A Door of Hope has Moved

Hi Everyone!

Thank you so much for following A Door of Hope!  I just wanted to let you know that the blog has moved.  You can now visit the blog at: www.natalienieves.org.

Hope to see you there!

🙂

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Wait for it…God will do it!

wait-for-it-god-will-do-it-blogheader

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Three and a half years ago, my husband and I moved into my parents’ home with our toddler in tow. After ten years of renting an apartment, we desired to purchase property of our own. My gracious parents welcomed us without hesitation.  We figured we would live with them for one year at best, giving us an opportunity to aggressively save up monies.  However, unbeknownst to any of us, our one-year goal turned into one thousand, two hundred, seventy-seven days.

What we foresaw as “easy” quickly turned into “hard.” We experienced setbacks in our health, our finances, and “our plan” just did not seem to measure up with God’s plan.

We at times thought we saw a little glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, but we’d only encounter closed doors instead.

One morning, I remember dropping off my husband at work and then driving back to my parents’ home with our son in the back seat. And, as I drove, I pleaded with God:

God, please hear our prayer. Open up a door for us, Lord. We have been asking and seeking you for a place to dwell, a home of our own, a place of rest for our family. Please do not delay, O God.

As I ended my desperate plea, I sighed and looking in the rearview mirror, I told our then two-year-old son, “Buddy, we have to pray that God would bless us with a home.” And, without any reluctance, our boy replied, “Mama, God’s going to give us a white house.”

A bit taken aback by his response, I became silent and drove into my parents’ driveway. I unloaded the car, and the day, the weeks, the months unfolded, but our son’s words were tucked inside my heart.

Well, friend, today we closed on our WHITE house. God did it!

Reflecting on these past three and a half years, I can’t say we waited well. There were many moments when we questioned, we doubted, and we felt forgotten. But, looking back, we see His sovereignty and providence weaved all throughout. He promised and He fulfilled.

With tear-filled eyes I type these words in hopes to encourage anyone who is in the waiting; anyone who feels like they are wandering in a desert; anyone who has been holding onto a promise that seems dead. God has not forgotten!

Our church is currently in the middle of a small group series based on the life of Joseph, and his story is evidence of God’s providence working behind the scenes (Genesis 37-47). God gave Joseph a dream and it took many years before it came to pass. But, the God-appointed dream came to fruition at the God-appointed time. Despite Joseph being thrown into a pit, and prison, God did eventually position him in a palace. He promised and He fulfilled.

And, God can do the same for you! All of your circumstances, hardships, and trials are being pieced together. God is writing a story you could never even imagine!

So be encouraged and remain steadfast in the hope that God is working all things out for your good! Your God-appointed dream will come to fruition at the God-appointed time.

Now, excuse me as I go praise dance.

🙂

If you’d like to read more about our journey these last three years, check out these blog posts: Punch Drunk, When God Does Not Come Through.

Posted in Encouragement, Faith, Hope | 8 Comments

When God Does NOT Come Through

“But even if he does not, we want you to know…that we will not…” (Daniel 3:18, NIV)

Surely we were being “punk’d”. My husband and I were out this past weekend looking at homes once again, and at a certain point I was positive cameramen would come jumping out from behind the nicely manicured bushes, shouting, “You’ve just been punk’d!”

I looked around certain I would find a filming crew but, unfortunately, the only thing in the bushes was a water hose.

If you read my blog post, “Do You Not See It?”, you’re probably tilting your head asking yourself, Why are they searching for homes again?

Yes, you guessed right, the deal we thought would make us homeowners fell through.

We penned our John Hancock’s on legal contracts, and yet, for reasons beyond our control, the deal came to naught.

Along with the sale falling flat, so did our dreams of settling and creating memories in what we dubbed “The White House.”

All of my HGTV-inspired ideas went up in smoke.

Design concepts including white subway tiles, charcoal colored bathroom floor tiles, freshly stained wood flooring, and the beautiful, serene light gray paint swatches all fizzled away.

It must be a bad joke. But, sadly, it wasn’t.

There we were again on a hunt for a precious abode.

My husband, our dear realtor, and many of our friends all believed “The White House” was unquestionably ours. We had no doubt God would provide that home for us. And, yet, He chose not to.

So, what now?

What do we do when God chooses not to? When He chooses not to ____________? (You can fill in the blank).

One morning last week, as I had my quiet time with the Lord, a passage from the Bible challenged me to my core to trust God even when He chooses not to do something I am believing Him for.

In the book of Daniel, chapter three, we read of a story about three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were Jews living in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Now, the chapter opens up explaining that King Nebuchadnezzar decided to build an image of gold and declared that “Nations and peoples of every language” had to “…fall down and worship the image…” (v.4-5). Whoever did not fall down and worship the image would “…immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (v.6).

Could you imagine the severe consequence of disobeying this decree? But, because Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego were God-fearing Jews they resolved not to bow down and worship the hand made idol. The one true God, Jehovah, would be the only one to gain such adoration from them, despite their chances of facing the fiery furnace.

The Bible tells us that a certain group of astrologers took note of the young men’s actions and reported back to the king.

“Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:13-18, NIV).

Did you catch their bold response?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego boldly announced they had no reason to defend themselves before the king! They did not have to defend their faith!

If that wasn’t audacious enough, they go on to proclaim that if they are in fact thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom they serve would be able to deliver them from the flames.

What they declare next infused me with unshakeable faith…

“But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold…” (emphasis mine).

These men steadfastly proclaimed: Even if our God does NOT do what we are trusting in Him to do, we want you to know King that we will NOT bow down!

They dug their heels in the sand and firmly professed that even if God did NOT come through for them, they would NOT give up and give in!

Oh how the enemy quickly began with his taunts the minute our home purchase floundered.

God did not deliver.

God did not bless.

God did not provide.

God did not come through.

God did not answer your prayers.

Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.

Like Eve, I was faced with the haunting question – Did God really say?

Did God really say He was going to open up a door for you and your family?

It’s so tempting to exchange the truth of God for lies.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could have easily traded in their TRUE God for a Lie. But planted firmly, they resolved to put their hope and trust in their God.

Their unwavering firmness has stirred faith in my heart like never before.

A faith to stand up and declare to the enemy:

Even if God does not, I will NOT bow down to hopelessness.

Even if God does not, I will NOT bow down to anxiety.

Even if God does not, I will NOT bow down to unbelief.

Even if God does not, I will NOT bow down to resentment.

Even if God does not, I will NOT bow down to depression.

So, what do you do when God chooses not to? When He chooses not to ____________? (You can fill in the blank).

Perhaps you received a cordially composed e-mail from Human Resources stating that the position you interviewed for was filled.

Maybe the application response letter you anticipated from the college of your dreams arrived in a regular letter-sized envelope instead of a large manila envelope.

Or, once again, you’re staring at only one blue line on the plastic white stick instead of two blue lines.

Or, instead of an engagement ring, you get the “we’ll be better off as friends” speech.

If everything around you is contradictory to the things you have been trusting God for, I want to encourage you – Even if God does not, Do NOT Bow! Do NOT Give Up! Do NOT Give In!

Be Strong in the Lord!

Stand Firmly and See His Deliverance!

If you continue to read Daniel chapter 3, you will realize that God did in fact save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were thrown into the blazing furnace, but their God delivered them and rescued them! The bible says that they did not even smell like smoke!

God is a good Father, and He will come through for me and for you!

 

 

Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Hope, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Wilderness of Infertility

Today, I have invited a precious friend, Crystal Morales, to share on the blog her personal story of infertility. I love the lessons of faith Crystal has picked up along her journey, and I am beyond happy at where her journey has led her. I hope this encourages and sparks hope in your heart today.

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“Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

–John Piper

For as long as I can remember all I ever wanted to be was a mother. I had a plan for my life. I would get married in my early twenties, have my first baby at twenty-five, have two more kids after that – each two years apart.

My husband and I would be the best parents, raise our children in the fear of the Lord, and live happily ever after…

I am now thirty-two years old and have no children.

My husband, Elliot, and I were married eleven years ago on April 23, 2005.  A few weeks after our wedding, we moved to North Carolina so that he could attend Bible College for three years.

We weren’t on birth control, but did not have plans on getting pregnant while he was in school. We thought, “This is great. God knows we don’t want kids right now, so He’s preventing it for this season!”

Three years past, Elliot finished school and we knew we really wanted to get pregnant. But, year after year passed, and still nothing.

We had an idea that something was wrong with Elliot’s body, but we continued to pray and trust God. We visited a doctor, but there weren’t any clear answers. We continued to hope and pray for God to bring healing.

Throughout this time, many of our single friends met their mates and began to have babies. The community we were a part of was full of pregnant women EVERYWHERE!

With every pregnancy announcement came more tears and questioning God.

“Why haven’t you healed Elliot’s body?! Why won’t you bless my womb?”

 Rejoicing when others rejoiced became really difficult. Every invitation to a baby shower was a stab in my heart. Every time someone asked, “When are you two having kids?” I wanted to scream and punch them in the face. The pain of infertility was so great a burden to bear.

And yet, God used our infertility to reveal so much of what was inside of my heart—the things deep down that no one else could see.

Infertility became the wilderness in which I was tested.

My reactions were tested – was I going to murmur and complain, or trust God and continue to find things in my life to be grateful for.

Through the years I have learned what I believe to be one of the most important lessons in my walk with the Lord; and that is to run to God with my pain.

It sounds simple but I can list lots of things I ran to in order to hide or numb my pain. Some of which caused even more pain—but God. God, with His tender love and mercy met me in my pain.

He has always been there to woo me back to Himself, to whisper kindly to my heart and reassure me that He is a GOOD, GOOD Father.

The enemy will use situations in our life to try to get us to doubt God, to question His love and care for us. It started way back in the garden and continues today – “Did God REALLY say….?” 

In the wilderness I have learned to fight.

To fight with the Word of God.

To fight by worshipping.

To fight by declaring the promises of God.

To fight with my tears, weeping at His feet and bringing my pain to Him instead of running from Him.

And I have found, without fail, He is always faithful to meet me.  He might not always tell me what I want to hear, but He is always there to comfort me.

It is in the wilderness that I have felt the nearness of God.  It is in the wilderness that I have learned more about who He is and fallen more deeply in love with Him.  It is in the wilderness that my heart was laid bare before Him and He dealt tenderly with me.

Today, we are happy to say that we are in the middle of adopting a domestic newborn child 🙂 . We have just had our first home study meeting and have two more left to go before we are approved to adopt! We know that this process of adoption was not “Plan B”, but it was God’s “Plan A” for us all along and we can’t wait to see it all unfold as we walk into His season of promise.

                                                                                                                           

About the Author:

“Crystal Morales and her husband, Elliot, currently live in South Dakota and minister on the Pine Ridge reservation to the Lakota people. They are involved in discipleship, Bible study and jail ministry as well as various other things including working with the local church.”1

You can visit Crystal’s blog by clicking here.

If you would like to help Crystal & Elliot bring their baby home, you can help in more ways than one:

  • You can PRAY! Pray that the adoption process would be smooth and expedient.
  • You can GIVE! You can donate towards the adoption costs by visiting www.fire-international.org/donate.php. Enter in your donation amount (anything helps), and type Morales Adoption in the comment box.

 

1About the Author information taken from http://fire-international.org/missionaries_detail-page2.php?id=52

Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Hope, Infertility, Marriage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do You Not See It?

After my husband’s guest post on the blog (if you haven’t had a chance to read it, click here), I have given much thought to the concept of sight and SEEING what God is doing.

