Saturday, August 29, 2015

I want to be brave.

Thank you to everyone who read my blog on Monday and for your outpouring of love! I am overwhelmed by the number of people who read it and responded with how it touched their lives. I have had several people tell me how well I write and that I should blog more often, and I think that is something I am going to try, at least for a little while. I feel like writing helps me to process things that are going on in my life, and if I can help even one person by sharing my story and what I am learning or going through, I feel like it is worth the time. I make no promises of being consistent with my blog and have no clue what I will even talk about. I have a feeling it may get real deep some days and then have pictures of my animals or the cake I baked the next. You might even get both if you're lucky. Either way, I hope some of you will read along and enjoy life with me and be encouraged to share your stories as well.

Let me start by telling you about that excitement that has been in my heart since I was baptized on Sunday. It is hard to put into words how I have felt the Spirit move in my life the past few days, and how my heart has changed just by deciding to take that step and show everyone how Christ has changed my life. I feel so much more peace. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. In some ways I feel fearless, ready to take on the world. I know the Lord has been good to slowly bring me back to Him over these past few months, but the goodness I've seen from Him in my obedience to follow what he was leading me to do in baptism has been overwhelming. Thank you all for being a part of this story with me!

What I have on my heart to share today is something I have struggled with for a long time and something I am still learning how to fight...fear, anxiety, and worry.

Thursday morning as I got out of my fitness class at Central Church, I pickup up my phone and read messages from my sister-in-law who was hiding in her classroom on the Mississippi State Campus literally fearing for her life as they announced there was an active shooter on campus. We all know now that everything is okay. You can even read her story here: They caught the guy, and no shots were actually fired, but as I picked up the phone and read her messages you can imagine the the emotions that were running through my mind. I immediately went over to a group of girls at the gym and told them what was going on and we prayed. I read that the "shooter" had been caught, calmed down a little and walked downstairs to the bookstore to pick up a few books. 


Her messages started coming again as there was fear of a second shooter. I told the ladies in the bookstore what was going on and one of them stood there and prayed with me again. Fear began creeping in as I tried to process what was happening and think of something calming to say to her. There really was nothing I could have said to help the situation, so I just sat down on the floor in the middle of the bookstore overwhelmed with emotion. It was then that the Lord reminded me of the passage out of Psalms 91 that I remember my journey girls talking about awhile back.

Psalm 91:9-10 "If you say, "The Lord is my refuge," and make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent."

Because of the anxiety and fear that I often experience, I have been reading this entire passage over and over again and it was amazing to see how it came to my mind when I really needed it. (I'm learning that's how the Holy Spirit works). I looked it up on my phone, read it, and sent a screen shot to Hannah. I don't know if it helped calm her or not, but for me, it was amazing how at peace I felt even in the midst of such an uncertain moment. The Lord spoke to my heart and said, "No matter what happens she is safe with me, and you don't need to worry about this."

Wow! For someone who has been afraid of so many things for so long, I felt like that was huge for me to actually feel the Lord comfort me in the midst of a real life crisis that felt like life or death in that moment. "She is safe with me no matter what." Isn't that the truth? We are safe with Him. He has everything in his hands and whether we are here on earth or with Him in heaven, we are safe, and there is such comfort in that.

This song has spoken so true to me over the past few weeks. You can listen here if you like, or read the words below:

You make me brave, You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave, You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the promises You've made
You make me brave, You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way
-Bethal Music

When we are living in an abiding relationship with Christ, when we believe his love made a way, and when we believe his promises are true, we don't have to live in fear. We feel safe. We are free to be brave, to be strong, and to be courageous because he gives us that boldness. We don't have to fear what will happen to our loved ones because they are safe with him. We don't have to fear the thorns in our lives because his grace is sufficient. He makes us brave.

That being said, I am weak in believing this and living it out, and I believe many of you are as well. That's why it's so important for us to encourage each other with this. I have a tendency to let my flesh take over. I remember a few weeks ago my husband Bobby was late coming home from work. My tendency is to begin to think about the worst possible thing that could have happened. In my mind, he had either electrocuted himself at work or had been in a traffic accident and was not coming home. Before I heard from him, in my mind I had already planned his funeral and decided which cat I would have to get rid of because I was not going to be a crazy cat lady. (I know that sounds crazy, but that's how my mind works from time to time.)

