hope

I love the start of a New Year. It feels nice and fresh and clean and full of potential. For some people, the start of the new year means setting new resolutions. (More power to you, you skinny, rested, and buff people!) For me it means reflecting and dreaming. Looking back on 2020 was more painful than I had anticipated. Maybe it was for you too.

As much as 2020 has been a year of loss, I have gained so much.

One of my favorite habits is choosing a word for the year. Each year I ask God to give a word that He wants to teach me about in the coming year. It almost becomes a game to see where the word is going to pop up…in a song, Scripture, or even on an actual billboard.

We were into the first few days of January when I was sitting at a stoplight and God made the 2020 word blatantly clear. I thought I already had the word so it caught me completely off guard when I was brought back to the drawing board. I was singing along to Spotify when I realized the words that were coming out of my mouth held truth my heart needed to hear.

“My soul will rest, my confidence, in You alone. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. My Savior’s cross has set the sinner free. Hope has a name, His name is Jesus. Oh, Christ be praised, I have victory.”

Hope.

Hope has a name, His name is Jesus.

I felt like in that moment God was telling me, “Listen up kid. Right now you are excited about this year. That’s great! I don’t want you to loose your eagerness. But that’s not the word I have for you. The world is about to shift and I want you to remember that I am your hope. Don’t put it in other things…people, trips, work, relationships, the future, the past. I am the sure and steady anchor for your soul and you should put your hope in me and only me. Look to me. I am your hope!

To which I responded, “Cool. Hope. I liked “eager” but I’ll go with hope.” Little did I know.

By the time May rolled around I was flat out of options to place hope in. Seeing friends? Quarantined. Starting a new job? Postponed. Being able to stop taking depression medication? Not smart. The list goes on.

Through the wildly eventful (yet uneventful?) months of 2020, God revealed the many places I had stored up hope that were not in Him. I had no idea the number of, and absurdity of, places I had tried to bestow hope. He was opening my eyes to my faulty hope.

I realized just how deeply I had wrongly woven misplaced hope with circumstantial joy.

I realized just how fragile my world was.

I said my hope was in Christ, but my life did not reflect it.

Biblical hope is the complete assurance that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

To understand hope we have to understand the character of God.

Expanding on that statement is daunting. I can spend 10,000 words and still not scratch the surface on the richness of who God is. If you want to know more about the character of God, I encourage you to read the Bible. And when you read it, fight the urge to be only looking for the personal application and instead start with “what does this tell me about God?” I promise your view of God will be revolutionized.

When we are actively seeking to know and love God more, it’s almost impossible to keep placing hope anywhere that isn’t Him.

To have hope in God means to trust that even in the midst of a global pandemic God is still doing good things. To know that He aches with us as we experience the brokenness of the human condition. To remember that Jesus has already won the war. To celebrate that eternity has already begun and we get to know God deeply and intimately now. We have hope because God is unfailing. We have hope because we know that there is so much more to life than what the world has to offer.

God has brought me back to Psalm 33:18 over and over throughout the year: “Behold the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” God’s steadfast love, his hesed, is what makes him unlike any other contrived god.

In 2020 I learned to put my hope in the steadfast love of Christ.

I like how one of my friends started the year by sharing how when it comes to goals her approach is to “keep it simple. For example, this year (and forever) I simply want to know and love God more. It’s not really specific or measurable, like the experts recommend, but I want this “goal” to be more of a lens through which I view my days. Though I haven’t broken it down into actionable steps, I will tell you that regular Bible reading and prayer are like the frames holding up the lenses of these God-oriented glasses.”

About the art:
I went back to my graphic design roots for this piece and had a blast. I hand-wrote the text on a scrap of paper and scanned in the text to use as a rough template. I thought it would be a smooth transition and I would be able to “outline” the letters, but in true 2020 fashion that did not happen. I spent about eight hours adjusting the outline of each letter so I still got the imperfect hand-written feel. The background is full of individual lines I placed on a grid.

Grey

I left for Greece right at the end of February when we were getting news of the Corona outbreak in China. I was aware of the spread but not concerned. Just as I was supposed to leave the country a series of events allowed me to extend my stay an extra week and I was thrilled.

Then, within about five days, all Greek schools closed, everything but supermarkets, pharmacies, and bakeries closed, and everyone was wearing masks and staying six feet away from others. By the time I left, the WHO had deemed Europe the new epicenter of COVID-19. To get home I traveled through five airports and four planes, two of which were completely full. I spent the next two weeks in super strict quarantine to my room while my friends in Greece received news that they were going into a stringent, government monitored lockdown.

Things were getting bad. And then they got worse.

