Yes!

When I was a little girl, maybe 8 or so, I heard the story of Jesus dying on the cross to save me from my sins and free me to spend eternity with him like I had heard many times before. I loved Jesus, I wanted to be forgiven of my sins, and I wanted to spend eternity in Heaven, so I said “Yes” to the greatest decision of my life…becoming a Christian. It seemed like an easy decision…who wouldn’t want to spend forever in Heaven with Jesus? Yet that one simple decision has changed my life forever…both my life here on earth and my eternal life. It was a promise to commit myself to becoming more like Christ every day. Yet I had no idea how that promise would manifest itself in the years to come. It was easy to want to become more like Christ when it fit with my plans. Yet it was very hard to commit to becoming more like Christ when it required sacrifice, went against my plans, or caused me temporary pain. Becoming more like Jesus seemed simple enough as an 8 year old girl. But then I faced life’s harsh realities. I had committed to following Jesus when I lost my precious grandfather and my heart was deeply hurting. I was committed to following Jesus to Samford University, a place that I fell in love with, but a place that seemed so far away from home and all the things I loved in August 2011. I was committed to following Jesus when my friends took different paths in life, and I knew I couldn’t follow where they were going. I was committed to following Jesus through the painful ending of relationships. I had said yes on the mountaintop, but yes seemed much more difficult in the valleys.

But at the same time, “yes” brought the greatest comfort during the times when my commitment to following Jesus seemed difficult. I knew deep down, even through the most difficult times, that my “yes” meant there was someone always walking with me. I never faced trying times alone, because in my lack of faith, Jesus was constantly faithful.

On November 18th, I said “yes” to the second greatest decision of my life…marrying Caleb Owenby!! When he asked me to spend forever with him, “yes” felt so natural!! It might have been the easiest yes of my life! But at the same time, I knew the weight and the gravity of the “yes” I was giving. I was committing to the yes for the rest of my life, which is something I’ve only done once before, when I committed to following Jesus. I knew that I had just said yes on the mountaintop, but I had also committed to yes in the valley. And, like my 8-year-old yes, my 25-year-old yes was a commitment to reflect Christ and his church to the world for the rest of my life! That’s enough to bring a couple to their knees (which, in fact, is the source of strength for reflecting Christ and His church to the world!)

It’s a daunting task! Caleb is committing to serve and love me as Christ loved the church, which is something he will spend the rest of his life aspiring to! I am committing to honor and respect Caleb as the church is to honor and respect Christ, which is something I will spend the rest of my life aspiring to! We are committing to love and respect each other in a way that when others see our marriage, they will better understand the love of Christ for his church and, in turn, the respect and submission of the church to Christ. Wow, what an honor and what a responsibility!

After we had called our parents and celebrated for a while, Caleb looked at me and said, “What are you thinking right now, Anna?” I told him I was overjoyed that he had just asked me to become his wife! But then I said, “I’m also a little scared.” I don’t fully comprehend all the difficulties we will face in marriage, but I know they will be there. And although I wish every day could be as happy as November 18th, 2017, I know it won’t. Yes seemed easy on November 18th, but it won’t always seem easy. But then I looked at him and said, “But we’ll work through it together, right?” To which he gave a resounding “yes” of his own! I know that in marriage “yes” will again bring the greatest comfort! In the most difficult of times, I will have Caleb walking beside me. And the ultimate promise that Jesus is with us through it all.

And so with that, I humbly ask for your prayers as we begin this incredible journey together!

WE’RE ENGAGED!!!!!!!!!!

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The Pray-er

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people who have made a difference in my life, big and small, and the lessons they’ve taught me. Some of them I have known for years, others only for a few months. But all of them have made an impact in my life. So…I’ve decided to do a series of blog posts talking about different people who have made a difference. I won’t mention their names and I’ll try not to give away who it is. So instead I’ll identify them by a characteristic of theirs that stands out. Most of the posts will be about one person, but a few of them may identify a group of people. Some of you will read this and think, “Maybe that’s me!” And it might well be! But probably more likely, you’ll read this and think, “What an amazing person…that’s certainly not me!” But it is you! But you don’t recognize it because you don’t think you’re doing anything out of the ordinary. But believe me…you are…and it makes a difference! Even if I’m not specifically writing about you, so many of you share these incredible qualities that I’m writing about. My hope is that by recognizing just a few incredible people who have made a difference in my life, and the reasons they’ve made a difference, we can be inspired to grow some of these characteristics in our own lives. And, I want to recognize the difference you have made so that you know your efforts are not in vain! So…thanks! Here goes…

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“The Pray-er” could identify a number of people I know! Oh how I admire the dedicated lives of several people I know who have quite literally devoted their lives to prayer. I long to be known as a woman of prayer. But today I’m grateful for a specific individual who has reminded me over and over again the past few months, “I am praying for you, Anna!” It’s a simple phrase, and one that is probably thrown around more often than prayers are actually prayed in today’s world. I think many times it seems like the easy answer. But the deep sincerity of the pray-er’s statements, and the continual reassurance that prayers are being offered makes me know that the statement is heartfelt and that prayers are indeed being offered. At times, I felt so overwhelmed that the phrase, “I’m praying for you” literally evoked the feeling of a release of a flood of anxiety. Such simple words…but they have had such significance at this time!