Many of you know, since we don't have kids yet, a big part of my life tends to revolve around my animals. We have 3 cats and 1 dog. This particular week, my animals reminded me a lot of myself. We have one cat that we call Little One. He was found abandoned as a kitten. I bottle fed him and his brothers until they were old enough to eat on their own. Little One was the runt of the litter, hence the name, and the only one we couldn't find a home for, so we ended up keeping him. The thing with Little One is that he is the sweetest cat in the world to me and Bobby, but he is literally scared of everything. If you come to our house, you probably won't even know that he exists because he will be hiding. We joke around and say he's scared of life, but it's really the truth. I remember one time we got him a new collar with a bell on it and had to take it off immediately, because he thought the bell was after him and he was frantically running around the house trying to get away from it. The only problem was that it was attached to him, and he couldn't figure that out. Struggles.

Our girl cat on the other hand, Layla, she is not afraid to meet a stranger. As long as there is not an extra dog visiting, she is going to come out and great you if you come over. She is going to tell you her story with boldness, and is going to make you want to listen every time. There are times, when I have to be honest and say that it's almost annoying because she can be so demanding for you to pay attention to what she has to say.

When I think about it though, I'd rather be like Layla. Brave. Not scared of life. Ready and willing to tell my story with boldness. To not meet a stranger. To love everyone. To accept everyone. Those are the kinds of people who make a difference in this world. People who are brave and fearless and willing to share their lives and their stories with people are the ones who make the difference in this world.

I was talking with my mom about my anxiety when we went on vacation last month. She told me I have always been anxious, and that even as a child I would cling to her side because I was afraid of everything. She said she remembered me breaking out of that when I was in college. Now that I think back on what she said, college for me was the point in my life when I was closest to Jesus. I was braver. I was bolder. I was more confident. I was more outgoing. It was after that when I went through the darker period in my life and my relationship with Christ wasn't where it should have been. I see now how the importance of abiding in Him affects my anxiety. I hope those of you who struggle with these same things will seek help in Him and seek relationships with other people who may have the same struggles who can encourage you.

Through everything that happened this week, I was reminded of this print that I have been meaning to get off my cousin's Emily's Etsy shop. She paints and draws quotes and scriptures and is very good at what she does! You can visit her page here and maybe find one that relates to you.


The one I printed is taken from this verse:

Joshua 1:9-10 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

I will hang it somewhere in my house this week to remind me of the command and the promise we are given in that. We are to be strong. Courageous. Brave. Fearless. Not anxious. Not afraid. Not discouraged. He is with us.

2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My Story.

I got baptized last night. For many of you who have known me for awhile, this may come as a surprise, so let me explain. When I was a child, around 9 years old I think, I made a decision at Vacation Bible School to "accept Jesus as my personal savior". I don't remember much about it to be honest, other than my sister and I made the decision at the same time, and I remember her swimming her way out of the baptistry as a 6 year old. There is probably a VHS tape floating around somewhere with proof of that, but as a kid, that's what stood out to me. My parents could probably tell you every detail, but I honestly don't remember much about it.

Growing up, I was never really a bad kid. I stayed out of trouble and was probably what a lot of people would call a "goodie goodie." I think it was in some ways hard for me to relate to being a sinner because I didn't do really bad things. I was also a preachers kid, which looking back for whatever reason I feel, it put a lot of pressure on me to look like I was doing all of the right things. I knew a lot about the bible. I knew all the correct answers to the questions. I did a lot of things for Jesus, especially through high school and college. I would say that I knew Jesus and over time began to understand what a relationship with Him meant, and I honestly believe if my time had come, I probably would have gone to be with Him. But there's more to the story.

After college, things started to get a little rocky for me and I began to put up these walls between myself and God. My life suddenly started falling apart when things didn't quite go the way I thought they were supposed to in multiple areas of my life. For the past 8 or so years I have lived with a lot of doubt and fear in my heart. Doubts about whether or not God cared about me, whether he was listening to my prayers, fears and insecurities about myself and what other people thought about me, and fears of the unknown, fears of what could happen if I didn't attempt to control situations around me as much as possible.

When I look back, I realize that it was all lies. I think a lot of times Satan takes people that he sees can make a huge impact for the kingdom of God and begins to lie to them. He tells them things like you're not good enough, your life is too messed up, God's not really there for you, you have too many problems, people don't like you, you're this, you're that. That's what he did to me. I listened. I listened for 8 years. Because of that, I got caught up in bitterness, anger, fear, anxiety, all sins that put a wall between me and God. You may have not seen it, because most of it was on the inside and growing up in the church, as terrible as this sounds, you learn to fake the "Christian" look. Everything looks okay on the outside, but on the inside, yeah not so much. I'm thankful now to have community where I don't have to live like that anymore.

