What are we preparing for?

A few weeks ago, I was struggling with where I am as far as my career goes. I should have had two books out by now, but things have not gone as planned due to changes in one publishing house, and Covid delays in the other.

My freelance writing also slowed down a bit. I was looking at where I wasn’t at in my career and looking at where others are in their careers. I got frustrated. During this time, my Bible reading was in 2 Corinthians 11.

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.

2 Corinthians 11:23-33

It dawned on me while I was reading. Paul’s mindset was not on working hard to retire but preparing to be a martyr. Those mindsets couldn’t be more different. One strives for ease and comfort, and the other welcomes trials to grow strength.

As I’ve been working on one of my writing projects and came across this quote, “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord, putting all my energy and strength into it.” — Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor (original quote from missionary Ed McCully). As well as this one from her husband.

As a member of the Redeeming Your Time book launch team, Jordan Raynor has taught me about unfinished to-do lists. Of course, there’s always something we won’t get done. But this week, I was reminded of that again because I’ve attended two memorial services within a week’s time.

I know we all will have unfinished things, but I want to make sure I’ve done as much as possible to leave as little a list as possible. Jim Elliot said this, “When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.” For those who don’t know — Jim Elliot lived those words. He was martyred in Ecuador, trying to reach an unreached tribe with the gospel of Jesus.

Jim Elliot lived fully and died laying it all on the line. Retirement wasn’t on his mind either. Carrying out the work of His Father in Heaven was. God decided to take Him home earlier than we all thought, yet he finished strong. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind who was first in His life.

When it comes down to it, the retirement mindset is about self. I’m not saying retirement is bad. Retiring from a job is expected. However, retirement from serving God is not. We are His servants to do with as He pleases. For some, like the two people I attended services for, God chose to take sooner than we all expected. For others, He chooses to leave here longer. The fact is we don’t know when it will be our time to die. But when it is my time, I don’t want to be wishing I had done more for the kingdom and didn’t. I want to go out like my Dad and Jim Elliot did. Guns blazing, ready at any time to meet my maker.

In uncharted territory what should we do?

In the LORD’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. Proverbs 21:1

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Daniel 2:21

Do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animalsenough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken him? Isaiah 40:9a-18

As I lay down to sleep, it’s quiet. What a whirlwind the last year has been. Around this time last year, we were receiving reports of the coronavirus popping up outside of China. Now, we live in masks and bathe in sanitizer.

As we face another day in our pandemic world topped off by a changing of leaders, rumors run like wildfire. Yet, I am reminded that our tomorrow is NOT promised. And we, as believers, are NOT given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

We were redeemed, purchased, bought with the precious life of Jesus. Although things have and will continue to change in our world, our citizenship has not (Philippians 3:20)! We come from a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28)! Our commanding officer had not changed. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). Lastly, our mission has not changed (Matthew 28:19-20).

So whether the guy you voted for didn’t make it. Or whether the guy you voted for is taking office, or whether the guy you voted for is leaving. Our God is still King. He made all men in His image. He knows how many hairs are on their head and how long their days are on this earth. And, He knows that about you and me too!

Our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Warrior, The Alpha and Omega, the King of King and Lord of Lords is still on His throne. And NOTHING is impossible for Him. It is at His name that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the father.

Do not grow weary in doing good, friends. Our mission is still the same to bring honor and glory to our King. To make much of Him and His office.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16

“Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its days I must fulfill, living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.
” — C.T Studd

Essential workers, please rise!

As the Coronavirus pandemic broke out, the government called for “Essential Businesses” to stay open. As we all know those employed at these businesses were then called Essential Workers. They were required to show up day after day to keep life functioning.

In addition to this, the US recently had an election. Yet, what was most glaring to me wasn’t the two candidates, but the policies. Policies that shouldn’t have fallen into the government’s hands in the first place. Let me explain.

“Care for the widows and orphans.”

“Feed the hungry”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Speak the truth in love.”

