Friday, December 30, 2016

Keep Running


I feel like every time I sign on to Facebook (because I'm a terrible news-watcher) I see bad news.  Whether it's the death of someone famous, or the family member of a friend, a beloved pet, or just bad news, I am becoming apprehensive about looking beyond the four walls of my home.

I saw a Facebook post (I told you, I'm a terrible news-watcher) with a listing of all the "bad things" that happened in 2016.  This entire article was based on the negative news that made headlines this past year.  

Looking at this list of all the "bad things" that happened in 2016, I initially thought, "yeah! 2016 can take itself off a cliff!"  I'm currently sitting in my bed, well beyond midnight, having just finished looking through hundreds of photos of my husband...again.  I do this every night.  I miss his ear-to-ear grin, his broad shoulders, and those strong arms that used to hold me.

The wonderful thing about looking through all these photos are the memories that come alive with each picture.  One of two things can happen when I look at these photos:

1) I can look at these photos and smile with each memory.
2) I can look at these photos and curse the fact that it's just a memory.

Several years ago (I won't say how many), my girlfriends and I took a trip to New York.  It was a first for the four of us...no husbands, no kids, nobody but four girls celebrating our 30th birthdays in a city that was new to each of us.  We had the BEST time.  And when I say the BEST time, I mean the.  best. time. EVER.  Four whole days of exploring an incredible city, eating the best food, and creating the most amazing memories (and did I mention no husbands and no kids?).  The trip has made me ache to return to the Big Apple, but it has also made me hesitant because I know that the next time I visit New York it just won't be the same.  How can anything be better than that trip?!  I have spent so much time looking at those photos and reliving that trip in my mind; I know that I will never be able relive or redo that trip.

The most amazing trip EVER
What if you saw me looking through those New York photos, scowling at each picture, and angrily closing the photo book because this trip was so amazing?  What if you heard me say that I'm never going to go back to New York because I know it won't be the same experience?  Would seem a little ridiculous, don't you think?

But how often do we do that when looking back?  How often to we sit in anger or sorrow because we focus on what will never be the same rather than focusing on the incredible things that happened?

Here we are at the end of 2016.  It seems to have been a tough year for many people.  What are you choosing to reflect upon?

It's very easy for me to focus on the last 3 months of 2016.  But if all I focus on is the void in my family, I will forget everything else that I witnessed and experienced this year.  

I witnessed two incredible couples who struggled with fertility welcome two beautiful, healthy baby girls this year.  I watched my daughter overcome her great struggle with anxiety.  I witnessed the answering of bold and specific prayers I laid on God!  I watched the dream between my cousin and I come to fruition with PetuniaDiaries.com.  I went on so many fun dates with my husband!  We had an incredible week-long vacation at the beach!  I watched an entire community come together to love and support my family!  I saw kindness and compassion poured onto my family from people all over the country! 

When I scroll through the thousands (yes, thousands) of photos from this past year, I choose to focus on the smiles.  I choose to remember the laughter.  I choose to view these memories as the gifts that God gave to me because He knew how my year would end.  

My heart will never be the same.  My life will never be the same.  I will never be able to relive those memories or redo those moments.  Like my trip to New York, nothing will ever compare.  

So does that mean I'll never revisit New York?  Does that mean I stay focused on the heartache living in my heart?  Does that mean I shouldn't look forward?

It most certainly does not.  

"... But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13-14

Is Paul suggesting that I forget my beloved?  Is he telling us to just forget those whom we love so dearly and disregard memories?  Not at all!  

Paul's focus was on the goal to complete the race for God, it was the only goal he kept at the forefront of his mind.  Paul's past, his trials, and his difficulties were a part of him and, in my opinion, what made him great.    

When Paul came to know God, he endured many heartbreaking trials - trials that would definitely test my own faith and cause me to wonder why I chose to follow God.  Just a quick peek into some of Paul's suffering: repeated imprisonment, flogging, lashings, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, continual danger, weary and in pain, sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)  Not only those struggles, but Paul also struggled with a sinful nature, just like the rest of us (Romans 7:15-25).

With everything that Paul endured physically and emotionally, if he stopped for even a moment to focus on his past, he would lose sight of the goal: the crown of victory and the joys of heaven.  How easily would it have been for Paul to look at what he has endured and say, "forget this. I'm done." But he didn't.  He used those hardships and his past to push him towards the goal.

Our past shapes us into who we are meant to be.  Paul doesn't want us to forget our past; he's not suggesting that we live as though nothing ever happened.  But he doesn't want us to stay there.  

Memories are a wonderful thing.  I think God allows our hearts and minds to carry particular moments of time with us always.  I love to look back on the memories made with my husband; I love to revisit those memories made in New York with my girlfriends.  God wants us to have those memories.  But He does not want us to live there.

When we stay focused on our trials, our heartache, and our sufferings, all we see are the things that cause us to stumble and fall.  It's impossible to run towards the goal while continually looking behind.

Have you ever watched the Olympic runners during a race?  They are focused.  They are looking for that finish line.  They have imaginary horse-blinders on and they don't dare lose focus on what's in front of them.  One look to the left, and they will stumble.  One look to the right, and they will lose focus.  One glance behind them and they will fall.  

2016 may have been a difficult year for you.  You may feel the temptation to focus on all the hurtful things that took place.  Don't look to the left of you.  Don't look to the right of you.  Don't look behind you.  In the forefront of your mind look at the wonderful things that happened (I can promise there are good things that happened this year), and focus on the goal set before you.  I'm not talking about resolutions (I never make those because I fail every time).

I'm talking about the goal God placed in your sight.  The crown of victory.  The promise of heaven.  The gift of your salvation.  

