A word without meaning?

Flowers
Credit: JC

“Love” has become an overused word. Oh we love everything these days. Movies and phones and snacks, whatever. You name it, there’s someone out there who loves it.

Has “love,” then, lost all meaning? I experience such deep feelings for my true love that the word has seemed inadequate. For months, I searched in vain for a new, more descriptive word to express my feelings for her.

As always, scripture held the answer:

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”
1 John 4:16

God is love. Love is God. Though we might apply it incorrectly to inanimate objects, there is no better word to be found than “love” to describe the intense emotion that binds one heart to another – no matter if it is love for Jesus, your mom, your kids, your true love, or your best friend.

A love rooted in Jesus is pure and strong. And why wouldn’t it be? For He is not only the source of love, He is love. He also showed us how to love. For who could love more than the One who sacrificed Himself so that our sins would be forgiven and we could live with Him for eternity?

God is love

Heavenly Father,

Please bless those reading these words and show them examples of Your love in their lives. May they love You and others as intensely as You love us. If they do not already know You, may You lead them to salvation.

In the holy name of Jesus I pray.

Amen

* * *

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

Metamorphosis

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Philippians 3:13-14

Life is a funny thing. It can change so fast. I became a new person when I was saved last summer, for instance. Every aspect of my life was impacted.

I recently started the wheels turning on another significant change in my life, related to being born again. Last month, I started making a huge course-correction to bring my life in line with His plan for me. While such a massive change should be scary, it has not been. In fact, my overall reaction has been joyful – which tells me I am on the right path at last.

As part of closing the book on one part of my life and starting a new one, I am currently in the process of de-cluttering. This is no small undertaking for me. For years, I tried to fill holes in my soul and heart with stuff. Books I never have time to read. Movies and TV series I never have time to watch. Collectibles I never have time to dust.

Oh, collectibles. What a dangerous foe you are to an obsessive person such as myself. “Collect all 96!” is a command, not a suggestion. Completing the collection becomes more important than enjoying it. “I don’t really like this piece, but it is for the collection” is a way to justify spending money on something that is not only unnecessary but also unwanted.

No matter what I bought, though, and no matter how much debt I took on to expand my collection of things, my soul and heart were never quite fulfilled.

Sure, it would feel good for a little bit. Then I would realize I still felt empty inside.

So empty.

So alone.

What finally fulfilled my soul and heart?

Love, of course.

Mutual love with Jesus.

Mutual love with my true love.

Stuff means nothing. Love means everything.

Now, literally surrounded by stuff, I seek to dig out. My original goal was to get rid of at least half of it by donating, selling, or trashing. I have tried to purge before, but things are different this time.

It is difficult. So far, I am failing in my goal. I have purged so much stuff – more than I ever have in my adult life – yet I am keeping more than I am giving up.

Three things are holding me back. The first is the sheer volume of stuff. Only when attempting to sort through and pack everything have I started to realize and acknowledge that I am a hoarder. Not a collector. A hoarder. Oh, I am not bad enough to be on one of those TV shows, but I am certainly on that path. Had I not accepted Jesus in my heart, I probably would have been at that level within ten years – other than the fact that I probably would have been dead by even now. And it would be up to someone else to sort through my mountain of worthless junk.

The second thing holding me back is time. It takes time to makes such decisions, and time is something I currently lack.

Finally, sentimentality causes me to think and re-think about the fate of each item.

Are these just excuses? I hope not. I do feel I have made much progress. Yet, there are far more boxes to be kept for now than I would have ever anticipated. Perhaps I am failing. I am, after all, only human.

I now realize it will take multiple rounds of purging to reach and exceed my original goal. All of this is temporary and will eventually be solved, I remind myself as to not get overwhelmed.

What really matters is that I want a simpler life. I want to focus on Him. I don’t want a television set for awhile, for instance. I am going from a 74-inch widescreen set with a full surround sound system to nothing.

