Happy 4th of July!

I love the fanfare of the 4th of July. It evokes memories of watermelon, parades, miniature American flags blowing in the wind, patriotic music and fireworks—lots and lots of fireworks. The older I become, the more important this holiday becomes to me. The 4th of July is not only the celebration of the birth of our country, but it is also a celebration of freedom.

The First Amendment to the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As an American, this means that I have the freedom to worship my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I can assemble with fellow believers. I am free to read the Word of God and pray. I am free to tell others about Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 2:17 (ESV), we learn where true freedom comes from. It doesn’t come from the government or from any person. True freedom comes from Christ, as we see in this verse, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” True freedom comes when we entrust our lives to Jesus Christ. Through our salvation in Christ, we are free from condemnation, sin, guilt, and shame. We are free to love God and experience the peace of God and His presence.

This 4th of July, enjoy celebrating with friends, family and apple pie, but don’t forget to remember those who have sacrificed their lives to protect our liberties. Most of all, celebrate the freedom that we have through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice because, in Jesus, we have freedom.

Choose Joy!

Choosing joy in the midst of difficult circumstances is not always easy, but it is what the Lord commands us to do.

  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” –  Philippians 4:4

We can rejoice no matter what circumstance comes our way, because of the great love that Jesus has for us, in that while we were full of sin, he chooses to lay down his life to save us. Jesus has forgiven our sins and cleansed us from all unrighteousness. Through his death, burial, and resurrection we have divine power to choose joy, no matter our circumstance.

In the many years, I have been alive, I have experienced many difficult trials. From having the monumental task of raising a special needs son, to the death of those closest to me—my Mom and Dad, my Mother-in-law and Father-in-law, my brother, several babies, and dear friends. Other tragic situations happened as well, like family problems, marriage problems, health problems, terrible accidents, financial difficulties, church splits, and just the overall effects of sin in a lost and fallen world. Life can be downright, and if though you have walked on this earth very long, I can guarantee that you have had some sort of trouble in your life.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:2-5

[ctt template=”2″ link=”k8i3o” via=”yes” ]Whatever problems seek to plague us in life, we are told to COUNT IT ALL JOY![/ctt]

We all face trials of different kinds. Our struggles and challenges may be similar or different than our friends’ and neighbors’, but we all face difficult times. These challenges test our faith, and as we endure these trials it produces a life of faithful endurance. That steadfastness then helps make us more Christlike and conforms us to the image of God, which is a gift from God to make us whole and bring us to maturity in our spiritual walk.

Horatio Spafford penned the beautiful lyrics to the song “It is Well with My Soul” after a Job-like tragedy struck his life when he lost his son at age two in the Great Chicago Fire. The fire financially ruined him and then shortly afterward, all four of his daughters perished in a shipwreck crossing the Atlantic. Horatio could have become consumed with anger, bitterness or regret, yet he chose to have joy and to praise the Lord! In this life we will have struggles, but how will we respond? We will choose joy? May we learn from his example!

“It is Well with My Soul”

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:

It is well, (it is well),

With my soul, (with my soul)

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Was nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,

The sky, not the grave, is our goal;

Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!

Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so it is well with my soul!

A Leap of Faith

     Have you ever wanted to try something new, or learn a new skill, but you were afraid to get started? Or is there a desire or dream within you to do something and you just don’t feel qualified to do it? 

Many people today lack the courage they need to start new projects or follow their dreams.

     The other day while buying a new computer at the Apple store, the sales associate and I were talking about what I would be using my new laptop for. I told her that I was an author and blogger and that I would be using my new laptop to write my first book. She was very excited for me, and thought that what I was doing was really neat. She told me that she also had a dream of being an author, and one day hoped to write a children’s story.