As my husband mentioned, there are times when we can be spiritually nearsighted and not see clearly what God is doing in our lives. But, nonetheless, He IS doing something. God IS working on our behalf—whether we see it or not.

In the Bible, we also read about this concept of having eyes but not being able to really see.  Jesus told his disciples that he often spoke in parables because the people “Though seeing, they [could] not see…” (Matthew 13:13, NIV).  Also, after feeding the multitudes Jesus overhears his disciples speaking about bread—they had just witnessed an incredible miracle and they were stuck on bread—and Jesus reacts by saying, “Do you still not SEE or understand?  Do you have eyes but fail to SEE, and ears but fail to hear?” (Mark 8:17-18).

In an earlier blog post I made this year, Punch Drunk, I mentioned how God had really impressed on my heart a verse to hold on to for this year – Isaiah 43:19.  And, as the months have passed, God has continually placed this verse before me.  I have seen it everywhere!  On social media, in devotionals I’ve read, in books I’ve read, etc. It has constantly come up.

There is one specific translation of the verse that has stood out to me.  It’s the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation, and in it the verse reads this way (emphasis mine):

“LOOK, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming.  Do you not SEE it?  Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

“Do you not SEE it?”

When I read this translation, that question struck me—“Do you not SEE it?”  I contemplated and wrestled with this question.

I asked the Lord, What are you trying to say, God?

 The pride in me arose.  The state of my heart was revealed by my response.

 I can SEE very clearly.  

As mentioned in Punch Drunk, my husband and I have been searching for a place to live for over a year now, and we have only encountered one closed door after another.

So my attitude and reply to this question was, God, I can SEE that no door has opened for us.  I can SEE that every attempt has been a dead-end. 

We were searching to purchase a co-op, and we did our due diligence by connecting with realtors, researching neighborhoods and school districts, and attending open houses.

God, I can SEE that we are doing everything we are supposed to, and, yet, nothing.

According to our thought-process, a co-op was the best fit considering buying an actual home in New York now a days is unbelievably expensive.  My husband and I reasoned that we were not ready to get into a home purchase.

God, I can SEE that homes involve too much money, too much responsibility, too much maintenance, etc.  Would we love a home?  Absolutely!  But, I just don’t SEE how that could happen for us at this time.  

The real estate market numbers were the proof.  Our personal budget numbers were more proof.

Do YOU see God? 

The audacity of me to question if God can see.  If I were in God’s place, I would have wiped me out.  But, thank God He’s God and I’m not!

In His mercy, He allowed us to continue viewing co-ops.  And, in His grace and unfailing love, He protected us from getting into bad investments.

This past February, we saw a co-op in the neighborhood we wanted to settle in and we thought, This is it!

We were thrilled at the idea of our search being over.  We placed a bid on the apartment, which was accepted, and we moved forward to begin the closing process.  We signed contracts with our lawyer, and then waited for the sellers to sign so we could go on to the next steps.

We thought it was strange that a week passed and we had not heard back from the sellers, so we called our lawyer to follow-up.  Our lawyer informed us that the sellers had gone into contract with another buyer…Say WHAT?! 

God, what are you doing?!  What is going on? 

And, God continued to say, “Do You Not SEE It?” 

Though seeing, I was not really seeing.  Though having eyes, I could not see.

So, my husband and I began our search again.  We went back to viewing co-ops.  This time we broadened our scope, and thought maybe we should search in another neighborhood.  We dragged our poor boys out with us and viewed several more apartments.  Nothing.

Then, about two months later, on a Sunday while worshipping in a church service, someone slipped my husband a little handwritten note, which said, “You have been unsuccessful in locating an apartment because you were aiming too low.  You will not find one because the Lord has a house for you and your family…”

My husband was shocked and in awe.  He sent me a text with excitement letting me know about the note and asked what were my thoughts.

I got excited too.  I was like, Wow, God wants to bless us with a home!  That’s amazing.  But, that must be for the future—like five years from now.  Our budget doesn’t exactly match up right now. 

(Someone should have slapped me, I know…).  

So despite the note, we continued looking at co-ops.  We placed bids on 3 different apartments.

We placed the first bid and it fell through.

We placed another bid on a second apartment, and that fell through.

Then, we placed another bid on a third apartment (the only one left on the market in the co-op community we liked) and that fell through as well.

Do You Not SEE it? 

God in His mercy closed every door.  Now, I was starting to see it.  God was protecting us from going a way He did not want us to go.  Why?  Because He had something better planned.

So, we decided it was time to view some homes.  Even though we didn’t SEE how God was going to work everything out, we knew He wanted us to go this way.  And, finally, I submitted.

I said, Lord, this is scary because I don’t know how everything is going to pan out, but I’m going to step out.  I’m going to do it afraid.  

The day we were scheduled to view homes with our realtor, I prayed before leaving the house – Lord, please don’t let today be in waste.  Please open a door.  

We saw three homes, and one in particular we really loved.  We didn’t know how the Lord was going to work it out for us, so we said, Lord we need a word from you—like tomorrow! 

It was a Saturday and so the following day would be Sunday, the day we worship in the Lord’s house.  We said, we need to hear from you Lord tomorrow!

Sunday came and we went to church as usual.  Our kids and I came home early, and my husband stood at church for the rest of the services.  As I put the kids to nap in the afternoon, I said, Lord we still need to hear from you.

Once the kids fell asleep, I received a text with an audio recording of a prophetic message.  I was floored at how God decided to send His Word.  The message basically stated that the Lord was going to provide; that He knew the cost of real estate; and that He was going to provide for the remodeling as well.

Do you not SEE it? 

Yes, Lord, now I see it.  

I cried at the thought that God would desire to bless us despite my lack of faith and sight.  How merciful is He?  How faithful is He?  Even when we are unfaithful…It’s amazing.  He left me speechless.

We went forward and placed a bid on the home we loved, and it was accepted!

We are only beginning the process of paperwork, inspections, and then onto closing, but we are praying and believing that God is going to do as He said!

And, even if the deal falls through, for whatever reason, we know it’s because God has something better.  His thoughts are much higher than ours.  I have learned that the hard way!  Not because God made it hard, but because I made it hard!  A lot of tears, a lot of visits to co-ops and open houses, time we will never get back.  But, we thank God that He closed those doors and kept us.

I want to encourage you – if you are face to face with a closed door know it is because God has another open door much better for you!  He is working all things out!

Put on “spectacles of faith” to see what God is doing!  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not SEE” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV).  Let faith stir up in your heart today and be sure of what you hope for!  Be certain of what you do not YET see!!!

“Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will SEE the deliverance the Lord will bring you today” (Exodus 14:13).

Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Hope, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Spiritual Nearsightedness

I have a special guest post on the blog today.  I asked my husband, Ariel, to share with us a message he recently shared with me.  We pray it encourages you!

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I used to get lost all the time.

While driving on the highway, my wife would ask me, “Wasn’t that our exit?”

My reply would usually be, “No, we’re taking a short cut.” Or, “Yes, but, I just wanted to spend some extra alone time with you.”  🙂

But, we both knew I was lost.

The problem was…confession time…I needed glasses.

I was nearsighted.

I could easily read a book, or type on my laptop, but the signs on the highway were a blur to me.

When I’d realize it was my exit, it was usually too late to get off.

Did I have glasses? Of course!  But…I’m vain.  So, without my glasses I would get lost.

Being nearsighted is a physical condition, but it can also be a spiritual condition.

I call it Spiritual Nearsightedness—when I see God, but His Will appears blurry.  I’m traveling along with God in this thing called life, but His purposes are not clear.  During those times, it’s difficult for me to perceive His plan.

At times, my lack of clarity usually leads me to make assumptions.  And, unfortunately, assumptions are dangerous because, when we make them, they are usually wrong. Most often, assumptions tend to lead us, lead our thoughts, and lead our emotions in the wrong direction.

It’s interesting how we never assume something positive.  Our assumptions are mostly always negative.

When we find ourselves in difficult situations in our finances, with our kids, in our marriage, on the job, with our health, it’s hard to see clearly. It’s difficult to perceive what God is doing when faced with hard circumstances.

So we make assumptions about God.

We say to ourselves:

He must not love me.

He must not hear my prayers.

How could God allow this?

We’re left traveling down a road of discouragement, or, worse, bitterness.

The problem though isn’t God.  The problem is that we have Spiritual Nearsightedness.

We believe in God. We love God. But, we don’t see Him in our situations. We can’t perceive His will or His plan for us. We’re not really clear on where we are heading; we’re not clear as to where our destination is.

We need help to see clearly.

A particular story in the Bible has helped me during my moments of Spiritual Nearsightedness.

In the book of Luke, chapter 8, we read of a synagogue leader, Jairus, who came and fell at the feet of Jesus begging that he come to his home (Luke 8:41).

Jairus was in a desperate situation. His daughter, who was twelve years old, was dying. I’m sure he was gripped with worry and fear at the thought of losing his daughter. But, despite what he may have felt or thought, Jairus seeks Jesus.

So Jesus decides to go to Jairus’ house.

En route to Jairus’ home, Jesus stops after realizing that someone had touched him, and that power had gone out from him. A woman with an issue of bleeding for twelve years had touched Jesus’ garments in the hopes of being healed. Jesus stops to address the woman and assures her that she had been healed.

While Jesus is still speaking to this woman, the Bible states that, “…someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore’” (Luke 8:49).

Can you imagine the thoughts rushing through Jairus’ mind?

If only Jesus would have just hurried up. Why did He delay in going to my house? What am I going to do without my little girl? Now my daughter is dead.

Why bother the master?  Why continue praying?

In our lives, we are often met by what seems like dead situations as well. Or, we assume they are dead.

Why should I continue believing for my marriage?

Why should I think God is going to rescue my wayward son or daughter?

God isn’t going to bless me. Why should I continue asking God for a child?

The situation appears dead.

May I challenge you today? With our Spiritual Nearsightedness it may be difficult to perceive what God is doing.  The situation may seem to be dead by all natural appearances, but we all know that God is in the business of resurrecting the dead.  And, if He is able to do that, why should we stop petitioning the master?

Jesus did in fact make it to Jairus’ home. Upon his arrival, he finds everyone in the house wailing and mourning for Jairus’ daughter.

Rather than join them, the Bible says that Jesus instructs them, “ ‘Stop wailing…She is not dead but asleep’” (Luke 8:52).

To their amazement, Jesus tells them that the girl was only sleeping!!

At times, we perceive our situations in the same way. We wail and mourn over things that we declare as “dead,” while they are only asleep.

Those things that seem void of any life at the moment–our marriages, our finances, our children, our dreams—they are not dead yet. Please know that the potential for life is still there, even for those areas where hope seems lost.

The Bible goes on to state that the people, “…laughed at him, knowing that she was dead” (Luke 8:53).

They all laughed at Jesus.

They probably thought Jesus was crazy.

What is He saying? What is He doing?

They filtered Jesus’ words through the state of their circumstance.

They had vision problems. They could not see clearly or understand what God was doing.

We at times have the same vision issues. We are Spiritually Nearsighted.

However, our vision condition isn’t a flaw in our eyes. No, it’s a flaw in our faith.

So what’s the cure?

We need spectacles of faith.  We need a covering of faith over our spiritual eyes that enhance our ability to see.

The only way we can receive today what God says about our tomorrows is by faith.

It is by faith that we are able to accept the word that our situation is not dead, but simply asleep.

It is by faith we can trust His plans over our fears and concerns.

