Monday, January 23, 2017

Pressed But Not Crushed

This was my Facebook status the other day after reading the tiniest bit of David Jeremiah's book What to Do When You Don't Know What to Do:

"I have quoted "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9) over and over but never, until this moment, realized that it literally means that you will NOT become spiritually mature until you have gone through a trial (or ten) of some sort. You have to be weak at some point in order to be spiritually strong, just as gold has to be refined by fire.

It's like how it's not really fun to go to the gym and it usually hurts, but if you want a result, you have to go through some pain!

THAT'S why we should be thankful for hard times. Even though they aren't fun, they will make us better - give us perfect strength. There's hope in knowing the hard time you are going through will produce something good eventually.

It's like I know all these things but they haven't quite connected yet. I realized the connection between this and my "Seasons in the Vineyard" post.

(Relate it all to working out or wine making and I will get it, rest assured)

I was at a winery last spring for a bachelorette party, and we got a tour of the facility. We got to see where the wine is made! I still don't understand it all, but from what I understand the little grapes have to be pressed to get the wine after the harvest season. The phrase "pressed but not crushed" kept going over and over in my head.
The grapes are pressed and it hurts them, but they have to go through it to become made into the final product - the wine 
(***which should never be consumed to the point that it alters your mind - Ephesians 5:18 - Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit***).

I knew that God allows us to go through trials so strengthen us, but until the other day, I didn't realize that we HAVE to go through trials IN ORDER TO become mature spiritually. 
I remember telling someone a couple weeks ago that it was unfortunate that I had to go through so many difficult events to get close to the Lord, but in reality, I would've never gotten close to Him had they not happened.
***It's not just me - - it's that way for everyone!!***

Just like it hurts to work out but we won't get the results we want if we don't endure the pain...
And the grapes in the vineyard have to go through pain to become wine...
WE have to go through some things to become like Christ - perfect and holy, filled with the Spirit 
(because you CAN be saved and not completely overflowing with the Spirit)

- It is not God punishing us. If we could see the end results, we would see why He allows us to go through trials.
- ALL evil comes from Satan and the evil within the world that stems from Adam and Eve's sin. God does allow it, but does not CAUSE it.
- I have seen great things come out of terrible situations - wonderful things that would not have happened had the terrible situation not happened.

It's hard to think about it this way sometimes, but maybe this will help anyone who is going through something rough - it has to mean that something great is happening underneath all the turmoil and will be revealed in time.

This just reminds me that I am constantly learning and still have so much more to connect and learn. How exciting!

Happy Monday!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

When You Don't Give Me Answers

Image result for i will be still and know you are god

Image result for i will be still and know you are god

Sometimes He doesn't give us answers...
Sometimes He just wants to sustain us and carry us through the storm so that we will trust Him.

Sometimes He makes us wait
Sometimes it looks like a huge mess
Sometimes He just wants to increase our faith
...or our prayer life...
...or our ability to survive.

Sometimes it seems hopeless
Sometimes it spins out of control

But He is always God
And always higher and bigger than the storms.

And even though we may feel like we can't do it,
When "all that's within me feels dry,"
We have to trust Him and trust the process.

"When You don't give me answers, as I cry out to You,
I will trust in You."

That is hard right now. And it's okay to say that.
Usually I don't. My pride won't let me.
But sometimes It's totally okay to say "I've spent hours flat on my face crying out and I'm emptied dry. I have nothing else to say right now and I'm just going to trust."

"Be still and know I am God."
Psalm 46:10

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Darkest Days

I wrote this very vulnerable post three years ago today as a reflection on one of the darkest times in my life.

It took me four years to get the courage  and find the words to write it.

Please read and remember to cherish life and never put off something that the Lord has laid on your heart to do.