The hardships endured in 2016 are shaping you into the person God designed you to be.
You are an athlete for God!  You are running the race!  Keep your focus on the prize set before you!
Be like Paul - let the trials push you forward.  Don't let the hardships hold you back.   

You have cheerleaders all around you. You have a God who is pushing you forward.  You have angels carrying your feet.  Go ahead and glance back when you need the reminder that you can conquer anything.  Glance back when you need to see how far you have come.

Glance.  Don't focus.  Don't stare.  Don't stop.  
Push forward.  Finish the race.
I am running with you.

"I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.  Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward - to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back." (Philippians 3:12-14; the Message translation)

May 2017 strengthen your faith, build your character, and bring God the glory He deserves!

xoxo
From us to you, Happy New Year!









Thursday, November 17, 2016

Fearfully Faithful

The last time the four of us were together, the day before his funeral.

It's been eight weeks since my world drastically changed.  While everything is still surreal, and there are moments when I almost forget the truth of this reality, there is something that I know to be true...

I am not who I was eight weeks and one day ago.

Eight weeks and one day ago, I was carefree and focused on upcoming events for our family: our daughter's 13th birthday, his mother's 60th birthday weekend celebration, planning our trip to Hawaii next spring, and mapping out our Christmas budget.

Eight weeks and one day ago, my time with God was filled with bold prayers and a hopeful heart; I was in the midst of a 6 month fast (that was one of many blog posts I was writing...I'll get back to that one day) and saw the ways in which God was answering those bold prayers.

Eight weeks and one day ago, I was a completely different person.
Because eight weeks ago everything about me changed.

I have felt many emotions during these last 56 days.  I have had days when I can physically feel the aching of my heart.  I have had moments of overwhelming fear about living this life without my husband.  I have had bursts of tears simply because I miss his voice.  I have also had moments when I feel complete peace, and moments of joyful hope.  But there is one emotion I have not felt: anger.  In all of this, I have not felt any anger.

Because I'm not angry.

When talking to others, some have expressed to me that there are many mornings when they wake up feeling angry, and that anger carries into the rest of their day and unintentionally attacks those with whom they interact.

Am I hurt and upset?  More than I can explain.
But angry?  Not at all.

So what's the difference between me and those who wake up angry?  God.

I'm not gonna lie, I believe I have every reason to be angry. Why was my husband taken from me at such a young age?  Why do my young children have to grow up without their father?  Everything was going so good for us, why now?  I could walk around angry all day long and who would blame me?  I have a valid reason to be angry.

But I'm not.
Because I have God.

Eight weeks and one day ago, I walked next to God.
But eight weeks ago began my journey of clinging onto God.



Have you heard this quote before?  I have.  Several times.  And it's a favorite of mine to repeat when I am reminding others about reliance on God.  

It's the absolute truth:  "you never know God is all you need until God is all you have."  

Each of us, at some point in our lives, will have trials that demand complete dependency on God.  It could be a battle for health, the loss of a job, an estranged relationship, anything!  Trials and heartache are not prejudice.  We will all experience a trial that will leave us standing still and wondering why we have to endure hardship.  

Trials are the test of your faith.  The test of your heart.  The test of your reliance on God.

One of the hardest things for me to do is watch my children suffer.  I want to immediately fix everything.  I want to come to their rescue, make their life easy, and keep them from ever hurting.  

But what would happen to them if I never let them hurt?  
They would never mature.  They would never grow.  They would never learn to persevere.

"We are full of joy even when we suffer. We know that our suffering gives us the strength to go on. The strength to go on produces character.  Character produces hope. And hope will never bring us shame. That's because God's love has been poured into our hearts. This happened through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5 (NIRV)

There is a purpose behind every trial we endure.  And it's not because our God is "mean."  He's the exact opposite.  We serve a God who weeps with us; a God who wraps us in His comfort; a God who wants to give us every desire within our hearts.  

When my children are hurting, I do my best to comfort them and ease their heavy hearts.  But I don't rush to fix their problems.  I believe in each of them.  I know what they can and cannot handle.  I have faith in my children, and I rejoice over them when they persevere through difficulty.

God feels the same way about each of us.
He doesn't allow trials because he us wants to suffer.  He wants to see us grow.
He wants to see us persevere.  
He has so much faith in us!

And like the perfect Father that He is, He allows us to experience heartache.
Without the heartache, would we cling to Him?  Or would we just casually walk beside Him?
Without the trials, would we ever cry out to Him?  Or would we go days without seeking Him?

I am not the same person I was eight weeks and one day ago.
I am different.
I am clinging on to God tighter than ever before.
My entire being is completely reliant on God.
I've acknowledged out loud that I cannot do this without Him.
My prayers are not rehearsed. My prayers change everyday. I cry out to Him more times in an hour than I used to all day long.

You know what I am now?
I am fearfully faithful.

I am not fearful of God.
I am fearful of going a day without Him.

I remember asking a girlfriend, "if God was all you had, would that be enough?"
And now here I am, asking myself the same question every day.

God is all I need.  I have wept loudly, quietly, and honestly with God.  I have asked Him why.  I have collapsed into His comfort, and I have allowed Him to quiet my tears.  

I am not who I was eight weeks and one day ago.
And I am thankful that I am not.
I am a witness to God's strength, His love, His comfort, and His promises.
When we cling onto God, it's impossible to be angry because as we hold onto Him, we are covered in His love and His hope.

Therefore, I will walk through this trial, clinging onto God for strength, and holding onto His promises.
For He is the perfect Father.
And like a daughter dependent on her father, I trust Him.

xoxo







Sunday, October 9, 2016

18 days ago

Fire Engineer Ryan Osler (photo: Jennifer Osler)

18 days ago my world stopped.

I always knew that each time my husband left our home there was a possibility that he may not return.  Somewhere in my mind I tucked away the knowledge that he would willingly risk his life for someone else.  "It's the job," I'd tell myself.  I prided myself on being a fire-wife, able to hold down the fort while my husband was away from home serving the community.  