I just want peace, quiet, and time.

Time to study His Word. Time to spend with my true love. Time to spend in nature experiencing His creations.

I want to focus on becoming financially responsible and on paying off the massive debt accumulated to collect so much completely useless stuff. Yes, I am finally learning to be a responsible adult. Twenty-six years late, but who is counting?

In the midst of these changes, I have neglected my writing – including this blog. Effective today, I am going to attempt to carve out time to return to a weekly posting schedule. Writing is something else I want to focus on during and beyond my time of metamorphosis – which can’t come soon enough.

Yes, my entire life is changing, but Jesus and my true love are holding my hands the whole way. I may be surrounded by stuff, but this is only temporary. I will be surrounded by love for all eternity.

Thank you for reading. May Jesus bless you with the same blessings of love that have filled me.

Flower
Credit: JC

Opening the clouds of insight

Clouds
Credit: JC

Life can sometimes be thought of as a series of changes. I have been undergoing a number of transformations since I was saved eight months ago.

The impacts to my life of accepting Jesus in my heart have been tremendous. As I have talked about before, my entire inner dialogue is different. Whereas I used to be constantly filled with dark thoughts of “I wish I was dead” repeated constantly throughout the day, I now very often have calm.

Calm. With the noise removed, I now have a better chance of hearing God’s whispers.

The darkness does sometimes attempt to return, though. There is the stray “I wish I was dead” that will pop into my head. Such thoughts I am able to capture and control now. I know what they are. I know their source, and I pray them away.

A second way the darkness returns I am still in the process of defeating. While I have made great progress in working to overcome it, anxiety still occasionally strikes me. The darkness uses this tool to attempt to control me and prevent me from realizing God’s plan for me.

There is a major change coming in my life that I want to occur. It is inevitable, yet the timing has been slower than I would prefer. I have been struggling with the degree to which I want to initiate that change versus “riding the wave” and letting events take their course.

Maybe it is just a matter of control. Does riding the wave simply mean letting Jesus run my life? I am a product of our modern society. I want things fast. Now.

Amazon offers a service called Prime Now which features same day delivery on many items. Jesus does not offer an equivalent service when it comes to answering prayers. He answers them when it best suits His plan – whether instantly or a hundred years from now. (Side note to Jesus: Please not a hundred years from now on on this one. Thank You. Amen.)

Sometimes, it is hard to know whether I should directly act. My angst is, what if I am supposed to be taking action to initiate directly the change I want versus waiting for it to happen on its own? Even if I do decide to act, then it is still a question of to what degree.

With confusion in my heart, I sought nature and Him on Monday at the advice of my Bible Study Partner (BSP). I spent the afternoon alone in a park. Sitting. Listening. Walking. Observing.

While I was enjoying my time there, at first it did not seem to be working. I did not feel His presence, and I felt as confused as ever.

I found a new spot in the park that I had never explored before. I sat on a rock near a creek and looked at the water as I prayed to Jesus yet again for clarity and guidance.

Then, it happened. That first droplet of insight. Plop.

Then another. Plop.

And more. Plop. Plop.

Plop. Plop. Plop.

The clouds of insight opened.

Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop.

I struggled to keep up with noting the insights as they arrived faster and faster. For a moment, I doubted myself. Were these really from Him? Or just me talking to myself?

However, the underlying purpose of some of the insights was unclear to me. And one of the bigger insights was disappointing. I want to make a certain change fast, like flipping a switch. This insight slows my pace.

His will, not mine. He is all-knowing, while my knowledge is quite limited.

What to do now? My next step, according to my BSP, is to gather all of these insights and make action plans for them. I will be working on that this weekend. It is a blessing to hear from Him, and now I must obey.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
Galatians 6:9

JC Journals: Pathways to peace

Bridge path
Credit: JC

Today’s post represents a written collaboration with my Bible Study Partner, JC. She has actually collaborated on Beloved Walks from the beginning, for she helped name the site and provides the beautiful photographs that accompany and often inspire my writing.