I’ve seen this virus strip jobs away from people who are just trying to get by. It’s caused us to look at other humans with suspicion, making wide six-foot circles around the other foragers at the grocery stores. People who have assembled the best battle wear of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes are resentful towards those who are appearing to frolic about. Economies around the world are threatening collapse. Weddings, graduations, and birthday parties are getting cancelled. Racism and abuse are rapidly increasing. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying.

I think of all these things and I can feel my heart physically ache.

But I’ve seen other things too.

I’ve also seen this virus cause people all over the world rally around healthcare workers. It’s given the world a common thread, increasing relatability across cultures. People are getting creative with ways to encourage one another while staying physically distanced. Because of the technology era, people are able to meet virtually, allowing many businesses to remain open to some extent. Also as a benefit of technology we can communicate easily so there is less isolation than if this happened even 15 years ago. My social media feeds are full of people sharing encouraging words, performances, funny gifs, and friends being honest about their realities so that we can come around them. Families are getting more time together. Churches might not be gathering in sanctuaries, but they’re gathering in living rooms. Google is reporting a massive spike in searches for “prayer” and “Jesus.” I have friends who are seeing family members be more open to the Gospel because of the current situation. Cultures that praise being busy are forced to slow down and rest. Distractions are being removed – “not having enough time” is no longer an excuse for avoiding spiritual matters.

There is so much pain. But there is also a lot of good.

I’ve seen a trend that Americans want the world to be black and white. (Note on this: I say Americans because that’s the culture with which I am most familiar.) We want something to be right or wrong, not both. We want to be able to sort events, opinions, practices, situations, people into one of two categories: good or bad. It’s easier that way. However, when we do that we often neglect to see the big picture.

I’m not proposing that we completely do away with the right vs. wrong system. God definitely pre-sorted some actions with the Ten Commandments. I also think morals, which heavily rely on the distinction between good and bad, are essential to healthy lives. I am cautioning us as to what happens when we try to label something not definitively stated in the Bible.

I am encouraging us to take a page out of Joseph’s book.

Joseph’s full story can be found in Genesis 37-50 and if you’re looking for a good read with lots of plot twists, he’s your guy. Here’s the gist, spoilers included: Joseph, a nice 17 yr old shepherd, has these two prophetic dreams that cause his brothers to hate him. As if being the favorite child didn’t already put him at odds with his TEN older brothers, the dreams from God predicted that Joseph would rule over his brothers. This arrogance wasn’t going to fly so his brothers oh so kindly threw Joseph into a pit to die, but then changed their minds and sold him to some foreign travelers. Joseph was sold again, became a servant, rose the ranks because of God’s favor, was hit on by his boss’ wife, was wrongly accused, and thrown into prison. While in prison, the LORD was with him, showing him steadfast love and favor. Joe interpreted two of his fellow prisoner’s dreams; one got good news the other not so much. Then the king had some dreams and God helped Joseph interpret those, which earned him a huge promotion from prison to a spot as one of the king’s highest officials. A famine came but it was okay because the king’s dreams prophesied it and Joseph had prepared for it. Now it’s been about 22 years since he saw his brothers and sadly they weren’t faring too well thanks to the famine. They come to Joseph (not knowing who he is) to ask for food, Joseph weeps then sends them home, they come back, Joe tests them, they freak out, Joe weeps again, he shares his identity with his brothers, a family reunion happens, and they all live a big happy life together.

Joseph’s story ends with a conversation between him and his brothers. (This is where our good or bad discussion comes into play.) The brothers apologize for the “evil” (Gen 50:17) they did to him. Joseph’s response to them: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph saw the big picture that through what would easily be labeled as an unfortunate, or bad, series of events, God brought good from it and Joe got to help many people by providing food during the famine. All throughout our pal’s story we are reminded how God was with Joseph the whole time, not turning a blind eye to what was going on.

When we rush to call something bad, we can loose sight of the good God is doing. Even amidst the brokenness of the world (Joseph’s brothers did try to murder him after all) God can bring good.

Since we’re still this side of Heaven, evil still has a presence. The enemy of this world is active and sometimes his havoc can cloud our vision of the mysterious yet beautiful, powerful, and pure work of the Lord. That’s the sad reality. But we know the rest of the story. God will triumph over Satan. The goodness of God will prevail over the corruption of evil. That’s where we’re headed, and it’s closer with every moment.

Even though we experience the horrible brokenness of the world, God is still at work.

God can, and is, bringing good out of COVID-19.

There is still bad, but there’s also good.

 

FreehandTruth_LookForTheGood_Gen5020

Better

12 year old me said that when I “grew up” (we’ll say 25yrs old), I would be an interior designer, married to an Aggie and have little kids who were pretty much the equivalent of small cherubim.

