulness has the ability to improve our physical and psychological health, reduce aggression, enhance empathy, improve our sleep and self-esteem.[i] These are just a few of the benefits a heart of thankfulness can offer.It turns out these studies have uncovered what I believe to be part of God’s original design for our heart, soul, mind, and strength – thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that it is God’s will for us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks – at all times. While these three directives do not exhaust the will of God, they impact our obedience in fulfilling other aspects of God’s will. If a heart is not postured with thanks 365 days a year, I fear it will be incrementally more challenging to fulfill the individual details of God’s will as they are presented.The story of Jonah comes to mind. He didn’t exactly tell God “thanks” for sending him to Nineveh. Rather than taking a posture of ‘thank you for using me’ he initially goes the opposite direction. This is a complex story in the Old Testament involving pride and hypocrisy, there is much more than a lack of gratitude involved. Yet I believe it may also serve as an example to us in the context we’re focusing on today. God’s will for the Ninevites to repent came to pass, yet Jonah’s experience in joining God in that will was nothing short of a challenge for him.Giving thanks for everything cultivates an active and growing spiritual life, while fostering relationship with our Creator and others. Gratitude invites abundance. Through aggravations of this earth, impossible situations, and deep heartache, thankfulness has a way of lifting our eyes to the One who is higher and completely sovereign. Practicing gratitude provides contentedness, it holds an element of humility, ushers in peace, and provides space to experience God’s victory!I’m not going to provide a list of various ideas to practice more gratitude, because it starts with simply and authentically stating, “thank you”. Tell God! Tell your spouse, parents, kids, pastor, friends, grocery clerk – everyone. Can I challenge you to make it personal, direct, and specific? Reflect back to God what your thankful for throughout the day.Would you mind sharing your experiences here? Leave a comment! Let’s encourage and inspire one another with how God is using this in your life right now!It’s my prayer these verses, along with our verse in 1 Thessalonians 5, would be used to posture our hearts this season by giving thanks and rejoicing in and for our Savior.I’m so thankful to God for you,Amy 

A psalm of thanksgiving.

“Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God!

Serve the LORD with gladness;

Come before him with joyful songs.

Acknowledge that the LORD is God.

He made us, and we are his –

His people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and bless his name.

For the LORD is good, and his faithful love endures forever;

his faithfulness, through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (CSB)

flowers          [i] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#2c2fdcc0183c 

Favorite Sides

We're doing a double portion on the blog this week. The regular Thursday post is coming your way, but I couldn't resist sharing one of our family's favorite side dishes. It came out of a magazine when I was a girl, and has become a staple on the table when the leaves turn every fall. So, as you plan your meal for Thursday (or another day this week) consider adding this to the menu. We think it's spot on!Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 11.37.00 AMButternut Squash with Cranberries

  • 1/4 cup honey (I used less)
  • 1/4 cup frozen apple or OJ concentrate (I used juice or whatever is on hand)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup cranberries (fresh)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup apples or pears (I use a whole fruit, whatever you have)
  • 1 whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed

Mix ingredients together, bake uncovered for about an hour at 350*, until tender.Honestly, it's hard to mess it up. I never measure anything when making this dish - dump and bake. FYI, the leftovers are even better!Have a wonderful celebration this week, wherever you find yourself, full and thanks and God's never ending love.With gratitude,Amy