JC keeps a number of journals, including one in which she captures thoughts related to her faith and whispers from Jesus. In coming to terms with the death of a very special loved one in February 2017, she documented a number of revelations from March 2017 to April 2018 on how to deal with tragedy. Those insights form the core of today’s post.

JC notes that one of the ways God whispers to us is through daily devotionals. Bits and pieces of scripture and advice all came together for her in the course of that year – some in the form of devotionals obviously sent by Him. In addition to reading the Bible daily, she recommends devotionals as another way to hear Him. You can find various devotionals all over the web or within the YouVersion Bible app (reading plans). Here is one list of devotionals that might be helpful to you as a starting point.

* * *

In our lives, there will be times we face tragedy. It is part of the human experience. For instance, the loss of someone we love dearly can be devastating.

When faced with overwhelming sorrow, what should you do at the very worst moment of your life?

Worship.

When the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, he obeyed and began the necessary preparations. Abraham journeyed to the mountains of Moriah to offer sacrifice, with Isaac in tow. Unaware of his role in the plan, Isaac questioned why they had not brought a sheep along for their offering. “God will provide,” Abraham professed (Genesis 22:8), and indeed He did – sparing Isaac after Abraham passed this ultimate test of trust and providing a ram in his place.

If the pain is so overwhelming that it consumes you, you must rest and find comfort in who God is, not in how you feel, what you see, or what is happening.

Focus on resting in who He is.

Pray.

How can you pray when you hurt so much you can’t even breathe?

We need God to breathe.

“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Genesis 2:7

“For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
Job 33:4

If you can’t breathe or pray, follow these steps until you can:

1.) Keep repeating the name of Jesus out loud

2.) Read Romans 8:26

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

You do not have to pray yet, you do not have to find the words yet, for the Holy Spirit within you is already praying on your behalf.

3.) Read Psalm 42

While it may feel as if God has abandoned you, He has not. His love for you is eternal. Praise Him, for He will comfort you.

4.) Read Job 1:20-21

“Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said, ‘I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!'”

Job had lost everything except that which no one could take, his faith and God’s love.

5.) Read Job 13:15-16

“God might kill me, but I have no other hope. I am going to argue my case with him. But this is what will save me—I am not godless. If I were, I could not stand before him.”

Give your words to God. Even if they are angry words at first. He understands. Talk to Him. He will help you. He loves you.

If or once you are able to breathe and pray, repeat “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

You can breathe, but you are in pain. How can you move forward when you are so weary?

Psalm 42:5 tells us to praise the Lord when we are discouraged. You must discipline your soul to still praise Him. You must command your soul to praise the Lord.

Pray for His purpose in this trial to be revealed to you, how you need to be His witness in it, and for His strength to endure it. You will be tested.

How might you find strength?

First and foremost, pray and read His Word.

If it moves you, listen to praise music. For instance, the raw honesty of a song like “Praise You In This Storm” by Casting Crowns might ring true for you.

“Every tear I’ve cried, You hold in your hand. You never left my side, and, though my heart is torn, I will praise you in this storm.”
From “Praise You In This Storm,” Lifesong, Casting Crowns, written by Mark Hall & Bernie Herms

Seek nature. Wherever you are in the world, He is there. Look for signs of Him. Go outside and breathe. Look for Him. He is there.

Mountain
Credit: JC

Finally, always return to praying to Him and reading scripture.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
Romans 8:28-29

God’s awesome power is such that He uses tragic events to create good.

The best opportunity for Christians to move closer to being like Jesus is in the middle of suffering. He suffered on the cross for us, giving up His very life so that we may live.