16 year old me said that when I grew up, I would be a graphic designer who lived in the suburbs with a godly husband and planning for three to four children.

20 year old me said that when I grew up, I would be married to a godly man and together we’d run a summer camp. Our four children would eventually spend their summers at camp and our family of six would all be best friends.
(20 year old me also made a pact with a friend that if we were still single at 25, we’d make each other create online dating profiles. Because who’s not married by 25?! If you were a godly southern woman, you’d be making sweet tea for your grandchildren by the time you were 28.)

24 year old me said that since I was allllmost grown up but still unmarried, childless, and career-less, that I was doing something wrong. I still wanted to be a wife and a mom but by now had settled on the dream job being in a middle/high school girl’s discipleship role. So even though most of my friends were either dating, engaged, married, or pregnant, I told myself I was just a little late to the game and it was going to be okay. I still had another year.

L. O. FREAKIN L.

25 and 26 year old me lived in a foreign country, asking people about life and faith and hearing countless life stories of essentially strangers. Which, spoiler, has been awesome. But also nowhere near where I thought I’d be.

When I first considered moving internationally, I was aware that it would mean leaving my comfort zone and could be, as one person said, “putting my life on pause.” I had another person who told me I should instead stay in the States and move to Dallas to put myself in the young adults scene and therefore be more dateable. I liked that idea because that was what I wanted…so I was admittedly frustrated when God kept pushing me out of what I thought was the Promised Land and into the Land of Unknowns.

It’s funny now to look back on my life. In retrospect, 99% of my life has been classified by the Unknown. As far as life markers go, the only one that I could have “predicted” was to go to university at A&M. (But even then I changed my major three times!) All the other things are tied for first place in the “Biggest Surprise” category. However Greece miiiiiight be in the lead. As my time in Greece comes to an end, I am flooded with emotions while I celebrate my time here and grieve what will no longer be. All as I prepare for another journey into the Unknown.

Several times a week now I get asked what’s next for me. I rejoice in the comfort and peace God has provided for the last months as I answer them simply that I don’t know yet. Most times I’ll then explain how it’s been my experience that when I start to make my own plans, God has no problem scratching what I would call Plan-A and moving instead to Plan-That-Did-Not-Exist-And-Was-Never-An-Option-So-What-in-the-World.

I was challenged to adjust my thinking about this when a friend shared on social media about her most recent experience in med school. I’ve known her for almost nine years now and the entire time she has talked about being an OB/GYN so that she can serve women in the Middle East. After years and years of working towards this righteous dream, it took only moments for that dream as she knew it to be destroyed. As she processed through what had happened, I was tempted to think she had written it just for me. “[This] was not my plan A. But I misunderstood God. He said there is no plan B. But I did not have the wisdom to understand His plan A.” She recognized that her dreams to serve in the Middle East are righteous, but “they were limited. [Her] hands are open to what the Father wants because His infinite wisdom is beyond [her] finite understanding and limited vantage point.”

Anyone else want to shout “Amen!”

I’ve been sitting on this post for almost three months now. I’ve come to terms with being in a different place than I expected. It comes easily to say that I don’t know what’s next. I have a lot of peace about the Unknown. But do I believe this Unknown is better than my righteous dreams?

There have been two particular verses that I’ve been meditating on quite regularly:

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

I am almost 27 and know of 4 single God-fearing men, think my friends’ kids are cute, and will most likely take yet another job that isn’t in youth ministry. I have never been further away from these things that I’ve asked God for daily (for almost seven years now). I have also never been more okay with where I am.

Some days are easier than others to be so “okay” with where God has me, but it’s undeniable that when I am focused on His will rather than mine, I have an infinitely healthier perspective. I have to fight to believe that God’s ways are higher and better than anything I could imagine. But regardless of if I believe or understand or live like they are, no matter what they’re still better.

 

FreehandTruth_Better_Prov19.21

Strong

We barely finished our introductions before my new friend rattled off her first question. Have you ever been in love? Our little group of four all shared our ideas on love, sex, and relationships. The next question: what would your ideal life look like? Again, we went around and answered. Then the next: why believe in God?

When it was my turn, I shared with them about how my life looked like before I surrendered my life to my Creator: trying and not-surprisingly failing to attain perfection. I told them about how because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection I can be brought back into the presence of Almighty God and all my shortcomings be redeemed through Christ.

This same new friend from above sat and listened, but I could tell there was something fiery on the tip of her tongue. Sure enough, she didn’t let even a second of silence pass after I had finished speaking.

“I think you’re weak because you believe in God.”