Rejoice Always

It seems fitting that the season outside my window reflects the season in my heart. As the leaves turn color and trees go dormant, the rest until spring begins. The world rests, and waits. It’s an active rest, roots still take up moisture and move nutrients. Slowly. I too find myself in a season of active rest and waiting. Life would seem so much easier if I just knew what the next step looked like. But I don’t. No matter how hard we desire skip winter and move in to spring, it's necessary. And rather than push ahead, we can choose to enjoy the season, and wait.Waiting is hard. It’s uncomfortable.Oh, I could take a step. But would it be in-line with the direction where God is working, where he wants me to join him? Would it be God’s will? Who knows. But I do know, if your lost it’s best to not go wandering off. That’s a good time to stop, get your bearings, and perhaps wait for help to arrive.When I stumbled upon 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 last week, it felt like receiving actionable steps for the waiting. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (CSB)When the specific will of God seems to be foggy, this much is clear – rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Always, constantly, and in everything.For me, it’s hard to picture what always rejoicing might look like, especially if your personality tends to be calm and quiet. Now some of my friends – they walk around with outward rejoicing all the time! Me, it just comes out different. Typically, I imagine rejoicing to be boisterous, outward exultation with a lot of seen emotion attached. But how can I possibly rejoice always? The truth is, rejoicing comes out differently in all of us, and in various situations.Rejoice always - chairō pantŏtĕ in Greek. I so appreciate the Greek definition because it seems feasible to me. Rejoice, chairō, is to be calmly happy; be well, be glad, rejoice.[i] I also appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message translation, “Be cheerful no matter what.”[ii] Joy and cheer always, in all circumstances. It's not a joy that goes where the winds blow, it's eternal.As a way to posture our hearts and attune our spiritual focus, let’s work on always rejoicing these next few days. And if the “calmly” thing isn’t your style, by all means let that exultation bubble over! Maybe you’ll splash that rejoicing on me or the person next to you. Wouldn’t that be fun?!Next week we’ll look at the second part of those three directives in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – pray constantly.Would you mind sharing your experience of rejoicing always here? I’d love to know how you are experiencing God through rejoicing.With love and gratitude,Amy Rejoice always [i] A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.[ii]  Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Th 5:16). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Light Focused

Where is your focus today? Is it on circumstances? Someone else’s perfect Instagram post? Perhaps your focus is held captive to worry? This question has been on repeat, continuing to surface in seemingly random places. What am I focusing on?Our focus and our thoughts are connected, much like driving, and our thoughts produce actions. Wherever my eyes focus, that’s where the car tends to go. If I focus left I’m inching over into the lane next to me; looking right, and I’m hitting rumble strips.During some time in scripture today, Psalm 36:11, became my focus. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (ESV)So often I ask God for eyes to see. But after that prayer, if I’m focused on the dark (those circumstances, unattainable social media posts, worry, etc.) even opened eyes wouldn’t be able to see in their surroundings. It is in His light, where we see light. This may sound a bit silly to you. Obviously, we can’t see clearly in the dark. Have you ever been deep inside a cave when they purposefully turn the lights off? It’s black. Eyes wide open and you can’t see your own hand in front of your face!In His light, we see light. So today, can I challenge you (along with myself) to ask for eyes to see and a focus on heavenly things? Pay attention, where is your focus? Let’s allow a purposed focus towards light to direct our actions.Praying for you, friend! God is so good, and in Him there is no darkness.aaron-burden-767876-unsplash      

Postured for Surrender

Do you ever go through seasons, when God seems weave a theme into your circumstances? A certain topic or idea continues to present itself, in multiple arenas and seemingly unrelated places. Lately, that theme for me has been ‘posture’.Body language speaks loudly. It lets us know when someone is anxious, closed off, wide open and ready, uncomfortable. When my daughter’s arms are crossed in defiance, I know where her heart and thoughts are – and it’s not in agreement with me.We should pay extra attention to those themes. As “posture” kept making an appearance in my day-to-day life, my spirit perked up and got curious, anticipating that God was doing a work in me. What is my posture before the Lord? What is being reflected in my heart that needs some refining?That curiosity was stirred even more as I walked away from a meeting recently. I had walked in full of excitement and anticipation, in a posture of confidence. But I walked out, feeling deflated and defeated. Why?After some quietness, prayer, and a visit with a dear sister in Christ, it started to become clear. Perhaps all this posture-before-God business is related to surrender. So often as a mom, professional, or leader it’s easy to slip into a posture of control. I walked into that meeting with the expectation of getting what I wanted done so that I could be in control of what I was responsible for. There was part of my heart that had not postured myself surrendered to God and what He wanted done. I had picked up my own, self-made cross of control as I marched into that building, and when my expectations weren’t met, I crumbled.How often is our posture one of defiance? When we’re rigid, we aren’t able to be open and pliable in His hands, carrying the cross He’s called us to bear. I want to urge you to be open to the themes God is making clear to you in this season of your life and to reflect on your posture before the Lord. Is your heart postured to be in control, defiant, rigid? Or is your heart inclined and soft, surrendered and open to where God is taking you?ben-white-139141-unsplashThis devotional first appeared in Journey, March 2018, LifeWay Press.