She was bursting with excitement as she shared with me that she already had a great book idea, but something was holding her back from acting on that dream. This young lady is currently going to school for her teaching degree and wants to be a kindergarten teacher. I don’t know if she was just afraid to get started, or she didn’t think she was qualified enough to write a children’s story until she had a degree, but I sensed her hesitation—something was holding her back. So I encouraged her to go ahead and get started on her book now.

Too often, I see people who are held back from pursuing their dreams because they don’t feel like they have what it takes to pursue them. But the Bible tells us a different story.

According to 2 Timothy 1:7:
“God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and of love and self-control.” 

In 2 Peter 1:3 we learn that:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

     I would have missed out on some of God’s greatest blessings for my life—like motherhood, homeschooling, or blogging—if I would have waited to start until I felt qualified. God equips those He calls.

God has given us everything we need for an abundant life.

     If God has placed a dream or desire in our hearts, then we do not need to be afraid to proceed. Through His divine power He has given us everything we need, and through Christ who strengthens us, we can do all things!

So don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith: step out of your comfort zone, knowing that you are empowered by divine power, and follow your dreams.

Leave a comment below if God has recently empowered you to do something out of your comfort zone.

Declutter My Heart

Last weekend, I cleaned out my closet. I don’t know why the prospect of cleaning it out is so hard for me, or why I waited so long to actually clean it! My closet was a disaster. I could barely hang anything in it, and there were clothes and shoes strewn all around.

Sometimes, I really have a hard time letting go of things that belong to me.

Maybe it has something to do with growing up with a post-depression era Mother. As a child growing up, we didn’t have a lot of excesses, and I can still hear my mom say, “Don’t throw that away. We may need it someday.” I think that is the attitude that I still have toward my clothing. Maybe I will wear it again, or if I just lose a few pounds that outfit will fit really nice. “Don’t get rid of it, you might want to wear that again someday,” I tell myself. And sometimes, that someday never comes, and so things are there taking up space, making it difficult for me to find things I really want to wear because I can’t see through the clutter.

How many times in life do we miss out on God’s best for our life, because we clench things so tightly with our fists that we don’t let go and make room for God to bless us?

I wonder what blessings that I have missed out along the way because I was holding on too tightly to things, or feelings and emotions, or sins like jealousy or envy.

Back to my closet: My husband and boys helped me clean out my closet. They would pick things up, and say “Mom, the 90’s called and they want their clothes back!” It was straightforward for them to see what was faded, stained, or things I no longer wear. It took us the entire day to clean out my closet. Wouldn’t it have been easier on the whole family if I would’ve just periodically cleaned out my closet along the way? Or take a hard look at what was cluttering my closet?

On a different level, what about the sin that is cluttering my heart and my life?

It’s easy for us to make judgments toward other people. It’s easy to compare ourselves and say “well, I am better than that person because I don’t _____.” But our own sin clouds our hearts and minds and keeps us from living the abundant life God has called us to live.

” Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” -Matthew 7:3-5

Just like cleaning out my closet, sometimes it is easier for other people to see what I don’t see. Lord, please help me to see what is obvious to others, help me to let go of whatever holds me back from living for You completely. Help me deal with the sin in my heart, before it gets so cluttered that I can’t contain the mess.

Cleaning out my closet was a very liberating experience. I can now walk in and find exactly what I am looking for, and I also have room left to add a few new pieces. The Bible is full of verses detailing God’s great blessings for our lives.

For example, in Philippians 4:19 (ESV), Paul writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

If God will take care of everything I need according to his riches, then why would I want to hold on so tightly to things, attitudes, behavior, sin, that keep me from God’s best in my life?

Lord, help me not to judge others but help me become a better judge of my own condition!

