Let the Storm Rage On

I love stormy weather. Really just weather in general. I love the sound of rain. I am fascinated by lightning. I relish the silence of snowfall. I am excited by tornado warnings and stand outside rather than seek shelter when advised. Mother nature and her fury amaze me on a daily basis. I like the chaos that comes with never truly knowing what the weather has in store. That chaos is doubled during spring time in my home sweet home of Arkansas. You never know when a spring shower could develop into an angry storm or even a violent twister. There is also the feeling of comfort that comes after a storm and realizing all is well. Everything is just a little more green and shiny after the rain has gone.

I have been thinking about storms a lot lately, both weather related and the storms/challenges of life. At one point or another, we all face our own personal storms. Sometimes they are just a light sprinkle, but other times they are EF5 tornadoes that flatten everything in their path. When “the big one” comes, you feel as though you have nothing left and can’t find the pieces to try to start putting things back together. My biggest storm so far, my EF5 tornado, my busted mustard moment, was when my dad died. I have face many other challenges since then, just none quite as big.

The other thing about storms that came to mind recently was how we enjoy watching them from afar, however we never want them to hit too close to home. I am a storm chaser fan. I enjoy watching live feeds from storm chasers while they are out hunting funnel clouds and tornadoes. One of my bucket list items is to join in on one of those adventures. Yet, last Friday night, when I woke up to my phone alarm blaring about a tornado warning in my county I wasn’t quite as excited. When the meteorologist zoomed in on the rotation in the storm and it was literally over my house, I lost all interest in seeing a tornado up close…at least for the moment. Whether it is storm damage to someone’s home, car wrecks on the highway, or drama being played out on social media, we are all guilty of rubbernecking on the storms of others. When they hit a little too close to home though, we aren’t as entertained.

As much as I love stormy weather, I don’t enjoy the storms of life. The troubles and heartaches that come out of nowhere. I love the chaos in the skies, but hate when it happens in my life. Thankfully, there is someone who can help in times of trouble. He is the master of the wind. He can calm the storm and make the sun shine again. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the same storm about a time when Jesus and the disciples were on a boat. A great storm came and the disciples got scared.

“And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased and there was great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

– Mark 4:39-40, ESV

When storms arise, I quickly fall into the “why me” questions and desperately ask for saving. I am so quick to forget that God has been there and will always be there when I need Him. I don’t need to wake Him up to tell Him the boat is sinking. He knows. He is very aware of every situation I am going through and He is working in them even when I can’t see how. The disciples were worried even though they had the master of the universe in the boat with them. They lost faith and everything they knew to be true in that moment, because they were scared, but Jesus said, “I got this.” He questioned their fear because where they saw chaos, Jesus saw an opportunity to show His power. All we have to do is have peace and be still to allow Him a chance to take care of the situation.

As painful as they have been, I am thankful for the lessons I have learned from the storms in my life. I wouldn’t want to experience them again, nevertheless I know I’m who I am today and I am where God wants me to be today because of the challenges that I have overcome by His grace. Though I don’t wish for them, I pray God continues to give me the strength I need to weather any future storms and I pray He gives me the wisdom to remember that no matter what He is in control.

We’ll Talk to You Later

Mornings used to be my favorite time of day when my family visited my grandparents’ house. Early mornings while most people were still sleeping. I would wake up to the smell of coffee and hear muffled voices in another room. Instead of rushing out of bed to join them, I would quietly crawl toward the kitchen shielded behind the breakfast bar. I would sit there and listen to the two men quietly make small talk as one of them busied himself preparing to make breakfast once everyone was awake. I don’t know what lead me to spy on Dad and Grandpa Cole on those mornings, but something told me to take it all in and relish the special quiet times.

From an early age, I seemed worshipped the ground my Grandpa Cole walked on. Visits to my grandparents’ house usually involved me following him around like a puppy wanting to “help” him with his daily tasks. I remember waking up early enough to watch him do his daily calisthenics, a routine left over from his days in the Navy. I loved any opportunity to accompany him to his woodworking shop to see all the projects he had going. To this day, I can’t see or smell sawdust without being transported back to that shop.

After my dad passed away, Grandpa seemed to step in and try to fill the gaping hole that was left behind. Though he had always been a big part our lives, he became an even larger presence in my dad’s absence. At least that is how it felt to me. After Mom, Grandpa was the first person I would show report cards, tell about accomplishments, and go to with problems. He attended every band concert, awards banquet, and special event he was invited to. I had lunch with him the day I got my driver’s license and he happily escorted me when I was in high school homecoming. He was always there.

