The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh,my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. Psalm 27:1-3
A Dream: "My mom and I are in the bathroom, and we are looking out the window towards our front porch. It’s nighttime, and we see a mob of men yards away trying to get into the front door. I look over and I see my mom holding a shotgun - prepared to protect our home if necessary. She leaves the bathroom while I look out the window. Directly in front of me, I see a man standing, and I believe he’s part of the mob trying to harm us. He’s carrying a torch bright enough to illuminate his whole face and the entire frame of the window. He looks at me and then walks in the opposite direction of the mob. I begin to panic knowing he would use the back door as an entrance into the house. Fear wakes me up."
I entitled this particular dream “Man with the Torch”. My initial interpretation painted an unfavorable view for this stranger carrying the flames. I associated him as a member of the raging mob that attempted to kill me. After I processed the content, the Holy Spirit revealed that the man was Jesus who came to lead me out and away from danger. The purpose of this dream was to provide comfort in knowing Jesus is my guide, my safety, and my comfort. He’s the light that leads me away from harm and danger.
Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
A Jesus directs us during times of difficulty and comforts us in our distress. We have no need to fear what’s before us because we are not alone. The light Jesus brings illuminates every step we take forward, and He guides us when we make it our reputation to depend on Him.
He is also our guard when faced with adversity. To guard is to watch over in order to protect against harm. Have we forgotten this about Jesus’ character? The picture of Jesus we often have in our minds is this gentle, quiet man healing people; or we see Him bleeding on the cross. Jesus is also the savior who guards us! He is not only meek, Jesus is mighty! He is our Protector when the enemy desires to raid our homes in the dead of the night. We need to be confident in Him, call on His name, and watch Him fight on our behalf.
Just as a lamp’s light is close enough for us to see our steps, Jesus’ proximity is even closer. We need only to call on Him and He leads away from darkness and despair! Your biggest issues, your most dangerous spiritual mobs can’t keep Him away.
I’m not sure what evil you are up against, or what places the enemy is attempting to bring destruction, but be reminded that you have a Mighty Soldier in Heaven who guards and protects you, and is the light in darkness! He will be there, torch in hand to lead you out of the despair you face. Hang onto this hope, friends! Please don’t give up and don’t fear. The enemy wants to destroy us and steal our voice; eliminate our fight. Lets forever and always call on the name of Jesus and confidently watch Him be our DEFENDER.
Written by: Ashley K. Stovall
art found at: www.deviantart.com
1 Corinthians 14:40, “But everything should be done in the right way and in good order."
There is a workout program called INSANITY. It was created by fitness trainer and motivator, Shaun T, who works for the fitness platform BeachBody. I am currently participating in this 60-day high intensity training. A close friend of mine would say that “Insanity” is not holy and there’s no way this type of fitness is from the Lord. It is tough, I’ll admit, but I enjoy it!
Shaun T is an excellent coach with a “powerful motivation style”. During the workout, he is very intentional in giving tips and advice so we stay safe. He stresses how important it is to not compromise our form; the specific way of performing a movement or exercise.
He says, “Form over speed equals results. Slow it down if your form starts to suffer. You can do 100 push-ups poorly and hurt yourself, or you can do 10 push-ups the right way and get results.”
God revealed to me that we often have this same behavior when it comes to our faith. We pursue speed over form throughout our spiritual walks. We find ourselves rushing to get through projects or assignments, cut-short a conversation with someone in order to get to the next thing, or trade in our morning devotional time because we’re running late for work. Our quick-pace lifestyle has us missing important details and opportunities due to our laziness, selfishness, and improper “form”.
We let our spiritual fatigue determine the quality of our work. We see fatigue as a sign of weakness; thus we must not stop. We have to prove we can get through it and meet certain expectations that will then validate our spiritual success. When our physical bodies are fatigued, we should take breaks. Rest. We drink water and breathe. Who made it unacceptable for Christans to pause and be still in response to spiritual fatigue?
As a fitness expert, Shaun T understands what can happen if we push beyond our physical limits or push through without water breaks. He encourages us to rest or reminds us to breathe. Can this be the same instruction God gives us?