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”
1 Peter 1:6-7

There is always a purpose to every trial in your life. You are being tested. Being at your lowest provides the best opportunity for you to prove your faith.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
Genesis 50:20

Feel the power of Joseph’s words in the above verse. His brothers had literally sold him into slavery, but he recognized that God used the tragedy for good. For Joseph to have affected so many by the end of his journey, he had to endure that hardship near the beginning. Without it, his path would have been completely different, and he would not have touched so many people.

Joseph’s trial had a purpose. It was a stepping stone. You may not be able to see it yet, and you may never see it this side of Heaven, but your trial is the same. It has a purpose. It is a stepping stone.

“He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Take comfort in Paul’s words above. When you are at your lowest point, that is when Jesus has the most opportunity to lift you up. Feel His power.

If you have not yet accepted Jesus in your heart, then use this as an opportunity to seek Him.

If you are already saved, nothing can take the blessings of Jesus and eternal life away from you. However, Satan can make you feel those blessings are at risk. He will try to take the peace of Christ away from you.

Be strong. You are a child of God.

“When Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes. In fact, the Lord gave him twice as much as before!”
Job 42:10

Only after Job prayed for his friends was he blessed and healed.

Keep praying. You are not alone. You are never alone.

* * *

And now, we pray for you, the one who has encountered this post due to tragedy in your life.

Heavenly Father,

Please bless the readers of this entry who need your comfort. You are always with us, but reveal your presence to them today. Let them feel Your holy arms as you hold them.

Lift them and allow them to begin breathing, praying, and healing. Whether here or elsewhere, let them find a path to inner peace through your Word.

Let them feel the power of Your glory. Let them feel the glory of Your love. Let them feel the love of Your Son.

In the blessed name of Jesus we pray.

Amen

* * *

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

The phone call

Mom and I are sitting at the kitchen table of our new home. I am four-years-old. I am eating a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. It is so yummy.

Mom always butters the bread before putting it in the oven, and the grease marks show up on the ever-present white paper plates we use for our lunches. After I eat, Mom sometimes gives me a little felt-tip marker and lets me draw designs in black ink on the plate around the grease marks. I hope she will let me do that today.

The yellow phone on the wall starts ringing. Mom stands up and answers it. I keep eating. It is the best sandwich ever. She does not talk for long and comes back to the table.

There are tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” I ask. “Who was that?”

Mom looks at me. “It was bad news, son. Julie died.”

Julie lived in our old neighborhood and had been battling cancer since before we moved. Not long ago, one of her legs was amputated in an attempt to fight off the disease.

She was courageous through all the challenges she faced, always smiling. Always nice to me, the little neighbor boy up the street. She was 13-years-old. Until now, I have never personally known anyone who died.

“Will she go to Heaven, Mom?” By the time I was born, my family had stopped attending church for various reasons. However, Mom had taught me about God, Jesus, and Heaven very early on.

“Yes, she will. Remember, no one ever hurts there. She is not sick anymore.”

“Does she have both of her legs again now?” I ask.

“Yes, she does, and she is running again up in Heaven. She is happy.”

I look back at my sandwich, which I had been so joyfully eating only a moment before. Now, my whole world is different. Julie is gone.

“Mom, I was hungry before. But now I am not hungry anymore. Why?”

“It’s because you’re sad about Julie,” she says. She holds me in her arms, and I cry.

I never finish the best sandwich ever.

* * *

Though our families unfortunately lost touch soon thereafter, I still remember Julie some forty years later because of how kind she always was to me.

I do not recall her family’s name, but today, I pray for them.

flowers
Credit: JC

Heavenly Father,

Please bless the surviving family of my childhood friend, Julie. I am sure, Father, they still feel the void of her absence every day. May You continue to lift them up and remind them that she is with You. May You lead any of them who are not yet saved to You, and may You walk even closer with those already saved. May You always provide them with happy memories when their hearts feel sad.

In the blessed name of Jesus I pray.

Amen

* * *

In retrospect, I know now in her own moment of sadness, my Mom had to make difficult decisions as far as how to answer the questions of four-year-old me. She chose right.