Sound familiar? These are commands that Jesus gave us – His church. Essential workers should be the church. We should be the ones showing up for those who need help — not the government. We should show up NOT because we are better than anyone, but because Jesus was broken for us and we are called to walk as Jesus walked (1st John 2:6). How much pressure do we put on the government simply because we haven’t stepped up to care for those around us? Please know I include myself here. If we gave generously, would we need welfare? The list could go on and on.

A few weeks ago, I was watching Joe Vs. The Volcano with my friend Connie. In the movie, Joe says, “only a few of us are awake.” Are we, as the church, awake? Or are we laying on our spiritual couches? Or hiding out in fear? Again, preaching to myself.

My former pastor, Leroy Hill, said, “the coronavirus got us so scared to die; we forgot how to live.”

I know we live in a fallen world, and life is a lot more complicated, but my challenge is to myself, and you are how and what are we doing to impact our community? And, if we already are, can we do more? Can we put our agenda on hold and see what God’s agenda is for us?

I recently wanted to undertake a challenge— mind you, it was for a great cause, but the initial cost to join was way more than I thought. I was so discouraged. I was like, how am I going to do that?! I felt like the Lord gently corrected me by asking me, “Christi, is this about the people you’d be raising funds for? Or is it about you?”

Until that moment, I genuinely thought it was for the cause and the people, but I realized it was more about me. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and have done things for me. I don’t want to be known as remarkable person but as a servant of Jesus Christ. Because apart from Him, I can do nothing! Absolutely nothing!

Are we hunkering down in fear? Or are we showing up day after day for those around us?

Proximity to pain can infuse courage; whereas, withdrawal can infuse more fear. I pray that we remember that this is NOT our home. We are just passing through. Friends, please do not forget that we come from a kingdom that has already overcame darkness and overcame death

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).  God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church (Ephesians 1:22). You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday (Psalm 91:5-6). The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1). 

Through Christ, we have all we need, NO matter how hard difficult the days are. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3) 

So, my question for us is, will the essential workers please rise?

Looking for Your Story

Have you ever needed to hear a great story? When I found “I am second” videos on YouTube, I devoured them. I distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing.

I was in a very intense job at the time, and it was my day off. I was cleaning the house where I was living. When I heard the first story, I listened and cleaned the entire afternoon and into the evening. As soon as one ended, I’d click to listen to the next one. Mind you, these videos are, on average, 7 minutes. I just needed encouragement, and they were just what I needed.

From time to time, when I feel discouraged, I will scour the internet to find a good story. There’s nothing like a good story to lift your spirits. A good movie can do the same.

Recently, however, I found myself looking for another good story. I started listening to one, and instead of finding encouragement, I found frustrated. I think because as the woman (in the video) was telling her story, it was the story I wished/prayed would have been mine. I turned it off and then felt like the Lord was saying, “Why are you looking for your story in someone else’s story?”

That hit me like a ton of bricks. Honestly, how many times have I just blindly followed a narrative without considering where God might want to take me? Do I care what story He wants to write with my life? Or am I trying to write my own story and then try and fit God into it later?

Your Story

Do you know how incredibly creative God is? I don’t, but the bits and pieces I see blow my mind! He doesn’t have a one size fits all formula when it comes to our lives. He is intimately acquainted with all our ways (Ps 139:3). Your story might look different. Everyone might not understand it, but God knows the desires of our hearts (Ps 37:4). His ways are not our ways (Is 55:8-9).

I was reminded of this a few months ago as I was thinking about a book idea. I paused for a moment and thought how incredible it is to have the privilege of writing a book and have it published by a traditional publishing house. I mean, how many people would kill for that opportunity. The crazy thing is I can take zero credit for it. I thought back to when I graduated from college and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I never thought I’d graduate from college. I always assumed I’d get married and start a family.

But that day, as I thought about my book coming out, I realized if I had gotten married, I probably never would have pursued writing. I wouldn’t have the time to write. Plus, only the Lord knew that I had always wanted to write a book. I remember thinking as young as 12 that I wanted to write a devotional someday. I might have forgotten that for a few years, but He didn’t.