At some point, our efforts become means of perfectionism and not efforts of excellence. Joseph, Jacob’s son, was a man of excellence. He led with a spirit of excellence. From the pit to the palace, he encountered various types of fatigue and struggle; spiritual, physical, mental and emotional. But his pace was not set on his own agenda or the expectations of the world. His pace, form, and the quality of work was based on his faithfulness and dependence on God. Joseph’s ability to serve with a spirit of excellence was the key to his promotion; in Potiphar’s household, the prison, and ultimately, the promotion to Pharaoh's right hand man.
Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men, (AMP)
The way you serve determines your progress and your promotion. If we are physically compromising proper form, it will lead to injury, and injuries can hinder your progress. The same with our spiritual health. For Joseph, he never compromised form over speed; not even when he was in pain or when he was promoted. His heart posture was always positioned to please God.
What is the posture of your heart as you serve God? Do you give more attention to the quantity of hours you spend with Him versus the quality of the time spent? Are you operating in a spirit of excellence or a spirit of perfectionism? Is your pace following the speed Jesus has set for you or the pace you’ve determined to be best?
Friends, if you don’t have proper “spiritual form”, you will be prone to “spiritual injury”. A spirit of perfectionism will, ironically and eventually, lead to third-rate quality. I challenge you to take an assessment of the way you “workout” for Jesus. Let’s not rush the pace of our divine exercises or half-do our spiritual fitness. Let’s ensure that the quantity of God’s work through us, represents the quality of who He is.
Written by: Ashley K. Stovall
"But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you."
I've always felt a special connection to the Psalms. Whether they're songs of praise or lament, the Psalmists' words are relatable and raw. Now, in the deepest season of grief I've ever experienced, I'm spending some time revisiting the laments.
For some context before I begin my rambling, this past year has been one of the most difficult of my life. My heart's desire has always been to have children and lots of them, and in the span of a little over a year, I have been pregnant four times: I have miscarried multiple times, given birth to my miracle baby, and then buried him six weeks later.
Throughout my son Noah’s life, both in and out of the womb, God worked miracles: He sustained my son’s life throughout my pregnancy, orchestrated his emergency c-section at just the right time and place, helped him survive six surgeries (many of which many of his doctors didn’t think he would survive), and gave him a personality that joyfully played and fought even when life was hard. God faithfully worked in Noah’s life. He drew others to Himself through Noah’s witness and demonstrated his loving power and comfort. And, even on the worst night of my life when my miracle baby died, God was still with me, orchestrating every event for His glory.
Yet, despite knowing all this, life still hurts. I am still walking through an incredibly difficult time in my life, waiting for God’s response and grieving, so I’ve turned my eyes towards the Psalms of lament and to the reminder that God is always good.
Psalm 88 in particular has stuck out to me. The Psalmist writes:
1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;day and night I cry out to you. 2 May my prayer come be fore you; turn your ear to my cry. 3 I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. 5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. 6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. 7 Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. 8 You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; 9 my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you. 10 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? 11 Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? 12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion? 13 But I cry to you for help, Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? 15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. 17 All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. 18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.
Yes, I know. It's bleak, but it's definitely real.
And I feel like the pain is so relatable. It's hard when you cry out to God for salvation from a specific sort of suffering, and God doesn't answer how you want. Or when God miraculously answers some of your prayers for healing, but not all. It's confusing. It's hard. And the Psalmist willingly pours out his questions to God: "What's the purpose of letting me suffer like this? How can I do your will if I'm dead? Will your faithfulness be declared in the grave?"
And then, I think of the mercy of reading this psalm from a New Testament perspective where we know the end of the story. We can know that these questions are not simply rhetorical questions: we know that in Christ the answer is "Yes!"
Yes, you work wonders for the dead.
Yes, departed spirits will rise up to praise you.
Yes, your faithful love will overcome the grave!
Your faithfulness will even be declared in Abaddon!
Your wonders will be known even in the darkest night!
Your righteousness will be seen even in the land of oblivion.
The thing is that from the Psalmist's finite perspective as he wrote this stream of rhetorical questions, the implied answer probably felt like a blazing no. He felt like God had failed him. God's will seemed cruel. But from a heavenly perspective, looking at the Psalmist's words hundreds of years later, we know that we are promised salvation in the life to come, we know that our purpose doesn't cease to be when we encounter the grave, we know that God can speak his faithfulness, his wonders, and his righteousness through the darkest times.