I prayed for his safety, we talked about the dangers of his job with our kids, but we never imagined this would actually hit our family.

But then, it did.

The call I prayed I would never receive suddenly landed on the phone in my lap.  I was almost to work, and thank God, I was the passenger in the car as my mom drove us to the office.  

It was the Chief of the department.  "There was an accident..."

For the next torturous hour on the ride home, I felt as though the seatbelt was keeping me from breathing.  I was a mixture of screams and tears.  

"This isn't real.  He's coming home.  He has to come home..."

My mother felt helpless in the driver's seat, trying to get to my house as fast as possible.  I'm not sure how she was able to drive; being a mother, I can only imagine how she must've felt having to witness the shattering of her daughter's heart.

Standing in the driveway of my home was the chaplain of the department. I couldn't move as I felt my arms drop to my sides while my body folded in half.  Someone was trying to get me out of the car, a mixture of kisses and tears were flooding my face...it was my dad.  Somehow I gained composure, looked the Chaplain in the eyes and before he said a word, I asked him if my mother-in-law heard about her son.

Less than an hour later, I was face to face with Chiefs and Captains of the department.  Each of them hugging me and offering condolences.  The Chief apologized for telling me over the phone, but he feared I would hear talk about the death of a firefighter through the media grapevine.  He had every reason to be fearful because it wasn't long after that that I was reading a news article about the sudden and tragic death of a local firefighter.  

And there it was:  his name.  

Before I could take another step, I was advised to go to the schools of my children so I could tell them about their father before they heard it from someone else.  With my best friend, my husband's best friend, the chaplain, and a Chief, we headed to each of the kids' schools.

I walked into each school office with a group of solemn faces behind me.  I requested to have each of my kids summoned from their class.  The Chief and the Chaplain hid themselves from sight, speaking with school officials to let them know why we were there.  

Two different schools.  Two different children.  Both with the same question as soon as they saw me..."Mommy, what's wrong?"  I wrapped them each in my arms before pulling away, grabbing their precious faces and looking into their eyes as I had to tell them about their Daddy.

The rest of the day is a blur.  People were coming and going; news vans were driving up my street; my phone was constantly ringing; I was standing still in a world of chaos.

But my world stopped.

It's been 18 days since my husband died.  20 days since I last saw him.  21 days since our last date.
21 years since he asked me to be his girlfriend.  16 years since I became his bride.

My heart is experiencing an ache that is impossible to describe.  I've been trying.  I've been searching for words to explain the depth of the ache in my soul.

For a few days after the news of my husband's passing, I couldn't even go to God.  What was there to say to Him?  He could see my shattered heart, He could hear my tears, and He could read my thoughts.  

On the 5th day, I finally went to Him.  I sat in the prayer space of my closet that my husband created for me, I opened up my journal and I prayed:

"It's been 5 days since my world stopped.  ... This morning, God, I feel at peace.  I know it's the thousands of prayers that have been said on our behalf and I pray that those prayers don't stop.

God, I'm begging for your strength and your wisdom.  As peaceful as I feel right now in these moments, I know there will be times when I lose sight.  I pray that you will protect me, guard my heart, and keep the enemy's lies from me.  I know the enemy wants me to blame you and hate you, I pray that I continue to hear those whispers as lies.  Please continue to show yourself to me in ways I can clearly see you.

God, I pray that you stay especially close to my children.  ... God, my children are about to begin a journey that is going to be filled with emptiness at times.  I pray that you fill their hearts with your love and they feel their hearts lighten.

God, I know you are a God of love and I know you would never want to hurt me.  I know you are hurting with me, but I also know you see a bigger picture than what I see in front of me.

God, I pray that your peace stays with me today.  ... Father, I know and trust that you have something incredible planned. ... God, I am so thankful for your church; I am so thankful for the way you orchestrated my life so that I could be here.  The love and the warmth from them is the evidence of your love for me, and I am grateful.

Please stay close to me and the kids.  Please keep showing yourself to me in ways that I can see/feel you.  I love you.  I need you.  I trust you."

Each morning since then, I have made sure to spend time with God.  Each day I pour out my heart which is filled with questions and uncertainties, but also faith and gratitude.

I have been truly, truly overwhelmed with the outpouring of love from all areas of the country.  The generosity of strangers for a hero they never met has left me speechless.  I have received hundreds of emails, text messages, and private social media messages, from friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers.  With every word that has been typed, written, and spoken to me, I truly believe each is a love note from God.

I trust God wholeheartedly.  I would love to fast forward and get to the part when it all makes sense, but in the meantime, I will lean against His strength, His love, and His comfort.  As broken as I feel, God is desperately wanting to piece me back together.  

And He will.
And I will be stronger.
I will be faithful.
I will be whole.
Because I am His.

xoxo

My children and I heading into my husband's funeral. (Photo credit: Adam VanGerpen)
Our last hug, captured by our daughter, on the night he left.








  





Monday, June 13, 2016

From My Heart


I'm not one to push a product or a website, but this one is very dear to my heart.

As you may have read in a previous post, my grandfather passed away nearly 6 months ago after being diagnosed with aggressive pancreatic cancer only two months prior to his passing.  My family was delivered devastating news with hardly any time to process the enormous loss we would soon face.  

My grandfather was given his diagnosis in October, so as we crept up to the holiday season, my cousin and I were trying to find a way to encourage our grandparents during this difficult time.  My sweet cousin, Katie, came up with the idea of sending scriptures to our grandparents for daily encouragement beginning December 1st leading up to Christmas day.  