Bearing Fruit and Growing

Everyone likes to bear fruit, and be the recipient of fruit produced in season. There’s nothing better than a fresh picked peach in the height of summer or crisp apple when the cool fall arrives. Our berry farm is meant to bear fruit throughout the heat of summer. And just like fruit born in appropriate seasons, our lives are meant to do the same. That being said, it can be hard to not strive to produce the whole fruit bowl at once.Spiritually speaking, we are told that we will bear fruit and we are called to do so. I believe there’s more to simply being focused on bearing fruit. Take a look at Paul’s words in Colossians. “…so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God…” Colossians 1:10 (ESV, emphasis mine)Paul was specifically talking to the church in Colossae about the gospel’s effect in their lives, and his words are easily applicable to us today. Walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, bearing fruit and growing. I appreciate the order in which Paul presents these things, bear fruit and continue in growth. We can have a tendency to want to bear fruit, but perhaps forget to continue growing once fruit has been born. In order to continue bearing fruit, there must be continued growth. We aren’t called to be corn plants, growing rapidly to produce a crop for harvest and then die. I believe that as eternal beings, we are called to continue bearing fruit for harvest and grow – a perpetual process.Familiarity with the Word may bring to mind what kind of fruit we are to limitlessly produce. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)How then shall we grow it? According to our verse in Colossians, we are to grow in the knowledge of God. The Greek word being used here for knowledge is ĕpignōsis, it denotes the idea of recognition, acknowledgment, full discernment, and to become fully acquainted with.[i] We aren’t being asked to become know-it-alls, knowing everything the Creator of heaven and earth knows, but rather to fully know Him. Recognize Him, acknowledge His ways, movements, and characteristics.One of the most powerful and active ways we can grow in knowledge of the Lord is having an active encounter with His living Word on daily basis. God begins revealing His character in the first line of scripture, and he doesn’t let up until the last.We have the free will to choose a relationship with God through His Word. Those Spirit-inspired words can be the water, fertilizer, and Son-shine the seed of the gospel message needs to grow in our heart and mind. We are called to both bear fruit and grow. If we are stunted spiritually, after a while the fruit will no longer come forth.Let’s have some dialogue on how God is revealing his character, so that together we may grow in knowledge and understanding of Him. What characteristic of God has been most real to you this week?Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 2.05.25 PM[i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 31). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Let's Bake Cookies!

We sat in a booth at Panera, catching up, sharing life and what our kids were up to. My sweet friend had been to an amazing workshop, both of us a women’s event. Conversation circled around what we had been learning and what God was up to in our lives. As we talked about the excitement of studying God’s Word, my friend made a statement in reference to her time with God being like, “Let’s bake cookies!” That statement struck me. It spoke to the anticipation and inclusion we have getting to help mom or dad in the kitchen. We’re given the opportunity to get in to the ingredients, see what they do, how they fit together, and discover how they taste and feel. She spoke about digging into God’s Word being an event to look forward to, “God, let’s bake cookies!” .It’s not often I stop to watch videos on social media but recently one particular video caught my eye. (Watch it here) I was intrigued with this sweet two-year-old girl’s cooking show as she baked a cake with her momma. I watched this video in context of that conversation with my friend and her comment, “God, let’s bake cookies!”  Two things came to mind. One, her mother has the patience of a saint. Two, what a joy it must be for the Father, our Creator, to bake and create “cookies” (or cake) with His children.The little baker’s sweet disposition was evident in her kind words and gestures as she dumped ingredients together. She was excited and took pride in her work. She wasn’t concerned with perfection but rather in being present, engaged and giving her all to the task at hand. This young lady wasn’t afraid to ask for help, or make a mess. Her attitude and heart were so precious.It’s all in the journey, the experience, the relationship – not the product or end result. As a teacher, I get to ‘bake cookies with God’ and then share the batch, a Sunday school lesson, with my class. It’s never perfect, and much like my cooking, lessons rarely ‘taste’ the same. I’ve made some messes too.One of the sweetest parts of this young bakers’ video came when she enjoyed it. She took a bite of that cake, piled with sprinkles, and truly marveled at the end result. It wasn’t perfect by some standards, but she thought it was. Some days we may not “bake cookies with God,” but rather sit and enjoy them. Soak in His goodness and revel in His complexities, savoring every bite of His word.How do you approach your day with God? Your quiet time? Is it a box to be checked, something you have to do? Or is it based on relationship with God, something you get to do? Are you holding back in regards to what He may be asking of you for fear of making messes or coming short of perfection?What would it be like to approach Him with a willing heart, faith like a child, and step into the “kitchen” each morning and expectantly request, “God, let’s bake cookies!” I have a feeling He would look at our floured faces, vanilla dripping forearms, globs of batter strewn about, and with a smile say, “It’s perfect.”calum-lewis-391366-unsplash