My favorite thing to do with my grandpa was go fishing. I would venture to say that was a hit with all the grandchildren and probably the entire family. Grandpa took a lot of pride in the pond he dug and stocked with his own two hands. I think he took just as much pride in the time spent around it with his family. I can’t count the number of summer days that were spent around that fishing hole. Looking back, I don’t remember much about actually catching fish, but I can see the countless life lessons we were taught: patience to sit and wait for a bite, responsibility in taking care of all the equipment so it could be used over and over again, communicating with others so lines weren’t crossed and tangled, respect for the land and animals…even the snapping turtles. Most importantly though, we were learning how to simply spend time with loved ones.

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Every year on my birthday I knew who would be the first to call me. It was usually very early in the morning, but even if I didn’t answer he would leave the same message as if he were talking to me. His froggy singing voice would croak out a verse of Happy Birthday followed by something along the lines of, “we love you girl and wanted to wish you a happy birthday. We’ll talk to you later.”

The walls of my grandparents’ den were covered in photographs. Every school picture of each grandchild and great-grandchild were proudly on display. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone take as much pride in their family as my grandpa did. His devotion to my grandma throughout her battle with alzheimer’s was the most remarkable testament to his strength. The fact that they passed away within six weeks of each other left us with a beautiful story of true love. The legacy he left behind is a daunting one to try to fill, but one in which I take immense pride.

Sadly, we seem to never know how much we appreciate something until it’s gone. My first birthday after Grandpa passed away I remember sitting in my car around 9 a.m. trying to figure out what was missing. Something didn’t feel right, like I had forgotten to do something. It hit me hard and fast that I hadn’t gotten my birthday wake up call from Grandpa. I never realize how those short calls used to make my special day seem all the more special.

With another birthday quickly approaching, I miss my grandpa. I think about the phone call I won’t be getting. I think about wanting to learn one more life lesson down at the pond. Thankfully, another aspect of Grandpa’s life left me with the wonderful solace of knowing that one day I will see him again. That man loved Jesus. I have absolutely no doubt about that. His dedication to church, prayer, and reading the bible were always present in his everyday life.

I would give anything to spend another morning having breakfast with my Grandpa Cole. His eggs were always cooked just right, the bacon fried to a perfect crisp, and his biscuits reliably burnt on the bottom. Watching that man cook breakfast was like watching a painter create a masterpiece, made even better because it was all done out of the purest of love.

Maybe, if I were allowed a peek into heaven, I would once again see my dad and grandpa sipping coffee around the breakfast bar waiting on everyone else to get there. Waiting to be reunited with the loved ones they had to leave a little earlier than they would have liked. If heaven is as simple as seeing Grandpa’s smiling face asking me how I would like my eggs, I can’t wait to go. Until then, I will continue to use the lessons that great man taught me and strive to live a life of which he would be proud.

Grandpa never ended a conversation with goodbye. He always simply said, “talk to you later.” I’m thankful by following in his footsteps and seeking to live my life for Christ, I will have the chance to do just that, talk to him later.

Sheltered Safe

It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling completely connected with God to not feeling close to him at all. One day you bask in his presence and the next you feel an emptiness deep in your soul. I have been struggling with that these past few weeks. When life gets busy I tend to have a one-track mind and the most pressing or visible thing tends to take precedence over everything else. Sadly, my relationship with God, too often, tends to get put on the back burner. This leaves me feeling alone and forsaken, even though I know I did it to myself.

Thankfully, when you aren’t actively pursuing Him, God still finds a way to remind you He is there. A couple of weeks ago I was driving to work listening to Hillary Scott’s album “Love Remains.” I’ve listened to it at least 50 times. “Sheltered in the Arms of God” came on. I started mindlessly singing along to this song I grew up listening to. At some point I focused in on the drums and was whisked off in a vivid flashback. It was more of a vision than a memory because I was seeing something I’m not sure actually happened.

I was back in the church my family attended when I was a child. Up on the stage, in the corner, was my dad and his drum set. With each beat of the drum I could visualize my dad playing along. I could see the unique way he tapped on the snare. I could see him closing his eyes and letting himself get lost in the music. It was a culmination of the thousands of times I watched him play the drums at church. This time though, he was playing a song just for me. Singing along to that song felt like we were singing together again. There was peace and comfort in that moment. I knew God was using that song to touch base and remind me that I am always sheltered in His arms.

This moment was made even more significant because it has taken me years to be able to think about my dad and not feel an overwhelming sense of utter sadness. I spent so many years being angry at God and resenting the fact that my dad died that I forgot to remember all the happy times. Only recently have I been able to open up and rejoice in the things he left behind. I can now appreciate the wonderful legacy he left in the music he instilled in us.

Once again, I realized God and my dad have always been there. In the music I hold so very dear. Memories of my dad have always been tucked away in the drum licks and mandolin pickin’s of all the songs he used to love. I will forever be thankful that remembering my dad will always be as simple as pressing play on an old song.