Though it was very upsetting, two of the comforts I had about the death of Julie when I was a child were that she would feel better and that she would be in Heaven.

Indeed, I will get to see Julie again in the Perfect Place. That still brings me comfort.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”
Malachi 4:2

Listening to the gentle whispers

“‘Go out and stand before me on the mountain,’ the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”
1 Kings 19:11-12

For most of this month, I have been in a partial fast in which I abstain from certain foods. This is my first fast since becoming a Christian, and I am seeking clarity on a certain aspect of my life. Only one person knows I am on this fast, and I mention it here only for purposes of illustration in this post.

I have been lamenting that I have heard no answers. “Maybe I’m not doing it right,” I have said, both of the fast and of my accompanying prayer.

I encountered the above passage for the first time in one of my Bible reading plans earlier this week, and it moved me to tears. Yet, I missed applying its message to me.

God is neither in the wind nor in the Earthquake. He is not even in the fire. Answers to our prayers are not likely to arrive in the form of a booming voice sent down from clouds surrounded by angels.

No, God speaks to us most often in soft whispers.

Of course He does. Our all-powerful God need not blast us with His greatness. Only the weak need raise their voices. No, God speaks to us in whispers, and it is up to us to listen.

Whispers are compelling, far more so than shouts. Whispers force you to listen if you want to hear their messages.

Encountering the above passage was, in fact, a whisper from God to me: “Your prayers are being answered. Listen.” As I said, though, I missed it, even though the passage instantly meant so much to me.

Sunlight shining through a tree
Credit: JC

As I continued to fret about my lack of response from Him, the passage came up again yesterday in a different reading plan. “This means you need to pay closer attention to it,” said my Bible Study Partner (BSP).

I enjoyed re-reading the passage, but I still didn’t understand what He was trying to say to me through it. I was hearing the words, even loving the words, but not applying them to my life.

My BSP and I talked later in the day about the fast. I went over my frustrations again about not hearing from Him.

In what at first seemed like a separate conversation, we also reviewed various insights we had made over the last several days. My BSP then asked me to repeat my fasting prayer to her. As I did, it dawned on me what she was trying to show me.

Those insights were my answers. He had been whispering to me all along.

I felt chills, and the tears flowed again. I had finally heard Him. He literally had to speak through my BSP to get my attention, but I had finally heard Him. No wind. No Earthquake. No fire. Just whispers. Beautiful whispers.

How might these whispers from God arrive? Here are some examples that have applied for me:

  • Recurrence of certain Bible verses
  • Momentary flashes of insight
  • Fleeting thoughts that might, at first, seem irrelevant
  • Being placed in unexpected situations or scenarios
  • Words spoken by those around you

Once I realized that He had indeed been whispering to me, His answers fell into place and appeared so obvious in retrospect. How had I missed them?

Because I was too distracted by the winds, Earthquakes, and fires of everyday life to hear His whispers.

Are you seeking answers from Jesus? Does it seem as if He has been ignoring you? Close your eyes and listen for His whispers. He is there with you, always.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

Holding on to my Heaven

Have you ever loved someone so much that the very thought of her or him filled you with absolute joy? I mean sheer joy. The kind of love that fulfills the dreams of not only your heart, but your very soul? Your very best dreams, those secret dreams that you never thought could become reality. The kind of person that inspires you to strive to better yourself? You would give up your very life to protect her or him.

I am blessed to share a mutual love with such a person in my life. She loves me for me, unconditionally, and I feel the same for her. She means the world to me, and I cannot imagine a future without her. While I have conquered many fears in recent months since beginning my walk with Jesus, I still have a number of them that plague me.

The biggest fear I have is losing this person. Oh, I don’t mean due to an argument or a misunderstanding, as those kinds of situations would no doubt be temporary between us. I have complete confidence in the longevity of our relationship. No, my fear is losing her to the Perfect Place if she is called Home before me.

