Exciting News and an Invitation

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The Lord has truly blessed me beyond words over the course of the year. As this year draws to a close, I look forward to 2014 with eager anticipation for what God has in store for me. I would like to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to come together on my blog this past year and help to grow this community. It is such a blessing to be able to share and reach out to women around the world.

And now for the exciting news, starting the week of January 6th I have the privilege of leading a group of ladies from Maryland Community Church through the What Happens When Women Say Yes to God study online. Therefore, my Monday and Wednesday posts for six weeks will be centered around this book. I invite you to join with us in the study. For more information or to register, visit the church’s website. If you would like to take the study a little deeper, I invite you to contact me directly and I will add you to the facebook small group. Whether you attend MCC, register for the study or not, I invite each one of you to start the new year off on the right foot by being openhanded with your hopes, dreams and goals and saying yes to whatever God has in store for you.

Another great way to start off 2014 is by choosing to crave God above everything else. I would invite you to sign up for the Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study Made to Crave. It will begin on January 19th and run until March 1st. My Thursday posts starting January 23rd will center on the topics in that study.

I have participated in both of these studies in the past and I would highly encourage you to sign up for them. I promise that God will take your step of faith and use it in a mighty way.

Feel free to contact me with any questions regarding either study. I am so excited to spend time studying God’s word together in 2014.

The Real Me

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If you were asked to describe yourself, what would you say? The majority of us would start with our appearance and then maybe include our occupation and marital status. In most cases, it wouldn’t get any deeper than that. However, there are many more components that compose the real you.

For me personally, I struggled in the past with not only poor body image, but also comparing myself to others. I wanted to have the perfect look, because then everything else would fall into place, right? So, I stressed over an extra pound here or a bad hair day there. All the while thinking that if the outside was better then I would be better on the inside. This way of thinking quickly sucked me into the trap of comparing how someone looked on the outside to how I was feeling on the inside.

I love what Renee says about comparing/competing in Chapter 8 of A Confident Heart, “ God never intended for us to compete with each other; He wants us to complete one another, celebrating and encouraging each other’s strengths while discovering who He created us to be” (pg. 137).

I had to come to a point where I saw who I was through God’s eyes – my true identity. God didn’t create flat, one-dimensional people. He gave us spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, personalities and experiences, which make each one of us unique.

Each and every one of us has been given spiritual gifts to use for God’s purpose. Think about it like this, I’m certain that if someone gives you a Christmas gift you won’t leave it wrapped and sitting on a shelf or the bottom of your closet. Therefore, you and I need to utilize the gifts God has given to us.

I enjoyed taking the spiritual gifts assessment on Wednesday. If you haven’t taken one before I suggest you spend a few moments to see where your strengths lie. My top three were teaching, faith and exhortation. God has given me these gifts to reach out and shine His light and encourage those around me.

God has also put passions within each one of us. One of mine is to help and lift up those who are broken and hurting. Because of various experiences God has brought me through, I can identify with many hurts and pains.

Besides gifts and passions, we also have various abilities. Some people can sing, paint, lead, speak – you name it. God has blessed me with the ability to write. I first saw this as a possibility when I went through this study through OBS two years ago.

It was at this time I was encouraged to start a blog for the first time. I was so nervous when I hit the publish button the first time, but I chose to use what God had given me and be available to His leading. Since that first post, I have written and published my first book, Get REAL: Stop Hiding Behind the Mask, started on my second book and met amazing women through my blog that have touched my heart – all because I chose to use the abilities, gifts, passions and experiences God had created me with for His purpose and plan.

Every pieces of us as individuals may not make sense or be appealing, but combined together you and I are each a living breathing masterpiece from God. You wouldn’t go into a museum and take apart pieces of art thinking you knew better than the artist, so why do we do the same thing with God?

When you and I begin to embrace who God has created us to be, it will lead to confidence.

Your Turn:Who are you? What gifts, passions and abilities has God created in you? Most importantly, what are you going to choose to do with them?

Condemnation versus Conviction

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The reflection verse for Week 5 of the A Confident Heart Online Bible Study is one that I cling to.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NIV)

It is so easy to fall victim to condemnation, from our self, as well as, others. When condemnation comes against you, let me encourage you to quote this scripture as a word weapon. This verse is so powerful because no matter what you have done or will do, there is no condemnation in Christ. The Holy Spirit will convict us when we have sinned, so that we can repent. Condemnation, on the other hand, comes from ourselves and satan. Therefore we need to remind satan and yourself, that you do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Walking after the flesh is depending on yourself; walking after the Spirit is depending upon God. When we fail, which we all will, that does not mean we are a failure. It simply means that you do not do everything right. We all have to accept the fact that we have strengths along with weaknesses. Let Christ be strong in your weaknesses. Let Him be your strength on your weak days.