Hide or Go Seek

Last week I wrote about our scraggly oak tree in the backyard. It is once again the inspiration for today’s writing, and you’ll find a picture below. It’s good to put a face with a name.About a year ago, I snapped a photo of my daughter as she doodled and sang up in the branches of our now handsome oak tree. The scene immediately reminded me of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19. Zacchaeus climbed up the branches of a tree so that he might just catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed through Jericho. Those 10 verses in Luke 19 provide a glimpse into both the situation and Zacchaeus’ heart. Take a look at the first portion of verse three; I find the ESV translation intriguing.“And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not…” (emphasis mine)“Seeking to see”. Can we do a quick lesson on a couple of Greek words being used?The Greek word being translated to ‘seeking’ is zēteō, it means to seek, to worship, endeavor, seek after.[i]And our Greek word being translated ‘see’ is eidō, which means to see, behold, look (on), understand, perceive.[ii]Zacchaeus was endeavoring or seeking after Jesus, so that he might behold and understand him. I feel there is so much richness in this story, but I dare not go there today for fear of going down a rabbit trail. Rather, I ask that you would take some time to go there yourself over the coming days.For the sake of staying on target, let’s look at another story in scripture that I read just this morning. It’s the story in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Take a look at Genesis 3:8.“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees in the garden.” (CSB)Adam and Eve may have not gone tree climbing, but they were hiding among them. In these portions of scripture among the trees in Luke 19 and Genesis 3, we have two stark approaches to our relationship with the Lord.Are you hiding in the trees, or climbing up branches and seeking to see?In both stories our tree hiders and seeker are called out. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5, ESV) And the LORD God calls in Genesis 3:9, “Where are you?” (CSB).Both stories are full-bodied examples of Jesus’ promise-filled words in John 10:3. “The sheep hear my voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out.” (ESV)Oh, how my heart breaks as Adam and Eve were led out of the garden. But that heartache pales to the joy of knowing that God faithfully seeks us out; always has and always will. Not only does He seek you out, but calls you by name, and should you be willing to follow, He will lead you.So, are you hiding or are you seeking?Are you endeavoring to worship and really know Jesus? I'm pointing these questions back at myself too - let's be brave and honest in our answering.IMG-9369 [i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 34). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.[ii] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 25). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is not just a position. In fact, it's like having multiple positions all at one time but in their polarity, everything fits together.Merriam-Webster defines juxtaposition asthe act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect[i]During my Jesus time one morning, I read Acts 9:31 where two opposite emotions of comfort and fear were held together – creating the effect of growth in the church. "And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) multiplied." (Acts 9:31b, ESV, emphasis mine)Fear of the Lord and comfort from the Holy Spirit, two emotions held together, allowed the church to grow and multiply. The contrast between the two is quite possibly where stretching and growth occur, and probably not without a bit of discomfort. I’m certain the early churches’ fear of the Lord was a healthy fear, established from experiencing God’s overwhelming authority in love.Just like that early church, we can hold a healthy fear in the Lord and comfort from the Holy Spirit in the same open hand. In that juxtaposed and safe space, our faith can experience a healthy growth in the Lord. Our Creator is about growth and expansion; we are a reflection of Him, thus meant for growth and expansion. Based on Matthew 17:14-21 with Jesus’ words of “faith like a grain of mustard seed” – I’m convinced that faith is meant to grow!I've often found my faith grows most when I'm stretched between the comfort of standing on the promises and steadfast character of God, and stepping out into the unknown. How about you?light_dark[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/juxtaposition