Oh, I try to reason through it. She belongs to Jesus, after all, not to me or anyone else. Heaven really is perfection, so I should be happy for her if she goes first.

While I would be happy for her, I would also be devastated for me. No, devastated is an understatement. I would be crushed. Destroyed. There would be nothing left of me. For she is my entire future. I was created to serve next to her, to hold her, and to love her.

I experience Heaven right here on the Earth when I am by her side. People seek true happiness all of their lives, and I have found mine in her. Were she to be ripped away from me, I know I would see her again, for we will have eternity together. Until then, however, this place would become my hell.

I am supposed to give her up to Jesus, to whom she already belongs anyway. She is not even mine to give, yet I hold on to her, I cling to her. Even a theoretical thought of losing her can bring me to tears.

fog
Credit: JC

“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.”
James 4:14

Life is fleeting. The days seem to pass faster and faster. We only have so many days, and I love most of all the ones I share with her. The thought of having endless tomorrows without her is unbearable. We are supposed to be together. Why do I waste any of the limited days we have here on anything besides her?

The raw truth is that this is a trust issue between me and God. I know in my heart that He created this love, that He literally designed us for one another, and that He brought us together. So, why can’t I trust Him to give us enough tomorrows? While it feels as if there can never be sufficient time with her, this is the same God that created eternity, after all. Nothing is beyond His power.

Why can’t I trust that He will guide me through the pain should she go first? For He would be all I have left, the only hope I would have to continue my journey if she were gone.

I dislike even typing about losing her. I don’t even want to post this, but I always write what comes to mind here. No filters.

Some may say I love her too much, that I need to redirect that love to Jesus. No, I can never believe I love her too much. God is love. He created our infinite love. It is impossible to love too much. I love her more every day. When she says, “I love you,” I am filled with absolute joy. I am giddy. I refuse to believe there is anything wrong with that, either.

Of course I love Jesus, and He loves me unconditionally. He has literally given up His life for me, for all of us. The fact that I do not fully trust Him, particularly with her, is my fault. It is something I am working on. Jesus also fills me with joy. My love for her does not take anything away from my love for Jesus or my personal relationship with Him.

As is so often the case, I offer no real answers today. This is but a presentation of my heart, for all I can do is put my loved one in His arms, and let Him take us from there.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.”
Psalm 31:5

Searching for peace

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be at peace with myself. I make steps forward and then take steps back. Jesus lifted my chains when I was saved, and then I betray his love by putting some of them back on.

I still fight my anxiety. Every day. Yesterday morning, I was forced to attend a large meeting of about 400 people. I did not have to speak or really do anything at said meeting except be there and at least appear to listen.

From the time I sat down, I was anxious. I arrived with only a minute to spare, so I had to sit between two people I did not know. I still do not know them, for I was not in a good place. I was not able to shine the light and speak with them as I should have.

I reached out to my Bible Study Partner (BSP) for comfort via text, and that helped immensely for a time. However, I eventually reached a point where I stopped texting because I did not want to appear disrespectful to one of the speakers. As the anxiety flowed through my veins again, an extremely dark thought entered my mind, the kind of thought that used to plague me before I was saved, but since then has only cropped up two or three times.

“I wish I was dead,” I thought. That’s right, I wanted to die rather than attend this meeting filled with so many people. This, of course, makes no sense. I recognized the darkness for what it was this time, and I prayed it away. This worked, but the anxiety remained. I should have kept praying and just ignored the meeting all together.

After 82 grueling minutes, the meeting finally ended. Though I knew I would not be able to exit the over-capacity parking lot anytime soon, I immediately fled to the safe zone of my car. I hid there for a time, trying to calm down. Unfortunately, I had less than ten minutes to do so because I had to drive to another (thankfully much smaller) meeting across town.