It is by faith we can trust His sovereignty over our own thoughts.

It is by faith we can trust His word beyond what we see.

When my wife and I experienced a miscarriage, it was a difficult time. It was a time where things got real blurry. We could not perceive what God was doing.

Why would God rob us of this joy?

We could not understand.

Now, five years and two sons later, we see that God had a plan all along.

If we would just look at our circumstances with eyes of faith, we would be able to perceive that God IS doing something on our behalf.

My prayer has become –God, cure my Spiritual Nearsightedness by giving me lenses of faith so that I can see what you see!

 

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About the Author: Ariel Nieves is the founder of Thrive Coaching, which helps Pastors and Church Leaders with connection strategies and discipleship. Click here to discover 10 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles.

Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Hope, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Choosing Hope Over Bitterness

Today I’m trying something new on the blog.  Below is a video blog, or “vlog” that I recorded earlier today.  It’s something I figured I’d give a try.  Hope it encourages you.  🙂

 

Verse References from Video:

Ruth chapters 1-4

Hebrews 12:2

Romans 8:28

Romans 5:5

 

For more information on the book 5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn’t Quit, by Nicki Koziarz click here.

 

 

Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Hope, Miscarriage | 7 Comments

Hope in His Promise

 

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“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” (Luke 1:45, NIV)

This past weekend, we celebrated our firstborn’s fourth birthday.  And, yes, this mama was quite emotional.

You see, our son is no ordinary child.  I’m sure most parents feel this way about their children, and rightfully so.

In our case, Nicholas is a promised fulfilled.  He is a special reminder to me and my husband that God certainly does keep his promises.

If you’re new to the blog, my husband and I experienced a miscarriage when we first tried to have a child.  The months that followed brought us face to face with different stages of grief and I, personally, dealt with crippling anxiety like never before.

But, there was one day when God spoke a promise.

I will never forget that day.  After months of anxiety and panic attacks, and not thinking clearly, I felt a tug on my heart and knew it was God’s presence.

My husband and I were driving home after serving all day at church on a Sunday.  My husband pulled the car into a parking spot in front of our apartment building, and for some reason I kept feeling this tug on my heart.  I turned to my husband and said, “I think we’re going to get pregnant again, and it’s going to be soon.”  After going through what we went through I was surprised I was speaking those words and actually believing them.  To my surprise, my husband looked at me and said, “I feel the same way.”

About a month later, on the very same weekend I was scheduled to deliver our miscarried baby, my husband and I found out we were expecting.  On the weekend where I assumed we’d be mourning, we were rejoicing.  I thought I was going to be afraid, or nervous, or anxious at the news for fear of losing another child.  But instead joy, peace, and hope filled my heart.  Fear had lost.  Hope had won.

So, when I look at our boy, I remember God’s promise.  I remember the victory.  I remember His faithfulness.  And, hope rises within me.

There is hope in His promises.

If you’re waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, let this blog fill you with hope today.  Blessed are you who believe that the Lord would fulfill His promises to you!

I love this song by Elevation Worship called “Your Promises.”  I pray it blesses you!

 

Posted in Christian, Couples, Devotional, Encouragement, Hope, Miscarriage, Stay-at-home mom, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Punch Drunk

“Punch drunk.”

Those were the words my dear friend used to describe how I felt. She had called to see how I was doing after visiting a series of doctors to no avail. Within a one-week span I had experienced sudden swelling, bad bruising, and numbness in the center of my middle finger. After going to the ER, visiting my primary doctor, and seeing four specialists in different fields, no one could explain what was wrong.

This, unfortunately, was just one of the many “punches” our family had experienced over the course of a one-year span.

During my second pregnancy, about two weeks before my scheduled C-section, me and my family were walking through the mall on a regular, casual Saturday, when my husband’s tongue all of sudden became heavy and his speech became slurred. I got behind the wheel with my big belly and rushed us straight to the hospital. After a two-day hospital stay, my husband was placed on medication and sent home.

Two weeks after our mall incident, I gave birth to our second son, Silas, who was just perfect. But, I, on the other hand, had some complications. I had developed a lot of scar tissue from my first C-section, which had to be removed. The removal lasted more than anticipated and I lost more blood than was planned. I was left with stitching on multiple organs, and so weak that I had to be placed on bed rest for three consecutive weeks.

Four days after his birth, our newborn son accidentally fell out of his baby carrier and had to be taken to the hospital for observation.

In the weeks and months to follow, my husband had two more visits to the ER, several follow up appointments with specialists, special lab work and medical exams done.

In the midst of all that, we were in the early stages of a six-month long fight with our health insurance carrier, which denied my husband’s hospital stay and was going to require us to pay 100% for the expense.

My husband’s health improved and the issues with our health insurance carrier were resolved, but then the medical bills started rolling in. It was just one major hit after another on our finances.

During a season where we thought we were going to be saving monies to purchase property of our own, we were spending thousands of dollars on medical bills.

And now, my finger was swelling.

Hundreds of dollars spent on co-pays and exams, and still there was no explanation.

I know there are many other worst things we could have been facing. And, our situations were nothing in comparison to what others face day in and day out. But, we just felt so struck down, squeezed, and stretched.

We were Punch Drunk.

My friend had described it best.

According to the urban dictionary, the boxing term is used when a boxer is hit so many times by his opponent that “his disorientation is described as and similar to being drunk.”1

There’s no breathing room. It’s one hit after another. And, there’s no opportunity for a response or a counter punch.

You’re “punch drunk.” You’re under some type of influence. It’s like you cannot focus. You cannot think soberly. You cannot see clearly. And, you begin to question.

We definitely began to question.

Does God really see? Is God really going to come through? Did I commit some kind of sin that has blocked my access to God?

We were so confused and uncertain about what God was doing. Things just didn’t make sense.

I mean, we maintain ourselves pretty healthy.

We give tithes and offerings unto the Lord the way the Bible instructs. I can honestly say that’s never been a struggle for us.

We love God with all our hearts and we seek to put Him first in our lives.

So then, why were all these things happening? Why all the punches?

During that season, I decided to take a closer look at the life of Job, who the Bible says was “…blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). But, the bible states that for whatever reason, God allowed Satan to attack Job—Satan threw a few punches so to speak.

One day Job is visited by four messengers all bearing bad news—and I mean like really, really, bad news. Devastation came upon his family, his livestock, what he had worked so hard for, and even upon his own body.

The bible says, “While he (the messenger) was still speaking, another messenger came…” (Job 1:17).

Job didn’t even have a chance. Bad news came one hit after another.

Though the bible states that Job lived an upright life, even Job began to question if he had done anything wrong (Job 7:20). He was punch drunk. He was confused. He was uncertain of what was taking place.

So much so, that Job felt like his hope had been uprooted like a tree (Job 19:10). He felt like he cried out to God, but God was not answering (Job 30:20).

Punch Drunk.

Hopeless.

Weary.

Fatigued.

What do we do when we’re Punch Drunk?

What do you do when you pray and it feels like no answer or reprieve is on the way?

Trust.

Trust in the One who holds you in the palm of His hands.

Trust in the One who fights for you when you have no more fight left.

Trust in the One who works all things out for the good.

I recently heard a sermon by Pastor Craig Groeschel of Life Church called, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.” During the sermon, Pastor Craig encouraged listeners to trust in God’s purpose even when life doesn’t make sense. He shared, “We don’t have to understand or like the plan to trust in God’s purpose.”

Pastor Craig described a moment when even Jesus’ prayer was answered by silence—when he was on the cross and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). There was no answer from heaven while Jesus hung on the cross and died. As Pastor Craig shared, “Just because God is silent doesn’t mean that God is absent. He’s still good. He’s still doing something.”2

In Job’s case, he questioned what he was going through, but never did he denounce God or his belief in Him.

And, at the end of a very horrible season, the bible states that, “…the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10). “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (Job 42:12).

In our case, my husband and I sent our final payment for all those hospital bills last month. I guess you can say we ended the year with a bang (:)). At the payment of that final bill, it felt like the word DONE was spoken over our season of punches. It’s finished. It’s over.

At the start of this New Year, I felt the Lord impress this verse on my heart:

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).

We’re believing God for that NEW thing this year. And, we’ve already begun to see His provision in just the few weeks of this New Year.

We’re believing that God is going to restore and bless like never before—not because we deserve it, but simply because we are His children.

And, as for a place of our own? When God does it, I’ll be sure to share the news!  🙂

 

  1. “Punch Drunk.” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=punch+drunk
  2. When God Doesn’t Make Sense. http://www.life.church/watch/when-god-doesnt-make-sense/
Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement | 4 Comments

Getting Naked

I know the title is a little on the edge, but just stick with me for a bit.

Last month, my husband and I celebrated twelve years of marriage. I can honestly say that my husband is my best friend, and God has truly designed us to complement one another. The best way for me to put it is we are like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly. For this I’m extremely grateful.

So, it’s an honor for me to host my husband, Ariel Nieves, today on the blog.

We’ve decided to share a message we tag-teamed together for a marriage event a few years ago entitled: “Getting Naked: Baring all with God and your Spouse.”


“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25, NIV).

Here we read in the beginning of Genesis that Adam and his wife were both naked and felt no shame. We would like to propose that this was God’s original design for marriages—that we would be naked and without shame, transparent with one another.

The basic definition of the word naked is: bare of any coverings, defenseless, exposed, or unprotected. Because Adam and Eve were naked, transparent, bare of any coverings, there was no shame to get in the way of their relationship. There was a connection they shared—a special bond between the two. Nothing hindered them from being fully connected to each other, thus truly making them one flesh the way God intended marriage to be.

Then, in Genesis chapter three we read that Eve is in the garden and she’s having a conversation with a serpent. The serpent, which is synonymous to Satan, makes Eve doubt God’s instructions to her and her husband about not eating from a particular tree in the Garden of Eden.

We go on to read in chapter three that Eve eats a fruit from the tree, and she shares it with her husband. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7).

They eat the fruit and they become aware of their nakedness. So what did they do? Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. They hid from each other.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God…” (Genesis 3:8). The Lord comes searching for them in the garden and their reaction, again, is to hide.

They hid from each other, and they hid from God.

A fear and shame settled into Adam and Eve’s union.

They became exposed, but not in the way God intended them to be. So their initial reaction was to cover themselves—cover themselves with things they created on their own. They were ashamed of their nakedness.

When shame enters a marriage it doesn’t allow us to be fully naked and transparent the way God desires us to be. Shame encourages us to hide and cover ourselves with our own coverings.

We hide from our spouse and we hide from God. We begin to disconnect from our spouse, and we also begin to disconnect from God.

Natalie here :). When my husband and I got married we had baggage. We weren’t perfect, and twelve years later we still are nowhere near perfection. Before I came to know the Lord, I dated someone I should not have been involved with, and I was told I was fat. Those words started me on a journey in which I struggled with anorexia and insecurities. Once I committed my life to the Lord, God began to work in me and He helped me overcome some of those struggles. A few years later, I began to date my husband and eventually we were married. During the early years of our marriage, I began to realize I was still hiding behind certain insecurities. Whenever a disagreement occurred, I would automatically shut down because I never felt secure enough to share what I was really feeling. So for me, those insecurities were my covering. I hid behind those feelings of inadequacy. This was incredibly unfair for my husband because having an honest conversation with me was like pulling teeth. I would resort to hide and disconnect from him whenever we went through a rough patch.