To wrap this up, I want to pull from the story of Ruth. She’s someone who didn’t quite do things the way she was expected to. After she was widowed, she was supposed to remain in Moab (modern-day Jordan) with her people, with her family. Instead, she left with her mother-in-law (Naomi) to go to a foreign country with no real prospect or direction. She knew that Naomi’s God was real and worth following, even if it meant a different narrative than what people expected her to have. Am I willing to do the same? To set aside what I think should be. To stop looking for my story in someone else’s story. To embrace the story God wants to write in my life. I can guarantee it won’t always be easy or comfortable, and people won’t always understand, but you won’t be alone, and it will be worth it.

So if you’re like me and scouring the internet to find a good story, let it encourage you, but we must try not to look for our story in another person’s story. Because ultimately, our stories should not be about us but reflect the creative, kind, good, intimate, gracious, just, and true author of the story.

Calmed, Reassured and Steadied

“He knows how to calm me… to reassure me… without Peter, I’m lost”

These words have been on my mind for the past few weeks… They are the words of Princess Margaret from The Crown on Netflix (although I can’t recommend the second season).

I watched this series months ago. Yet there is a scene that keeps coming to mind. It’s where Queen Elizabeth tells her sister, Princess Margaret, that she can’t marry the family bodyguard (Peter). Elizabeth after a long and arduous struggle realizes the crown could be harmed by her approval of this marriage. Queen Elizabeth inevitably has to tell Margaret that she would be disowned if she choses to marry Peter.

So, in a difficult heart to heart talk with her sister, Margaret says of Peter, “He keeps me calm. He reassured me. I’m lost without him.”

Have you ever felt that way? You feel lost in the midst of the mundane. Or you feel on edge because every time you turn around you hear of more bad news, more heartbreak, more illness, more pain. Sometimes, life is just chaotic. Sometimes you don’t have time to get away to think. You don’t have time to clear your head. Sometimes you just need someone to be steady for you. You need someone safe to tether yourself to.

For me, this is a beautiful picture of Christ. The crown has the final say. Everyone in the royal family must sacrifice to maintain the integrity of the crown. All eyes are on them. Peter’s assignment is to keep the family safe, to protect them at all cost. Instead of being deeply in love with just one of the royal family, Jesus is desperately in love with each of His children.

In the series, Peter sacrifices everything. Jesus sacrificed everything. And whenever Margaret feels like the pressure of being in the spotlight is too much, or being held to a different standard feels as though it might break her, or having to keep things close to their chest might just make her crack. Peter is there. He is always available to her. She still has to persevere in the every day things, but when she gets overwhelmed or feel like she can’t hold it together anymore Peter reassuring her to stay steady. He reminds her of her calling. He shares in the sacrifice and keeping as much chaos and worry, as possible, away from her.

The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.

Psalm 18:2 NLT

So, when this life feels too overwhelming; when you just can’t take one more doctors visit, or phone call with bad news; when you’re growing weary of the mundane; when you’re desperately searching for what the next season might hold; or you’re tired of waiting, remember… Jesus is the one who calms us. Jesus is the one who reassured us. Jesus is the one who never loses us.

His arm is not too short to grab hold of us to keep us steady. His thoughts are always towards us. He sings over us. And He prays for us. He most certainly knows how to protect us.

He sits…

It was a quiet day and He came like He did every day.

He never knocked. He knew the door was open, but these days is was only cracked… So, He cautiously peered in before opening the door all the way.

She was too out of touch to see Him. But every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Saturday and Sunday He was there.

Had anyone else walked in, they may have commented on the unassuming man sitting on the opposite end of the sofa where she sat.

But no words were exchanged. Utter silence filled the room.

She sat with her eyes glazed over. Unable to communicate her unspeakable pain. If tears came, they were a gift… for a least it was a little escape of the pain she felt inside.