I am also thankful for God’s gentle reminder that He is always there. Let the storms rage high and the dark clouds rise because they don’t worry me. For I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God.

God, Bless the Child!

When my phone rings early on Sunday mornings I know exactly who it is before I even look at the screen. I rouse myself enough to answer and half of a cute little face pops up on the screen. Then comes the big question, “Sissy, you gonna go to church wiff me?” No matter how tired I am or what other things I would rather do on a Sunday morning, how could I possibly say no to that little face?

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Shortly after they were married, my best friend and her husband asked me a very big question. They asked me to be the godmother to their future children. I was beyond honored and truly touched they wanted me to play such a big role in the lives of their children. I didn’t accept the title of Godmother lightly. It meant so much to me. I knew I wanted to make sure I was an important person in that child’s life.

A couple of months later they announced they were expecting. The role of godmother became real. In the beginning, this title was strictly in the legal sense. Neither my friends or I were going to church or actively pursuing our relationships with God. Being their little boy’s godmother meant that if something happened to them I would be there to raise him. To me, it also meant that I would be another grown up to love and spoil him. I vowed to devote time and energy into making him feel like the most special boy in the world.

When the baby was born, his parents started attended church. A few months later they invited all the family to attend his church dedication service. Sitting in that congregation listening to the pastor talk about the responsibility of raising this little boy in the church and making sure he knew about God, I realized there was another aspect of my role as godmother that I wasn’t fulfilling. What would he think if he saw me not going to church? What he think if his Godmother never talked to him about God? His parents never asked me to help teach him religion, but as his godmother, I realized I had an obligation to share God with him and encourage his spiritual growth.

I didn’t know where to start sharing God with that little boy because God and I hadn’t been on good terms for quite a while. So we started small. I found some bible songs on Youtube and we had a jam session. Hearing my 1 ½-year-old godson sing “Jesus Loves Me” melted my heart. I didn’t realize it then, but I think that is when my heart started to soften a little in my relationship with God. I didn’t know that teaching my godson about how Jesus loves him would kick off a year of rediscovering my faith and healing some deep wounds.

Now I look forward to Sunday morning Facetime calls, singing together in the worship service, and talking about what he learned in Sunday school. Even when I don’t feel like going, it’s easier to just go than it is to explain why to a 2-year-old. This little boy has taught me so much more than I have taught him. He taught me that having a relationship with God is as simple as knowing Jesus loves me. He showed me that I would rather strive for faith like a child than the size of a mustard seed. Watching the world through his eyes simplifies the most complex ideas into simple concepts of love, acceptance, and faith.

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Being a godmother has truly been one of the biggest blessings in my life. I love that little boy more than I can possibly say. The fact that he has me wrapped around his little finger helped me get back into church and pursuing God. I am so very thankful for him and honored to be his “Sissy.”

All That Really Matters

“God isn’t the event. God is in how we respond to the event.”

That quote jumped out at me this week from an unlikely source, a TV show. I was simply trying to drown out the world and numb my mind to the craziness happening this week. It wasn’t a show about God, but there in a random storyline came a message I needed to hear.

I have been struggling with how to react to the things happening in the world right now. I have been struggling with how those things are being discussed on Facebook and social media. There is so much hatred, division, and cruelty being spewed everywhere that I just wanted to shut it all out. Which is what led me to binge watch a show about midwife nuns in post WWII England, Call the Midwife. I didn’t want to see another post agreeing or disagreeing with the latest political moves. I didn’t want to see another meme passive aggressively making fun of a group of people. So I put my phone down, turned on the TV, and got an unexpected message.

That struggling to understand what is going on in the world has also left me with a bit of writer’s block for a blog post. I normally think about it all week and sit down to write on Saturdays. This week though I didn’t know what to say. I had a lot of questions for God this week that only seemed to go unanswered. I didn’t know what to write because I didn’t feel like He had given me any words this week. It’s now Sunday and the only thing I keep coming back to is that quote.

When something happens, good or bad, we are quick to claim it was an act of God. Leaders are elected, laws are passed, natural disasters happen, people die and many speak about how those things are God’s will. How often, though, do we stop to think that maybe God shows up more in how we react to an event than in the event itself? Is God the hurricane that destroys thousands of homes or is He in the volunteers that help rebuild the homes?

This idea easily translates to what is happening on social media right now, not in the issues, but in how people are treating each other. Is God the post someone makes voicing their opinion on an issue, or is He in the way people reply to that post. Furthermore, where is the devil in all of this? Are the things we are sharing, liking, and posting on social media bringing glory to God and sharing His love with others or are they only contributing to the division and hatred brewing online? Posting on these sites has become second nature to us, but are you taking time to think about what your post is saying about you and, more importantly, God?