Ariel here. When I was conceived my dad was married but, not to my mom. I was born out of an affair and it affected the way I thought about marriage. When my wife and I were dating, I was afraid to propose to her because I expected my marriage to end in an affair. I didn’t have an understanding of what it was to be a husband. At the age of fourteen, I was also introduced to pornography. And it became like gum on the bottom of my shoe. No matter how hard I tried to get rid of it, it was still there. I walked around with a lot of shame and guilt, which I brought into our marriage. Shame caused me to hide and disconnect.

Maybe you can relate to our stories. Maybe shame has entered into your marriage and has caused you and your spouse to disconnect. Maybe you find yourself hiding.

In most instances, not only do we hide from our spouse, we also hide from God. We compromise our time of prayer, our reading of His word. We go to church only when we’re scheduled to serve. And when someone asks us how we’re doing, our response is, “We’re blessed and highly favored.” We hide. We disconnect.

So what do we do?

Is it possible to go back to the original design of marriage? Is it possible to have a Genesis 2:25 marriage?

YES!

We believe that James chapter five, verse sixteen gives us a roadmap to get back to the way God intended marriages to be – that naked, without shame relationship.

The verse reads: “Therefore CONFESS your sins to each other and PRAY for each other so that you might be HEALED.”

CONFESS

First, confess to one another. Confession is the total opposite of covering and hiding, which is our natural instinct. It’s bringing things out into the light. An act of exposing—getting naked and transparent with your spouse. Confessing is humbling because some of the things we have to confess may not be easy to say. This may also include confessing grudges, resentment, anger, and unforgiveness we may have had towards our spouse.

This process allows you to reconnect with your spouse. It’s a form of being intimate. Totally transparent, totally exposed, totally naked with your spouse.

A word of advice – it’s easier to confess before things grow or fester. No matter how small it may seem, don’t allow those things to build up. The idea of what your spouse doesn’t know won’t hurt them is a LIE! Those “little things” can grow into very uncontrollable monsters.

The other component of confession is acceptance. When you’re in a relationship with someone, you take the good, the bad, and the ugly. ‘Til death do us part. When it comes to dealing with humans there’s a lot of ugly. Allow freedom for your spouse to confess. And make sure there’s no penance, no payback. You may feel hurt by certain things, but choose to go through those feelings together.

This is not the time to change your Facebook profile status to single. Confession can be difficult, but love keeps no records of wrong (1 Corinthians 13:5). That is a tough verse to follow through on. The word love in this verse is agape love – unconditional love. The source of that kind of love is God. If you are connected to God, He is able to give you the love you need to love your spouse. The love you’ll need to overlook the offenses. Remember, your spouse isn’t the enemy. We don’t battle flesh and blood. The enemy is the enemy. It’s he who causes division and seeks to rob. (Note that if you are in an abusive marriage relationship, counseling is strongly recommended so a mediator can assist you and your spouse through your situation).

PRAYER

Our next step is prayer. There are some things that are only resolved through prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29), which means if you’re serious about your marriage you’re going to have to go to war in prayer.

People are fighting in their marriages and they’re not fighting for their marriages.

Our weapons are not carnal; they’re mighty to bring down strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4). It’s not in arguments, or in trying to prove who’s right. The only way there’s peace is when we begin to intercede and pray.

Natalie here again. When my husband confessed to me his struggle with pornography, I didn’t feel too good after that. Just being transparent. Just being naked with you. My first thought was, man I’m not good enough. It came to a point where I had to realize that my husband wasn’t the enemy. The struggle with pornography was the issue and that’s what I had to fight. It wasn’t until I took that the stance in prayer and really interceded for my husband that that stronghold broke. I appreciate that my husband was so transparent with me. He spoke openly with me because he didn’t want to hide, and we were able to fight it and overcome it together.

HEALING

The final step is healing. We really believe there is a divine exchange in the healing process. An exchange where we take off our coverings—all the stuff we’ve been hiding behind—and we become exposed, and we receive God’s coverings. We receive the coverings that God intended for our marriage. You have to be naked in order for God to clothe you with His garments. He’s not going to set his garments upon coverings we’ve made for ourselves. We shouldn’t feel guilty as we unwind those coverings – God doesn’t see us by those things we’re hiding behind. He sees us covered in his blood.

In Genesis chapter three, after the Lord has learned what has taken place in the Garden of Eden, the bible states that, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).  God clothed them despite what they did. He covered them. He was replacing the fig leaves – whatever they made on their own and he covered them. He wants us naked, exposed, bare, so he can cover us.

Stop hiding from your spouse. Stop hiding from God. Be open to the fact that it’s time to begin confessing. Come together as a couple and pray. As you confess and pray you’re going to begin to see a healing in your marriage. You’ll experience blessing. You won’t be “just making it.” You’ll be overcoming. Your marriage won’t just be okay. Your marriage will be great.

In closing, years later the bible records in the book of Zechariah, a vision the prophet Zechariah has of Joshua who was the high priest at the time. The image is of Joshua dressed in filthy garments. He’s clothed in filthy coverings and Satan is standing next to him accusing him. God then rebukes Satan and requests that Joshua’s garments be removed. God takes Joshua’s coverings off.

“Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you’” (Zech. 3:3-4).

Like Adam, Eve, and Joshua, you may find yourself under some coverings. Perhaps those coverings are more like filthy garments. Maybe just like Joshua experienced, Satan is also accusing you—convincing you that it’s best to stay covered, it’s best to stay hidden because what will others really think of you? What will your spouse think of you?

The last thing Satan wants is for us to begin confessing, and reconnecting with God and our spouse. He might be reminding us of our shameful state, but God wants us to remove our filthy garments. God wants to quiet every accusation and lie from the enemy. He wants to dress us with His garments. They’re fine garments. They’re His coverings. He wants us to live out His original design for marriages.

We want to exemplify a Genesis 2:25 marriage. In a day and age where marriages begin and end so quickly, there is still hope. No marriage is too hopeless for God’s healing.

Confess. Pray. Receive God’s healing today.

Posted in Christian, Couples, Encouragement, Hope, Marriage | Leave a comment

Being Instead of Doing

Here in New York City, our culture is very much go-go-go. We rise and shine, hustle in the daily grind, and then repeat it all over again.  It’s pretty much the way life is here.

To be busy is pretty much a cultural expectation. We must be doing something right if we’re busy. We’re aspiring; we’re succeeding; we’re making strides. Or, at least, that’s how it appears.

At times, we find our value in doing since we’re meeting the cultural expectation.

This is something that I have struggled with for a long time and I didn’t even realize it until I withdrew from the busyness.

During my battle with anxiety and panic attacks, my husband and I made a tough call and we decided that I would stop working. It was something we felt I had to do in order to heal and get well.

Despite the fact that I knew the decision would help me, it was extremely difficult for me.

What would I do with myself?

What would I do with my time?

My husband and I both worked in full-time ministry and, as true perfectionists, we lent ourselves to be the work-a-holic types.

So, I went from maintaining a busy schedule to not working at all. It was like going cold turkey.

The hardest thing for me was: What will others think of me?

To me being busy was a good thing. It meant I was good at something. It meant I was smart, successful, and hardworking. I found my value in being busy.

In my mind, others would perceive me as someone who was just sitting around all day. They would think of me as lazy. I would be seen as someone who was unsuccessful.

The idea of resting and being still brought about a lot of unrest in my mind and heart.

It has been over three years since I stopped working. Since then I have become a stay-at-home mom and, unfortunately, finding value in being busy is something I still struggle with. As you can tell from my previous blog posts, being still is not my forte.

In the Bible, Jesus’ friend Martha was very much like me.

Martha invited Jesus to her home and she planned a big dinner in his honor.

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister Mary sat on the floor, listening to Jesus as he talked. But Martha was the jittery type and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said to her, ‘Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it way from her!’” (Luke 10:38-42, TLB).

In Jesus’ day, women kept busy by taking care of their home, their children, cooking meals, cleaning, drawing water, etc. It was the “cultural expectation” for them to handle those responsibilities. Martha prided herself in meeting those expectations. In her mind, it was good for her to be busy and concerned over the dinner preparations for Jesus, that’s what she was supposed to be doing. Sitting and being still was probably the last thing on her mind.

Her sister, Mary, on the other hand, left all the preparations for her to handle. Mary decided to sit at the feet of Jesus. She chose to be still—to rest at His feet.

In those times it wasn’t a woman’s place to listen to the teachings of a Rabbi—that was the role of a man.

Mary went against what culture said she should be doing and she sat with Jesus.

To the onlooker Martha was doing all the right things. She was busy accomplishing her duties, and she was probably doing them with great care and excellence since she was doing them for Jesus.

Mary, however, wasn’t bustling about. She was still. And, yet, Jesus states that what Mary was doing was really the only thing to be concerned about. According to Jesus, Mary had discovered something that He would not take away from her. She tapped into something that few people truly get.

Mary tapped into being instead of doing.

She was being still. But, in her stillness, she was being attentive. She was being fully present.

Mary could have multi-tasked and helped her sister Martha while she also listened to Jesus’ teaching. But, no – she chose to sit, cease from activity, and probably lock eyes with Jesus as if no one else was in the room. She perhaps thought to herself, I may not have this opportunity again.

Mary chose what was best and I’m sure she never regretted that decision.

At times, I find myself having the same “jittery” disposition as Martha. Worrying about so many things. Checking off items on my to-do list. Making meal preparations. Cleaning up. Paying bills. Going to doctor’s appointments. Planning out activities. Making sure the kids are learning and being stimulated in various ways.

And, unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle, I often overlook the thing that truly matters the most—being instead of doing.

Being still.

Being present.

I’m realizing that I not only struggle in this area in my relationship with Jesus. But also in my relationships with those who matter the most to me.

In the busyness of me doing, I forget to be a friend to my husband. I rattle off all the errands he has to run and at times I forget to simply ask him how he’s doing.

In the busyness of me doing, I forget to simply be a mama to my boys.  Instead of taking a few minutes to find out the latest about a Star Wars, or Lego character, and engage in conversation that would mean the world to my son, I run from room to room picking up toys and franticly correct my children for their mess like some kind of military officer.

In the busyness of me doing, I forget to be there for my family and friends. Rather than pick up the phone to check in on my grandmother, I scan my to-do list and convince myself that I will definitely make time for that tomorrow.

But, tomorrow is not a guarantee.

I’m praying that God would help me to number my days so that I would gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). Wisdom in making decisions; wisdom in my relationships; and wisdom in the use of my time.

Are you like me, and Martha? Worried about so many things? Things, that in the long-scope, will not really matter?

I encourage you today to be still.

Be present.

Pick up the phone and call that person you’ve been meaning to call for some time now. Treat your child to a one-on-one date. Sit at the feet of Jesus with nothing on the agenda but just to worship Him and hear from Him.

I promise you, you won’t regret it.

PS – One thing that has helped me really be intentional about being still and being present with Jesus has been a new app called First 5.  This app has helped me give undivided attention to Jesus and His word.  And, it has challenged me to give my first five minutes of my day to the Lord.  Being with Jesus for the first five minutes of each day, has helped me get through whatever comes my way throughout the day.  Check out their site! The app is free!

Posted in Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Hope, Stay-at-home mom | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Hope in His Discipline

“Just as I’m in the process of parenting my children, the Lord is in the process of parenting me.”

I read this quote by Melissa Kruger, a writer with Proverbs 31 Ministries, a few months ago and, as a stay-at-home mom, I can SO relate! Since I have been home with our boys God has been definitely parenting me!