 

The Church Has Left the Building

Last week, a terrible storm blew through Houston, and it left many people who live in my area of Northwest Houston devastated by flood waters. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated by boat in this historic storm. Many homes were inundated by several feet of water. This unnamed storm seemed to come out of nowhere, and the damage took everyone by surprise. The storms in life will come, and when they do, how will we respond?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” – James 1

We are to be joyful, even in the midst of our trials. I witnessed exactly that this weekend in the aftermath of last week’s devastating storms. My son Ian and I were sent out with a prayer team from our church to pray for and with flood victims. I was amazed to see a man who a few days early had two feet of water in his home, and all of his family’s  belongings destroyed to have a smile on his face. He was joyful, in spite of his circumstances, because he knew that the Lord was faithful and that He would carry them through the trials and tribulations of life.

Our church sent over a 1000 people out into the community on Saturday to love on people, pray with people, share the gospel, and help them tear out sheetrock, carpet, baseboards, and ruined furniture. Teams were sent out to all areas of town to help people in the affected neighborhoods.  I am so grateful to be a part of a church that loves God and loves people—love them in their need and where they are hurting. We were being given T-shirts that said: “The Church has left the building.” What a beautiful picture of the hands and feet of Jesus!

It is the trials that we face, that test our faith, and that testing produces steadfastness, and when it has its full effect, we lack nothing. So my question for you, friend, is this: how will you respond when the storms of life take you by surprise?  Will you count it all joy?

The Waters May Rise…

Raucous thunder and electrifying lightning filled the sky here in the Houston area on Sunday evening. The light show it produced and the amount of noise felt like we were on the front lines of a major battle. The storms were relentless. After many hours with no electricity and by the time the rain finally subsided we were left with a city ravaged by flood waters. It made me think about Noah—I can’t imagine experiencing the wrath of God for 40 days of constant destructive storms.

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God told Noah to built a boat, and in Genesis 7:5 it says, “And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.” The Lord saw that men were wicked and evil, and He was sorry that he made man. God found favor with Noah because Noah lived his life differently than everyone else in the world at that time. So God made a covenant with Noah, spared the earth from complete destruction, and promised that He would never destroy the world with flood waters again. Thank you God!

There are many lessons that we can learn from the story of Noah. Noah lived counter-culturally, and because he did, God spared the entire world! The evil people perished, and God saved a remnant of Noah’s family, spared the animals’ lives, and did not completely destroy the earth all because of Noah. Noah was far from perfect, but Noah was faithful.

In our world today we are again at a point in time where there is much evil, and atrocities are occurring across the globe at breakneck speed. In the midst of this perverse generation, we need more people like Noah. People who are faithful to God, people who listen to God and are obedient to God. Not perfect people, not people that don’t mess up or have it all together, but people who are willing to listen to God and obey.

After 40 days and 40 nights of torrential rain, the flood subsides and God remembers Noah, but the flood waters were not abated for another 150 days. So Noah waited on God. He trusted God’s faithfulness, and knew that God would guide him. The storms of life will come. How will we respond?

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It is my prayer that I will learn to listen and obey God more everyday. That I would care less about what the others think or what they do, and choose to live my life in obedience to God, even if that means living  counter-cultural and doing things that other people think are weird. That I would follow hard after Him, and that I would be found faithful.

My friend, are you listening for that still small voice in a world screams loud? Will you be found faithful? And will you wait on God through the storms of life?

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Girlfriends

The other day, I met a friend for lunch and as soon as she sat down and we started talking, she burst into tears. You see, my friend is a busy young mother with a new baby. She was frazzled trying to get out of the house and get everyone situated before she came to meet me. I think she was just relieved to see me knowing that we could talk and that I would understand the struggles and challenges that she is experiencing. Basically, she just needed a friend.

Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Girlfriends are important. We need each other. We need friends to laugh with us when we are happy and cry with us when we are sad. Friends that will pray for us and encourage us to do good. Hebrews chapter 10 tells us to consider, ponder, think about how we should stir up one another to love and good works.

The Amplified Bible says it this way, “And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities, Not forsaking or neglecting to assemble together [as believers], as is the habit of some people, but admonishing (warning, urging, and encouraging) one another, and all the more faithfully as you see the day approaching.”