Together, my cousin and I searched through our bibles, finding scripture that not only encouraged us, but would remind our grandparents of the glorious day that was ahead for our grandfather.  We quickly printed scriptures on individual pieces of paper, enclosed them in an envelope and instructed our grandparents to open one envelope each day and read the scripture together.  

Every day, until December 25th, our grandparents read scripture together and then hung each card on a ribbon in their hallway to allow themselves the reminder of God's promises.

My grandfather closed his eyes to the world only four days after Christmas.

Our grandmother shared with us that she continued to reread the cards everyday and she had actually begun to memorize each scripture (that's a lot of scripture - I still have a hard time memorizing one!).

Seeing the encouragement our grandparents felt, and the encouragement my grandmother was still receiving, Katie and I were compelled to do something greater with God's word.

And so, Petunia Diaries was born.

Katie and I have joined together to continue sharing encouragement with the world around us.  Our homemade, home printer quality encouragement cards have been revamped into beautiful personally designed, professionally printed cards that can be used for anything your heart desires.  Send a note of encouragement to someone in need; place your favorite card in a frame to keep in your home, or you can do like I do - I keep several cards tacked to a cork board in my "war room" for daily encouragement and reminders of God's love.

Are you wondering why we chose the name Petunia Diaries?

It comes directly from our hearts.  Our grandmother would lovingly refer to each of us as her petunia, and since this project began with our grandparents, we wanted to incorporate something sentimental in our name.  

Ever since I was a little girl (7 years old, to be exact), I've always kept some type of diary or journal to record my deepest thoughts, my heartfelt desires, and my intimate prayers.  Diaries are the place where we are free to expose our hearts.

So, in a way, we are sharing our diary with you.  

Please stop by our Etsy shop and take a look around.  We are just beginning and are planning to have many more wonderful things available to you (we already sold out of our journals - can't believe it!).  

As a special THANK YOU to all of my subscribers, we are offering a 10% discount off your entire order (coupon code: SSfriends - this code expires on 06/21/16)

I am SO thankful for each of you and the many ways you have encouraged me over the last couple of years as I have shared my "diary" with you through this blog.  Each of you mean so much to me, and I am truly so thankful for your continued support.  


"Love one another..." (1 John 3:23)

Thank you for loving me.

xoxo





Thursday, May 12, 2016

"It's Just Church"


We recently celebrated Mother's Day.  It's taken me a few (ok, several) years not to have expectations for this day.  Not that my husband has ever overlooked this day since I first became a mother, but because no matter what he did, I thought he could've done something a little bit better, a little bit sweeter, or a little more sentimental.  The poor guy never stood a chance against the made-for-film Mother's Day I imagined in my mind.

So, the last few years, I've learned to recognize my husband's sweet efforts rather than pick them apart.  This year, I was so impressed with his gift giving skills.  He bought a cork board for my closet.  Before you scratch your head in confusion, let me tell you that this cork board meant more to me than a fancy handbag or expensive shoes.  The reason it meant so much to me is because several months ago I mentioned that I wanted a cork board for my prayer space because the sticky notes I purchased don't stick to the wall very well.  It was a simple sentence that I didn't expect to last in his mind, especially because it slipped mine repeatedly.

That was my only gift.  And it was the only one I wanted.  It was the only one I forgot that I had even mentioned.  My heart was bursting at the seams over my new cork board (complete with decorative pushpins).

And then, my bubble popped.  My husband said something to me that he hasn't said in years.  And he said it in front of my children.  We were all sitting on my bed when my husband said, "don't go to church.  Let's stay home and just relax.  We can stay in our pj's, watch movies all day and just relax..."  The background noise was that of my two children: "ooh yeah, Mommy!  Let's stay home! I want to go back to sleep! C'mon, Mom!  I don't want to go to church!"  My husband's smile was as big as the sun on a summer day.  He was acting as though he just solved the problem of world hunger.  And the kids were cheering him on.

That sounded like such an ideal morning.  I hesitated.  Then I said, "no, I'm going to church.  You don't have to come with me, but I'm gonna go."  Everyone's cheers suddenly became groans.  My daughter's teenage attitude erupted because she was annoyed.  My son thew his head back and whined as though I just took away his favorite video game.  My husband put a hand on my leg and said, "come on...it's just church..."

"It's just church."

Years ago, my husband and I had a long talk about my need for God and His church.  We had to have this talk because many, many years before that my husband loved to talk me out of going to church.  He promised to make me breakfast, take me on shopping sprees, day trips, anything that could bribe me into staying away from church.  I let those bribes work.  And do you know what happens when you don't regularly spend time with God and the fellowship of His church?  You slowly start pulling away.  It becomes easier and easier to stay away.  And suddenly, you haven't been to church in so long that it feels weird to go back.

And, if you're anything like me, once the accountability is gone the old habits come rushing back.  I eventually stopped going to church.  My marriage was falling apart.  I was drinking, smoking, cussing, and partying as if I were a young, single girl.  But I wasn't.  I was a wife.  I was a mother.

I missed God so much, but I didn't know how to go back.  I was ashamed and embarrassed because I walked away.  I tried everything to fill that void, but I was never satisfied.  

Finally the day came when I couldn't stand another minute without God.  I called a friend from church and asked her to pick me up and take me to church.  I didn't trust myself to actually walk in the door once I was there.

When I walked into the church building, I was covered with an overwhelming sense of relief.  I was home.  And I never wanted to leave again.

As I was falling in love with God and giving my heart back to Him, I knew I had another man who wanted the entirety of my heart, as well.

It was time to tell my husband that God is, and was going to be, my first priority.

I think I just blurted it out one night: "I have to go to church.  I need God."  My husband was very supportive, after all we had just reconciled our marriage after being separated for a long time.

"No, I don't think you understand.  God has to be first, then you."  He didn't like the direction of our conversation.  "Please don't ask me to compromise Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights.  I want to be at church.  I need it."