This psalm is a helpful reminder that I don't know or comprehend God's entire sovereign plan. I don't know whether I will get the answers I want on this earth, but I do know that God is faithful and good and he is working all things together for the good of those who love him. Above all things, He is faithful. Above all things, He is good.
Written By: Mary Cumbie Prince
“But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29
I have offered quite a few prayers to God over my lifetime that are still unanswered. I have spent nearly a decade fervently praying for a family member, and although I have seen bits and pieces of God’s hand in their situation, I have yet to see the divine miracle I’ve been praying for. I have now begun to lose faith. Will God ever answer that specific prayer?
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1
When we don’t see what we want to see happen, we lose sight of where God is in the situation. That’s what happened or is happening to me. I have never experienced a lack of faith in this way before; and even though my faith seems to have run away, I know in my heart that this isn’t the time for me to run, give up or be defeated by unbelief. It’s time to regain hold of the assurance of things hoped for. It’s in these times we must do the opposite of what we feel like doing, and search for God despite our lack of faith.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call on Him while He is near.” Isaiah 55:6
I was playing hide and seek with my nieces and nephews, and it was my niece’s turn to count. As she began counting, we all ran to our hiding places. Of course, little kids usually go to the same places and expect you to be in the same hiding spot. As adults, we attempt to make it easy for four-year olds to have a sense of accomplishment. Well, this time I hid in a spot that I knew no one would find me. My nieces and nephews combined forces as I waited anxiously for them.
I am super grateful I didn’t have to use the bathroom during this game because I was hiding for what seemed like hours! After looking in all the usual places, they were at a loss and started searching in new hidden areas. Finally, they found me! I was so excited! Perhaps, more than them. I celebrated their victory and perseverance. They didn’t give up! They were challenged to look in places they hadn’t searched before.
I believe that’s how God operates. He loves when we seek Him out. He loves to challenge us and hide in new places so when we do find Him, He can celebrate us for our endurance and perseverance. Friends, I may not be a great example of how to keep the faith when a core prayer goes unanswered for years on end, but I am really good at hide-and-seek. In faith lost, I am finding God; and I believe that in time, my faith will rise again.
Our attitudes, actions, and behaviors during difficult times are the sum of our hope and trust in Christ. So, despite what you feel, think, or believe, I encourage you to seek Him diligently. God wants to be found by you! And He’ll wait a limitless amount of time for you to find Him. I know because He’s doing it for me.
Ashley K. Stovall
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)
When I was a child, I often received messages from family that fed into the belief that I was unwanted, unloved, and not enough. A seed of rejection grew, and in my mind, I thought I was not worthy of love or affection. I believed the only way to receive love and care was through performance. As a result, I became a very hardworking individual in my academics and extracurriculars, and I gave 100% of my time and energy to help others in need.
All these things alone may seem non-threatening; actually, it seems like working hard would be celebrated. However, I realized that my countless efforts to help was a response to a deep longing to be needed and wanted by others. Fear of being rejected fueled my “yes” to people regardless if I had the time, resources, or desire to fulfill their requests. Unknowingly at the time, I believed that my worth and relationships were contingent upon my willingness to serve, the quality and quantity of my deeds, and my ability to please people.
The core belief that I was unwanted may have been evident growing up, but as an adult, I learned that I am wanted and chosen in Christ. Through salvation and walking with Jesus, I learned that I no longer needed to validate my worth through my deeds. Reading scripture and surrounding myself with God-centered community helped me find the truth. The love and care I received should not be based on what I can do, but on who I am. Because I know Whose I am, a daughter of the One True King, I can strive for spiritual excellence in my duties instead of striving for a sense of worth. My performance, my “yes’s”, and my service can now come from a place of acceptance not fear.
And that’s the beauty of Christ’s love, my friends! That’s the gospel! Our value is not based on what we can do, but what Jesus did for us! When we make God’s truth our core belief, there’s a powerful shift that happens within our minds. It creates a breeding ground for healing and deliverance. Our God will replace the lies we once believed with His truth and love.