Who Am I?

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There were many times in the past that I fell into the notion that I was not good enough – from being excluded in school, to comparing myself to others to my husband leaving me. For this reason, the enemy uses this doubt frequently in attacking me.

As long as I am stuck in that downward spiral, I am not moving forward or following after God’s plan for my life. The enemy can simply set back because I am already discouraged and defeated.

But God doesn’t see any of us as not good enough.

You and I must remember that God has made each one of us unique for His plan and purpose. The world needs us to fulfill that plan. We have to come to a point where we see ourselves as God sees us.

I encourage you to read through some of the great scriptures from Renee Swope’s Confident Heart:

                                      John 1:12

                        2 Timothy 1:7

                            Ephesians 3:12

Your Turn: Who are you? Not whom others say you are, but whom God says you are. I encourage you to let your true identity in Christ shine through to the dark world today.

Resources:     Confident Heart – Renee Swope

Get REAL: Stop Hiding Behind the Mask – Jamy Whitaker

Bible Gateway

Changing Perspective

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Whether we are focusing on the present, past or future, if our perspective is off, we can turn a small incident into something monumental. We must have God be our focus, so things are in the correct perspective. Sometimes the life lessons we all need to learn are seen in children.

Having kids is an adventure, to say the least. More times than not, they are the ones that end up teaching me. For example, our youngest son, Quintin, came in the other day from playing outside to say that he needed a band-aid. However, when he came over to show me, I could barely even see that there was a scratch. Quintin, on the other hand, could not see anything else, but the hurt. His focus was on the boo-boo and what I might be able to do to make it feel better. Later, that same day, our middle son, Ethan, was working on his math homework and having a difficult time. He just kept saying that he could not do it; it was simply too hard. When Ethan’s focus was on the entire problem, instead of looking at it one step at a time, he could not see that he was ever going to figure it out. His focus was on all the problems he had for homework and not simply taking one step at a time. It is easy in these situations, as a mom, to step back and say, “Boys, this is not really as big of a deal as you are making it.” In these instances, they needed me to help give them perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of a pebble. If we hold it up close to our eye, it is all that we see. However, if we hold it out farther. We can examine it and even classify it. To take it one step farther, if you would throw that same pebble at your feet, then it is seen in its true setting. It becomes just one tiny bump along our journey, instead of being the only thing we can see.

For the longest time, I had a real issue with pain from my past. No matter what the Bible said, I was so focused on my pain, my hurt and my past that I couldn’t see anything else. I couldn’t imagine ever getting beyond this point. In fact, I became so focused on this one circumstance in my life that I was missing out on everything around me. I was turning this pebble into Mount Everest. In fact, I was beginning to be crushed under the weight of my past, feeling like I could not more forward and certainly could not be used by God.

God began to work in and through my life to see that in His eyes sin is sin and Christ died on the cross for all of it. It was the enemy who wanted to keep me trapped in the past – distracted, discouraged and defeated. God lifted me up to see that I was loved, valued, important and needed. The very same thing is true of you dear friend. Don’t let the world lead you to believe anything different. God lovingly created each and every one of you for His purpose and plan.

Therefore, when the past comes to haunt us, it is so easy, just like with the pebble, to be solely focused on the circumstance. Like my sons, who were consumed with their problems, we cannot begin to see anything else. It was all they could see and think about. When this happens, life’s circumstances begin to overwhelm us. However, just like the pebble, we need to throw all of our troubles at our feet. The distance helps to put things back into perspective. God is right there, just like I was for my boys, to help us see things clearer. We simply need to take the focus off of the circumstance and throw it at God’s feet and let Him help us. It is mentioned in First Peter 5:7, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (NKJV). God cares for us and wants to, not only help us, but to also put things into perspective. If you are feeling overwhelmed by a situation in your life or pain from the past, take a moment to give it all to God and let Him take care of it all.

How is your perspective today? Are you looking at your circumstances or your Savior?