Weeks passed and still He showed up. Rarely acknowledging His presence she often wondered why He was even there. Didn’t He know she couldn’t give Him anything. She didn’t have anything left.

Weeks turning into months and months turned into a year. Until finally she made herself look up. She saw flowers. And immediately she quizzically look at the man.

He nodded as if to say, “yes, I’ve brought flowers every week.”

A tear slipped out of her eye and rolled gently down her cheek.

She’d known this man longer than most of the people in her life and at several points throughout her life, He had been the center and more important than any other person in her life…

But in the turmoil and heartaches in the recent years, she’d become despondent. She had so many questions. Like why didn’t He fix the problem she asked Him to? Why didn’t He show up like she asked? Why didn’t He answer her like He had in the past? Why didn’t He hold her like He had in the past? And why on earth didn’t He protect her from all the heartache?

These questions spun mercilessly in her head like a merry-go-round. But every week, He showed up and He sat.

He sat in the room with her questions. He sat in the room with her hurt. He sat in the room with her grief. He sat in the room with her despondency. He sat in the room with her depression. He sat in the room with her anger….

Just like He sat in the room with her purpose. Just like He sat in the room with her calling. Just like He sat in the room with her laughter. Just like He sat in the room with her love. Just like He sat in the room in her good times…

He sits during the ups and the downs. He may not answer all the questions, but He’s not leaving… And until she’s ready to speak… Patiently and lovingly He sits…

And they shall call Him Immanuel…which translated means,God with us.”

Matthew 1:23

Read “He is Here” poem from What does the Christian walk look like when…

I know what I’m doing

The fears you have are because you’re human.

The courage I give is because I’m God.

You and me, we are a team.

You offer surrender, I bring the dreams.

I move the mountains. I part the streams.

You sit back— watch, you’ll see!

With your meager talents, I’ll multiply.

I’ll add depth and wisdom that outstretch the sky.

But beware, there are many who won’t understand.

They will joke, laugh, and throw you on a witness stand.

Look at Noah, David, Joseph and my son, Jesus.

Scoffers laughed at the boat, while in the caves, at the dreams, and at the cross.

Until…

The rains came…

The crown came…

The leadership came…

The tomb was rolled away…

Scoffers ran or stood silenced.

This faith walk will test every fiber of your being.

You will either stand for Me or fall for everything.

My plans are not easy or conventional.

But they’re absolutely providential.

I created water from a rock.

Provided fish to fishermen who just were weary for the dock.

I raised the dead.

I raised a lame man from his bed.

But each person has to come to Me empty— putting their plans aside.

Knowing that their wills with Mine they’ll have to align.

Sometimes things ended in heartbreak and death.

But each of My disciples knows that I take and give each breath.

When you sign up to do things My way… Things won’t always make sense.

But one thing you can always be sure of is My presence.

I go before, stand beside and guard behind.

It often feels like you are going blind.

But suddenly after time you’ll look behind…

And you’ll see a beautiful life that I have intricately designed.

I don’t ask you to do anything I haven’t already done.

I set the example and in the end I have already won.

So don’t grow weary scoffers external and internal.

The path you’re on begins here but is eternal.

I created you, I know you, and I know how to make beautiful things.

Scarcely Living By Faith

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

I was doing a cool down walk after a quick run to get some of my frustration out. It was the type of frustration you feel when you know where you want to be, but you have no idea how to get there.

Frustration is a part of life. There are women who desperately want to be a moms, but their bodies are unable to have children for one reason or another. Or there is the frustration of wanting a different relationship status. Or, there is the frustration of a mom who desperately wants her kids to do well and the she’s not seeing any progress. Or the frustration of a man (or woman) who has massive dreams in his hearts but he don’t know what steps to take next or how he will end up there.

It can often feel like we are banging on doors that just won’t open. That’s how I feel. The two doors that I’ve been knocking on have not opened.