I drank some water and had a snack. The calm never came. I should have read some verses and prayed, but I did not. Instead, it was back on the road with me. Driving is one thing I have improved on when it comes to my anxiety, and even yesterday I am happy to report I did okay, despite my anxious state.

I remained off kilter for the next several hours. My BSP recognized this and read our daily devotional to me a little earlier than normal. Calm finally began to set in. His Word has that power. I already knew this, of course, yet I failed in the midst of a busy day to take even a minute or two to draw on this peace.

Will I ever find my peace? Yes, for I have already come a long way. Dark thoughts occasionally return, but I know how to fight them now. I have Jesus on my side. I am a child of God.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16

Trees
Credit: JC

You are always loved

In my first week of being saved, back in June, my Bible Study Partner (BSP) instructed me to read Romans 8 repeatedly, especially verses 38 and 39. I hold these verses close to my heart.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39

The power of these two verses still amazes me. We know that God is omnipresent – He exists everywhere at once. My pastor recently pointed out that God is not more in one place than another. He is just as much on Mars as He is in the holiest church on Earth.

This also means that God is just as much in the darkest, seediest places on Earth, too. He is constantly with all of us. He is with us when we are at our best, and He is with us when we are at our worst. No matter what sin we commit, He is still there. God is love, so we are always surrounded by love.

Take a moment to think about that. No matter how alone you may feel. No matter how dark the world may seem, you are constantly surrounded by love, because you are surrounded by God.

God is everywhere – which means He is even inside you. You are filled with His love at any given moment. Close your eyes and feel Him. Feel His love for you and for all of His creations.

Nothing can take His love away from you. Nothing. No one. He manifests that love in many ways, the most enduring of which was the gift of His only son, Jesus, to the world so that He could die for our sins and we might have everlasting life.

Not only does God exist in all places at once, He also exists in all times at once. That concept may be hard for us to understand, but the end result is He has always loved you, He loves you now, and He always will love you. Nothing can destroy this. No action you take. No action anyone else takes. His love for you is eternal. That is why He wants you to have eternal life, to live in the Perfect Place, Heaven, with Him. That is why He sent His son. For you. His love for you is that vast.

To accept that eternal gift of life, there is one action you must take, though. There is one thing you must do, friend. You must accept Jesus Christ in your heart as your savior (John 3:16). That’s it. If you do not already walk with Jesus, I pray that you take a moment to consider opening your heart to Him. No, you are not perfect. That is why He came here, after all. He came here for you. Let Him in. He is already with you. He always has been. Just open your heart. Your life will change.

Tree
Credit: JC

“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”
1 John 4:16-19

Having established that we are constantly surrounded and filled with God’s love, our next step is to trust that love, trust God. I admit, I still struggle with this one. There are certain events in my life that I want to happen sooner than later. However, I must allow His plan for me to unfold at His speed, not mine. This is difficult for me. I am rationally aware that He knows better than me. After all, He is omniscient – all-knowing. I am not always rational, though. Especially when I can’t see the path forward.

Of course, He sees the path. He makes the path. He is the path forward. When something seems impossible to me, I try to remember that it surely is less difficult than creating the entire universe. Nothing is impossible for Him, and I must trust Him.

God is love, and God is perfect, so of course God’s love for us is perfect. By obeying God, by “being Jesus” here on Earth, even our own love – for ourselves, for others, for God – can move towards perfection.

A story for another day, but for years I allowed fear to control me. It consumed me, and I did not even realize it most of the time. The opposite of fear is love. Let love control you, not fear.

You are never alone. Jesus is with you. You are always loved. Always.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you in 2019 as He has blessed me in 2018, for I have never before experienced such joy.

The ultimate gift

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14

Merry Christmas Eve Eve! As a child, I was always so excited by this date. My mom often allowed my little sister and me to exchange our gifts to one another on Christmas Eve. Usually around December 21 or 22, we would both start trying to push this timeline up a bit. Once or twice, Mom acquiesced, and we managed to give each other our presents on Christmas Eve Eve.