At first, adjusting to being a mom was difficult. But, as our first son got into his toddler years things became a little more manageable. Then, just when I felt like I could handle this parenting thing, God sent baby #2 our way—a complete surprise! Just when I thought I knew it all, I learned I knew NOTHING. And since our second son was born, God has been parenting me OVERTIME!

From infancy, our youngest son, Silas, has strongly disliked having his diaper changed. Each time I change Silas’ diaper it is like taking part in a wrestling match, or some kind of jiu jitsu routine. Our oldest son always gets a kick out of his brother’s “kung-fu skills.” I must confess on some days it’s humorous, but on most days it’s just downright EXHAUSTING!  A simple diaper change leaves this mama with muscle aches, soreness, and plain frustration.

One particular afternoon, I was worn out from the day and felt pretty drained, when Silas soiled his pamper.

Ugh!

I took a deep breath and tried to muster up some strength to change him hoping that he would easily comply. I grabbed a little gadget thinking it may keep him distracted while I cleaned him up. It did…for about 2 seconds.

Ugh!  

Then, his karate leg kicks began. He squirmed and twisted in all types of directions. I tried hard to pin him down just to get that last wipe in. But, the biggest challenge still lay ahead of me—securely putting a clean diaper on him.

Ugh!

In the middle of it all, I just let out a big huff and said, “Silas, why do you fight me so much?!  I’m trying to help you out here and you’re making it difficult for me.”

As I finally sealed his diaper and picked him up, I felt God whisper to me, “Natalie, you fight me just as much.”

Ouch.

Really?! I do, God?

Yes. Yes, you do.

If you’re wondering whether God can use a diaper change for a teachable moment—yes.   Yes, He can.

In my previous blog post, I shared how God has my husband and I in a place of waiting on him, being still before Him, and simply trusting in Him.

We’ve been waiting on Him in a particular area where we just need a miracle.

And, externally, I was being still. I said to myself and to others that I was trusting in Him.

If you asked me, I was doing as the bible verses state:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV).

Or, at least, I was trying to live this out.

But, God knew—deep down—I wasn’t.

The moment I heard the words, “Be Still,” the internal kung-fu leg kicks began. I didn’t want to be still. I wanted action. I wanted something to happen!

He knew in my heart of hearts, I had a “Plan B” written out. You know – the “back-up” plan. The “this is the plan IF God DOESN’T come through for me.”

I have read Proverbs 3:5-6 hundreds of times, but after having this “parenting” moment with God, I decided to re-read it once more. I realized I had never really taken note of the verse immediately after.

Proverbs 3:7 states: “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”

Deep down, I felt like I knew what was best. Instead of waiting, and relying on God, I was really leaning on my own understanding and my own “wisdom.” I wanted to be in control of my situation instead of truly trusting God.

In my heart’s eyes I was the wise one, with everything planned out just in case God’s plans fell through.

Internally, I was fighting so hard to relinquish total control to God. Because what if He failed?

Sounds foolish and immature, but it’s true.

As I read that one verse, I felt God whisper, “All this time I’m trying to help you out and you’re making it difficult. Don’t be wise in your own eyes. Don’t think you know what’s best. I know what’s best and I’m trying to give you MY best.”

It’s true what the author of Hebrews states about discipline:

For the time being no discipline brings joy, but seems sad and painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness [right standing with God and a lifestyle and attitude that seeks conformity to God’s will and purpose]” (Hebrews 12:11, AMP).

It was tough hearing those things from God. But, I’m glad He took the time out to correct me.

There’s Love in His Discipline.

As a Father who loves His children, God—even in His rebuke—displays His affection towards us.

There’s Hope even in His Discipline.

The end result far outweighs the “parenting moment”.

I want to be in right standing with God, and I truly desire a lifestyle and attitude that seeks His will and purpose above all else. HIS Will over my will. HIS Purpose over my purpose.

Today, I have Hope in His Discipline.  I have Hope in the deeper work He’s taking the time to do IN me.  And, I have Hope that His Best is really yet to come!

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Be Still

After a few years of being married, my husband and I came to the realization that we had gained a bit of weight as newly weds.  We were enjoying our date nights, eating at different places, trying new foods.  But, eventually it caught up to us.  As a result, we decided we were going to try our best to maintain our health, so we committed to working out at our local gym.

I felt like I personally needed to enroll in a fitness class to get the results I was looking for.  So I signed up for a weekly boot camp class.  The first time I met the instructor, I knew this class was not for wimps.  He was a seventy-two-year-old former Marine who had veins and muscles popping out of his biceps, triceps, forearms, calves, hamstrings–I mean to say the man was toned and fit was an understatement.  You knew he meant business.

From start to finish, the class consisted of non-stop movement.  If the instructor saw anyone slacking off a bit, he’d quickly yell out, “Come on!  Pick it up!”  The fast-paced music, the counting of reps, the use of dumbbells and steppers, the militant orders to spur everyone on–everything about the class was about high energy, constant motion, and intense activity.  And, ultimately, the activity brought about great results.  Core strengthening, muscle-building, and muscle toning.  It’s difficult to develop those things without that level of activity.

It’s interesting though, how this concept doesn’t necessarily apply to the development of our faith muscles.

My husband and I currently find ourselves in a place where God is definitely “toning” our faith muscles, but instead of increased activity what we have heard from God is “Be Still.”

Say What?  God, you want us to Be Still?

Yes.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

“…you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).  

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently…” (Psalm 37:7).

That was not quite the instruction I was looking for.  I was looking for more of a “Do this, then do that” type of instruction.  The type of instruction I can actively take steps towards.  Not “Be Still.”

How will we see any results if we’re still?

It’s so hard for me to be still.  I perceive being still as doing nothing.  As being inactive.

But what we perceive as inactivity, can be God’s greatest moments of activity in our lives.

In our stillness, God is actively working things in us and out of us.

In our stillness, God is working out our faith muscles.  He’s stretching us.  He’s building up our inner-core strength.  He’s working out our endurance and perseverance.

In our stillness, God is working out of us any unbelief and doubt.  And, in their stead, He is instilling a steadfast spirit, and unwavering trust.

So that, when life throws blows at us – we’ll be immovable.

So that, when storms come and winds blow – we’ll be firmly rooted.

So that, when we hear of bad news – our hearts will be steadfast (Psalm 112:7).

So that, when things come against us – they will not overcome us (Jeremiah 1:18-19).

Being still is not for wimps.  But, I’m certain that the results will not disappoint.

If you’re enrolled in the same faith fitness class, be encouraged.  God is actively working in us and for us!

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Hold on to Hope

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  

A few years ago, my husband and I were traveling to the Poconos area in Pennsylvania to visit family.  Unbeknownst to us, we drove into torrential downpours during our trip.  The rain drops pounded ferociously on our car and our vision was limited to say the least.  We actually were unable to see anything in front of us, or around us.  Unable to read road signs and street names properly, we just hoped we were heading in the right direction.  We set our windshield wipers on the highest speed, turned our high beams on, and proceeded cautiously hoping we were going to eventually get to our destination.

Thankfully, after some time, we arrived safely.  Our trust in our vehicle to get us there was not in vain, and our hope was not disappointed.

At times, life can place us in the same predicament, not just literally, but spiritually and emotionally.  Seasons of “torrential downpours,” entering unknown and uncertain pathways, simply going on a bit of hope that we are indeed headed in the right direction.

During those times, what can serve as our “high beam” so to speak?  The Word of God.

God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, and a light on our path (Psalm 119:105).

God’s Word is filled with promises we can FULLY put our hope in.

When we cannot see what is ahead or even what is around us; when it’s dark and hopeless; when we are unsure of which way to go–God’s word says:

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8). 

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go” (Isaiah 48:17).  

In a place of uncertainty, let us remember to do as the author of Hebrews says – to hold unswervingly to this hope we profess.  To not be deterred in our hope.  To not veer to the left or to the right–even when our surrounding situation is persuading us to swerve.  Let us hold on to this hope because He who promised IS FAITHFUL!  He WILL remain true to His Word!

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He Knows

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

During my teenage years, after I whole-heartedly committed my life to the Lord, I was always intrigued by the truth that this Big, Awesome God had plans for me.  God had thoughts concerning me.  Me–young, little Natalie.  I was on God’s mind.

One of my favorite verses was, and still is, from Psalm 139:

“How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.  They cannot be numbered!  I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!” (v. 17-18, NLT).

Amazing, right?  God thinks of us so much that His thoughts outnumber the grains of sand.

As much as these verses have blessed me throughout the years, they have also driven me a tad bit crazy at times.

Being someone who is naturally inclined to plan absolutely every detail of their life, it kind of irked me that God knew plans about me that I didn’t even know.

A part of me wanted to “be in the know” on what these thoughts were, and get a visual of what the “big picture” looked like for my life.

I can even recall moments when I would be in a worship service and Spirit-filled people would feel led to pray over me and I would get SO excited!  In my mind I was thinking, “This is it–I’m going to ‘get in’ on these thoughts God has for me, because this person is a spiritual Giant!  God is going to speak through them and tell me what His thoughts are!”  

And, yes, God would absolutely speak through them.  His words to me were always the same on NUMEROUS occasions–“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

God sure does have a sense of humor…

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been participating in another online bible study, which I am very sad to say has ended this past week.  (Those five weeks flew by!)

The bible study, which was based on the book What Happens When Women Walk in Faith, by Lysa TerKeurst, for me was so timely as it spoke to the current season I am in–truly walking in faith and believing in God for the miraculous.

One of the “phases” in this walk of faith that Lysa TerKeurst describes is called the “Death Phase.”  This is the phase we go through when we feel like God has forgotten us.  The phase where we feel as if our dream has died.  Hope is lost.  There just seems to be no way.  It’s the phase I most identified with.

So what do we do when we’re in the “Death Phase”?  Simply TRUST.

Lysa graciously reminds us that God “…is still there on our bad days, singing over us (Zephaniah 3:17), wiping our tears (Isaiah 25:8), and taking care of our future (Jeremiah 29:11)” (Page 136).

Did you notice that last reference to that famous verse, Jeremiah 29:11?

All throughout these past five weeks during this bible study, I have been constantly reminded once again that God knows the plans He has for me.  And they are good plans.  They are not to harm me, but to prosper me and give me hope and a future.

It was yet another reminder that God knows and that’s what matters.  God hasn’t forgotten.  He sees and He knows.  He’s fully aware.

And, my role in all of this?  Is to continue to walk in faith, eyes fixed on Him, trusting that His plan is the BEST plan.

I don’t know what the future holds.  But God does–and I’m thankful that He does.

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Breaking Free from the Ruts of Unbelief and Hopelessness

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In recent months, I have contemplated a lot on the title of my blog page, “A Door of Hope.” Boy, have I been on a search for that door this year! A trying pregnancy, an even worse post-partum recovery, several ER visits for my husband, and all the while not having a home to call our own—a difficult year indeed.

After taking a break from online bible studies (since nursing our newborn and taking care of our now three-year-old kept this mama extremely busy), I am happy to say I am back to it. I have begun a study based on the book, What Happens When Women Walk in Faith, by Lysa TerKeurst.  Only one week into the study and God has been speaking!

One concept in particular has spoken volumes to me. Lysa TerKeurst unpacks the idea of drawing a line in the sand.  Draw a line in the sand; leave the past behind; and move ahead with God.

“To honor God completely, you need enough faith to leave with Him.  Leave?  Leave and go where you ask?  Leave the way you’ve always done life and start doing things differently with God.  Leave the attitude, leave the stubborn pride, leave the right to be right, leave the control, and biggest of all, leave the unbelief”  (page 21).