Friday, January 17, 2014 
Two days ago, I overcame one of my biggest fears.
I was driving to the bank, and I had to pass the cemetery to get to the bank.
The cemetery I've been afraid to visit for four years now.
The cemetery I had a nightmare about.
The nightmare that haunted me for months.
Caused by the silence, caused by relentless guilt, caused by my human nature and disconnect and self-absorption.
I could see the headstones through the trees, now that it's winter - full-blown winter - and the leaves are gone. I didn't really plan on stopping, because I've always been terrified. And the guilt would just be too much, even if nothing happened to me. The sky was weird but really pretty. Dark clouds covered the top, but underneath was pink-ish.
Right before the turn, I decided to stop. I turned right and drove through the iron gates, down the dirt road, consciously looking out my rearview mirror. It looked just like it did in my nightmare and I felt uneasy. I pulled up to the spot where I remembered standing, four years ago, in the rain, on one of the worst and hardest days of my life. I scanned the headstones until I found the one I was looking for. I got out of my car and walked over to it, always checking behind me. I knelt down in the grass and prayed. I prayed for the family and I prayed that I would be better - more aware, more open, braver and more impulsive.
As I walked back to my car, I felt lighter. The sky was somber and yes, I was in a cemetery, but there was an undertone of quiet peace. As I drove to the bank, I felt like a little bit of burden had been lifted. I felt stronger, knowing I had finally overcome my fear and nothing had happened.
See, my brother and I are close in age, and we have a lot of the same friends. In the summer of 2009, I became pretty close with him and his friends, and hung out with them almost every night. There was one in particular, though, that I didn't know all that well, and for some reason felt a burden for him, but I didn't know why. His name was Matt. He always seemed so happy and joyful, and I wasn't sure why I felt like I needed to do something for him. He just seemed different. But the only thing I could think of was "maybe I should ask him if he knows Jesus."
Well, we all know how that goes. As humans, we will sometimes freely talk about anything but our faith. We will share our biggest secrets, regrets, etc. But when it comes to sharing our faith, we keep that to ourselves. Why?
Are we embarrassed?
Are we afraid others will think differently of us?
Do we not know how to bring it up?
Is it not "cool?"
Do we constantly wait for the 'right time' to say something?
Are we too caught up in our own lives and problems?
Are we afraid of offending someone?
Are we lazy?
Are we scared?
Do we not have a sense of urgency?
Are we apathetic?
Are we too busy?
I think for me, it was a little bit of a few of those. I was definitely caught up in my own life, with what I thought were HUGE issues. I was definitely busy. I was lazy. I thought I had all the time in the world. I had no sense of urgency. It was never the "right time" to say something. I didn't know how to bring it up...
Well, I learned my lesson in the hardest way possible. One cold night in January of 2010 - January 17th - I was leaving the movie theater and I got a text and then phone call. It was our friend Mackenzie. He told me Matt had passed away. I didn't believe him at first, but it was true. Matt had randomly passed away in his sleep. I will never, ever forget going home that night and watching my brother and sister cry on the stairs in our house. All of us taking turns holding Honeygirl while we cried.
Asking God why.
The next few weeks were a blur of status updates, pictures, the visitation, the funeral, tears, songs that made everyone cry...
I can't describe how it felt to see all of that. I won't go into any detail, but I will say I never had imagined feeling like that before. Feeling so hopeless and dark and thinking, "There is absolutely no way that anything good can come out of this situation."
I went to class, but all I could think about was Matt.
I went to work, but all I could think about was Matt.
I watched TV, and all I could think about was Matt.
I went to church, and all I could think about was Matt.
All the songs were about him.
The church looked like the funeral home.
I passed the cemetery every day.
I vividly remember riding in the car with my mom one day a few weeks later, and through sobs, saying, "That should've been me. I have so much, yet I'm so ungrateful and unhappy and discontent. I don't appreciate anything. Matt loved life and had so much joy. He should still be here, and I shouldn't."
Until then, I had never felt so low.
Until then, I had never wanted to die.
I had never felt like there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel.
Before I go any further, I want to say that I firmly believe that Matt is in Heaven right now, celebrating and much better off than any of the rest of us.
I believe this because we were later told that he was saved one night a few months beforehand.
At the time, though, I wasn't sure of that, and I felt the most immense amount of guilt, shame, regret... you name it.
I knew deep down in the depths of my heart that
if it was up to me - if I was the ONLY person in the world that knew Jesus, and it was up to me to tell Matt about Him, Matt would've never been saved at all.
I had failed miserably.
Personally, I believe that that is the worst feeling someone can ever have.
Within those few weeks, I had a nightmare that I had driven to the cemetery late at night, and someone pulled up behind me and started violently yanking on my door handle, trying to get me out of the car and do who knows what to me. From that night, I was terrified out of my mind to ever visit the grave. I was convinced that the nightmare was a warning that I shouldn't ever go.
{{And I didn't until two days ago.}}
I lived in fear for weeks and weeks.
Thoughts of my selfishness haunted me day and night. All I could think about was how ungrateful I was, how apathetic I was, and how I'd missed the call completely. The call to witness. The most important job in the world.
I thought about how, on the night of Matt's death, right before it happened, I had sat in the car, talking on the phone to Chanelle, and telling her how unhappy I was with my life. I complained for about an hour, about things that didn't really matter too much in the long run. I complained about school especially. The expensive, wonderful university I was blessed to attend. I complained about it. I complained about not getting the car I wanted at the car lot that day. I was a total brat. Little did I know, my world was about to get rocked forever.
I finally came out of my depression a couple months later.
I decided that from then on, I would be the best witness I could be. But I knew that nothing could atone for the lack of investing I had done in Matt's life. That is something I'll always regret, as long as I live.
So I guess what I've gotten out of this is that you just never know when will be your last chance to see someone. We are not guaranteed another day or even another breath. We don't always think that way, but we have to. I keep thinking,
"What if I'm the only trace of Jesus that this person will ever see? Am I doing my part in leading this person to Him or am I too caught up in my own issues to worry about that? Do I care enough about this person's eternity to invest in their life?"
Thinking that way will make things more real, and hopefully inspire us all to do our part in being better witnesses. Don't let days go by, thinking, "I'll talk to him tomorrow. Today I don't have time."
Like I said, I'm sure Matt is having the best time in Heaven right now. I doubt anyone can say they've seen much good come out of losing him here on Earth, but I will say this:
In my short time of knowing him, he taught me, more than he ever knew, about being happy and grateful and content.
When I think about his attitude towards life versus the attitude I sometimes have, I feel very ashamed.
We could all do well to be more like Matt.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Jesus and Wine Making