Priceless

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I’m sure many of you are familiar with the credit card commercial that went something like this:

Pizza with everyone’s favorite toppings – $30

Board game everyone can agree upon – $20

Quality time with family – PRICELESS

I just love those. It really makes you stop and think about what is important and of value in your life.

I know that as a wife and mother, I couldn’t begin to quantify my love for my husband and children. That’s why this week’s key verse in A Confident Heart study really hit home with me.

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7, NIV).

God’s unfailing love for each one of us is priceless. The Hebrew word for unfailing love is one of the most important in the Old Testament and central to God’s character. No matter what you and I do, He will always love us because His love does not depend upon our actions. It is everlasting.

Dear friend, not only does God love us, but He likes us and accepts us. You and I can truly be ourselves and not fear rejection.

This principle ties directly into the name of God used in this scripture – Elohim. It refers to God as the creator. Nothing exists by accident. We didn’t come into being by chance. Each and every one of us was fearfully and wonderfully made. God displayed His love and care for us by carefully crafting us, knitting us, together with His loving hands. Never doubt your love and importance to the creator of all.

The last part of the verse talks about taking “refuge in the shadow of your wings.” You and I need to solely put our trust in God because He is our only reliable source of refuge – our strong tower.

I truly believe that if we really grasp the depths of God’s love for each one of us we would live differently. I encourage you to discover by reading, studying and spending time with God a glimpse of how much He truly loves and accepts you this week.

Speaking of priceless, I want to leave you with this song.

When the kids were younger, I can remember hearing their voices sing out this song whenever it came on the radio. Let us curl up and take refuge in the shadow of our Heavenly Father and not lose that child-like faith and love.

Isaiah 49:23

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I love going on a trip, whether it is overnight or for an entire week. It is so refreshing to just get away from the every day routine. However, with the joys of vacation also come the realities of laundry and unpacking all the bags after returning.

Having just returned from a trip over fall break with my family, I am well acquainted with unpacking the suitcases. To successfully empty the bag, you must look at each item and determine where it needs to go. The very same idea is utilized when “unpacking” a verse of scripture. To really get the most out of the passage, you can’t simply read it once and move on. Just like my suitcase from vacation, it is necessary to examine the contents.

Today, I will spare you the task of unpacking my families’ bags, but I would like to do some unpacking of Isaiah 49:23b, the key verse for week 1 of A Confident Heart Online Bible Study.

Then you will know that I am the Lord. Those who hope in me will not be disappointed (NIV).

As I read through this verse over the course of the week, three words really jumped off the page at me – know, hope and disappointed.

My wonderful husband gave me a Hebrew-Greek key word study Bible for our anniversary, so I was able to go back to the original Hebrew words and dig deeper into the meaning of this scripture.

  •  Know  – comes from the Hebrew word Yada, which is one of the most important Hebrew roots in the Old Testament. It means to discern, be familiar with, also signifies a person’s relationship with God.
  • Hope – comes from the Hebrew word Miqweh, meaning confidence, hope and expectation.
  • Disappointed  – comes from the Hebrew word Bos. It often occurs in the context of humiliation, disgrace and shattered emotions. There is usually a connotation of guilt.

Armed with these definitions, this verse really comes alive to me. In order for me to know that He is the Lord, I must be familiar with Him. I have to have a personal relationship with God, which requires time and effort on my part.

However, it does not stop with a simple relationship. God follows it up with a promise. Whoever puts her trust or confidence in God will not be disgraced and full of guilt.

It is no accident that Isaiah 49:23b was chosen for the first key verse. This scripture needs to be the foundation, not only for this study, but also for our lives. Everything else needs to build upon this. You see our confidence needs to be in Christ alone and not bogged down by guilt and shame. If we are in Christ, God does not see our past because the blood of Christ has washed us white as snow.

Everything in our lives needs to run through the filter of how God sees us and what He thinks of us. If we rely upon ourselves, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. God, on the other hand, promises that those who keep their confidence in Him will not be disappointed.

What about you, where is your hope and confidence today?

A Heart at Rest

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Saying yes to God is not something that you do once and simply move on, like an item on a checklist. One yes to God will take you on a journey that will have additional forks in the road where you will have to choose to say yes and follow God’s leading or go your own way.

Many times I have thoughts I knew best. I knew what I should be doing, the goal in mind and exactly the steps I needed to take to get there. However, I didn’t consult God first before setting out. I thought I had it all figured out.