This season of life has left me feeling stuck. Stuck with no sign of a breakthrough in sight.  No answer, or sign of relief, on the horizon.  Many times, I have questioned: God, are you listening? God, are you planning to do something?

And, unfortunately, I have allowed my feelings to plant seeds of entitlement in my heart.  Deep frustration has taken root at the realization that I am not in control.  Worst of all, a sense of unbelief and hopelessness has overcome me causing patterns of negative thinking.

It’s time I start doing things differently. Though difficult, I must draw a line in the sand.  Staying in this place can no longer be an option for me.  I long to walk in faith, believing in the God of all hope. Instead of throwing away my confidence, I need to trust it will be richly rewarded.  I yearn to steadfastly persevere because I desire all He has promised (Hebrews 10:35-36).

The Israelites also went through a season of being “stuck.”  They wandered in the desert for forty years before entering into the Promise Land.  In a devotional I recently read by Joyce Meyer, she shares, “The Israelites wandered around in the wilderness for forty years to make what was actually an eleven-day journey.”1

Can you believe that?  An eleven-day journey turned into forty years!  That’s crazy!

But, I realized I’m in the same predicament as well. I too am making my journey much longer than it needs to be.  By choosing to be stuck, and dwelling in the ruts of unbelief and hopelessness, I’m prolonging whatever God desires to accomplish in me. When I question God and His timing, when I question His plan, when I question His provision, I’m only adding days to my journey.

In the Bible, in the first chapter of Deuteronomy, we read that Moses recounted to the Israelites God’s specific instructions to move into and possess the land He promised them. God told the Israelites: “You have stayed long enough…Break camp and advance…” (1:6).

You have stayed in this season of being “stuck” long enough.  You have stayed in this pattern of negative thinking long enough. Break Camp!  Move!  Advance!  Go Forward!  Draw a line in the sand!  Don’t Look Back!

I know those are God’s words for me at this very hour.

Unlike that generation of Israelites, I want to break camp. I do wish to move forward and apprehend everything God has promised. The Bible tells us: “…that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp” (Deut. 2:14-15).

Why did God wipe out an entire generation? The answer is sobering. God wiped them out because their hearts were overcome by unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). Despite the promise of God, the people doubted His provision and His plan. The Israelites stayed stuck for forty years—stuck in their physical state wandering through the desert, and stuck in their spiritual state constantly questioning God.

I want to learn from this. I cringe at the thought of forfeiting what God may have for me. It’s imperative that I heed the command of the Lord to break camp and advance.

I’ve stayed here long enough. It’s time to go forward.

If you feel the same, let’s pray together:

God, thank you for your Word. Help me today to move forward. Give me the faith to draw a line in the sand, break camp, and advance. I no longer want to stay stuck in this desert. I no longer want to stay stuck in a pattern of negative thinking. Your son, Jesus, did not come so I can be stuck. He came to bring hope and freedom. As I move forward, please guard my heart from unbelief so I may receive all that you have for me. I choose to trust in your perfect will, in your perfect way, and in your perfect timing. Thank you Lord for all you will do! In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

1Promises for Your Everyday Life online devotional

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An Exhausted Mama Finding Grace on a Sunday Morning

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Sunday mornings can drain me.  There, I said it. Not quite something a pastor’s wife should say, I know. But, it’s the truth. On a normal Sunday, we rise up early to prepare for church. My husband leaves the house before I do, at about 7:20 A.M. to serve all day in God’s house. Once he’s gone, I’m typically rushing around trying to get our son and I ready to attend a service—not an easy feat when you have a toddler.

No matter how hard I try to prepare on Saturday evenings for the next day, it never seems to help.  I try to pick out our clothes, prep the diaper bag, etcetera, and yet, without fail, I’m still frantic come sun up.

Several times, I have asked myself: What’s the point?  My son is so little, why should I fuss to pack him up and lug him to church? I’m not exactly feeling peaceful and joyful. On the contrary, I feel stressed out and utterly exhausted, so why bother?

Thinking about all of this one day, I recalled a comment someone made at our baby shower.  We asked if anyone had “mommy words of wisdom” to share, and one of our precious friends began to speak about Hannah.  She unpacked the bible story we often hear.

Unable to bear children, Hannah cried out to God, and God blessed her with a son, whom she named Samuel.  Hannah made a vow to dedicate her little boy to God, and she settled that all the days of his life he would serve in God’s house.  Hannah remained true to her word.  After Samuel was weaned, Hannah took him to the temple to serve the Lord.

“Samuel ministered before the Lord, even as a child, wearing a linen ephod” (1 Sam. 2:18, NKJV). 

Not only did Samuel minister as a child, he wore priestly garments as he ministered.  The priests in those times wore linen ephods and robes.

The Bible tells us that Samuel’s mother, Hannah, “…used to make him a little robe” and she took the robe to Samuel “…year by year when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice” (1 Sam. 2:18-19, NKJV).

Hannah diligently made the yearly trip to the temple to clothe Samuel in those priestly garments.  Her commute to the temple was not as easy as my twenty-minute commute to church.  Commentators believe the trip lasted two days for Hannah and her husband.

According to the Bible, Hannah was blessed with more children.  She had three sons and two daughters (1 Samuel 2:21).

Can you imagine what a two-day journey with five children was like?!

Just think—two days of travel.  No cars.  No diapers.  No wipes.  No teethers.  No formula.  No bottles.  No conveniently-packaged baby food.  No Veggie Tales.  No Sesame Street.  No Baby Einstein.  Crankiness and temper-tantrums; several pit-stops to nurse and feed hungry children.

Fatigue, and the sense of being overwhelmed, must have been inevitable.

And, yet, Hannah faithfully made a robe for Samuel, and took the two-day journey year after year.

Hannah set an example for mothers to clothe their children with priestly garments.

The beloved lady at our baby shower gave us this reminder.  She encouraged us to be intentional about clothing our son with godliness.

God knew I would need to bring that encouragement to memory during this season as a mom.

Do I want our son to grow up in the ways of the Lord?  ABSOLUTELY!

Then, like Hannah, I must push myself and make the journey to my modern day temple. I must push past being tired; push past the feeling of being rushed and overwhelmed.

As moms, we have to be intentional about making those trips to the “temple” and clothing our children with “priestly garments”—godliness; worship; praise; prayer.

Are you tired of the Sunday morning madness?  Trust me, I’m with you.  But, let’s ask God for the grace to push through!  We may just be outfitting our children for their calling.

“The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up…And all Israel…recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Sam. 3:19-20, NIV).

May it be the same for our kiddies as we cover them with godliness.  May God be with them as they grow, and may the calling on their lives be evident to all who come in contact with them no matter what age they are!

 

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What Well Are You Drawing From?

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When I became a mom, I was a tad bit naïve about how our lives would change.  It couldn’t be too hard to take care of a tiny person, could it?

Boy, did I underestimate this thing called parenthood. Never have I felt so depleted, deflated, and drained all at once.

One specific area that proved to be quite challenging: our son’s sleeping habits. I imagined our son to be the baby who could fall asleep anywhere despite noise levels and comfort.  But, unfortunately, he still has trouble sleeping through the night, and putting him down for naps feels like engaging in a war.

After wrestling our son to sleep, I often looked and felt like I collided with a tractor-trailer.  I pulled all kinds of stunts in order to put our little guy to sleep—I rocked, swayed, laid down with him, bounced him, turned the lights off, used white noise to diminish distracting sounds. I mean you name it – I’ve tried it. One thing remained constant – I always walked out of the bedroom tired and weary.

After those moments of aggravation I wanted nothing more than to watch my favorite TV show.  By all means I deserved a moment to unwind and allow my mind to go blank.  I wish I could say the show was interior design related since I love design.  Or, a cooking show since I love experimenting in the kitchen.

No.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but every opportunity I had I chose to delve into an over-dramatic soap opera.  Not a Spanish telenovela.  No, I preferred an American soap opera. You know, the ones that never get taken off the air.

Each time I clicked the On button on the TV remote, I reasoned, It’s not as bad as the other fictional shows on television now a days.  And, it’s definitely not as bad as those reality shows.  So, nothing to worry about.

But as time passed, watching and catching up on that show consumed any free moment I had.  Since my son’s naptime usually conflicted with the air time of the show, I rushed to watch it on YouTube as soon as he fell asleep, or I streamed it on the network’s website.

This became the thing I ran to when I felt drained, tired, and empty.

As mentioned in previous posts, I love participating in online bible studies led by Proverbs 31 Ministries. Recently, I engaged in a six-week study and I scheduled time to sit, read the chapters, and answer follow-up questions.  However, during those six weeks, I also made sure I did not miss any soap opera episodes as the thickening plot left me in suspense. I just couldn’t be left hanging.

Well, during the third week of the bible study, I reached a point in the book (What Happens When Women Say Yes to God) where the author, Lysa TerKeurst, began to describe a time in her life when God nudged her to give up watching TV all together. Here’s what Lysa shared:

“As I prayed, I felt God telling me why the TV had to go.  I enjoyed sitting down after a tiresome day and being entertained.  God showed me that I was vulnerable and empty during those times.  It wasn’t that what I was watching was bad—it just wasn’t God’s best.  I was filling myself with the world’s perspectives and influences, while He wanted to be my strength and fill me with Himself” (pg.44).

I read those words and went about my day.  I cooked, cleaned, played with and cared for our son.  But, all the while, those words resounded in my heart and mind.  I knew viewing that soap opera was not God’s best for me.  I watched it usually in the worst state of mind—tired, empty, and vulnerable.  Instead of filling myself with God’s strength, I filled myself with worldly views and worldly content.  I actually thought watching the show refreshed and comforted me in some way.  But, in fact, it left me still feeling tired, weary, irritable, and drained.

I was empty, yet I was drawing from an empty well.

In the Bible, there’s a story of a Samaritan woman who met Jesus at a well (John 4).  Though her history was different, I felt like my story matched hers.  Tired and empty, she often went to the well to draw water, water she thought would fill her and satisfy her, but in the end just left her feeling the same—thirsty, depleted, and void.  Then, she encountered Jesus, and He presented her an opportunity to draw from a well that would cause her to thirst no more.  That “well” being Jesus himself.

Jesus explained to her that everyone who drank water from the well would be thirsty again (John 4:13).  Then he said, “But the water I give them…becomes a perpetual spring within them, watering them forever…” (John 4:13, Living Bible).  The Message translation describes this water as an “…artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”

Well, the Samaritan woman left her water jar at the well and went back to her town changed.  She no longer drew from a well of emptiness. Her satisfaction no longer lasted for a moment. The new well she drew from gave her gushing fountains of endless life.

As drained moms or wives, who are pulled in different directions, we sometimes draw from wells of perpetual emptiness, never truly feeling refreshed or replenished.

Empty, we draw from empty wells. We are left thirsty, never satisfied, and craving more.

Maybe, like me, you look to a TV show to refill you, when in fact it’s just filling you with worldly content.  Or, perhaps you reach out to whatever candy bar or sweet treat is within arms reach (I’m guilty of this too…chocolate is from the devil!).  But, those empty calories leave us craving more and feeling horrible about ourselves.  Could going on shopping sprees be your form of replenishment?

All of these things have their place, but when we are left empty still, we have to wonder, Is this “well” filling me up or draining me dry?

It may not be bad, but you know it’s not God’s best.

Like the woman at the well, we make trips to our “well” carrying our empty vessels looking to refill them again. But, we fail to realize we are settling for perpetual emptiness instead of running to the source of perpetual springs.