Seasons in the Vineyard 🍇
1) seasons of manifestation 
We feel God's presence
He is seeking us 
He invades our world
Ministers to your soul

2) seasons of hiddenness 
We trust God's promises
He invites us to go deeper with Him
Ministers to your mind to build faith
We seek Him 

Vineyards become silent in dormancy - season of hiddenness
A time of shaping 
Energy has moved from leaves to unseen roots (you can't see the work God is doing right now, so it's frustrating because you don't feel like anything is happening)
{Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future."}
Tears / weeping bc the cutting and bleeding of the plant (the plant has to feel pain to be prepared to grow in the next season)
Psalm 126:5 - "those who sow with tears will reap with joy"
Don't despise the winter; for it is preparing you for spring- for wonderful growth

Miraculous transformation in the vineyard - NEW LIFE and GROWTH!
Sap flows from vine to bud and the vine becomes a living spring 
Season of spiritual manifestation and resurrection 
No pruning bc the season of weeping is over 

Early summer the plant begins to flower // mature
Heat gets higher (pressure in life)
Branches start to grow false vines or false securities bc now there's less water
Pruning must resume to get rid of the false branches
Canopy cover - God covers us with His love but trims back any leaf that blocks the heat that grows (areas in our life that may stunt our spiritual growth - gotta get rid of them!!!)
***The Father desires grapes now; not growth. 