I am not perfect in my beliefs or the way I convey them on social media, but I try to be very careful with what I do and say online. I rarely make political statements or declarations about my beliefs on certain issues. I do not engage in arguments in comment sections. This is partially because I know how easy it is to misinterpret meanings, but it is also because my beliefs are just that, mine. I don’t need you to agree with me to make my views on things valid. I also respect your beliefs and accept that we can disagree without a dispute or a need to declare one of our views as correct.

Social media is also, in my opinion, not a place to take action. I believe if I feel strongly enough about an issue then I need to take physical action toward it, instead of complaining about it on Facebook. Liking a charity’s page and sharing their status is great, but it doesn’t do much to help further their cause. I can share a meme about the dire state of our education system or I can roll up my sleeves and find a place to help fix it.

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I fear social media has provided us with the opportunity to say things in a public forum we would never say to someone face to face. It has allowed for some people to show their true colors, but it has also caused people to over exaggerate their feelings. It has allowed for such negativity and hatred to develop in a way we have never seen before. What I think so many of us don’t realize is how many people are watching us online and taking to heart the things that are being said.

We are called to rise about the world. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2. I’m not saying social media is bad and too “of this world” to be enjoyed by those who seek to live a Godly life. I just think if we are striving to follow Jesus and share His love with others we should be thinking twice before hitting the post button.

I believe, when it comes down to it, all that really matters is whether or not you knew Jesus and showed Him to anyone. Today, however, there are more eyes on us than ever before. I want to make sure the things I do and say are allowing me to speak life for others and not help plant seeds of doubt in someone’s fragile faith. I don’t put on the label of christian lightly because I know it is one I can’t ever take off. When I go out to eat, when I sit in church on Sunday mornings, when I post on social media, I am wearing my christian label and representing God’s love. God is in my response to the things around me. Everything I do matters. It’s a big deal.

Would now be a bad time to ask you to like and share this post? If this post or any of my others spoke some life to you please take a second to share them with someone else.

My Confession

I am going to let you all in on a big secret. Are you ready? I tend to slightly obsess over celebrities, television shows, and movies. Alright, if you know me, at all, you know that isn’t much of a secret. You have heard me go on and on about my favorite celebs countless times or seen me share things about my favorite shows on social media. The real secret is, I use my obsessions over those things to avoid my feelings and the stuff going on around me. An even bigger secret is, I didn’t even realize that was what I was doing until a few months ago.

My realization moment came in July of last year when I hit peak obsession mode. At some point, I discovered a favorite TV show from my childhood was available on Amazon Prime. I didn’t have a show to watch so I decided to start it. Around the same time, I had a big fight with my brother. Fighting with my brother is not something new, but the nature of this one was bigger than before and caused a lot of unrest for me and my family. I was upset, hurt, disappointed, and distraught with the way things played out between us. I felt a lot of blame and guilt for the impact the fight had on our family. Instead of taking those feelings to God or talking them through with family members, I escaped into the world of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

I spent every free moment binge watching the six seasons of that show. I even stayed up all night a few times, claiming insomnia, but really just not wanting to turn the TV off. When I wasn’t watching the show, I was on IMDB.com learning all the show details and behind the scenes gossip. That lead to learning all about the star, Jane Seymour, which lead to a desire to watch every movie she has ever been in. Once I burned through every episode of the show, I spent countless hours on YouTube watching old interviews and footage from the set. I even spent many days reading fan fiction (judge me all you want) because I didn’t want the story to end. This is what I do when I obsess over something. I spent the better part of a couple of months learning all there was to know about this TV show from the 90s. I never tried to talk to my brother. I never talked to anyone about how the conflict with him was tearing me up inside. I never prayed about it. I just watched TV.

Looking back on my life, I can see a similar pattern of obsessions emerge throughout the years. Around the time my dad died, I Love Lucy became my first real delve into this obsessive process. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Lucy and Lucille Ball, but what 13-year-old needs to know who the original writers of the show were? When I was 15 years old my mom got remarried and I suddenly couldn’t get enough of old Hollywood musicals. Enter, the Judy Garland era. What 16-year-old has a CD case devoted to a singer who died 20 years before they were born? My high school years also saw a love affair with Gone With the Wind and movie musicals in general. College was all about Broadway musicals and Kristin Chenoweth. When my Grandpa died Law and Order: SVU came into the picture. When I was doing an internship many miles from home I was comforted by the southern charm of Designing Women. Every major moment in my life can pretty much be documented by what I chose to obsess over to avoid my feelings.