May we never underestimate the power of our prayers. Ephesians 6:18, when speaking about the armor of God, says, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” Paul commands us to pray for others as people of God! James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has GREAT POWER as it is working.” I love Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 3:9, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” Corrie Ten Boom said, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it. A MAN IS POWERFUL ON HIS KNEES.” And my favorite words about prayer from my favorite historical “pray-er,” Soren Kierkegaard… “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Prayer changes our hearts!

Oh, that we would be known as people of prayer! May we know that our prayers are heard, even when they are not answered as we think they should be. May we approach prayer in faith, knowing that God hears the prayers of a faithful person and longs to bring us into intimacy with Him. And may we never neglect praying for others, for we never know what difference, “I’m praying for you” will make!

You Can Take the Man Out of the South…

The start of summer always brings fun memories of summer vacations. My parents always took us on the coolest summer vacations! One of my all-time favorite vacations was a trip to Canada. We visited Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. Nobody in my family speaks French, and I remember stopping in a tiny city in the province of Montreal for dinner. The people were so kind and found the only employee of the restaurant who spoke some English to take our order. I remember another fun adventure where we stopped at a fast food chicken restaurant and were trying to translate the French menu. Again, the employees were so kind in trying to help us. We were having difficulty understanding the name of one particular part of the chicken when the employees, with a sudden revelation, shouted “chest, chest!!” Ah, chicken breast!

But the highlight of all vacations is my dad! I remember walking into a nice hotel in Canada and getting to the top of the stairs when he shouted up to us “Hang a Louie!” Really, Dad? But my all time favorite Dad vacation story was while we were in Montreal. Somehow we always end up in an ice cream shop when we’re with Dad! So we were in an ice cream shop in Montreal, and we were asking the kind owner to translate the flavors for us. Dad looked at her and said, “What’s ‘the vert’?” The vert? The owner was obviously confused. After lots of confused looks and lots of pointing at the sign, she finally gave a look of understanding. Green tea, which in French much more closely resembles “tea vert” than “the vert.” I think you had to be there to fully appreciate the confusion and the laughter, but it was quite an adventure!

But there’s something I admire about my Dad when we go to non-English speaking countries. He’s certainly not afraid to give those new words a try! My brother and I used to laugh because we would walk into a shop and Dad would say the only French word we know, “Bonjour!” So the shop owner would start speaking to him in French and he would look back at us with the look of “What do I do now?!” So we would politely explain (in English) that we did not speak English. And they kindly obliged. But they loved my Dad because he wasn’t afraid to try!

You see, my Dad in a foreign country is “in that world but not of it.” He wants to enjoy the country and relate to the people, but it is clear he is not “of” that country. Maybe we all could learn something from my Dad.

Jesus prays for his disciples (and for us!) in John 17. (How awesome is that…Jesus prayed for US!) In his prayer, he reminded his disciples (because I’m sure God didn’t need reminding) that we are in this world but not of it. He says, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you…I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

So what does it mean to be in the world but not of it? Like my Dad, we have to be present. Did you catch verse 18 of John 17? Jesus sent us into the world, not out of it! As nice as it sometimes seems to lock ourselves up in our “Christian bubble,” it’s not being in the world. Sure, we’re not being “of” this world, but we’re not being “in” it either!

But we can’t be of the world. Like my dad in a foreign country, we have to look different from the world and speak differently than the world. We are called to reflect God’s love and light as Jesus did.

So today, my prayer is that I would be in this world but not of it. I pray that, like my dad, I would be bold and greet the world with a “Bonjour!” even though I don’t speak French. I hope that I’ll ask for “the vert” ice cream and discover the French name for the chicken breast. Because to do this, I’ll have to spend time in the world. But I pray that when people look at me, they’ll know I’m not “of” the world. And I pray that it won’t be because I act “better” than the world, but because my life reflect the lights and love of the One in me. For He is the light in a dark world. May we reflect His light and love today!

How Much Water Does a Camel Drink?

How much water does a camel drink? A strange question to ask… This past summer, my family and I took the trip of a lifetime to Australia to travel with my brother at the end of his semester spent studying there. We traveled to a fascinating city in the middle of nowhere…truly…called Uluru. You might have thought Australia was all kangaroos, great white sharks, coral reefs, and the Sydney Opera House. But Uluru was the stuff of legends…the “outback.” (Australians…give me some grace if I don’t remember my facts as I should.) Anyways, we spent a day in this amazing national park, Kata-Tjuta (which is, in fact, the only thing in Uluru. Literally…other than the 5 hotels for the visitors to this park.) Ahhh…isn’t it gorgeous!IMG_4032.jpg

Well, European settlers introduced camels into this desert area to help with their travels. It seemed like a good idea (and there are still camels there today!) but the problem was that a camel can drink a lot of water! So the camel would go for several weeks…maybe months…without drinking. And then the camel would come upon a water hole. Sort of like this one…IMG_4075

And one or two camels can drink up the whole thing! So the other animals in this semi-desert had trouble finding water. Because camels drink a lot of water!!!!