I gave up that TV show.  Now, during those time frames, I’m going to THE SOURCE for refreshment, refilling, and strength.

You may not have time to do an online bible study for six weeks.  You may not even feel like you have the energy for something like that.  But, if you are feeling drained, tired, and empty all you need is just 10 minutes to ask God to fill you, refresh you, and strengthen you so you can go on.  It doesn’t take much.  All it takes is a willing and obedient heart.

So, what is your well?

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When this Lonely Mama was on the Hunt for a Friend

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Life as a stay-at-home mom has been fun.  What a great experience to see my son grow, learn, and play.  Sesame Street songs, soccer balls, playing T-Ball, dunking basketballs, and tossing footballs fill up my daily agenda.  It’s been a special season indeed.

At times, though, mommy-hood can leave me feeling unlinked and unconnected.  I’ve contemplated long and hard as to why being a mama can feel a bit isolating.  I mean I have a great husband, an amazing son, my immediate family, and church family.  I know tons of people.  After some time, however, I realized I know a lot of people, but I really don’t know anyone.

 I really don’t have meaningful, life-giving relationships.

As I considered this, the word acquaintance came to mind. Remembering past counseling sessions, I recalled my counselor asking if I had close friends and my response was, “Sure, I do…I think…”

My counselor retorted, “You don’t have friends, you have acquaintances.”

An acquaintance is a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.  This definition sums up most of my relationships—they are acquaintances.  I know others slightly, but not in a deeper, meaningful way.

When I realized this I tried hard to turn this truth into a dis-truth (not sure if that’s a word).  Essentially, I was on a mission to prove this to be untrue.

“I have many friends,” I thought.  “I’m fine in this area.” 

I tried so hard to forge connections with others and came up feeling even more disconnected and rejected.

So I asked God, “Lord, bless me with a friend. Bless me with an Onesiphorus.”

For those who may not know—Onesiphorus was a friend of the apostle Paul. He and his family often visited Paul in prison.  According to the Bible, Onesiphorus greatly encouraged Paul.  The Living Bible translation says Onesiphorus’ visits revived Paul “…like a breath of fresh air…” (2 Timothy 1:16).

That’s what I needed!!!  A breath of fresh air!  A refreshing friendship!

I feel so dumb for saying this (especially via a public blog)—but, I was on a hunt for an Onesiphorus.  But, in my search several closed doors greeted me, leaving this already rejected mama feeling less than and left out.

Then, one Sunday during a worship service, while standing in God’s presence, I pondered on this prayer and desire for a meaningful friendship.  And, a gentle tug in my heart was followed by a whisper—“I don’t want to be an acquaintance, I want to be your friend.”

While praying for a meaningful friendship, I forgot about the friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have called you friends…” (John 15:15).  We are His Friends.  He is my friend.  He is my breath of fresh air.

I had an “A-Ha” moment. The only one who could breathe into my desolate places was Jesus.

Yes, I desire other life-giving friendships but I needed to focus on THE Ultimate Life-Giver, and cultivate my relationship with Him first and foremost.

So, what has cultivating my relationship with God looked like for me?  Well, thankfully, as a stay-at-home mom I have some freedom (during nap times, of course) to really dig in to God’s Word.  Intentionally setting aside time to read, and meditate on God’s word has refreshed me like nothing else. Instead of feeling withdrawn, I now feel drawn ever so close to Him.

I’ve also had the opportunity to take part in life changing online bible studies through Proverbs 31 Ministries. Despite the distance between the bible study participants, I feel apart of a greater community of woman who are in love with Jesus.

Overtaken by fresh vision, fueled with fresh passion, a fresh desire has welled up within me to know my friend, Jesus, in a more intimate way.

Are you in a place where you desperately need a breathe of fresh air?

Draw closer to the Lord so He can breathe over you today. He doesn’t want to just be your acquaintance; He wants to be your friend.1

For those who have never had a relationship with God, please know it’s as simple as saying, “God, I want to be your friend.  I want to do life with you.”  That’s it!! Then, find a local church in your area where you can learn how to do life with Him.  Your life will never be the same!

For those who have an Onesiphorus in their life, call that person!  Don’t just text them.  Love on them.  Those friends are hard to come by.  Don’t let social media replace that relationship.

I recently heard a sermon by Pastor Craig Groeschel, of Life Church, where he stated that social media today has replaced friendships2.  He emphatically affirmed social media should just supplement friendships not replace them.  He made a challenge for people to nurture their friendships face-to-face, not just thumb-to-thumb (by typing on a keypad or phone).  This is key in a life-giving friendship.

It’s also key in your friendship with God.  Let’s not compromise our face-to-face time with Him.  He desires to draw close.  He longs to be your friend.

1 If you feel like time is against you and you’re having difficulty praying and reading God’s Word, I’d love for you to check out First 5 – it’s a free app offering daily bible reading. All it takes is just five minutes! Download it—you won’t regret it!

2Sermon by Pastor Craig Groeschel: “Friending” Series Part One

Posted in Bible, Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Friendships, Hope, Relationships, Stay-at-home mom | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Finding Strength in the Lord in a Season of Waiting

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Ever had someone make you a promise and not keep it? You receive the promise, fill up on hope, and then when the promise falls flat you feel like a popped, deflating balloon, releasing all hopefulness.

One of the many things I love about God is when He gives you a promise you can be sure He will fulfill it. So, you can only imagine, the excitement and anticipation my husband and I had when the Lord gave us a promise at the start of this year. The promise pertained to something we continually brought to the Lord in prayer. God had spoken and hope filled our hearts.

But…some of the things we faced in the months to follow totally contradicted what God promised us.

Honestly speaking, I questioned many times – how is everything going to play out in the months to come? How long before God fulfills His promise?

Moments like these prompt me to read and meditate on this one verse over and over again:

“But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).

David found strength in God.

If you look at the context of this verse, you’ll realize David and the men who followed him had lost everything. Their enemies, the Amalekites, raided their camp and seized their families.

One would think David’s life would have been pretty easy.

As a teenager, no older than fifteen years old, David received a promise from God.  God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David to be the next king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12).  God promised David he would succeed King Saul (who was king at the time), and take his place to lead His people. Sounds like a pretty good life, doesn’t it?

If you study David’s life, however, you’ll realize the fulfillment of the promise did not happen right away.

After Samuel anointed David, David won many victories for the people of Israel.  He even killed Goliath, the Philistine giant.  The people sang of David, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his TENS of Thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).

Did those victories bring about the fulfillment of the promise?  No.

On the contrary, David actually spent the years thereafter fleeing from King Saul who wanted to take his life. He often hid in caves, and retreated from city to city for safety.

By all outward appearances, nothing in David’s life lined up with the promise he received.

And yet, during those moments of uncertainty, David penned the most incredible worship to the Lord—the Psalms. Despite the contradicting occurrences in his life, David’s trust in the Lord never wavered.  David did not question God’s promise to him.

Can you imagine being David?

I would have asked for my crown and throne right after my first battle win.  Child-like tantrums full of kicking and screaming may have been my response to the prolonged promise.

Are we there yet? Are we anywhere near the fulfillment of your promise, Lord?

“But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).

In the waiting, David ran to God instead of grumbling, doubting, and questioning. He knew strength could only be found in the Lord.

What was that God-moment like for David?  Perhaps he poured out his heart to the Lord through tearful prayers.  Maybe David silently sat in God’s presence, settling in his heart to trust the Lord.

At the age of thirty, David finally became king of Israel—approximately, fifteen years after Samuel anointed him (2 Samuel 5:4).  Long wait, right? 

Imagine if David gave up mid-course.  What if he concluded the prophet Samuel mistakenly anointed him as king?

God didn’t really speak to the prophet.  King? I’m nowhere near sitting on a throne!

Can you imagine? The calling on David’s life would have been jeopardized.

“But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6).

David displayed a resolve I crave in my own life.  I want to stay the course even when it just doesn’t make sense.  In the waiting, when I’m face to face with everything contrary to the promise, I want to choose to find strength in the Lord.

Like David, I want to contemplate in His goodness and faithfulness. In moments of turmoil, I want worship and praise to overflow from my mouth and heart. I want to park my mind and thoughts on God’s infallible character so my strength and spirit may be renewed.

If you hunger for the same tenacity, remind yourself of the promise He’s spoken to you.  Remind yourself of the dream He’s given you.  Strengthen yourself in the Lord today!

You may be on the precipice of apprehending all that God apprehended you for.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).  

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19). 

“Keep in mind that the LORD your God is [the only] God. He is a faithful God, who keeps his promise…” (Deuteronomy 7:9, God’s Word Translation).

“The LORD always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does” (Psalm 145:13, NLT).

Posted in Bible, Christian, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Hope | 4 Comments

Acquitted from the Law that Kills

ACQUITTED

Since becoming a stay-at-home-mom I have discovered a lot about myself.  I’ve learned some good things, but also a few not so good things, or, as described in “mommy” vocabulary, “yucky” things.

Without fail, one of those “yucky” things continually rises to the surface as I interact with my kids. I am guilty of something I’ve labeled – pharisaic tendencies. When you hear the term “pharisaic,” right away you think of the biblical religious leaders who lived to abide by the law—at any cost.  So strict in observing the law, they lived a lifeless religion instead of a thriving relationship with God.

My pharisaic mindset lends itself more to the practical areas in my life.  Daily, I attempt to live up to practical, or should I say impractical, “laws” I have set up for myself.  Sadly, when those unrealistic standards go unmet, I experience “death” as well—a deathly toll on my emotions, my thoughts, and my relationships.  Every time I fall short of those expectations, my inner-Pharisee creeps up and declares I’m a failure, I’m a disappointment, I’m a horrible wife, mom, et cetera.

Deep down, as a mom I have an unrealistic longing to be “the perfect mom.”

My son must appear clean and put together at all times. His appearance is a reflection of me as his parent.

Has it been a long time since the last diaper change? Oh No! Unacceptable!

Dishes piled up in the sink? I’m a stay-at-home for crying out loud! Inexcusable!

Can you guess the results after SUCCESSFULLY meeting these self-made “laws”?

A weary, burned out, frustrated Natalie.

Can you guess the results after FAILING to meet these “laws”?

A weary, burned out, frustrated Natalie.

I yield the SAME RESULTS in both scenarios!

When referring to the law, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…the code [of the Law] kills…” (2 Cor. 3:6, AMP).

I could not have said it better!

The code of the “Practical Laws of Natalie” KILLS!!!

Unfortunately, I’ve spent countless years trying to live up to this code.

As a young girl, I strove to be the best academically and, if I did not meet a certain standard, I really beat myself up about it.  A score of 92 on an exam did not cut it—what happened to scoring 100? 

As a wife, I gotta always be one step ahead with cleaning, maintaining the budget, paying the bills, and I must financially SAVE, SAVE, SAVE, even if it means absolutely NO FUN AT ALL.  Hey, I have to maintain those “LAWS” at ANY COST, right?

Even, when I miscarried during our first pregnancy, this “code” killed me. The thought that I failed and disappointed my husband and my family haunted me.  I expected to successfully carry the baby to full term and give birth to a healthy child.  But, when it didn’t happen, the reality of a FAILED pregnancy crushed me.  So infuriated with myself, I could not even stand to be alone.

Quiet moments became tormenting moments, as anxious and unsettled thoughts flooded my mind.

Months of counseling led me to realize how angry I was at myself for not meeting everyone’s expectation. Spending time alone often left me wearied, burned out, and frustrated.