Mint & Stongholds

Mint. I have a love-hate relationship with it. Spearmint - I love the smell, taste, texture, and hardiness; and, I hate its aggressive hardiness. Thus, my conundrum.I enjoy doing some personal gardening as a part-time job. Arriving on the job one morning, I began in the front yard. After pulling weeds, digging up unwanted iris, pruning and fertilizing, I moved around to the shaded cutting garden around back. My friend had added some new plants to the area, so I walked about checking things out before getting started. Roudning the last corner of the raised bed, my eyes bugged out. Mint. Without thinking, and without regard for the planter, I reacted and yanked the entire thing out. “Nooooooooo!”A split second of regret popped into my heart; I had clearly undone what someone else had planted with care. My regret didn’t last long. You see, mint has a way of completely taking over a garden space. We had diligently been working to create a space for a cutting and vegetable garden. Mint would have taken over and undone all of our hard work over the past couple of years. Had the mint stayed and taken root, the only thing stopping it would be concrete or multiple applications of herbicide.As my mind had the opportunity to process my feelings about this plant, yes I have feelings about plants, I began to equate mint to strongholds. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of stronghold describes a stronghold as a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic.[i] I tend to think of strongholds with a negative connotation, like an addiction or challenge in one’s life. A stronghold may be something I struggle with in life and find it hard to experience freedom from, such as unforgiveness, anger, insecurities, food, believing lies you tell yourself, a physical activity, etc.Strongholds can be hard to root out. (Thus, our mint analogy.) Why don’t I react to personal strongholds the way I treated that mint, ripping it out without thought or question? Because it’s hard. It requires a deep, honest heart and mind work. It requires me to be really uncomfortable and intentionally practice self-control. Often, it’s hard to just acknowledge the stronghold, let alone root it out. Like the mint, we may have a love-hate relationship with it.Personally, I feel that God has been revealing strongholds in my heart. They aren’t huge, obvious ones. But they are strongholds none-the-less. While taking complete responsibility, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians are a good reminder in the process of doing some hard work.“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV)MintCan I encourage you to join me in asking the Lord to reveal the strongholds in our hearts? Our strongholds may not be “big,” but they can make deep roots – they are still strongholds. To me, this can be a scary prayer. But with a willing heart, we can do all things through Christ because He strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13) Let’s suite up with the armor of God – we’ve got this.How can I pray for you? [i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stronghold

Roots

My daughter, Alex, received a bundle of flower and vegetable seeds for her birthday this past January. As spring arrived, we couldn’t seem to get ourselves together enough to start them early in the season, so Grandma (the gift-giver of said seeds) came over a few weeks ago to help out. Together, Alex and Grandma sowed hundreds of tiny seeds into pots. A few short days later, the fruit of their labor was evident as her birthday gift sprouted.Watching these little seedlings has been fun. Growing plants is nothing new to me, but growing them with my daughter has brought a new element of joy. It’s caused me to step back, slow down, and really think about the what and why of growing plants – especially from seed. Answering questions and being patient when her interest wavers has offered ample opportunities to practice grace and enjoy a laugh or two.As some of Alex’s seeds have grown, it came time to transplant a few into larger containers. We quickly figured out that she enjoyed filling the container with soil as I gingerly teased the seedlings apart. We quickly had nearly one hundred little pots filled with tiny new plants.Sitting on the deck and untangling tiny roots, I found it fitting that the word ‘roots’ had been prevalent in recent weeks. Looking at those tiny, life-giving roots, it was amazing to me that these delicate things were so vital to their survival. In appearance, these roots weren’t pretty, they didn’t seem to have order, and it was hard to believe the significant role they held in each plant’s growth. Yet holding them in my hand, I was keenly aware that this was just the beginning. Treating these tiny treasures with care, we firmly pressed the soil of their new home around young and tender roots.As our plants grow, the health of the roots, now hidden, will be evident through the foliage and fruit shown above. The hidden always manifests itself, somehow. Alex’s newly transplanted seedlings will bear purple flowers, given time. Roots anchoring them to the earth, they will take up water and nutrients, bearing new seeds for the next generation.IMG_8610What roots are you sending down? Where are you sending them down? I believe it’s important to be mindful of this. Sometimes we’re so focused on the outward, visible portion of our life that we forget to tend and care for that which keeps us anchored and fed. For me, it’s making time for prayer and God’s Word. I desire to bear fruit for the Lord, it will require deep roots that are planted firmly in Him.We frequently want the fruit but are unwilling to take the time and energy towards developing a root system that provides what it takes. Growing deep roots takes time, and it's dirty work. Its doesn't look pretty and often the work goes unseen. Roots are delicate, but their quiet power has the ability to get through the toughest of soil and draw nutrients from places unseen.What grows your roots deep?     