I needed to lay down the foundation that God is first and I will not compromise my time with Him.  And with that foundation in place, my husband was able to see that I was a better wife.  I was a better mom.  My overall being was just better.

For years since then, my husband has never asked me to skip church.  Until the other day.

I immediately heard myself entertain the idea: "what's the harm in skipping church here and there?  We rarely get these mornings together.  And it's Mother's Day.  Totally understandable."

But then I looked at my children and their faces begging me to stay home:  "If I decide to stay home, what does that say to my kids?  It's ok to skip church because I'm feeling lazy?  Would it look like I put God first, or me?"

I scooted myself out of bed, much to the disapproval of my family, and started to get myself ready for church.  This was the first time I didn't tell my children to get themselves ready for church.  I silently got ready and tried not to imagine the pathetic picture of me sadly moping into church, having to tell everyone that on Mother's Day my family allowed me to attend church alone.

As I was putting together the final touches, I noticed that my husband was getting himself ready.  My daughter poked her head into my bathroom to ask if she could borrow my perfume.  I could hear my son downstairs looking for his shoes.

Before I knew it, the four of us were in the car and on our way to church.  Nobody complained.  Nobody whined.  Nobody had an attitude.

And when it came time to pray with the congregation, I grabbed my husband's hand and thanked God for the best Mother's Day gift ever.

The gift of my husband.  The gift of my children.
The gift of my salvation.
The gift of His love.
The gift of His grace.

Because it's not "just church."  It's my foundation.

xoxo

Friday, April 1, 2016

I'm a Christian, but I'm not...



There are some common beliefs that come along with the label "Christian."
Here is my letter to you.

___________________________________
Dear Beloved Unbeliever,

I am a Christian.  But I am not...

Perfect

This is probably the most common stereotypical label placed on anyone who claims to be of Christian faith.

"Oh, you're a Christian.  So you think you're perfect."

Are you kidding me?  I'm the furthest thing from perfect.  I'm a downright sinner.  My flaws are huge.  But it's because of the awareness of my imperfections that I realize I need God more than anything else in the world.  I know that I fall short of His glory every day - that's why I need His grace.  I need God for the reason that I am not perfect.

If I thought I was perfect, I would think that I don't need God.....so, really, who here thinks they are perfect?

Scripture tells us that all of us fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23); there is not a single human being who can boast about being perfect.  I will make mistakes.  Every day I will fail.  And that's ok.  God doesn't ask perfection of me.  He asks for my best effort.

Yes, I am Christian.  But I am not perfect.  And that is exactly why I need God.

I am a Christian.  But I am not...

A Doormat

Many believe that because I am a Christian, I have to "suck it up and take it."  Whether it's verbal persecution, or wrongful behaviors towards me, it is believed by the world that I should just "take it."  Some non-believers will even quote scripture:

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also." Matthew 5:39

"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 5:44

"Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands..." 1 Peter 3:1

"Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive them." Luke 17:4

One of my least favorite things to hear is a non-believer take scripture and pull it out of context.  Each of these scriptures, if read or quoted without its entirety, can definitely be made to read as though God expects His faithful believers to be doormats.  But, as believers, we know this not to be true of our God.  We are God's most treasured possession, the last thing He wants is for us to "stand there and take it."

There is one characteristic I see in each of these scriptures: dignity.  I see a quality that is worthy of honor and respect.  The easiest thing to do when someone verbally attacks us is to fight back with our own words.  When we are wronged, it is effortless to retaliate or seek revenge.

There is no strength behind retaliation.  It takes nothing to fight back.  The anger within is eager to retaliate.  The true strength is found in dignity.  The fight against the fight takes true strength.

The strength is in the dignity of our character because we are made in the image of God.

We are not doormats.  We are stronger than that.  We don't retaliate because we have strength in God's power.

Submission, forgiveness, and love are characteristics of the strong.

I am a Christian, but I am not...

Free From Temptation 

I'm human.  I have a sinful nature.  I am tempted every day.  Yes, I made Jesus the Lord of my life, but that did not erase temptation.  Even Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and he was perfect!

One of the biggest misconceptions is that because I am a Christian, I am no longer faced with temptation.  If anything, I am faced with more temptation than ever because the enemy specifically seeks to take my heart away from God.  Just like the enemy went after Jesus, or the way he went after Job (Job 1:1-12), the enemy is prowling around my heart, trying to find that one thing that will pull me down and tear me away from God.

Just like those of the world, my nature seeks that which is not good for me.  We all know the cartoons that pictured a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other...well, when we become Christians, that angel and that devil are no joke.

I wish my life was free from temptation.  I wish I could say to you, "I have no idea what that struggle is like," but the truth is, I can stare you in the eyes and say, "I struggle with that, too."

I am a Christian, but I am not...

Judging You

Spend a couple hours with me and you'll hear about everything I've done before, and after, I became a Christian.  I can guarantee that your eyes will jump out of your head and you will think to yourself, "at least I wasn't as bad as her!"

The truth is, I'm a Christian, but I'm not judging you.  I've done some pretty awful things.  I've said some incredibly hurtful words.  Who am I to judge anyone?

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  Matthew 7:1-2

Society likes to throw this scripture at believers, "don't judge me!"  I can promise that a true believer of Christ is not judging you.  We've walked that path.  We've been that road.  We've made bad choices.  We have a list of regrets.  We don't think we're better, and we don't think you're worse.

When I approach you about getting to know God, it's because I've been there.  I know that life.  And I have the solution to your broken heart.

I am a Christian, but I am not...

Boring

I've heard so many times, "I don't want to be a Christian because I have to give up the fun stuff."
What fun stuff are you talking about?  The drinking?  The partying?  The drugs?  The sex?  The pornography?  The cussing?