I am also very thankful for a process/program/bible study (I don't even know what to call it) that I started about 6 months ago called The Journey. I'll be completely honest, when I was presented with it, no part of me wanted to do it. Why would I want to give 9 months of my life to intense daily study of the word, journaling, long prayer walks, and group meetings with people I didn't know? Where I was in my life at that point, that sounded terrible! But for whatever reason, I gave into peer pressure and did it.

It has completely changed my life. In the first few weeks, I realized how those sins of bitterness and anger were controlling my life and how I needed to confess that and get rid of it. So I not only confessed it to the Lord, but to the girls in my Journey group. From there we learned who God was, how much he cared for us, and how he was able to do the impossible in our lives. The biggest part for me was learning to abide with Christ. I have always been one to read my bible occasionally and pray somewhat consistently, but abiding with Christ I didn't really understand. I guess I thought I was doing that already, but in reality had no clue.

Abiding is when you have a deep intimacy with Christ. You spend consistent time with him in the word and in prayer. By consistent, I mean everyday. By everyday, I mean every single day and not just I'm going to read a quick verse, say and quick prayer and I'm done. Abiding is when you take the scripture, read it, meditate on it, apply it to your life, and then take action on it. In our journey group we do this through journaling. We write the scripture, write our thoughts about it, write how to apply it to our lives, and then respond to the Lord on how he's calling us to live it out. Abiding is also when you pray consistently, not just in the morning or before bed, or when you need something from God. Consistently. Throughout the day. About everything. This has changed my life.

The Holy Spirit has also changed my life. Until recently, I haven't fully understood the Holy Spirit and who he was and what he was capable of doing. I don't know if that's because He wasn't clearly explained to me growing up, if I didn't see Him working, or if I saw Him in other's lives and heard Him speak to me, but questioned whether or not that's what I really hearing. I can say that I now 100% know what his voice sounds like and I don't want to miss anything He has to tell me. Guys, he is real and He is powerful and if you don't know His voice I would challenge you to research scripture to find out about Him, because the bible promises that His power is given to all of us who believe in Jesus. He lives inside of us.

I could go on about the other things I've learned, but you'd be reading for days. So let's go back to what I was originally going to explain, my baptism last night. This week the Holy Spirit has continuously put baptism on my heart through situations, through hearing testimony of friends, and even a story on the radio that was similar to mine. The bible study I do with a group of friends every Thursday that's called "Lies Women Believe" was even entitled, "I know my child is a Christian because he prayed to receive Christ at an early age." It talked about how salvation is not a matter of profession or performance, but of transformation, as 2 Corinthians says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come." And also, Colossians 1:13, "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves."

I realized that as a child, I don't remember that transformation. I feel like I knew about it, what it was supposed to "feel" like, but I never experienced it. And as I sat in church Sunday and listened to my friend Debra, explain how she wrestled with doubts and fears about her salvation and had to come to a place when she put a stake in the ground and said something to the effect of, "This is it. This is the day that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus has rescued me from sin and death and I want to tell the world and not question it anymore." I realized that is what I needed to do too! I get it now. I've seen how sin in my life has nearly destroyed me, where as when I was a kid, I didn't really get that. I see a transformation that has occurred in my life over the past few months and I want people to know that I am not the same person I have been over the past 8 years. I wanted freedom in knowing that I am changed and I don't have to fake it anymore.

Yes, I fought with the idea of being baptized again, because I was baptized as a child and I've always believed and been taught that's something you only need to do once in your life. I have even questioned in the past why people would get baptized again, because I was taught that you show people one time when you make your "profession of faith" and that's it. I fought with how my husband would respond, or what my family would think. But when it came down to it, I knew that's what the Holy Spirit was leading me to do, so I did it and I feel amazing peace from that outward expression of surrender!

So, I want to challenge the rest of you to take a look at where you are with the Lord. I have seen Him bring me from a very dark place to a place of peace and restoration where I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is real and I am His. Some of you wrestle with that as well. Some of you wrestle with lies from the enemy. Some of you know Him, but need that abiding relationship with Christ, and some of you need to ask the Holy Spirit to be real and alive in your life. Wherever you are, I pray that the presence of God will overwhelm you today and you will know His love and his realness and that you will make the decision to surrender to whatever the Spirit leads you to do. It may be getting rid of a sin you have been struggling with, coming to know and accept Christ for the first time, or just surrendering to His leadership in your life.

One of the great things for me, was being able to do this with one of my best friends, Holly, and one of the girls from my Journey group, Lu! Being able to stand there with one of your closet friends and one of the girls you're shared your heart with for the past 6 months, and say we're not playing games anymore. This is real life and we're tired or riding the fence. It's all or nothing. August 23, 2015 is our day to make this real. That's real life. That's friendship. That's what being the church is about.