Harvest season
Green harvest occurs
Green berries turn into deep purple grapes 🍇🍇🍇
Rain & water are essential to produce grapes without blemish (we are to be holy - always striving to be like Jesus; without blemish)
Green-new life
Ephesians 3:20-21 -  "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory!"
Community celebration -wine press
"The crush season"
The goal is a new wine - spiritual maturity, leading others to Christ, overflowing with the Spirit.
Isaiah 53:5 "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed."
In crushing season, we have to operate under a different mindset
Season of worship ❤
Praising God for the work He has done in your life.

Why I Love Cactuses (Cacti?)

Image result for cactuses and sky

Drew and I were at the NC Zoo a couple weeks ago and the desert exhibit was my absolute favorite. There were cactuses (that's the English plural; the Latin plural is 'cacti') EVERYWHERE and I decided last year that I loved cactuses/cacti but didn't have much of a reason except I love most things southwestern (and work at a school called Southwest, where our mascot is a cowboy and we display all kinds of southwestern symbols, including the cactus plant). Over the summer, I bought a tiny cactus in San Antonio and have managed to keep it alive somehow. I named her Polly and adore her. 

ANYWAY, as we were leaving the desert exhibit, there was a really pretty desert scene poster with a quote on it:
"Where life is more difficult, it acquires a higher value."
That quote immediately struck me. I almost took a picture of the poster, but didn't (instead just tweeted the quote so I'd remember it) and now I wish I had. I can't find that quote anywhere when I Google search it! I don't know who said it, but I'm so glad I saw it that day. We had just looked at all the desert plants and animals and read about how they survive in the harsh conditions of their environment. There was even an adorable sand cat that apparently doesn't need water daily to live! How awesome that God designed all these plants and animals to be able to survive that way! 
(So thankful He designed a plant that doesn't need water often because I always forget!)
I thought about those plants and animals and how tough life is for them, so life means a little more to them maybe. Because they have to work harder to survive, the fact that they do survive is pretty amazing.

But when I first saw the quote, I didn't think of the desert at all. That was the cool thing. I guess that quote maybe wasn't even about the geographical desert in the first place, but a spiritual desert. Or just life's tough times in general.

The word 'desert' has meant something to me lately. The first thing I think of lately is a spiritual time of need, or going through a hard time in life. A time where trusting God is crucial, and when "all that's within me feels dry." Apparently I'm late on this one, but I never knew the song "Desert Song" until this past fall, and ever since then, I've been obsessed. I've been doing so much reflecting on the seasons of my life and studying how the desert seasons grew me spiritually and the harvest seasons filled me and prepared me to go through more desert seasons, and how all this has been a part of my testimony and helped me help others.

I've been thinking a lot about the rough patches in my life, and how those are the times that brought me close to the Lord. Sadly, it took those times to get me to surrender myself fully to Him, but for that reason I am thankful for them. It's sometimes hard to appreciate life as much when everything is going well, but when life is harder, it seems to mean more. That's what that quote suggests.

Even looking out the window right now and seeing everything covered in snow and the trees completely dead, it's literally a season where plant life is difficult. And historically, Januaries are really difficult for me personally. I feel gloomy in the winter months, and some really terrible things that have happened in my life have happened in January. Fortunately, those times have contributed to spiritual growth - even if not immediately - and made me appreciate the happier seasons in life that much more. 

There's no way we could fully know the value of life if we didn't go through situations that tested our faith and endurance.

More on this later.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Let it Be Me

Image may contain: 1 person, dog and indoor

"God blessed the day I found you; 
I want to stay around you,
And so I beg you, 
Let it be me." 

On this day three years ago, I became Emery's mommy. I've found in life that often times, the best things are completely unexpected. I had no intentions of ever having a dog like her, and I had no idea how I would take care of her because I had nowhere for her to live, but when I held her and she looked at me with her big brown puppy eyes, I knew I had to, for the rest of her life. I tend to do that - decide I want something even though it seems irrational, but somehow the Lord works it all out. And that's just what He did.

So often, we look at the small picture and life's difficulties seem unmanageable. That's how it felt with Emery at first. I had nowhere for her to live, but I knew I couldn't bear to give her up. If I had been able to see the big picture and know that my parents would eventually keep her at their house and fall in love with her and take care of her until I moved back from Boone, I wouldn't have felt so hopeless.
I try not to get caught up in the struggles of the small picture now!