Think about each of those things: each has the potential to lead to dangerous grounds.  I used to drink.  I used to smoke.  I used to party.  I sought attention from other men - even though I was married.  I watched pornography.  I used profanity in place of common words.

I've lived life with God, then without God, and then with God again.  The worst time of my life?  The time when I left God.  Out of boredom is when I found trouble.  My marriage almost ended.  I was seeing another man.  I spent so much money I almost lost our home.  I did everything I could to fill the void in my heart.  Maybe if I drink...maybe if I party...maybe if I flirt...maybe if I smoke...maybe if I spend money...maybe if...maybe if...

My life was filled with boredom, so I tried to fill it with the things the world promises will cure the emptiness.  "Party more!  Drink more!  Go out more!"

The list of things most non-believers are afraid to give up is a list of empty promises.  When the words, "I don't want to give up the fun stuff" come out of the mouth of a non-believer, what is really being said is, "I don't know what else will make me feel good."

Give God a chance to fill your heart and your life with things that will make you feel good.  He will pour so much into your life that you will wonder how you ever lived without Him before.

Life with God is never boring.  He will fill your heart and your life with more than you could ever imagine.  "Boring" isn't in God's vocabulary.

I am a Christian, therefore, I AM...

Saved.
Redeemed.
Forgiven.
Loved.
Treasured.
Admired.
Cherished.
Protected.
Wanted.
Needed.
STRONG.

I am not perfect, but I am not weak. I am not free from temptation, and I am not judging you.

I am a person who seeks love, admiration, fulfillment, happiness, and strength.

I am just like you.

xoxo






Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Moved A Storm


I moved a storm.  Yep.  You read that correctly.  I moved a storm.

Ok, so I didn't personally move the storm, but God certainly did.

With my daughter's permission, I'm going to fill you in on a snippet of what's been clouding our home for the past few months.  To make an extremely long story short:  a few months ago my daughter was suddenly hit with severe anxiety.  It paralyzed her personality, crippling her in so many ways, and left our household feeling trapped in the eye of a storm.  There were days that my husband and I would have to physically remove her from the car just to get her to school.  My husband was in tears the day he had to carry her into the school grounds because she was physically fighting my efforts.

Teachers, counselors, staff, even the principal of the school, rallied around our daughter to make her days easier.  She wasn't being bullied, nothing even remotely damaging had happened to her.  She couldn't explain it.  She was crying because she was crying, and she had no idea why.  She was worried about the "what if's" - what if something happened to her? What if something happened to me?  What if something happened to her dad? Her brother?

We read book after book about anxiety, we met with a psychologist, her pediatrician, a behaviorist...and we were all at a loss.  My church family covered her in prayer, as well as myself and my husband.  Every day I was begging for prayers: "please pray for me, I'm so lost. I don't know how to help her. I can't get through to her."  My daughter's prayer journals were filled with words like "why is this happening to me? Why won't it stop? Why can't I be normal?"  I tried to tell her that her anxiety and worry meant that she was lacking trust in God - but she couldn't even grasp the idea of turning to God because she felt her world was spinning.  Her outrages in the mornings would exhaust her, and once home from school, she would nap and then wake up with barely a memory of the morning.

I had to beg others for prayer because I couldn't form a single sentence when it came to my time with God.  My tears were my prayers for months.

Finally, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We weren't quite out of the danger zone, but there was some light trying to break through the clouds.  And then she had a four day break from school, just a couple of weeks ago.  The night before she was to go back to school, she was inconsolable.  Crying because she was scared. "What if I get sick at school? What if something happens while you're at work? What if...what if...what if..." I locked myself in the bathroom and started to cry out of anger and frustration.

In between my tears I sent a group text to the women in my life I lovingly refer to as my prayer warriors.  I needed prayer.

Each morning I wake up before the sun rises to make a cup of coffee to sip during my time with God.  The house is dark, I don't turn on a single light, and I quietly make my way through the house, careful not to wake anyone.  The morning my daughter was going back to school, my back was turned towards the window in my kitchen, but there was no mistaking the flash of light that filled the house.  Shortly after that came the thunder.  I paused, afraid to breathe.  I waited.  More lightning.  More thunder.

This is my daughter's biggest fear, aside from the unknown "what-it's." Thunder and lightning. I grabbed my cup of coffee, turned around to look out the window and whispered, "are you kidding me, right now, God??"

I was mad.  I was frustrated. I couldn't believe God would do this to me. To my daughter. To us.

I walked upstairs to find my husband awake, staring out the window. "Babe! Did you see this lightning? It's crazy!" My husband loves thunder storms.  Our bedroom was being lit up like a summer day at noon.  I just looked at him, ready to cry, and headed straight to my closet - my war room.

As soon as I closed the door to my closet, I broke down in tears.

"Why are you letting this happen, God?  Can't you give her a break?  She doesn't need this!  She's already nervous!  She's already scared!  Why are you doing this??"

I kept talking, directly from my heart.  Anger, frustration, hurt, and fear was pouring out of my eyes in the form of tears.

"You can move this storm, God.  I know you can place your mighty hands down here and push this storm away.  Do it!  I know you can and I want you to do it!  Move it!!  Please God, I'm begging you!  Even if it's just long enough to get her to school, move it!  I know you can!"

I continued my quiet time with God (although I don't know how quiet my angry whispers were...), and went on about my morning, kissed my husband good-bye as he left for work, got myself ready and prepared to wake my daughter to help her get ready for the day.

Just before I went into her room, my husband called.  "You know what's weird?  I haven't seen any lightning since what we saw this morning..."

My heart stopped.  I wasn't even paying attention.  I never looked outside.  I didn't notice that the lightning and thunder stopped.

"You know why it stopped, don't you?" The words nearly jumped off my tongue. "I prayed about it!"