As Christian women, we should be creative in thinking about ways to meet with each other so that we can watch over one another and encourage one another to love God, love our husbands, love our children, and to love each other.

I have an amazing group of women that I meet with regularly, and I am so blessed by their friendships. Some of us have been friends for almost two decades, others have joined us along the way. We do life together. We may not see each other every day, but I know that these are the girls that have my back. We have shared both good times and bad times. We have celebrated all of the major milestones together—babies, birthdays, showers, and even funerals. These girls are a special part of my life.

I have other very close friends who are very special to me, and these ladies are the “older women” in my life who I look up to, and can call on for advice. These ladies are full of wisdom, and I consider these ladies my mentors. It is good to have women of all ages in your life!

The Lord has blessed me with a life filled with amazing women of all ages; both young and old. Some I see regularly, others I only talk to occasionally. It isn’t necessary to have a lot of friends, but what is important is having the right kind of friends. Friends that lift you up encourage you and pray for you. I hope you have a special girl or a group of girls that you can call your friends. If not, I encourage you to pray and ask God to put the right kind of girls and women in your life.

Connor’s Smile

Connor’s Smile

Peter, my husband, is the light of my life, and my best friend. In December of 1993, our life was forever changed, that was the day I gave birth to my eldest son. We instantly fell in love with our bundle of joy!  Peter and I were young, inexperienced parents, but we were given an incredible gift, our precious son Jacob. He was a wonderful little man, and he made me want to have more children just like him.I longed for more children, but I was a busy working mom and many years passed before I would become pregnant again. Finally, I did get pregnant again in 1998. This pregnancy was not as easy as the first one. I had trouble with spotting early in my pregnancy, and I began to experience some health problems. I was diagnosed with Gestational diabetes and was put on a very strict diet, exercise regime, and was very closely monitored. On a routine visit to the hospital, I was hooked up to a monitor to make sure everything was going okay. But today, something was terribly wrong. My baby’s lungs were not moving. They didn’t know if he was breathing okay, so they ordered an emergency C-section. This was a horrifying time. Several hours later, I gave birth to our second son, Connor.

Everything seemed okay at first. But everything was not okay. He was born with a condition called club feet. His feet were upside down, and backward. I remember holding him in those early hours after he was born, with my eyes full of tears, and all I could say was that he was perfect. I had longed for this child, and to me he was perfect.

The years that followed were downright difficult! Connor was in and out of the hospital from the time he was born. The first doctor that cast Connor, cast him to tight and Connor’s toes were turning black and blue. He was losing circulation to his feet. We took him to the ER, and they cut his cast off. The attending ER Physician said it was a good thing that we brought him in because if we had waited much longer, he would have lost his feet. He was only days old. And things continued to get worse from there.

Connor had a myriad of health issues. He had several foot surgeries. We were constantly either in the Doctor’s office or hospital. During one of his hospital stays, he contracted the roto virus. A diarrhea virus that lasted for six weeks!!  He had cast all the way up his legs and that made dealing with a diarrhea virus even more difficult. Also, he had over 15 ear infections by the time he was a year old. He was an extremely colicky baby who did not sleep. He would scream for hours on end, sometimes he would cry all night long.

We were exhausted and desperate for sleep. After trying just about everything we could think of, there were only two ways we could get him to sleep, either put him in a baby swing or have the vacuum cleaner on all night. We would put him in the swing and rock him back and forth continuously, and we would turn the vacuum on for white noise. We leaned the vacuum cleaner up against the wall so we wouldn’t burn the motor up. I am sure my neighbors thought we were crazy for vacuuming all night! But if I even tried to shut the vacuum cleaner off after two or three hours, he would wake up screaming at the top of his lungs.