Staying at home has allowed me to discover these things about myself, but this season has also allowed me to discover (and re-discover) some things about God as well.

One thing I have re-discovered is the supernatural rest God gives, and how His rest releases me from all my self-imposed “laws.”

You know the well-known verse, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”? Well, I love the way the Message version puts it:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).

I love that!  I want to learn the unforced rhythms of God’s grace.  I want to live under His Grace, not under My Law, or My Way.  I want to keep company with Him and learn to live freely and lightly, instead of walking around with heavy expectations that leave me feeling angry, depressed, and tired.

Are you like me with your self-made laws or unrealistic expectations?  Are you weary, burned out, and frustrated, wearing yourself thin trying to live up to those things?  Have you labeled yourself a failure, a horrible __________ (you fill in the blank)?

Today I encourage you to go to Jesus.  Get away with Him.  Let Him show you how to take a real rest.  Let the unforced rhythms of His Grace overtake you.  You won’t regret it!

Posted in Anxiety, Bible, Christian, Depression, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, Hope, Marriage, Miscarriage, Stay-at-home mom, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Do You Remember the Time When…?

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Often told to young ones and used in Children Bible books, the story of David and Goliath is one many of us grew up hearing. A story I frequently read growing up in church became so alive to me one day as I read it to our oldest son, Nicholas. As Nicholas sat on my lap he began to tear out pages from my Bible, but I was filled with child-like wonder, and too busy to notice his little mess. You see, as I read God began to highlight aspects of this story I failed to see before.

During one of the many battles between the Philistines and Israelites, Goliath, a giant who stood over nine feet tall, came out every day to taunt the Israelites.

“For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand” (1 Samuel 17:16).  Then, one day, a young teenage boy, David, came along and delivered some food to his brothers, who served in Israel’s army.  David, a shepherd boy, happened to arrive around the time this giant, Goliath, made his daily taunt towards the Israelites.

Most of us know what unfolded next—David actually killed the Giant with just a sling and a stone.  Taking on an incredible feat, a young boy slayed a giant with merely a sling and a stone.  Seems unreal, doesn’t it?

However, I believe David used something else, in addition to the sling and the stone, to defeat Goliath.

When David told King Saul he would step up to fight Goliath, Saul reminded David of the blaring obvious facts—David was just a boy, and Goliath an experienced fighter whom, from his youth, waged war against men (1 Sam. 17:33).

Any other boy would have came to his senses and returned back to his home. But, David replied back to the king:

“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep.  When a lion or bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth.  When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.  Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them…The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear WILL deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam. 17:34-37, emphasis mine).

Why did David recount all these past experiences?

David intentionally remembered all God did for him. The simple act of recalling each victory stirred up the faith, courage, and boldness in David to believe the same God who delivered him in those encounters, would also deliver him from Goliath.

Yes, the sling and the stone were useful tools in striking down Goliath. But, remembering his past experiences helped David secure this great win!

As a mere boy, the odds stacked up high against David. But, he chose not to dwell on the facts. Instead, David chose to REMEMBER the faithfulness of God and he believed God could deliver him once again.

Interestingly, the Israelites, so stricken in fear by this giant, did not take a moment to flash back to all the times God delivered them before.  I mean, the God they served split the Red Sea, provided food from heaven, made the sun stand still, caused the walls of Jericho to fall…and the list goes on and on.  Don’t you think they would have had an advantage over their enemies if they remembered all of that?

If there’s anything I’ve learned to do when faced with a giant, it is to REMEMBER what God has done in the past.

Recalling and putting to mind the many times God has come through for me gives me an incredible advantage during times of battle.  With each remembrance, I gain the upper hand.

Like David, I have learned to intentionally remember God’s faithfulness towards me. After going through a miscarriage, experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and riding an emotional roller coaster—REMEMBERING God’s promises, His Word, and all He’s done for me has helped me attain victory.

I can recall jotting down bible verses anywhere and everywhere. Lyrics to uplifting worship songs often filled my journal pages as well. I also made it a practice to itemize all the things I was grateful for each day. Those journal entries got me through the worst of days.

The nights I woke up in a panic; the times I felt paralyzed by fear; the days when I felt like God was against me and not for me; the moments when I felt utterly crushed—I intentionally read my journal entries to remind myself of what God had done, and what He had spoken to me.

REMEMBERING is a POWERFUL thing.

So, my friend, I encourage you to REMEMBER.

Remember what God has done for you in times past.  Remember how He’s provided.  Remember how He’s transformed.  Remember how He’s healed.  Remember how He’s been true and faithful.  Remember.

“I will REMEMBER the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will REMEMBER your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11 & 12).

Posted in Anxiety, Bible, Christian, Depression, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, Hope, Miscarriage, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When God-Inflicted Wounds Make Your Faith Impregnable

%22Stand at attention while I prepare you for your work. I'm making you as impregnable as a castle, immovable as a steel post, solid as a concrete brick wall%22 Jeremiah 1_18-19 MSG

Every holiday season, I reflect on past months and contemplate on what the New Year will bring.  I have made it a practice to ask God, What do you desire to do in me? What are your plans for this year?

Normally He responds by giving me one word to focus on for the year, or a bible verse to hold on to in expectancy.

So, like every other year, I welcomed 2011 with the same questions.

We were expecting our first child and I looked forward to the months ahead.  I anticipated with excitement the new season in my life, in our marriage, and in our family.

So, I considered it strange when I sensed God say, “Put on the full armor”.

Those words didn’t quite line up with my thoughts on newness of life, love, and joy.  Perhaps I heard amiss. I hoped for something more along the lines of “Year of Jubilee.”  A new baby, a new season of ministry—sounds more like joyful things. Doesn’t it?

But, those words continued to resound in me—“Put on the full armor.” 

As January rolled in, a strange feeling overcame me. I sensed a looming battle beginning to brew. Uncomprehending my emotions, I brushed the feelings aside and focused on enjoying the holidays.

Then, eleven days into the New Year, I miscarried.

While attending an event at our church, I began to experience uncomfortable cramping.  Cramps are nothing unusual for a first time pregnancy, so I considered it normal. I was wrong.

That very night, I woke up in unbearable pain. We rushed right to the ER, where doctors confirmed I miscarried.

Unfortunately, my body did not release the fetus well so I spent the following two days in excruciating labor pains.  Cramping, back pain, vomiting, unable to walk without assistance, and the list goes on.

Year of Jubilee? Not so much.

After two days, the doctors at last performed a D&C procedure, and slowly I began to recuperate.

It took several weeks for me to get back to “normal.” I struggled to walk, and ascending a flight of stairs felt like torture. Fatigue and weariness set in due to anemia from blood loss. And, my raw emotions unraveled.

I’d love to say I found strength in the “joy of the Lord”, but I was far from making any joyful declarations.  I questioned why God allowed us to experience such a loss.  Why did He allow death to come and rob our joy?

I later realized I desperately needed the armor of God—the helmet, breastplate, shield, sword—every bit of protection, to guard my heart and mind, in order to stand and fight against every lie of the enemy.

Running to God with all my questions, I clung to His word for encouragement and hope. One day I came across these verses:

“Stand at attention while I prepare you for your work.  I’m making you as impregnable as a castle, Immovable as a steel post, solid as a concrete brick wall” (Jeremiah 1:18-19, MSG, emphasis mine).

 Do you know what impregnable means?  It means invincible; unable to be defeated or destroyed; immune to attack; incapable of being tampered with; incapable of being overcome; having the strength to withstand an attack; too strong to be penetrated.

Why did God allow pain? Not to be cruel.  Not because He wanted to hurt us.  No.

God allowed pain to perform a deeper work in me.

He desired to teach me how to fight, believe, and stand when my emotions encouraged me to give up and give in.

He longed to establish me as impregnable, immovable, and not easily overcome.

I could not wrap my mind around all of this until months after the miscarriage.

In the moment, the fresh wounds ached and stung. How could God permit such sorrow and sadness?

Perhaps you’re feeling the same way.

Is the wound too fresh for you?

Is depression and despair all you see before you?

Please know “…he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal” (Job 5:18, NIV).

Yes, God does allow certain things to happen, but His intentions are never to see us suffer.

In the midst of your present circumstance, remember, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Prov. 27:6, NIV). 

God can be FULLY Trusted.

He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).

He longs to establish you as impregnable, immovable, and not easily overcome!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Walking Through a Door of Hope

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 “…he restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3, NIV).

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (Hosea 2:14-15, NIV).

Nine years ago, today, my husband and I said “I Do.” Considering all the Lord has done for us, it felt appropriate to launch a blog on our anniversary.

Today, we commemorate all the highs and lows of our marriage. Yes, we are celebrating both valley and mountaintop experiences because all of it has made us stronger.

Reflecting on the past year, we journeyed through a valley of trouble, but were led to a door of hope.

We rang in the year in 2011 with great excitement.  A baby was on the way! Over the holidays, we surprised our families with customized, baby sonogram mugs. We will never forget the happy tears and congratulatory hugs.

The New Year also marked a new season of ministry for us. Officially ordained as ministers, we began to serve on the pastoral staff at our church.  The year could not have started any better.

Then, on January 11th, I miscarried.

I was only ten weeks along in the pregnancy, so it didn’t seem as bad.  But, little did we know the loss would rock our worlds.

So much unfolded in such a short period of time.

After undergoing a D&C procedure, I experienced anemia, weakness, and physical pain. I found difficulty in doing the simplest of things, like climbing up a flight of stairs. In order to heal well, my husband and I felt it best for me to resign from my job.

I went from maintaining a busy schedule, working in full-time ministry, to not working at all. As a workaholic, it felt as if my world turned upside down.

Externally my “normal” was changing, and internally I was just a mess.

Despite a short-lived pregnancy, my body still went through hormonal changes, triggering horrible anxiety and panic attacks—things I had never in my life experienced.  The bouts brought on MANY sleepless nights for my husband and I.

Depression—a friend of anxiety—also tagged along for the emotional ride.

I often feared death would pay me a visit again when I least expected it.  Thinking the worst, I frequently spent time in the emergency room.

I’m in no way trying to puff myself up here, but I’m the straight A student, hard-working, neat freak, perfectionist, in control type of gal.  So I never imagined having a ton of illogical and irrational emotions swirling everywhere. Everything was out of my control.

I found myself in a desert. I was in the Valley of Achor, or the valley of trouble, and could not find my way out.  And, yet, God came and restored this broken soul. 

The valley can either overtake you or propel you.

Traveling through the valley propelled me to seek Him out. For I knew only He could guide me out.

It felt as if He held my hand tightly, wiped away my tears, and turned my face towards Him.

And, He spoke lovingly. Though tender, His voice resounded louder than my turmoil within. Holding onto Him, He gently led me through a door of hope.

Today, I’m a different Me.  Not a more “in control” me.

No.  I am a more “surrendered” me. A more “grateful” me.

While in the valley, journaling became a faithful practice. As I blog, I desire to share some of those journal notes, along with past and present experiences, in hopes to encourage anyone who is in a “Valley of Achor”. TRUST ME – a door of hope awaits you!

Today, I am THANKFUL for nine AWESOME years with my INCREDIBLE husband!  Love you babe!!  🙂

By the way, forgot to mention…we are proud parents of a precious baby boy!!  God is Faithful!

Posted in Anxiety, Christian, Depression, Devotional, Encouragement, Faith, Fear, Hope, Infertility, Marriage, Miscarriage, Uncategorized | 9 Comments