I know my husband wanted to give a belly laugh, but instead he offered a polite giggle.  My joy didn't allow room to translate his laugh as persecution.  My prayer was not only heard, but answered immediately!  I nearly ran up the stairs to wake my daughter; I was so excited to tell her about the way God answered my prayer.

"Isn't that amazing? That lets us know that He is near to us all the time! He hears our prayers!"

I sent my daughter off to school, and began my hour long commute to work.  I was still on a fluffy cloud (because the storm clouds were gone) and had to tell more people about the way God answered my prayer.  I shared with my mom; I sent a group text to my prayer warriors, and I shared with my coworkers.

One of my coworkers responded with, "so I have you to thank for that?"  Confused, I asked what she meant.  She proceeded to tell me that in all the years she lived in the valley (approximately a 20-30 minute drive from my home) she had never experienced thunder like she did that morning.  "It shook the whole house! I've never been through anything like that!"  My smile must've been from ear to ear...I remembered that I asked God to move the storm, not necessarily stop it.

I spent the rest of the day with a smile on my face, praising God to anyone who would listen.

God will do that sometimes. He likes to show off every now and then.  Especially during the storm.

When we are in the middle of a stormy part of life, that's when God will grab the opportunity to calm the storm.  He knows that when He calms our storms, we will sing his praises to all who will listen.

Does that mean that should be the only time we praise Him?  Of course not.  We need to praise Him in all things....the good, the bad, and the ugly.  But the moments like this, when it's so clearly obvious that He is near and listening to our words and our hearts, are the moments that will sit deep in our hearts and serve as a reminder when we face another storm.  When I feel like God isn't hearing my prayers, when I feel like my words are being scattered in the wind...I'll always come back to the time God moved the storm.

"Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:23-27

For all the days of my life, I will never forget the way God answered my prayer that morning.
I poured my heart out to Him with genuine conviction and belief that He could do anything.
My faith was not little that morning.  My faith was big.  It was loud.  And it was real.

When we feel like we are drowning in the storm, let's approach God with conviction that He can do anything in our lives.  After all, He shaped the mountains, he placed the stars, and he controls the oceans.

He can move the storms for you, too.

xoxo

Monday, March 7, 2016

Do I Give Enough?



At the beginning of each year, our church hands out boxes of 52 envelopes.  These envelopes are a soft blue color and the date of each Sunday of the year is stamped on the front.  And if that's not easy enough, our church has the ability to set up our weekly contributions online!  I love it!  I used to have my weekly contribution set up online....that is, until I had to start using the envelopes.

Let me start here:

Jesus tells us that it's impossible to worship God and money (Luke 16:13).  Jesus says that we will love one and hate the other, or devote ourselves to one and detest the other.

I love God.  Obviously.  And I like to think of myself as a simple girl; don't get me wrong, I love a fancy pair of shoes and a well-made handbag, but you won't find me out there buying either one.  Several years ago you would've seen me in Nordstrom's with my credit card hot to the touch because I was using it so much, but that lead me to a path of destruction.

My husband is a firefighter and works crazy hard to provide an incredible life for me and our children.  He picks up extra shifts so that I can work part-time, we can take the kids to Disneyland (although not anymore because it's so dang expensive), my son can play year-round baseball, and my daughter can take dance classes, or painting classes, or whatever she's in the mood to try.  His job is not easy, despite what some may think.  He comes home after a 24 hour shift physically and mentally tired.  He may occasionally get a full four days off, but he's not himself until day four, and then he has to go back and do it again.

So, he likes to see where his hard earned money is going and what it is being used for - rightfully so.  He knows God, he acknowledges God, but he doesn't love God...yet.  And he definitely doesn't think we should be giving to God, because he views it as giving to the church, not to God.

This has been a crazy topic in our home and has been the source of many, many arguments.  So......I had a brilliant idea < *cough, cough* > that I would give to God....without telling my husband.  How could I be wrong with that?  I mean, I'm doing my biblical duty, I'm honoring God and all that He has given to me, so how could I be wrong?

For a whole year, I gave my weekly contribution to God through the online service our church provides.  For years before that, I was the only one who handled our finances.  For years before that, I vowed to tithe based on my gross income.  I even increased my tithe when I got a raise.  And every Sunday I felt good watching the collection plate pass my hands knowing that the next morning I would see the deduction from my checking account.  For years, I tricked myself into believing I was doing the right thing.

And then one night we sat down with a couple from church who have been our closest friends for many years.  We were discussing finances (the conversation was going decently well; I was being called out on a lot of sin, but my husband was being given pointers as well), and just when I thought the conversation was over because the four of us were laughing and cleaning up dinner, it quickly turned on me when I said, "well, there is one more thing...."  However, I said this statement with such confidence because I believed my church-going, God-loving friends would sign up on Team Jenn right away.

"Tithe.  I give each week to the church.  [My husband] doesn't know about that.  BUT!  I don't base my tithe off the household income, only mine."  I smiled the whole time I said this.  I was so proud of myself for being so sacrificial with my money.  I couldn't wait to hear them applaud me and tell my husband that it's my duty to give back to God.

That's not what happened.

I was sitting next to my best friend and across from her husband.  Nobody laughed.  Nobody smiled.  In fact, it was dead silent.  The next words spoken were from her husband, "what else, Jenn? What else are you hiding?"  Tears instantly sprang to my eyes.  I was confused.  Where was the Team Jenn flag he was supposed to be waving?  I looked to my best friend.  She wouldn't even look at me.  I started to defend myself, defend my actions, justify that I was doing the right thing.

"My husband doesn't want me to give to the church!  But I have to!  What am I supposed to do?"

For the next several, lengthy, torturous minutes (ok, I'm exaggerating, it wasn't exactly torture), it was explained to me why it was wrong.