I almost laughed. Her words didn’t cut, didn’t hurt…the thought just seemed outrageous to me.

To her, the source of strength comes from within ourselves. When we feel that we are lacking, she believes we should dig deeper and cultivate it from within ourselves. So in her mind I’m not strong enough to gain that strength from within, and therefore I need to believe a “higher power” can intervene on my behalf.

And guess what, she’s right!!! I’m not strong enough on my own. But it took me a looooooong time to admit that.

I want to say that it is just the fact that I am a firstborn that makes me independent, but it’s not. According to my mom, I was always a “free-spirited and strong-willed child.” I operated under the mindset that whatever it is, I can do it. On my own. By myself. Without help. And I’m going to prove something to someone in the process. While this has softened as I entered into adulthood, this manifests in me wanting to be the person who can help everyone else but never wants to be on the receiving end of said help. When asked, “what do you need” I love being able to answer, “nothing, I’m fine.”

Because if I’m fine, I’m not lacking anything.

Turns out I am never really fine.

Turns out I am human.

Being human means being in a constant state of brokenness. Being in a constant state of brokenness without God is like living in a wooden house infested with termites and no exterminator left on earth. The house is going down, it’s only a matter of time.

When God created the world, He deemed it perfect in His sight. As the epitome of holy and perfect, God’s standard for His creation was to bear the same image. We make it two chapters into the Bible before things go south. Real fast. When humans decide to do things on their own, imperfection (sin) enters and overtakes God’s perfect world. On its own the world is still as broken now as it was 3,000+ years ago. Try as we might, solving the brokenness of humanity is not up to us; we will always fall short of God’s perfection.

Enter: Jesus.

Jesus has been, and will be, the only man to ever walk the earth and live a perfect, blameless, and sinless life. When Jesus, God’s one and only son, died on the cross He took on the imperfections of the world making total forgiveness possible. Now, when God looks at me, a Believer of Him, He sees the Perfect Son and not my sin. (And no, I don’t think I will ever fully grasp that!)

I love how the Gospel of Mark jumps right into why Jesus came, sharing how Jesus Himself said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

This means God doesn’t need me to be fine. In fact, He wants me to admit my dire need for Him. He wants me to admit how I can’t fix myself, how I am weak left on my own. I can slap some bandaids on a mortal wound but I’m still dying. He is the Great Physician.

It seems counterintuitive, but the only way we receive healing is by laying our lives down and in total humility declaring our need for God’s saving grace. We admit where we have fallen short, that we are too weak to fix ourselves, and ask God to forgive us.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t know about you, but I have seen PLENTY of times when I cannot do even life in general on my own. My pride doesn’t want to admit it, yet it is so true. But if I wasn’t broken and in need of help, would I actually see my need for a Savior? Probably not.

I will never forget the first time someone shared with me Psalm 73:26. I was at summer camp with my family and one of the super cool college counselors wrote out part of Psalm 73 for me. After some digging, I found that the New King James Version is the closest translation here: “My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The Hebrew verb used here for “fail” is definitive, meaning it will happen. I can vouch for that, because there are, again, PLENTY of times when my flesh and my heart have failed me. I am not strong on my own. I am not fine.

But Psalm 73 is not the only place we see a need for greater strength. In the book of Psalms alone, there are 45 times* where the Psalmist sings of God’s strength, asks Him for strength, and admits that human strength is not enough. Paul prays that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit” (3:16) and continues to attribute strength to God in many of his other letters. Peter reminds us that as Believers, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10) Strength cannot come from ourselves because we are not the source.

When the girl told me she thought I was weak for believing in Jesus, the rest of the table squirmed for a few moments due to the directness of her comment. Then her friend across the table jumped in. “I disagree. I think she’s strong for believing in God. I wish I could.”

I simultaneously wanted to high-five this girl as well as weep for her that she thought she couldn’t believe in God. I’ll tell you what I told her: “you can.”

If you’re tired of trying but always failing, never feeling like you’ll measure up, or ready to give up the “I’m fine” act, I encourage you to know the Source of all good things. God is a whole bunch of incredible things like unconditional love, hope, and joy, but do you know Him as your Strength?