So, after my cool down, and after making a pit stop at the newly named nature preserve in my neighborhood, I looked up at the sky. It reminded me of how small and limited I am. And how my limited view is often what I project on God. Immediately a word of truth, from a message I had heard a few years ago, came to mind.

“God is not a God of scarcity.”

You see, recently, I was presented with two amazing (or so I thought) opportunities. After the initial introduction to both opportunities, I said to myself, “This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for.” The knocking began immediately after. “Yes, Lord, please make these things happen”.

Trouble is, the doors have not opened. They have hardly cracked. I’ve been asking and asking and asking for them and praying and praying and praying for them. But, the only answer I have right now is wait. Each day that goes past without a yes or a no brings me closer to discouragement. I don’t know if these things will happen and I want them to so badly.

Walking (also translated living in Hebrew) by faith doesn’t mean open doors. Sometimes it means waiting and waiting, and waiting some more; without trying to manipulate whatever I want into being.

Trusting/Living by faith means knowing God knows what’s best even if it doesn’t make sense. It means trusting when I feel behind, or out of place. It means trusting Him to be steady enough for you when I feel unsteady and very uncertain. Trusting means waiting on Him to act and not take matters into my own hands. Trusting means knowing that God, regardless of what I want, is good enough and will always be good enough.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 84:11 which says:

“For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD gives grace and glory; He withholds no good thing from those who walk with integrity.”

If God says no to these two scenarios that I’m praying for, it doesn’t mean He’s withholding good from me. The times in the past when God told me no, I wasn’t any less crushed. But, eventually I saw those no’s were actually for my benefit and or for my protection. Many times, God’s no’s only make sense in hindsight. Other times His no’s will only make sense from heavenly viewpoint— one we can’t see this side of eternity.

Either way, I am called to live by faith and not by sight. This means things won’t always make sense to me, but this is what my God asks of me. He sacrificed so much more for me than a few opportunities that I think are perfect. So, I don’t think He’s asking too much of me to trust Him. He knows how to get me where I need to be. And make me into who I need to be.

So, as I stared up at that sky feeling very small, I thanked God that He had countless opportunities even though I could only see two.

You as You

This past week, I’ve been listening to a podcast on the enneagram. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, it’s a personality test.

A few things came to mind as I was listening and studying up on some of my personality traits, so I wanted to share with you.

Several years ago, I severed a relationship that was extremely toxic. Some would say abusive. A month or so after that relationship ended, I took a personality test because the toxic individual used to tell me “who I was.”

By the time I cut off the relationship, I wasn’t sure who I was anymore. Was I aggressive? manipulative? difficult to be around? rebellious? Thankfully, I had my family and sincere and genuine friends who helped me walk back into healing.

Back to personality tests. Since I took a personality test right after I severed the relationship I got one result. A year later, I retook the same test and got a completely different result.

As I was reminiscing on this, I thought, “Isn’t that exactly how the enemy works?” He tries to manipulate you into something you’re not because you won’t be able to function at max capacity. You’ll burn yourself out trying to be something or someone you are not meant to be. You feel immense pressure trying to keep up when in reality you’re trying to be someone God never intended you to be.

Another thing I was reminded of during this podcast was that God knows our strength and weaknesses long before we take a test. I listened to some of the weaknesses of my personality trait and realized that long before I took a test, God allowed me experience some difficult situations. Those situations taught me lessons I needed to be become a healthier individual. Lessons on people pleasing, dealing with rejection and separating my identity from my work.

We are incredibly complex and beautiful. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, but God knows us better than we know ourselves. He has incredible things He wants to do in each of our lives. He will grow us in ways we never thought possible. Soften us in areas that once were hard as stones. He is a gracious and compassionate Father who knows how to guide His each one of His children.

1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.

2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-3, 13-16, 17-18

Let’s not let the enemy force us into a mold that we were never meant to be in. God made us and knows how we were meant to be shape and how we are meant to function. He can strengthen the areas of weakness and soften the areas that need to be softened. You are you! There is not a carbon copy of you. You’re unique. You’re beautiful. And the world needs you as you.