Do you see what is missing though? Do you see the one place I didn’t turn in times of heartache, grief, sadness, or turmoil? You’re right, I never turned to God. I never threw myself into studying the bible, going to church, or listening to christian music when I needed it most. I took comfort in the stories of other people. I escaped into worlds created by the movies. I fantasized what it would be like to walk in celebrities’ shoes. I never took my problems to the One who could actually help me deal with them.

When I was younger I relished going to church, singing christian songs, and learning about God. The biggest celebrities I knew where gospel singers. I looked to the teachers, preachers, and church elders as role models who I wanted to grow up to be like. I remember God and church being an important aspect of my everyday life. What I don’t remember, is exactly when all that changed. I don’t remember when I started to lose interest. I don’t remember when I started to look elsewhere for role models. I assume it all started around the time my mustard seed was busted and I began to lose my faith.

It’s been a little over a year since I had my turning point of questioning if I truly believed in God (see Busted Mustard Seed), but even then I didn’t turn directly back to Him. I didn’t even know where to start, so instead I turned once again to a TV show, Touched by an Angel. I followed my same pattern of binge watching every episode, but it almost seemed like every episode had a message I needed to hear. As usual, I researched everything about the show, but learning more about the stars lead me to all the work they do in the christian community. I feel silly saying God spoke to me through that old TV show, but I don’t really have a better way of putting it. At least I won’t say something cheesy like, I was truly touched by an angel.

When I slipped into my Dr. Quinn obsession last year, I could feel it happening. I knew what was about to happen and I tried not to give in completely. I told myself I would just watch the show and not look it up on the internet. Then I reasoned that I would only look at cast names but nothing more. I realized, for the first time, I was avoiding a real life situation by escaping into this world of make-believe. I also actively realized I was avoiding the subject with God, because I wasn’t ready to deal with it yet. I knew exactly what I was doing and it scared me a little. It scared me when I realized this is how I handled every tough situation in my life.

I want to sit here and write that because I see the error in my ways I will never do that again, but I know that would be a lie. I wish I could say I have turned that obsessive behavior toward working on my relationship with God, but that isn’t true either. I wish I knew everything there is to know about God like I know everything about the West Wing, but I don’t. I wish I would hungrily binge read my way through the bible like I tear through biographies of my favorite celebs, but I don’t. The only thing I can say is that I am trying. I’m trying to set aside time each day to spend in the word and talking to God. I’m trying to cut back on mindlessly watching TV and spend more time reading about Him.

I want to burn with the desire to know Him better, but sometimes it’s just a small flicker of interest. I get distracted, easily, by the things going on in the world around me. I want to spend hours watching praise and worship videos on YouTube, but sometimes I end up watching celebrity talk show interviews for hours instead. I can’t recite many scriptures off the top of my head, but I can sing every word to every song in Wicked. The good news is, for the first time in a very long time, I am trying to do better. I have lost some of my passion for the entertainment world and gained a renewed excitement for things that bring glory to God. I’m not saying that I am giving up the things I have held dear over the years (I write as I sit in a room covered in Broadway memorabilia) but I am going to let God take priority over them. I am going to stop using them as a distraction from my feelings and instead go to God with my problems. He is the one that can help find healing and answers. He is where I will find true joy and happiness. He is the ultimate celebrity. The one who truly deserves our praise and adoration.

 

Fear Feels Bigger

I don’t have an emotional revelation or witty anecdote for this post. I sat down to write after a long day and I realized I have nothing to say. I have a long list of topic ideas, but none of them feel right tonight. I normally sit down and a story seems to flow out of my finger tips. I got nothin’ tonight, but I made a commitment to post once a week and I am not one to give up on commitments easily.

I have been struggling with fears and decisions lately. I have been praying a lot about a couple of things the last two weeks. The good news is, I believe God has sent me some answers to those prayers. The bad news is, I don’t particularly like the answers He has given. I have tried to interpret those answers in a different way and make them fit into the plan I have for myself and pretend that is what God clearly meant. But It doesn’t work that way.

Maybe my lack of inspiration tonight comes from the fact that I have been resisting God this week. I have been resisting the things I think He wants me to do and I feel like that has put some distance in the relationship we have been working on. I want to follow where He leads, but right now, in this moment, I have let my fear of the unknown take control. Right now, as Finding Favor puts it, my fear feels bigger than my faith. So I leave you with the song that spoke to me and my fears this week. I pray that I can let go and truly learn to cast my cares on Him.

Angels Among Us

To quote Alabama, “Oh, I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above. They come to you and me in our darkest hour to show us how to live, teach us how to give, and guide us with a light of love.”

I believe in angels. I don’t mean the celestial beings in white robes with glowing halos. I also don’t mean the ones from Touched by an Angel that go undercover to work God’s cases. I believe there are people who God empowers to be angels in our lives. He leads them to step in and help others when they need it. They help influence us to keep going the right direction and follow God’s plan. It’s like when someone says something you need to hear at the exact time you needed to hear it. Or when you are stressed about money and someone randomly pays for you meal.