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.” (Psalm 59:9)
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)
“God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1a)

*Psalm 8:2; 10:17; 18:1; 18:32; 18:39; 21:1; 21:13; 22:15; 28:1; 28:7; 28:8; 29:1; 29:11; 31:10; 32:4; 38:10; 46:1; 59:9; 59:16; 59:17; 65:6; 68:35; 71:1; 71:9; 73:1; 73:26; 81:1; 84:5; 86:16; 88:4; 89:17; 89:21; 93:1; 96:6; 96:7; 105:4; 118:14; 119:28; 138:3; 140:7

FreehandTruth_Ps73.26

Reclaim

Normally I wait until the end of the year to explain more of why I chose that particular word for the year and what God has taught me about that word. But this year is different. (It’s actually different for a lot of reasons but more on that in the months to come.) My word for 2019 is “reclaim” and here’s why…

I have been reading Genesis and Exodus in my personal Bible study time and it is no coincidence that we are covering those exact books in one of my seminary classes. I am sooo thankful that the Word of God is alive and active because even though I’ve read these passages before, this time God taught me something else: I have already admitted defeat.

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of the beginning of the Israelites who are identified as God’s chosen people. Back in Genesis 12, God tells Abraham that He will give him land (the Promised Land), seed (descendants), and blessing (provision). God blesses Abraham and before long he is incredibly wealthy (Gen 13) and has a son with his wife Sarah (Gen 21). One of Abraham’s grandsons is Jacob (Gen 25), who God later renames as Israel (Gen 32). Israel has twelve sons (Gen 29,30, 35), who were then fruitful and multiplied (Ex 1), thus forming the Twelve Tribes of Israel, aka- the Israelites (Ex 1). While the descendants and provision parts were going well, the Israelites did not have possession of the land. In fact, they are enslaved to the Egyptians (Ex 1). God anoints Moses to petition the Egyptian ruler to let God’s people go (Ex 3), and after the tenth disastrous plague, the Israelites are set free (Ex 12). A year-ish of trekking towards the Promised Land God’s people finally arrive at the border (Num 13). Twelve spies are sent to scout out the land that has already been promised to the Israelites (Num 13); ten return and say “no can do, the current inhabitants are giants” and two say “God has given us this land so let’s do it!” (Num 13). The people side with the majority and accept the defeat, rebelling and complaining against God for not giving them what He had promised. God’s response: I said I was giving it to you but you chose not to believe me; therefore, you will wander in the wilderness for forty years and you’ll know that I am displeased (Num 14).

Yikes.

Thankfully, I believe that God deals differently with us now than He did with His people in the Old Testament. So when I don’t please God He won’t set me in the Sahara and say “good luck, see you in four decades.” But even without the desert wanderings, I can’t help but see the similarities between the Israelites and myself. Just like them, I doubt God.

Both the Israelites and myself were/are not believing Truth about God; that He is good and loving and wants good for me. Instead, we are believing the lies of the enemy. Ephesians 6:12 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan. Since the very beginning of time, Satan has been trying to deceive us into believing lies about God (Gen 3). The problem is, just like the Israelites, I sometimes think the promise of God is too good to be true.

We have the complete written Word of God and the redemption of Jesus which means we are not on the pursuit for land, seed, and blessing, but rather for the Kingdom. Jesus says that we should pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And for me that means I have to uproot the lies that I believe about Him. I need to reclaim the Truth of who God is in my life. He has already given me the promises of who He is, His perfect character, and now it’s up to me to live believing those.

Here are a few of the things I am reclaiming:

  • God is good. (Psalm 145:9)
  • God is for me. (Matthew 7:11)
  • God is love. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • God is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

I am super not perfect which, for the record, does not mesh with a holy and perfect God. Thankfully, Jesus’ death was payment for my imperfections and brought me into the family of God. Because I am a child of God, I have been given access to know the Father. (Seriously, I have been given that!) When I use my circumstances to determine how I feel about God, I get a really misconstrued view of the Father.

I like the word “reclaim” because it implies action. I have to be active in identifying what lies I am believing to have an accurate view of God. I have to be active in fighting off Satan to remember that God is the good ruler of my life. I can’t just look at what has been promised to me and instead turn around and throw the world’s most pathetic pity-party because it doesn’t look probable that God will come through. No, God is who He says He is.

Below are some verses and passages that God has been using to re-orient my heart towards Him. I’ve found more significance in what these verses say about who God is, rather than what pertains to me. As I study God’s character, I reclaim the “broken” areas of my life because my perspective is realigned.

This year, I’m asking myself what has God promised to me that I have given up on? What parts of His character am I struggling to not only see, but also to trust in? Which circumstances am I allowing to cause doubt about God? And I’m also remembering that even when I fail or give up, God’s character is not dependent on me.


“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7)

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-17)

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“[Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him ehe name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should boy, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)

“For this we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6)

Abundance

Moving to Greece was the fastest life decision I’ve made so far.

It took all of three weeks.

Or 51 weeks…depending on how you look at it. But that’s a story for a different time.

I count it as three weeks because that’s how long Greece was even the tiniest option before God and I had a conversation where I chose His will over mine.