Fed by Jesus

One of the most infamous stories of the New Testament is represented in all four of the gospels – when Jesus feeds five thousand. And that number, five thousand, was just accounting for the men. Think of all the women and children who would have joined in as well. Jesus knew how many were there that day. He knew the story within each heart sitting on the green grass with hungry bellies and parched souls.I love how each gospel provides slightly different details of this story, but they have a common thread of Jesus feeding the people who are present. Recently, what stuck out to me is how Jesus fed the people. I love feeding my family, but sometimes it’s just a chore that needs to be done. It’s tempting to throw something together so they stop hounding me, so we can move on to the next thing, or so we can call it a day and all go to bed. Guilty. Based on Jesus’ response, I don’t believe this meal was a ‘chore’ for him.Jesus wasn’t about shutting them up so he could move on to the next town. He didn’t miraculously make food appear on their laps so he could quickly withdraw to a peaceful place. Jesus saw the great crowd of people coming and knew the hunger in their souls and bellies. (Luke 6:1-5) When he saw them coming, He had compassion on them. (Matthew 14:14) Jesus saw they were like sheep without a shepherd, He knew they needed to be fed (Mark 6:34), and He welcomed them. (Luke 9:11)The people were seen. And not only were they seen, but Jesus welcomed them with compassion. He welcomed those seeking Him with curiosity, faith and illness. Those who sought after Jesus were not turned away as he met both their physical and emotional needs. He healed the sick, and I’m sure He probably mended some broken hearts.All of the people were accepted and brought into the fold, fed and cared for. And not just enough to get by, but abundantly. After each belly had been filled, there were enough fragments gathered to fill twelve baskets! Nothing went to waste, not the food or the journey of the five thousand. I imagine each person on the hill that day felt a personal connection to Jesus as they reached into the basket, and received provision.When you seek Jesus, you will be compassionately welcomed. He knows the journey you’ve been on. He sees you, and knows you need a shepherd. He knows you need to be fed and rest on a soft patch of green for a while. Jesus knows, because he took on the form of man so that He could compassionately welcome you into His heavenly arms.Can I encourage you to seek Jesus? And not just today, but each day. Jesus fed those who were present with Him. Seek Him honestly, and with faith. Can you trust Him to provide a soft place to fall, to rest and be fed?mike-kenneally-48641-unsplashScripture for feeding the five thousand :: Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15 

Dream Small

The theme of ‘small’ has been surrounding me for the past several months. This week I simply cannot escape it, so now you get to join in the contemplation. I was talking with a sister-in-Christ a few months back, how it’s often the small things that make big impact. It’s the tiny pieces of gravel that make up our driveway and the road home taking us to and fro. One piece of gravel doesn’t seem to make a big difference, but together they become a force to be reckoned with.In 1888, a surveyor marked the headwaters for the fourth longest river in the world, the Missouri River.[1] It began at a spring in Montana. A spring. One small spring kept flowing, converging with small rivers along the way to create something that would have huge impact within the United States and our world. This river would become a boundary for states, a source for great discovery, and an avenue for commerce. That one small spring would ultimately lead to being a part of a much bigger picture, an ocean.So often, the culture of today focuses on the big. It’s the latest trend going viral, big houses, big churches, big followings. And I’m not saying all of that is bad. However, we often lose sight and forget that so much of the big and amazing things are first made up, with the small. Some of the moments carrying the most impact, when dissected, began small.Small can be little bits of love we show and share with others, through a smile or holding a door. The ten or fifteen minutes in the morning which partner us with Jesus, and a much bigger story. These are moments which join Him and pave the way for the love of Christ to flow through us throughout the day.Small acts of love and mercy, for myself and others, over time make an impactful difference. Those small moments also help me to practice for the larger, more demanding opportunities for practicing grace. Each moment doesn’t feel as if it will ever make a difference, but after a while – you have a gravel driveway, and then a road connecting your house to mine. Then, we can actually get somewhere.I’m all in for dreaming big, but God is moving my heart to focus on what is right in front of me in the present. Small pieces together, consistently practiced, create the dream, impact, and relationship. For me, living focused on the Big dream usually means living in the future, or the past. (As in it’s already happened, too late.) I’d rather live in the present, choosing to show-up and be connected. Being faithful with the small things, what I have in front of me, seems to be those pieces of gravel. The small bits often seem mundane, but they provide opportunity to practice being grateful in the present. And that is powerful.I had a moment in church this past Sunday when my Pastor played Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small, at the close of service. With all these frequently surfacing thoughts over the past few months, I became overwhelmed with all that the Holy Spirit has been whispering to my heart.Along with myself, can I challenge you? Take a listen to Josh’s song, be encouraged, read Matthew 25:14-30, and really focus on some small things over the coming days? When you read that piece of scripture, it's not about how much they start and end with, it's being faithful with what is right in front of them. Small things, with a heart of gratitude.scott-webb-186137-unsplash[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missouri_River