Some angels are silent and affect your life in ways you may never see or realize. Other angels make such an impression in your life that you know they were sent from God. You never know who God will inspire to move in your life. The bible even tells us to be kind to everyone because we might be entertaining angels unaware. (Hebrews 13:2)

Angels are everywhere. They are the sixth grade teacher battling breast cancer who teaches you the true meaning of strength and endurance. They are the Sunday school teacher who always makes you feel loved. They are the mentor that makes a point to pray for you over every Chic-fil-A lunch date. They are the person who is always in your corner cheering you on even when you are doubting yourself. They are the mother who is always there to support you no matter how crazy your current scheme is. They are the long-lost friend who offers to pray for you when she has no idea you need it desperately. They are even the actors on an old TV show about angels telling stories that start to open your heart in ways it hasn’t been in a long time.

On the flip side, I supposed, there are also demons. They are in the people who tempt you to do wrong. They lead you to follow the ways of the world instead of God. They might even seem like angels at first, but following their lead can send you down a very different path steering you away from God’s plan for your life. I have followed my share of demons, but, oh, how there have been many angels to bring me back.

I challenge you to do yourself a favor this week by taking the time to tell someone who has been an angel in your life how important they are to you. Tell them a story of something they did that meant a lot to you or simply say thank you or just share this post with them. You will be blessed by how much those words of thanks will touch their heart. Trust me!

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Prayer Changes Me

“Our dear gracious heavenly Father, we thank you again dear Lord for this day. We thank you dear heavenly Father for…”

If I close my eyes and get really quiet I can still hear Grandpa Cole praying over a family meal or an offering at church. There was almost comfort in knowing that every time my grandpa was asked to pray, the same words would come out of his mouth. I would even mouth those words along with him sometimes. It came from years of praying and settling into a comfortable habit with God.

This past year, I had to learn to pray again. Over the last 16 years I continued to pray occasionally but my heart wasn’t in them. The few times I did honestly hope for a response I didn’t feel like I had the right words to say and I just prayed the same words I had always prayed.

I don’t remember how old I was when I was taught to pray, but I do vaguely remember a Sunday school lesson on how to pray. It was broken down into sections and explained that these are the things you have to say each time you pray. It was like I was being given a form letter or maybe a mad-lib to complete in order to talk to God.

(Insert Greeting Here)

Confess sins and be specific.

Submit prayer requests.

Say you love Him.

Claim it in Jesus name.

Amen.

That is it and that is all. The perfect equation that will send your message straight to a heavenly Father who will answer those needs and prayers. I also, somewhere along the way, started to believe that asking God for something meant that He should give you exactly what you ask for. If I asked God for a puppy, I expected to eventually get a puppy. We’ll talk about that more a little later.

As I began my journey back to God this year, I knew I needed to change the way I prayed. I recited those memorized form letter prayers so often that they just seemed fake and I didn’t feel like I was actually talking to Him. I had to learn that there are other ways to talk with the Lord. Possibly even better ways to pray. The good little traditional girl in me didn’t like that idea very much. She wanted to stick to the way she was taught and follow the traditions people like my grandpa left behind. It took some work.

I think it was the combination of an episode or two of Touched by an Angel (I know!) and a sermon at church that taught me a new way to pray. It should be more like an open and continuous conversation. After all, we are called to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Why do we have to limit it to certain times of the day? Why do we have to cut the conversation off by saying amen?

Think of it as a text message conversation with your best friend. You never sign off or say goodbye in that conversation. It’s just a continuous stream of thoughts, ideas, and plans. Why can’t we talk to God that way too? When you see something worthy of praise, stop right then and send up a thank you. When you are struggling with a temptation, shoot up a quick, “Lord, help me.” When you know someone needs prayers, don’t wait until your allotted prayer time to ask God to move in their life. When you need to talk to God you can always hit the send button whenever and wherever you are.

Another thing I learned about prayer this year is that you don’t necessarily have to be in the right frame of mind to pray. When you are angry, talk to God. When you are hurting, talk to God. When you aren’t even sure He is listening, talk to Him. It’s alright to be honest because He already knows the truth. I tell Him when I don’t feel like praying, because He already knows what is in my heart. I tell Him when I am having a bad day and when I am struggling with my faith in Him. I am honest about wanting to blame Him for things. If He loves me for who I am and wants to hear from me, why should I change everything about myself and fake a pleasant attitude when I talk to Him?