It's never wrong to give to God.  Ever.  Let's clarify that.

The wrong was in my deceit.  My husband had no idea I was giving to the church.  On the occasional Sundays that he would join me, he never asked me about contribution because he didn't know that we could give our contribution online.  He assumed that I didn't give to the church...and I let him assume that.

Aside from deceit, without realizing it, I was separating our money.  My husband is so generous.  He works so hard and allows that extra money to go towards something we want to do as a family...or, he puts it towards debt I incurred over years and pays off all our debt.  All that money that he earned as he watched a man die in front of him, as he pulled a lifeless child out of a swimming pool, as he cut apart a car to rescue a young girl, as he risked his life on top of a burning building...all that money that was earned through his emotional sacrifice, he allows to be used as our family needs for "extras" in life.

And yet, I was taking my money and doing what I wanted with it.  Without asking him.  Without telling him.  Because I assumed I was doing the right thing.

The day after we spent time with our friends, we sat down and went through all of our bills and set up a brand new, beautiful budget (that's coming up in a future blog).  There was only one thing missing:  he didn't allow for contribution to the church.  Nowhere in our budget were the words "church" or "God."  I didn't say anything, I wanted to let my husband lead this conversation.

A couple hours later I called my best friend: "I don't know what to do, he didn't allow room for a contribution!  I can't do that!  What am I supposed to do??"  She asked me if I was given an "allowance" in the budget (this is the money that I'm given each week to use however I wish - no questions asked).  My husband budgeted for each of us to have a weekly allowance of $40 (sounds like a lot until you realize how many times you eat out, how many coffees you buy or how long it takes to save for a haircut).

My best friend said to me, "perfect!  So tithe off of your allowance each week!"
Me:  "What?  I can't do that!  Only $4 each week?  Are you kidding me?"
Righteous Bestie:  "Absolutely!  That is yours, God knows you can do anything you want with it - so why not tithe off that?"

I felt so much guilt about the idea of giving only $4 each week to God.  There was no way I could ever live with that.  So, the next night at church I pulled aside the minister's wife.  I explained to her what was going on, how I had been deceiving my husband and my plan to repent, but now I didn't know what to do about tithe.  I told her about my bestie's suggestion and asked for her advice.  She laughed, smiled, hugged me so tightly and said, "I think that's a great idea."  I must have looked at her like she was crazy because she laughed again and followed it up with the most beautiful reminder, "God isn't worried about how much you give from your wallet, He's only concerned about how much you give from your heart."  I felt instant relief pouring over my shoulders.

She reminded me that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), not necessarily a rich giver.  She said, "God is more fired up about the fact that your heart is aching to give him more, but you are giving him what you can. You have an allowance that you can use for anything you want, but you want to make sure you give to God.  That's awesome!  That's what He wants!  You can revisit the topic of contribution with your husband later, but for now, I think giving from your allowance is an awesome idea."

That night I church, I went to the table and asked for a box of envelopes.  There was something about the way that box felt in my hands.  Suddenly I realized that it truly was in my heart to give to God.  I didn't think of it as a duty or a bill I had to pay.

I wanted to give to Him because I love Him.  Because I'm grateful for all that He has given to me.  And that was all that mattered.

"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  'Truly I tell you,' he said, 'this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.Luke 21:1-4

It's not about the dollar amount.  It's all about the heart.

My husband knows that I give to God each week.

What he doesn't know is that every week, as I write my name on the outside of that envelope, and place four $1 bills inside, I thank him for allowing me the opportunity to give to God with my heart.

My husband, without meaning to, has taught me a lesson about giving to God...he taught me to have the heart of the widow.

xoxo




Monday, February 15, 2016

More Than a Daughter



We know that we are daughters of God.  But knowing that you are a child of God is one thing, believing that you are more than just His child is another. 

I was fortunate to grow up with a wonderful father.  He worked hard so that my brother and I could grow up in a good neighborhood, and although money was tight, he made sure we never went without.  As my 16th birthday drew near, I would teasingly tell my dad that I wanted a brand new Mustang, teal in color, with gray interior.  Obviously I knew this was something I would never receive, but that was always my answer when someone asked what I wanted for my birthday.  The day of my birthday, I came home to find a car in my driveway. My dad was standing there with a video camera (one of those huge ones that had to be carried on the shoulder remember those?), ready for my reaction.  Beneath a huge red bow was a Mustang, teal in color, with gray interior. It was not brand new, in fact, it was pretty old. There were areas of varying teal color in the paint and for being a Mustang, it had a super small, and slow engine.  But I didnt notice any of that when I came home that day. I cried into the camera as I kept repeating, we cant afford this, we cant afford this. My dad did the best he could to give me the desires of my heart. He found this old car, asked a friend to paint it for him, and did his best to keep it a surprise until my birthday. In that moment, I knew I was more than just his daughter. I was his treasure.

Thats exactly how our Father in heaven feels about each of us. He wants so desperately to give us the desires of our hearts. It's easy to accept the truth that we are, in fact, daughters of God, but it's another thing to believe that He looks at us as more than just His children.  We are His treasured possessions:

"For you are a [daughter] holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his [daughter], his treasured possession." Deut 7:6

Let's face it: our parents didn't get to choose us. They didn't get to piece together our hearts, select our features or map out our complicated DNA. 

But our God carefully shaped each of us...with each individual, He dreamt about and then created the woman He envisioned us to be. He held your heart in His mighty hands and said, "she will do great things for me and I want to give her everything she desires, for she is my treasure." God knew you before the world did, so if there is anyone who wants to give us all that we desire, it's the One who loved us first.


You are more than just a daughter of God. You are His most precious gem, His most treasured possession, and His dream fulfilled!

xoxo

(Article originally written by Jennifer Osler and featured on GirlfriendsPray.org)