John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I love this list of scriptural truths that therapist and author Debra Fileta outlines in her book, True Love Dates. Read over these carefully. Which of these do you struggle to believe? What is He speaking over you today?
1. You are set apart and accepted. “You are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you — from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted” (1 Peter 2:9 MSG).
2. You are wonderfully made. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 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. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps. 139:13 – 16).
3. You were created for a purpose. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
4. You are noticed. “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely” (Ps. 139:1 – 4).
5. You are forgiven. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13 – 14).
6. You are a child of God. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12 – 13).
7. You are loved. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).
8. You are made new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
9. You are taken care of. “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ ” (Heb. 13:5).
10. You are redeemed. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13).
Author: Fileta, Debra K.. True Love Dates (pp. 41-42).
How do I overcome these old ways of thinking?
I believe the starting point of disabling the old way of thinking is to begin at the core of what you believe about yourself. Determining what we believe about the world, what we believe about ourselves, and where those beliefs come from are great places to start. Spending time reflecting and processing here is crucial for personal and spiritual transformation. Transformative change happens within us -- in our hearts and minds. We cannot control what happens around us, but as we walk alongside Jesus and have Him change us from the inside out, we can live a more fruitful life.
Written by: Ashley K. Stovall
Galatians 6:9 “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
There will be times in our Christian walks where we will become weary in doing good. You may feel like Christian-living is too difficult to sustain or you no longer can handle the work to follow Jesus. You start to believe the lie that your devotional time, prayer, and commitment to the faith has no reward. Perhaps, you’ve been tired of carrying your cross (Matthew 16:24-26). In those moments, the Book of Galatians tells us to prevent from feeling fatigued and tired in our good deeds and living for Christ because there is a promise of reaping if we don’t quit.
In times where I felt weary in doing good for the church, for others, or for God, He yells at me like a fired up coach! He says, “Don’t give up. Keep going! I know you are tired and exhausted, but you have to finish the race I’ve laid before you. There is no one else I’ve called to do what you’ve been assigned to do. I know it’s hard, but keep going. I will fuel you for the mission. I will fuel you for the things I have called you to do. So, when you’ve given all you can to stand, keep standing! Keeping running toward Me. You will not fail because I will be with you. You can do this! Don’t give up. ”
We have to keep going, keep pushing, and keep running until God tells us to stop and not when we "feel like it". We can’t end the work prematurely. Our ears must be attentive to hear His instructions every step of the way. Jesus did not give up in fulfilling the mission set before Him; God filled Him with the endurance and strength He needed to keep going. Our Heavenly Father will do the same for us if we believe and trust in Him and not our emotions.
When we pour out, it can sometimes feel like we are giving so much of ourselves away with very little return on investment. Emptiness should not be seen as lack, but an opportunity to be filled with God's strength in order to fulfill the mission He has set before you. And in return you will reap His goodness and righteousness.
Always make room for Him. Like empty jars, God is able to fill us and create overflow. There’s a spiritual gain that reaches us when we are constantly pouring out ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. When we create the space for God, there’s anticipation that happens within our spirit. We begin to yearn and thirst for Jesus, and that empowers us to run after Him - not the task!
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10
In the Old Testament, Jeremiah, a prophet, received instructions from God telling him to go down to a potter’s house and observe him working on the pottery wheel. The piece the potter was working on was flawed in some way, so the potter decided to destroy it, and he started to re-mold the clay. The Lord uses Jeremiah’s observation as a metaphor for Israel - stating that He could do just as the potter did with the flawed pot. He could rid a nation of its evil by destroying it, and He would build up another. The Lord says in Jeremiah 18:6 that “as clay in the potter’s hands so you are in mine.”
I honestly love this imagery as God our Creator; the author and finisher of our faith. If we go back to the creation story, God made Adam out the ground, out of dust. Just as a potter uses elements of the earth, God fashioned us from dust and molded us together. Throughout our lives, He shapes us, molds us, and transforms us into something beautiful -- into His craftsmanship! There’s so much intimacy in this depiction. God’s hands physically on us, molding each detail of our existence into place. The potter knows exactly the amount of pressure to have as he’s sculpting the piece. He knows the exact speed the wheel needs to spin in relation to his vision of the shape and depth of the pot.