It’s when I hold things back that they grow into more than they should. It’s the same as when you hold something back from a friend or loved one. When you aren’t completely honest with someone it begins to eat away at your relationship until you eventually have to let it out or you cause irreparable damage. I spent years not talking to God. I was mad at Him and therefore had nothing to say to Him. That only caused me to not seek Him even further.

It’s also alright to question Him. I had a friend go through a very difficult situation this year. She is a christian who makes an effort to give God the glory in things and was a huge factor in getting me back into church. I could not understand why God would put her through such a terrible thing. I could have used that as a reason to give up my journey back to faith and slipped back into my comfortable anger at God, but instead I was honest in my prayers to Him. I asked Him why she had to go through what she was going through. I told Him I didn’t understand what purpose that could possibly have served. Then I waited for an answer.

It’s funny how God can answer prays in simple, yet profound ways. My answer came from the friend who was going through the trial. She told me all about how she prayed and gave the situation over to God. She reminded me that even in the eye of the storm, God remains in control. Her ability to praise Him in the storm blew me away. She found comfort in the very person that I wanted to blame. Her continued faith in God was my answered prayer.

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One of the hardest things I learned about prayer this year is that sometimes God says no. I never really thought about that before. There aren’t unanswered prayers, but there are times when the answers aren’t the ones we want. Sometimes He says no. Sometimes He says wait. Then there is the fact that sometimes God answers our prayers by giving us what we need instead of what we asked for or wanted.

My mustard seed busting moment was when I prayed for God to let my dad be okay. All this time I thought God didn’t answer that prayer. I always thought God heard our pleas to save Dad and heal him, but just didn’t answer. I never understood that He did, in fact, answer those prayers. His answer was no. No, I can’t heal him because that is not in My plan. I still don’t completely understand how Dad dying fits into God’s plan, but I know it has shaped me into the person that I am today. I wouldn’t be sitting here right now writing this very blog post if my Dad hadn’t died when I was 12 years old. There is a plan and God answers prayers in accordance with that plan.

When my sister and I were little we used to sing the song below at church. Back then I didn’t really understand it. I just thought it was a fun song to sing and people seemed to enjoy it. It means so much more to me now.

Prayer Changes Me by the McKameys

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1x96B0NWQ8

Lying awake at night
Thinking of things beyond my control.
Ready to give up the fight
Weary and tired of carrying the load.
I know there’s nothing more I can do or say
Then God says, “Just give it to me.”
Then I whisper a prayer that only He hears
And I rest peacefully.

I can pray out loud or silently.
I can pray standing tall or on my knees.
It really makes no difference
Just that prayer is the key.
‘Cause prayer changes things
And it changes me.

Troublesome days seems so long
I can’t help but wonder when they will end.
I know I’m supposed to be strong
But sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever win.
That’s when he tells me, “You walk without me”
But in my strength alone.
And when I began to trust more in Him,
I can sing a song.
 
I can pray out loud or silently.
I can pray standing tall or on my knees.
It really makes no difference
Just that prayer is the key.
‘Cause prayer changes things
And it changes me.

This is My Story, This is My Song…

The first semester of college, my freshmen composition professor told me I was a bad writer. What a confidence boost for someone who was already terrified about being successful in college! That statement stuck with me for a long time. I lost any confidence I might have had in my writing skills. In his defense, I think his next statement was that he would help me fix it and he actually did teach me a lot over the next two semesters. I’m pretty sure I even made A’s in his classes, but the damage was done.

I went on to choose a major that was 90% writing, public relations. Smart move, right? My PR professor told me the first day of class that if I didn’t like writing I needed to change my major, but I had just transferred schools and uprooted my entire life to pursue that major so I was going to stick with it no matter what. Every assignment I turned in was torture waiting on her to tear my writing to shreds, though that rarely happened. I was very successful in all my PR classes and got great feedback from my professor, but I never regained a solid confidence in my writing skills. At least not enough to ever share my personal writings with anyone.

The irony is, I have always tried to keep a journal and write about my life. I love writing. It’s been my therapy over the years. I don’t do a good job of actually following through and keeping up with a journal on a regular basis, but I have a lot of them. Most of them are only half written in, but they are there. They are snapshots into the things that were happening in my life at that time.

I have been looking through those old journals for inspiration for this blog post. I’ve had this idea floating around my head for about a week now. It started with wanting to talk about the resolutions I made for 2016, specifically rebuilding my relationship with God. As I was looking through entries from earlier this year though, my inspiration leaned more toward the conviction God laid on my heart to write my story.  I reread journal entry after entry where I begged God to show me the way and guide me. I pleaded with Him to reveal His plans for my life. When He finally did, I fought back and ignored the call.