So much happened in those three weeks. God moved mountains and barriers and concrete walls that I had put up in an effort to stay in my comfortable, manageable life. And He came in and leveled them. I’m talking flat out destroyed some. At one point during that time I distinctly remember asking a few close friends to tell me reasons why I shouldn’t move to Greece. I wanted them to pull me out of the frenzy of such a huge change.

The most chaotic three weeks have become a pillar of promise.

Because God has wrecked my plans with His, why do I doubt that He is going to come through now? When I am tempted to doubt that God will provide financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally, I am reminded that He will supply every need of mine according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). I am reminded that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). I am reminded that He is the source of everything (Romans 11:36).

June has been full of phone calls, text messages, letters, and meetings. Full of bold prayers, little sleep, tears, and laughter. But it has been marked by provision.

God has provided above and beyond in partnerships, both in prayer and financially. He has provided places to stay, to the point where I’ve had to turn people down. He’s provided faithful friends who will randomly text me, celebrate even the smallest victories with me, and who are on their knees praying for me daily. He’s provided exactly what I need, when I need it…and most of these gifts have been far beyond what I could have even dreamed.

When I stop to thank Him for who He is, for what He has done because of who He is, I am overwhelmed with His abundance. So quickly I try and fit God’s provision into boxes….just like I unintentionally did a moment ago. I want God to check the financial box, along with the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental boxes. Once those boxes are checked, I’m good to go. But here’s the thing, He has given me Jesus, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19). Someone please tell me a box that the fullness of God cannot fill.

During this support raising time I have been praying Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” This is a sweet verse that gives perspective to higher and better than my human mind could even imagine. Check out what Paul has to say right before and after his proclamation of God’s abundant ability:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith––that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. -Ephesians 3:14-21

God has provided financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. In very tangible ways. Some of those times it’s been immediate, others it’s been after a deadline has passed. There are still areas and situations where I feel like God hasn’t provided even half a percent. But even then, He has already provided His Son.

So when I’m tempted to ask, “What if God doesn’t come through on ______?” I’m trying to re-train my brain (and heart!) to instead ask, “Where in my past have I seen God be God?” and then “Where, right this minute, do I see God being God?”

He began this process of moving to Greece by moving mountains, and He’s continued moving them…sometimes by an inch, sometimes by a mile. And sometimes I need to praise Him for the gift that is the mountain itself, and not just the movement.

Which, speaking of moving…I move to Greece in 71 days.

 

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Colossians 1:17 // Benched

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

I have been saying for the last few weeks that I feel like God has been putting me on the bench. Do you know the feeling?

Within the past year, I have been handed numerous things, only for them to be enjoyed and then taken away. A mission trip that would have combined so many of my passions. A job that would fit well with how I’m gifted. A relationship that ended too soon. And most recently, stepping back from serving with a ministry that I love.

My response has simply been, “Why?!”

Why let me figure out what makes my heart beat fast, only for it to be shut down without warning?

Now I never was super big into sports (holla for two and a half years of JV tennis) but as I was talking with a friend the other day and wrestling through words, this picture just clicked. So hang with me.

Most team sports have a literal bench. The main purpose of the bench is for players to gather around it when they’re not on the court/field/rink. There are three main people we find on the bench.

Person #1: The Benchwarmer
This was me in high school. I needed the Athletics credit, but had no desire to actually play the game. I went to practice, my name was on the roster, but I was never chosen to participate when it came to competitions. I actually sat on the bench many days. You’re welcome, Weatherford High School kangaroos.
Being benched gives the Benchwarmer the space to remain comfortable.

Person #2: The Hothead
When a coach sends someone to the bench, sometimes this is a disciplinary measure. The player is breaking the rules of the game and needs to take a few to cool down and remember that when they are 85 and old and grey, it will not matter that the opponent’s toe crossed the line and that the ref failed to see the “severity” of the offense.
Being benched gives the Hothead the space to be disciplined. 

Person #3: The Devoted
Even the best athlete spends time on the bench. No matter how many 3-pointers they can shoot in a row, they won’t play the entire game. At some point, the coach lovingly sends them to the bench to recover because the coach knows there is more of the game left to play.
Being benched gives the Devoted the space to rest. 

When it comes to sports, I’m definitely a benchwarmer, but for the most part, I can say with confidence that’s not my bent when it comes to life. I’m a goer and a doer.

There have absolutely been times in my life when I’ve been sent to the bench because I needed to be disciplined. God knew that the most loving thing for me was to take me out and make me actually face my sin problems. While I still sin (aka- fall short of perfection) every day, I don’t think God has sent me to the bench right now for discipline.