The most fun for me was seeing my sister’s reaction to what I gave her. While my funds were limited, I always hoped to find just the right present for her. They were small things, but our gifts to one another meant so much to both of us. I still remember many of the presents she gave me, and I even have a couple of them. There was the small Transformers airplane. The Michael Jordan basketball game. The electronic stopwatch/hippo game.

All these years later, my favorite part of gift exchange is seeing the other person when I think I have found just the right thing. As for me, my favorite gifts to receive are those from the heart. Something handmade or symbolic of a special time. Or, my most cherished gift of all, a letter. Things that cost little to nothing in terms of money, but are priceless to me.

This is my first year celebrating Christmas after being saved a little over six months ago. As you might expect, I see Christmas through a different lens now. It is hard for me to get wrapped up in all of the shopping hoopla anymore. I feel very detached from the “shopping days” element of Christmas. I see people rushing around, cutting each other off in traffic and worse in the parking lots. Peace on Earth? Good will towards one another? Not during the Christmas shopping season, it seems.

Most years, I hibernate from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, only leaving the house to go to work due to how people behave. If I did otherwise go out, I would usually have someone else drive me, as I was afraid.

This year, I try not to let fear control me. I am a child of God! I will go where I need or want to go. I dove right into the traffic on Friday and Saturday, and I did fine. That may sound like a non-event, but for someone who is normally as anxious as I am while driving, it is an accomplishment, particularly in this frantic time of year. I feel different now.

I even went into a very crowded Target store yesterday to buy one $10 item, and I had not even mentally prepared for it. As people shoved and pushed past me, the anxiety that would normally rise up within me in such circumstances stayed away.

I am not naive enough to think that my anxiety is magically gone this week, but I do feel different.

Writing these posts is always so fascinating to me. I had not planned to cover anxiety again this week, yet here I am. Wherever the words take me.

When did Christmas become so much about shopping and so little about Jesus Christ? This has apparently been the case for quite some time. “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas” proclaimed the titular character in A Charlie Brown Christmas. That was back in 1965, before my time. If Christmas was considered too commercial back then, what is it 53 years later?

What would poor Charlie Brown think of Christmas in 2018? One where Thanksgiving is but a gate to a shopping frenzy? One where towers of Amazon boxes await on our front porches each day? One where “Christmas Day” is often referred to only as “Holiday.” As in, “Holiday Sale 2018!!!” Christmas has not only been commercialized, but it has been genericized.

“Holiday” of course derives from “holy day,” and Christmas is the most holiest of days. It represents when the Son of God first came to our world to live as a human. After teaching, healing, and feeding so many, He gave all of us the ultimate gift, His precious blood. For He sacrificed Himself for our sins so that we who believe in Him would be right with God. He was then resurrected from the dead and walked the Earth again, before ascending back to Heaven to sit at His Father’s side. Yet, He remains with us always as well, for we are blessed to walk with Him today.

Nativity scene
Credit: JC

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
John 3:16

This is, of course, a famous verse, but it is always worth revisiting. Read it again. Christianity in its pure form, as documented in the New Testament, is as inclusive as can be. Whosever believes will have eternal life. That is the only requirement. Nothing else matters. Any sin you have committed. Any commandment you have broken. Even if you have broken all ten of them. Believe in Him, give your heart to Him, and you are forgiven. Forever. Believe in Him, truly believe, and your life will change. Mine changed, and it is still changing. I see the entire world through new eyes.

I see a world that we have wrecked, yet His creations continue to shine through. I see an imperfect but wonderful world. I see a world that needs us to continue His work. By opening our hearts, He can work through us.

Jesus gave up his life for us, so that we might eternally live. So that we who sin might have a chance to make it to the Perfect Place after all. He has paid off the debts of our sins. What other Christmas gift could possibly compare? The question is, have you accepted His gift? It is not available from Amazon.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you. Have a merry Christmas!