Belonging

Growing up is hard. Heck, being an adult is hard! My daughter has wrestled her way from Kindergarten to third grade, navigating the social bits of being a young lady. Girls can be so mean. As a mom, it’s hard to coach from the sidelines – especially when it’s similar to what you experienced. My heart breaks, knowing it’s likely she may wrestle with these same struggles for years to come, if not a lifetime. Recently we’ve talked about how God makes us all unique, and it’s hard to fit in when we’re all meant to stand out, being uniquely accepted in love together.We want so desperately to fit in, to belong. Yet with the ‘fitting in’ to one group, we’re excluded from another. This is something I’ve struggled with since I was old enough to have an awareness about it. I’m guessing you have too. It’s not been until my mid-thirties that things started to fit within me. Oh, there have been inklings all along, but it felt a bit fuzzy and incomplete. Some days, it still does.This week I began reading Brené Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness. I love the work she’s doing. I’m not deep into the pages yet, but have already had so many ‘YES!’ moments. And one really big Ah-ha. One of those moments came when Brené brought attention to a quote from an interview with Maya Angelou done on public television with Bill Moyers, 1973.“You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” – Maya AngelouYes. That quote may be hard to wrap your head around, but for me it spoke truth. Our daughter had been struggling with her enjoyment of space, friends thought she was weird for it and excluded her. But should she abandon that desire, based on reasons and opinions other than her own? That’s a high price. We are meant to hold tight to those dreams and desires placed within us upon our creation.God has created each of us with a necessary and innate sense to belong to something more than ourselves, while being who He created us to be. It’s part of what causes us to seek Him. Yet, we sell out to the world around us in order to fit in and belong. We are each unique; therefore, we will never fit perfectly into anything other than the creation we are meant to be. We are meant to be unique and authentic, placed on the Creator’s timeline and fulfilling a unique purpose, designed specifically for each creation (you and me) – thus fitting perfectly. Denying who I am – who I BE – is denying the Creator of His creation. It’s living a life that’s not congruent or authentic to that which is within.Being that which we are created for is imperative to ourselves, those around us, and to the Lord. He leads by example with His first direct revelation of himself in Exodus 3:14 as he appears to Moses in the burning bush, calling Moses forth to be his purpose. “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.” That ‘I AM’ can be translated from the Hebrew, I BE who I BE.I believe striving ceases when we rest in our real and authentic self, a true reflection of the Creator’s Creation. I’m not sure about you, but I want to be that – a true reflection. Striving tends to wear me out, gets me turned around, and unhappy. I’d rather be happy, and rest in my Creator. Exploring who I am as a reflection of the Creator will take a lifetime, and I’m okay with that process.I am a complete and powerful woman, made of God’s love. How about you?brina-blum-156978-unsplash

In The Morning

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog lately, but I’ve missed you! Any time for writing is being focused toward the study on Joshua. I’m so ready for it to be completed and be able to share it with you – it’s getting closer. Re-writing and edits!For now, I’ll try and keep it short rather than quiet. That seems doable.The verse God has me focused on and challenged with right now is Psalm 5:3, here are three different translations.“Oh LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.” (ESV)“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.” (CSB)“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will prepare [a prayer and a sacrifice] for you and watch and wait [for You to speak to my heart]. (AMP)In the morning. As in first thing – the Firstfruit of my day. In the morning, before I give my attention to anything else, flooding my mind with the waiting demands and welcomed distractions.  And why wouldn’t I want to give my heart and thoughts over to the One who hears my voice? The One who is expectantly waiting for me, in relationship.What can I possibly offer as a sacrifice? Prayer? Worship? My thoughts? Glorifying Him, rather than myself or others? My heart? Gratitude?I want to challenge you with this verse. What does it mean to you? What can you prepare as a sacrifice to the Lord? And then watch! Watch expectantly.Love you ~ Amyaaron-burden-300808-unsplash