Sometimes God sends us to the bench to let us rest.

And I don’t like it.

Deep in my soul I know I’m tired, I’ll even say it with my words, but I don’t want to stop playing.

Rest is 100% Biblical. God created the world in six days and then RESTED the seventh. (Genesis 2:3). This idea of time set aside for rest is also known as a Sabbath. A couple days ago I read in Numbers 15 that God commanded the people of Israel to straight up stone a man who broke the Sabbath…he was breaking it by picking up sticks!! STICKS!!! The man was gathering sticks during a time when he should have been resting.

I don’t frequently pick up sticks. I do frequently forget to rest.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-29

I will certainly stop to veg on the couch and I’m all about the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night. Within the first hour of my morning I strive to meet with Jesus and let His Word fill my heart. These are good examples of taking a “time out” to catch my breath and strategize, if you will. But true rest for my soul requires more. The verse that has stuck out to me the most through this season so far has been Colossians 1:17: “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Do I trust God to be God? By stepping back and allowing space to recover, I am saying that He is bigger than I am. He doesn’t need me to keep playing in order to win the game. Sometimes the most loving thing is for me to sit on the bench and watch. To stop and let my soul rest…remembering that in Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things (Romans 11:36).

He holds everything together. Everything.

My time on the bench doesn’t have to mean that I’m unengaged. It means that I stop to remember who God is in my life. It’s already been several weeks that I’ve taken up residence on the bench. Most days I still struggle to accept this gift of rest. But Lord, thank You for reminding me that you hold all things together…including this bench you have me on.

What’s your response to being put on the bench?

When was the last time you rested? What does rest look like to you?

Does the way you rest reflect your belief in God’s ability to hold all things together?

This piece is available for purchase at the Freehand Truth Etsy Shop.

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Galatians 4:9 // Being Known

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” Galatians 4:9

“Pray that I would find comfort in being known by God.”

My mentor at the time texted me that morning, asking for an update on life and how she could be praying for me during the upcoming week. Thankful that someone genuinely wanted to know how I was doing, I took full advantage of the opportunity and quickly wrote out a considerably lengthy reply, sparing no detail and boldly asking for prayer on a number of different things I was facing. I hit send and then re-read what I had said.

Topics such as work, school, and rest had the expected prayers tied to them–perseverance, perspective, and priority (thank you, junior high english class for teaching me the beauty of alliteration). And then hello, request from left field. I don’t think I have ever asked for comfort to come from being known by God.

It had been several months since a friend had hurt me deeply, so I was shocked that my response to “how’s your heart?” did not have the same hope-filled answers that I expressed in the preceding weeks. My heart was hurting again. I was regressing. I felt as if I had drawn the Candy Land card that sent me back to the very first purple square.

Desperately trying to put words to the sudden return of the ache, I saw my heart unfold: I missed the familiarity. I missed the understanding. I missed being known. Maybe you can relate.

“I felt known. Yes, God knows me best, but it was refreshing to have another person with me. Pray that I would find comfort in being known by God. And pray that for [Friend] too.”

First of all, I want to say that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be known by someone else. In fact, it’s Biblical to live in community with other Believers!
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as in the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26-27
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

A pastor at my church always says that the purpose of the Body is to multiply joys and divide sorrows. I love it. Paul, the author of Romans, instructs the Church to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Rich beauty emanates from a life lived alongside other people. We should be known by other Believers, but we should be first and foremost run (really sprint) to being known by God Himself.

There is a reason God is called the Author of Life.

I love how David cries out to God in Psalm 139:13 saying, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Emphasis mine.) God Himself formed me. He was there from the instant I came into being, and He hasn’t gone anywhere.

In that same Psalm, David praises God for His presence:
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:1-7)

I read those verses and am overcome by the nearness of the Lord. He knows the depths of my heart, and even comes with me to those deep dark places. Yet He still calls me beloved.

And then Galatians 4:9: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” 

Ouch.

Where/what/who are you running back to?

When is the last time you cried out to God?

Where are you searching to be known?

I am praying that we find comfort in being known by God.

This piece is available for purchase at the Freehand Truth Etsy Shop.

BeKnown

New Beginnings 2.0

It has been 18 months since the Freehand Truth shop made a public debut across the lands of Instagram and Etsy. It’s been on “Vacation Mode” for the last 15. Math might not be your strongest point, but you read that correctly.

I was amazed by the support that I received from the new adventure of opening the shop. I was reminded of just how incredible the people are who I see every day. I met some more incredible people via the World Wide Web, who encouraged me big time. I was all in, went full steam, and got worn out. Or probably more accurately: overwhelmed.