I realize that there are times I must undergo the process of being broken down into raw form again -- humbly remolded by His hands in order to fully live by His design of me, not my own ideal. I find myself trying to mold and shape pieces of who I am into the way I believe they should be. I now realize that I was trying to do God's job as the Potter. I must let go of that control, fear, and distrust, and let God do His job! The weight of His pressure is for a purpose, and in His hands we are safe. There are no better hands to be in than Our Creator’s.
In what areas of your heart, mind, or character need more of God’s pressure and sculpting? Have you been getting in the way or have you allowed Him to beautifully reconstruct who you are?
(Excerpts from my book in the chapter entitled "Breaking the Mold")
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23, NIV
I went to bed one day last week praying for our world and praying against the negative impacts of COVID-19. I'm sure I am not alone when I say it has not been easy to navigate the several changes we’ve had to endure because of this virus. The Lord woke me up that night and the words “Hope in Uncertainty” popped up in my mind. I then saw the Apostle Paul vigorously writing at a desk behind prison bars. I imagined the Lord would want us to relate to Paul’s productivity and intimacy with God in times of isolation. However, upon further reflection, He was speaking something more profound to me: HOPE.
Last month, my dear friend, Roneka Spady, wrote a devotional on hope. She courageously shared her testimony of defeating cancer and proclaimed that God has never lost a battle. No matter what we are facing in our life (i.e. sickness, loss, grief, violence, unemployment), we must hold on to the truth that He is always fighting for us (Exodus 14:14). This pandemic will be added onto our lists of allegedly undefeatable battles and seemingly unmovable mountains. The shadow of uncertainties that follow the corona virus may produce anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, it will also be a great testimony of endurance, patience, faith, belief, trust, salvation, and growth -- IF WE HAVE HOPE AND PUT THAT HOPE IN JESUS.
Life has been full of uncertainties even before 2020. We all have had our experiences where we faced uncertainty and unexpected situations which tested our spiritual or behavioral responses. What if this is also such a time of God’s testing and training you to be spiritually stronger than you were, and to respond more prudently than you have in the past. This virus is sweeping in as an attempt to strip us not only from our health, healing, and productivity, but something far more important: Our Hope in Jesus. Our focuses are being turned to the things we can see versus the things we yet cannot see in and of ourselves. “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 DBT
Will we forget God’s word in moments of ambiguity, or will we act on our own understanding and attempt to control the outcome? As we, as a people, mustn’t lose hope in God.
What have you put your hope in this year? This month? Your job? Your finances? Our government? Your church?
Hope displaced is a dangerous thing. It can bring deception and disappointment when placed in unreliable sources. I am a walking testament of this. Plenty of times, I have put my hope in people, money, work, and my own will only to be left in discouragement and disbelief. Let me be more transparent. I have lost sleep at night and peace during the day because of anxiety and depression. At times, I lack trust that God will come through for me as it pertains to my finances, my mother’s sobriety, and my mental health. I have seen God time and time again bring back the heads of my enemies without me even having to lift a finger; and yet, there are some situations in which I forget who He is and what He’s done. The more anxiety produced, the more ambiguous the situation, or the more unexpected the hurt and, the less likely I was to pause and gage the placement of my faith. Our hope is only effective when it is properly placed in the hands of our Lord and Savior; our good Shepherd; our Jehovah Jireh. In any other person, place or thing, we are destined to fail.
There is no question that the days we are living in are unprecedented, tragic, and uncertain. Many of us are suffering in tremendous ways. The hope that Paul wrote about was a treatment for the sufferings very we all have, are, and will face. Trials and tribulations do not discriminate, and they did not just appear in 2020. Even after COVID-19 has been conquered (in the name of Jesus), we will continue to experience times of hopelessness and despair. But Paul reminds us that in the wake of tribulation, we, the body of Christ, must maintain a hope, endure for the sake of others, and rejoice. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12
Tim Keller stated said, “To get through life, you have to get through suffering, and to get through suffering, you need a living hope.”