At a year old Connor received one of his vaccinations, and shortly after he began having Grand Mal seizures. He had one seizure. Then another. Then another. They started out several hours apart until he was constantly seizing. We rushed to our pediatrician’s office, and he sent us to Texas Children’s hospital in the Houston Medical Center. After several hours in the ER, and with no real treatment, we were sent home. Only to find ourselves right back in the ER with Connor seizing more frequently. As a parent watching your child have seizures is an incredibly frightening thing, you feel completely helpless. It is horrific to watch your child flail uncontrollably, and there is nothing you can do about it. It took Connor being pumped full of the barbiturate Phenobarbital for him to finally stop seizing.  For the next year, Connor laid around limp, pumped full of drugs. These early years were extremely tough with Connor.

Connor did not walk or talk when he was supposed to, and we didn’t know what else could be wrong. We constantly took him to doctors and specialists looking for answers. At age 3, we took Connor in for a hearing test, and the audiologist suggested something else was wrong with Connor. We took him back to his pediatrician who finally diagnosed him with PDD-NOS. Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not otherwise specified. This is an autism spectrum disorder, and for the next fourteen years, we lived with this devastating diagnosis.

Years worth of therapy, specialized schooling and countless doctor appointments made some slight improvements in Connor’s life, but his language was minimal, and his deficits were huge. We faced the fact that Connor may not be able to live on his own, although we always held out hope for a better life for him. Connor has always had a very sweet spirit, with a huge smile. He impacts people and melts hearts everywhere he goes. There is an innocence about him, and a child-like faith that makes him precious.

We continued to pray and seek God’s will for Connor, and at the end of last year, God finally answered that prayer! We took Connor to a specialist, who for the first time in Connor’s life accurately diagnosed his condition, and told us things about Connor that no one else was ever able to diagnose before. Connor was given the diagnosis of autoimmune encephalitis.

According to Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance, “Autoimmune encephalitis is a rare and serious condition in which the immune system attacks the brain, resulting in impaired brain function.”

For many people, this would be a devastating diagnosis, but for us this finally meant hope. Because unlike Autism, there is a treatment for Autoimmune Encephalitis. I will talk about Connor’s journey and progress in future posts. But today I would like to leave you with a final thought.

Don’t give up, don’t lose hope! Continue to pray for those situations in your life that look hopeless, because in Jesus there is hope! He is faithful. 1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Turn your eyes to Jesus and cry out for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5. 

 

5 Percent Christian!

We spent spring breakaway in the mountains, and I looked on in amazement at the beauty God created on this earth for us to enjoy. The trees were all dusted with snow, and the mighty mountains provide an incredible backdrop to the magnificent sunrises and brilliant sunsets. The sky is filled with His brilliance! Through God’s creation, we get a glimpse of His beauty and majesty!

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10 ESV)

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The caretaker where we were staying informed us that only 5 percent of the people in that area went to church or were Christians. Only 5 % – that means 95% are unbelievers! I was flummoxed—how could these people live in such an amazingly beautiful place and miss the creator of the universe? This is not some far off land where the gospel has never been preached. This is right here, smack dab in the middle of the United States. How could all of these people worship the creation, and altogether miss the Creator?

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Tomorrow as Christians we celebrate Easter, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and in my quiet time this morning  I read through the book of Mark. Mark’s gospel tells the story of the life and death of Jesus while encouraging discipleship. Discipleship is not just about following a set of rules of conduct or morality, it is not about being a good person, it is a about having a relationship with Jesus.

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Jesus was born, lived, and died that we might be saved from sin and death, and that we would tell others about him. The very first thing that Jesus says to his disciples after His resurrection, he gives them The Great Commission: “Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'” (Mark 16:14-16 ESV)

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Lord, it is my prayer that my heart would not be hardened or filled with unbelief, that You would give me the courage to tell others about Jesus—what he has done for me and how he has forever changed my life for the better. We live in a world full of lost and hurting people, who desperately need to know that you love them and care for them and that you came that we might be saved!

If you like this post, be sure to see The Heavens Declare!

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