On April 8th, 2016, I wrote, “I think God might have placed something in my mind this morning. Something tells me I need to write my story and share it with others. I feel like there is an important story there. One that could possibly help others in whatever they are going through.” How much clearer could God have been? He not only gave me the conviction but He even gave me the exact topic to write about. What more could I need? Courage. That was what I was lacking at the time. I was afraid for so many reasons. I didn’t want to ruffle feathers. I didn’t want my truth to hurt anyone else’s feelings. I wasn’t comfortable with sharing the thoughts and feelings I had never told anyone about. Then there was that lack of confidence in myself as a writer and the fear that others might think I’m as bad as that freshman professor did. I ended that journal entry with, “maybe someday, but not today.”

The push to write didn’t end there though. On April 14, 2016, I wrote, “I feel like writing my story is still something God has put on my heart. It only gets stronger too. I honestly don’t know how to start or when I will have time to sit and write it in a coherent way. I pray God continues to convict me and help me find time for it all.” To be honest, I have never heard God speak so clearly to me than when He told me to write. I have also never flat-out refused Him like that before. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to be exposed like that. Especially since my journey back to faith and rebuilding my relationship with God was so new. I didn’t think I was ready. Even though He knew I was.

I ignored the call of that still small voice for most of the year. I continued to pray that He would show me my path, give me answers, and help me to share His love with others. I didn’t realize He had already given me an answer and was simply waiting for me to act on it.

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I fought this calling until October. On the 22nd an overwhelming urge lead me to sit down and type my story out. I have written it many different times in journals over the years, but I have never actually typed it before. I had about 30 minutes before I had to be somewhere, but the words just flowed out in a way I had never written or thought about them before. If felt so right to type those exact words into that Google Doc. I poured my heart out in those 30 minutes and cried over the new understanding of this story I had thought about so many times before. Then I turned off my computer and went to whatever engagement I was expected at as if nothing had happened. I left that document sitting in my Google Drive and didn’t think much of it again for a month.

I dread the month of November. I have for the past 16 years. I never know what kind of mood I will be in as November 23rd approaches each year. Some years, I almost forget it’s the day my dad died and just go on with life as usual. Other years, I fall into deep despair and let myself wallow in pity allowing my mind to explore all the what if questions. This year was a good year, more or less. I wasn’t dreading the day much as I had in the past, but I was struggling with what I would post on social media about the day. Am I the only one who does that? I over think posts sometimes, especially ones that reveal things about my personal life. I didn’t want to post another vaguely sad message about another year of missing my dad. That is when I remembered the document I typed up the month before and allowed myself to once again hear the call to share it with others.

On November 22nd, I reopened that document, made a few edits, and took a huge step by sharing it with a friend. It sounds simple but that small act of letting her read it took most of the courage I had that day. Even though this is the friend I share everything with and trust with my life, I had never shared those busted mustard seed feelings with anyone before. I emailed it to her and waited with baited breath for her response. Her positive feedback and encouragement, along with a lot of prayer, helped me take the next step of setting up a blog site.

How could I have known the words I quickly typed up a month before were exactly what I wanted to share on the 16th anniversary of my dad’s death? I knew this year I had to post something more and God gave me the words. After 16 years of struggling with faith and God, it was time to let the world know. It was time to follow God’s guidance and direction. It was time for His will to be done. I nearly had a panic attack when I published that first post. I even considered taking it down, but I left it and gave it to God. I prayed that He would take the post and do with it what He wanted. That is my prayer for each post that has followed.

While searching my journal for the dates I felt the call to write my story, I came across an entry about overcoming fears. I was journaling about a devotional that had asked me to list fears I had overcome in the last 5 years. I wrote that I was completely stumped. I didn’t have an answer. In working on this post, I see I did overcome some fears this year. I was afraid of sharing my true thoughts and feelings with others, but they were embraced and even shared. I was afraid of admitting I had lost my faith in God, but people thanked me for my honesty and saying what they too were feeling inside. I was afraid of ridicule and judgement of my still fragile journey back to God, but there was only love. I was afraid to share my personal writing with others, but there was only praise and encouragement.

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I also had a fear of admitting that I want to pursue a new life that is God centered where I let go of the things I have used to put Him off in the past. I realize though that I am tired of quietly seeking a relationship with Him in fear that speaking His love would somehow put me in an unwanted category. I spent a long time judging other Christians who weren’t perfect in their pursuit of God that I didn’t want to open myself up to that judgement from others. Today though, I am proud to say that I am no longer a slave to those fears. I am a proud child of God.

I want to live that statement going forward. I want to be a shining example of God’s love for others around me.  I want people to know that no matter who they are or what they have done, there is a God who loves them unconditionally. I want His love to show in my life and through this blog. That is my prayer for this new year. I pray God takes this blog and has me use it for His glory. It’s all for Him.

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Happy New Year and God Bless!