When many of us turn on the TV, scroll on our phones, or open our laptops, all we see is what’s wrong. We focus on what destruction and devastation for far too long. You know when a bright light shines in your face, you temporarily cannot see and you have to squint, rub your eyes, or blink several times before you can clearly see again. I believe that’s where some of us are. We have become blinded by the light of it all, and it’s become hard to adjust and refocus our eyes on Truth. If our hope only lies in the things we can see -- fear, anxiety, and uncertainty will win, and we will lose the very life we’re putting all of our hope in to preserve. I encourage you to put your hope in no other thing than God. The world is standing still, but our lives and our faith don’t have to. Perhaps, God has a bigger plan than we can see. I want to be a part of that plan and be able to say I truly put my trust and hope in Him. He is in control; and family, He has slowed down the world for us to take advantage.
As Christians, this is the time to confess and proclaim the hope of the resurrection. Let us fill the silence and uncertainty with the hope that we profess and affirm; for God can be trusted and is faithful. Will you remain hopeful?
“Lazy people want much but get little. But those who work hard will prosper” – Proverbs 13:4
Is your life everything you dreamed of? Have you allowed your faith to guide your vision? Do you feel like you are working hard and prospering?!
6 years ago, my life was a mess. I was divorced with a young child; I was unfulfilled in my career and had no idea where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know what signs to follow, what feelings to believe, or what work was worthy. I didn’t have vision for life and I certainly didn’t have priorities or believe in the hard work necessary to achieve the big things.
Fast forward to today - I am remarried to an incredibly handsome man and we have three amazing kiddos with a fourth on the way, we love big vision, working hard, and achieving the impossible. Our life is BEAUTIFUL. For me - I am a wife, mother, and daughter to the King. I am also a health and wellness coach in direct sales. I enjoy volunteering with the children’s program at church, meal planning and prepping, Disney, budgeting (for real!), and doing the impossible. My husband and I both work part time from home.
But the process of getting to TODAY was dark, it was messy, and often it was without faith. So… how did we get from there to here? A lot of hard work and some pivotal learning moments. I will share one big thing I learned about BALANCE that I pray may allow you some peace.
When I first started leaning into my faith and following a bigger vision for life, I felt so HURRIED. I had finally gotten over my fear of hard work, but I only felt like I was falling flat on my face. I constantly felt pulled in different directions and never quite felt like I was achieving the things I wanted. The hustle didn’t feel like anymore more than running in place. I was all or nothing in every area of my life and by trying to do it all – and I felt like I was failing at everything. If I was successful in my business, I was sacrificing all my family time, if I was successful in my marriage I didn’t have time for my personal growth, if I took enough time in my faith I didn’t have time to focus on my personal health.
Enter – a phrase that changed everything. At a leadership conference I heard a successful businesswoman giving a struggling mama advice by telling her this: “Balance is myth. There is no such thing. There are only priorities.”
That moment changed my life. Because I realized that although I had priorities in my life - every single one of them was a top priority! In following this bigger vision for my life, I was also trying to orchestrate every single step and balance EVERYTHING. I didn’t follow the Lord’s plan at all and made it truly impossible to get everything done.
I have learned that we cannot be all the things all of the time. We can only be ONE THING at a time.
If you struggle with the hustle, if you struggle with trying to be everything to everyone, if you find yourself trying to BALANCE, if you are trying to follow your faith but map out every single step - I encourage you to stop. Slow down, sit down, reflect, and figure out your priorities.
Here are some simple steps I take to ensure my days and my time are aligned with a bigger vision in our life:
Every day you have the power to decide your priorities. You can work hard and create the biggest vision for your life. Your priorities will be different every day – and it will be ever changing because this is real life – and real life can be chaotic. I pray that you can lay down the burden of trying to balance life and enjoy the work without that struggle.
And please know this … the big vision the Lord has laid on your heart – YOU CAN DO IT. You can accomplish anything. Don’t be afraid of the hustle. Don’t fear the vision. Embrace it all with it your conscious priorities. Believe that your hard work will be rewarded and that you can achieve everything you desire.
SONG: You're Gonna Be Okay by Brian and Jenn Johnson
Cricket Mansour, Wife, Mother, and Health & Wellness Coach
“Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?”
Lamentations 3:37 (NKJV)
It comes as no surprise to any of us that the world is hurting right now and in desperate need of healing. We don’t have to look very far (perhaps, not even past the mirror) to find someone who is longing for physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual healing.