I celebrate today the fact that He knows what He's doing even though sometimes life is messy and it doesn't seem like things are going to work out.
I celebrate today His constant care and provision, even with the little things in life and for His furry creatures.
I celebrate today the day I met my fur baby and the journey we began together when it was just "us against the world."
I celebrate today the unconditional love an animal gives, and teaches me so much about life.
I celebrate today the endless joy that Emery has brought me for the past three years.

"So never leave me lonely,
Tell me you love me only,
And that you'll always let it be me." ðŸ’šðŸ’š

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Dating at 28 vs Dating at 21

I was just thinking the other day. I (over) think quite often. Sometimes it's good because it causes reflection, and this reflection was good.

I never really thought about the fact that I might be dating at 28 years old. I was never, EVER in a rush to get married, but there was a time when I assumed I'd be married by now. Looking back, it's interesting to see how things have changed from the time I was 21 until now, and why it's a really good thing I am still dating at 28.

All people are different. One of my best friends met her husband at 14. I have friends in their 30s that aren't married. Each person and situation are unique.

With that being said, I know that personally, I would not have been ready for marriage at 21. Or 22. Or even 25.

Dating at 21 for me was kind of like "What can you do for me? How can you make ME happy?" At 28 I've realized it should be "What can we do for God? What will make Him happy? And how can I make YOU happy?"
I had such a selfish mindset at 21!!! True love is selfLESS.

I Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Another thing that stands out to me in that passage is "it is not easily angered." I have "low blood pressure" but for some reason I can go from 0-10 quick! Being single the past three years, I have had an opportunity to work on that as an individual and learn to:

1. Pray immediately when I feel like I'm getting angry

2. Not take as much personally
3. Keep in mind that spiritual warfare is REAL, and Satan often tries to cause friction between us and those we love to either destroy the work the Lord is doing in us or the work we are trying to do for Him. Remembering that makes it a lot easier to forgive when someone you love hurts you.

Remembering some of the things I felt were okay to say to people when I was younger, I am so ashamed! I'm no relationship expert by any means, but one of the keys in a relationship is to learn to control your tongue and temper. There's always a calm and tactful way to approach a disagreement. There should never be any name calling or finger pointing. When that starts, it escalates, and words can be so damaging. 

It's so much better to just be sweet to each other and handle disagreements patiently and kindly, seeing the other person's side and not getting angry and taking it to a level it shouldn't go to, causing way more hurt than necessary, and damaging something that is supposed to be precious.

I'm still working on "keeps no record of wrongs"!! I wrote a post last month about shame and how you shouldn't keep reminding people of things that have upset you or things they have done in the past. Obviously, there are things that should be a red flag to you, that you shouldn't be willing to accept and move forward from, but if it's something you can move on from and the person you are dating has apologized to you and made things right with the Lord and is moving forward in Him, there's absolutely no reason for you to keep bringing it up. To do that is to say that you are more important than God. He has forgotten it, but you can't? Let the one who died for our sins decide what should be forgotten and moved on from! 
(I am telling myself this, not just in dating, but all relationships)

Finally, I think the past three years of growing in my prayer life as an individual and just learning to blindly trust the Lord have done wonders for my outlook on dating. There are all kinds of books and articles about "praying for your future husband," even as a single person. When I stopped asking the Lord for a specific person and started praying that He would have His will and protect whoever HE had for me, and guard his heart and my heart and prepare us for each other as individuals, I felt so much better. My focus was in the wrong place for so long. 

God intended for marriage to make HIM happy, not us. Humans will always fail each other, but when working together for a greater purpose than ourselves, walking with the Lord and staying in His will, always praying for each other, being selfless and kind, it will all work out!

I am in no way saying "I have arrived" or that I know it all. All I know is, I'm very glad the Lord wrecked my plans a few years ago so that He could have time to work in my heart and show me what's important so that I will be better prepared for the person He has for me. 

It's so much better and sweeter and easier now.