Having traveled this way more times than I care to recall, I can attest to the fact that I was carrying a lot of baggage on my trip. I am not referring to my clothes and cute shoes; no I mean fears, anxiety, doubt and stress. You see, going out on your own we have to carry the load. This generally leads to discouragement, frustration and being overwhelmed.

Through the course of the What Happens When Women Say Yes to God study, I have turned in my excess baggage for peace and rest. This is not to say that my journey is smooth sailing. It just means that I no longer need to let doubts and fears dictate what I will do. By saying yes to God and trusting His leading, I can let go of fears strangling grip and truly find rest in Him.

God has a specific purpose and plan for each one of us. However, we must decide whether we will say yes to His path and leading in our lives.

By giving God command of our lives, we can realize what it feels like to have a heart at rest.

What path will you choose? What will you say yes to?

Lower Your Nets

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It amazes me how God can take something so small and turn it into something amazing and beyond anything I could ever hope or imagine.

About a year ago, I was assisting Melissa Taylor with email correspondence. During this time, I was noticing a number of prayer requests on the blog comments as well as via email. So, one day I asked Melissa if anyone ever followed up with these ladies and if not would she mind if I took that on. I had such a heart for these ladies that were hurting and I wanted to reach out to them in the only way I knew how. Melissa gave me the go ahead, so I dove in.

At that time, I simply went through the blog comments and made note of any prayer requests. I took those requests and prayed over them and then followed up about a week later through an email. To see how things were going and if there was any additional way I could pray for them.

I really didn’t know what to expect from sending out these emails. The responses from these ladies were simply amazing. It was overwhelming to see how touched they were that someone cared enough to follow up with them. I had no idea that something so small could make such a huge impact on someone’s life.

As the online Bible studies continued to grow, I knew that I was going to need help. Therefore, I had three wonderful ladies decide to assist me during the Stressed-Less Living study. They were able to help me go through all the comments on the blog and make note of the requests. This was such a tremendous help.

When preparing for the What Happens When Women Say Yes to God study, I knew that I was going to need additional team members. With my limited vision, I was thinking that doubling the team to six would be wonderful. Well, God had much bigger plans in mind. I am now director of the Real Hope Prayer Warrior Team that consists of 18 ladies with a heart for prayer.

I never imagined that God would take that small nudge I had for these hurting women who were leaving prayer requests, that simply yes, and turn it in to what it is now.

I truly believe that at this point in my life, this is exactly where God wants me and I am so honored to serve in such a way. To reach out to these ladies, a lot of who do not have another outlet. I love that the Proverbs 31 Online Bible Studies provides that safe environment for women around the world. Not just an environment, but also a community. Connection. The ability to be seen. To be heard. To be prayed for and let the love of God shine through the leaders to the world.

I am truly amazed at how God is working in and through this study. He will take our small yes’s, our little notes, our encouraging words, those little steps of faith and turn them into something amazing. But dear friend, you have got to say Yes to Him and you have got to give Him those small things, and trust in His leading and God will turn them into something beyond anything you could ever imagine.

Life Interrupted

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We play a game with my mom’s side of the family each Christmas called “Sneaky Santa.” Everyone brings a wrapped gift from his/her home. The presentation can be deceiving – the beautifully box with matching ribbon could be a set of shop towels or the huge gift bag could be a votive candle. It is difficult to distinguish what treasure is hidden beneath the wrapping.

The same idea is true in our lives as well. Many times God uses challenging circumstances – ugly wrapping – to bring about some of life’s greatest gifts.

The best example for me would have been my divorce. It was a very dark time for my three kids and me. I couldn’t understand why I was having to go through this, let alone how anything good could come from it. Little did I know that rumpled up, torn time in my life God was going to bring about the most incredible gift – my husband, Mitch.

I, honestly, didn’t think any man would be interested in me with three small children. But God had everything taken care of.

When Mitch volunteered to help us move before ever meeting face-to-face, I know he was something special. It certainly wasn’t the first impression I was hoping to give – loads of boxes, toys and dirt hiding behind and underneath furniture, but I needed the help and he volunteered.

I will never forget the way my heart jumped when he pulled up that day. God brought everything I was looking for and so much more right to my doorstep.

Dear friend, I want you to know that if you are walking in a valley right now, God is right next to you every step of the way. He will work it out for good. Just trust Him and remember that some of the greatest gifts in life come in the most unlikely packages.

What about you, how has God used a challenging time in your life to bring about something good?