Pain comes in many different forms and thus, healing can take on many different forms. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on emotional pain. It’s important not to compare any one person’s pain to another’s. Pain is relative and when we compare, we can fall into a trap of judging others and/or isolating ourselves out of shame and fear of rejection. There is no such thing as “pain olympics.”
Prior to my senior year of college, I had lived a pretty fortunate, “normal,” and trauma-free existence. My entire world was rocked on April 16, 2007, when my school, Virginia Tech, experienced one of the largest mass-shootings of our country’s history. I was a senior, looking forward to graduation that was set to take place less than a month later. While I was fortunate to not be on-campus at the time of the shooting, the psychological ramifications are something that I still find myself having to work through at times...almost 13 years later.
I want to share some things that have helped me in my process of healing from this trauma.
1. Learning to recognize and cling onto God’s sovereignty. Now, just to be clear, I am not listing this first because it was something that came easily to me. In fact, quite the contrary. This was probably one of the later lessons I learned (and am still learning), but it feels like one of, if not the, most important lessons for me. Just last Sunday at church, I was reminded again of one of my favorite verses: “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37). This verse is one that my priest often shared with me when I was in the throes of working through the trauma. It reminded me of the fact that God is truly “The Controller of All.” While that’s not at all to say that He caused the shooting to happen, He was still there in the middle of it and was and is ultimately still in control. Of my life. Of my pain. Of everything. And so, even if I experience pain, I can still trust that I am securely tucked away into the palm of His hand. And I can finally say that I would rather live a life that is marred by some pain, but being in my Daddy’s hands, as opposed to a pain-free life (which we all know isn’t possible, anyway) away from Him.
Another nugget I loved from the message at church this past Sunday pertaining to the sovereignty of God that also brought me peace was this: “God doesn’t have to swoop in to save us, because He never stopped holding us.” Praise God for His sovereignty and the fact that He didn’t just create us and then leave us to fend for ourselves!
2. Being honest with myself (and with others) about my thoughts and feelings. Pain sometimes has a way of making us feel very isolated and alone. We convince ourselves that no one else could possibly understand our struggle, and so, we hide. We may hide because we are judging ourselves for being “stuck” (i.e., “Why have I not gotten over this yet? It’s been X amount of time!”) and worry that others will also judge us. And the unfortunate reality is that sometimes other people will. However, it’s important to first acknowledge what we are feeling and then share it with someone we know loves and supports us, no matter what. That could be a family member, a friend, a spiritual mentor, a therapist (more on that, later). Sometimes when we judge ourselves for our emotions, we end up keeping ourselves stuck. I know it seems anti-intuitive because as humans, we immediately try to push away any painful emotions, at just about any cost. However, we find that when we can simply notice the emotions, without judging them or trying to push them away, they end up passing more quickly on their own.
3. Being honest with God about my emotions. So here’s another one that took me some time to learn. I was okay sharing my pain with God, until it turned into some anger toward Him. Then it all of a sudden felt like I had to hide from Him because being angry at Him felt so wrong. However, my priest also encouraged me to take all of my emotions to God, not just the “safe” ones. He reminded me that God is relational and He loves me unconditionally and wants an intimate relationship with me. If I’m angry at a family member or friend and don’t address it, it will put a wedge in our relationship. Same thing with God. I will admit, I felt a lot of healing from finally being willing to share ALL of my emotions with God.
4. Seek professional help. I’m a clinical psychologist, so you may think I’m “paid” to say this, but I’m not. I’m speaking not just as a psychologist, but as someone who also sought therapy to work through my trauma. Therapy doesn’t mean that something is “seriously wrong” or that you are in “crisis” or that you are “crazy.” I wish I could fully articulate the blessing that therapy was for me. It helped me work through my trauma in a healthy way and taught me so much about myself. And honestly, when I learn more about myself, it also helps me align myself with how Christ views me. And that type of healing then extends to how I see others (and how HE sees others)! So really, it’s a win-win!
If you are experiencing pain, of any kind, I hope that you will reach out to someone you trust. And reach out to God - you don’t even need to have the words, just a simple, “Jesus, help me!” is all it takes.
Sylvia Hanna, Clinical Psychologist, Skincare Consultant