Social media is not my thing. It just isn’t. I’m all about honesty and transparency (in fact, if you’ve ever had a conversation with me the chances are that 200 times out of 100 I have said something that has shocked you. Again with the math, I know). Transparency. Yes. So the fact that social media can so quickly be manipulated really irks me. I have quite a few good stories on the subject, but we’ll save those for another time.

I love sharing stories and talking deep life with other people. Seriously, love, love, love this. But I will ALWAYS ask to have these conversations in person if at all possible. There’s just something about sharing a meal, a hot cup of coffee (or tea), or even chatting while being curled up on a couch, that draws souls together. I am certain of it. Good news people, we live in the 21st century which means about 99% of our communication these days is done through technology. So I thrive. (I am honest. I am also sarcastic. Cheers.)

Back up to when the shop was actually open and I was excited to share about the different pieces I was working on with the few people (hey Mom!) who followed Freehand Truth. A few people grew into what felt like a small army…granted we’re talking about 100 people here but it overwhelmed me when I started looking around Etsy and realizing that if I actually wanted to go places, I was going to have to fight to be heard. The few people who were already listening all started requesting custom pieces and I was juggling too much to keep up with the numerous paintings a week, finishing up college, searching for a new job, maintaining friendships, church commitments, not to mention sleep… the last thing I wanted to do was figure out how to stage a picture and which hashtags to use in such a way to lure people in. Yeah, no. So I stopped. Everything related to painting. All at once.

God works in wonderful ways.

I’ve painted a total of about four pieces in the last 15 months. Two were donated for silent auctions, the other two for dear friends who allowed me to stand beside them as they said “I do.” With those pieces, I felt freedom when I painted; freedom that overwhelmed me as I worked the paint across a [literal] blank canvas. I enjoyed painting, but apparently I enjoyed staring at my paints sitting lonely in the corner even more. I said I didn’t have time to paint. But let’s be real, I was scared.

You can read about how the Freehand Truth shop first got started here. I wrote that a few days before the shop went live. By the end of three months I had lost sight of why I was creating: to glorify God. I was seeking to glorify my name. Not His. I was seeking to please my customers to the point to where I was losing my voice, my passion, my love for painting. Because I wanted to “make it big” and be successful.

So God put me on the bench.

Where I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Until now.

So why now? So glad you asked. There’s this beautiful thing called being human. I am human. And so are you. We are gifted in individual and unique ways. I can paint, but social media is not my forte. I can communicate [somewhat] well, but always need help articulating ideas further. (Crazy, but I always make sense to myself. Not necessarily always to other people.) So I have incredibly gracious friends who have agreed to help with social media, editing, etc. (Everyone, when you say your prayers tonight please thank the Lord with me for the people who are going to lend a hand through this process. It takes a village. I’ve got a great one.) I am fully aware of my limits and have this great thing called accountability in place. When I am tempted to overextend–to get worn down because I’m working from a place of myself–I have beautiful friends who aren’t afraid to tell it to me like it is. We’ve also worked on this other great thing called expectations. Since we are human, aka-not God, we can’t do it all. Seriously. Can’t. Do. It. All. There will be weeks when I don’t pick up a paintbrush. And that’s okay.

The answer to “Why now?” summed up in one word(ish): a healthy view on creating.

Here’s the other component to why now: tough stuff happens. Painting has always been something that I’ve come around to after life throws a nasty punch. I have cried more in the last 15 months than I have in my entire life combined. (And that’s saying a lot because my mom loves to say that I used up all her sympathy by the time I was five.) My tears haven’t been the only ones. I’m not the only one hurting. I would bet a whole bunch of boxes of Samoa’s on the fact that you’re hurting too. Through this journey I’ve learned even more what it looks like to cling to Scripture. I want to share that with you. Not because I think I have anything profound to say, but more because I am discovering that getting my words out on paper (or screen…look at me using technology) is therapeutic. Just like painting is therapeutic. I don’t want to paint to just crank pieces out. I want to learn from them.

So I’m going to go ahead and set another thing straight – what I share on here is going to be what the Lord is teaching me. It’s going to be raw and honest. I am a huge believer that God gives us our weaknesses so that we have all the more room to proclaim Him.
See: the entire Bible.

Whether we have shared a meal together or your best friend’s roommate’s suitemate’s great aunt’s second cousin’s hairstylist sent this to you, I want you to know that I love you and am thankful for you. I am thankful that you have given a few moments of your precious time to allow the Lord to [hopefully, dear Jesus pleeeeaaase] speak through me. I want to hear from you, what you’re learning too! My prayer is that this is a safe place for that to happen. I promise to be vulnerable. I promise to listen. I promise to not do this on my own.

Let’s do this.

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