So what does this have to do with anything? Well there are some camels in the Bible…camels belonging to Abraham. When Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, the servant took 10(!!!) camels! That’s a lot of camels! When the servant came to a spring, he prayed that he would know which woman God had chosen for Isaac. He asked that the Lord show him by the future wife’s offer to give water to his camels.

Here’s what Genesis 24:17-22 says of the event, “Then the servant ran to meet her [Rebekah] and said, ‘Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.’ She said, ‘Drink, my lord.’ And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.’ So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not. When the camels had finished drinking…”

Ok, normally this story amazes me because I wish life’s greatest decisions were answered through a clear sign. “Lord, please lead me to the college where the clarinet professor is wearing a purple shirt when I meet them.” “God, show me my future husband in Section D Row 55 Seat 23 of the FSU football game.” “Lord, I’ll know which city to move to when the first restaurant I see upon arriving in the city is Olive Garden.”

But this time, I remembered, camels drink a lot of water! Genesis says that “the man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.” Ok, I think the man actually gazed at her in silence because he realized he was looking at a real-life Wonder Woman. Basically, Rebekah had some muscles!!! And this was not just a lift and pour kind of deal! It says she had to run from the well to the trough! Rebekah worked out more that one day than I have in all of 2017.

But not only did Rebekah have serious muscles, she had some serious kindness (and sacrifice!) I would think I had done enough of a good deed for the day when a random stranger asked to drink out of my water jug. But she went above and beyond what the servant asked. (And I mean, REALLY above and beyond!) He never asked her to water his camels. But she saw a need, and she was willing to meet it.

How often do we look for the easy way out? We give a quick smile to an acquaintance and then quickly lower our heads so we won’t get involved in a long conversation. We want quick results. We want to go to the Day of Service (bonus if it’s actually only 3 hours of service…double bonus if it includes free lunch and a t-shirt!) We want to write a check instead of doing the dirty work. And we want to see the results! Spend 3 days one summer helping to build a house…AWESOME! (Especially if you can get a great new pic to post on social media!)

But mentor a child every single week for several hours each week? Too much time. The child might be crying one day, and we’re not sure what to say to dry their tears. How can we be sure that we won’t get busy in a few weeks and not have time for it? And the before and after pic for Instagram doesn’t really show any difference…the child still looks the same.

Maybe you’re thinking…wow, that’s so accurate! It’s so accurate because all of these thoughts have run through my head. We want the quick “feel good,” the twice-a-year service to clear our conscience of our guilt over our own good fortunes, the “get my hands dirty, but only enough so I’ll get the trophy” (or the free lunch, or the t-shirt) kind of service.

Oh, but we are called to so much more! We are called to serve with our lives…not just one day! We are called to go the extra mile…or the extra 100 miles! We are called to meet our brother’s needs, and the needs he don’t even know he has!

Rebekah is not remembered for her camel watering. It was not a glorious task! She probably received her offer of marriage with sweat pouring down her body and her arms quivering from watering the camels. And by the way…her kindness didn’t stop with the camel watering. She offered this stranger straw and food for his camels, plus a room for him to spend the night!

So…may we be Rebekahs in the lives of those we encounter. May we go beyond obvious needs and pour (no pun intended!) kindness on those around us. May we not be afraid to do the dirty tasks. May we pour love on strangers just as we would on our dear friends. After all…it’s only a glimpse into what Christ did for us. We can’t out-love Christ!

(P.S.-Are you still wondering how much a camel can drink? Up to 52 gallons in 3 minutes!! That’s right, Rebekah could have given as much as 520 gallons to the camels! I hope they hadn’t gone 5 months without drinking…)

Out of the Garden

Last week, I sat down in my office to read my favorite devotional book “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories.” I was tired and it was a gorgeous day, so I thought how nice it would be to sit for the rest of the day looking out my window and reading from my Bible. I opened the book up to the hymn of the day, and it was the hymn “In the Garden.” I’ve always loved that hymn, but this time as I read the lyrics, the words took on new meaning.

The hymn was written by C. Austin Miles as he was reflecting on the interaction of Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the garden outside Jesus’s tomb after his resurrection. I think I’ve always been fascinated by this story because I love to picture Mary Magdalene as her deep sorrow over the loss of her Lord was turned to great joy. But this time as I read the lyrics to the hymn, the last verse stood out to me, “but He bids me go-thru the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling.”

Indeed, Jesus does not say to Mary Magdalene, “Let’s stay here forever.” He doesn’t say, “What a good Christian you are! You have chosen to spend some quiet time with me in the morning.” He doesn’t even say, “Read your Bible and pray to God often.” He has two simple words for her, “go” and “tell.”

What a perfect hymn for an afternoon where all I truly wanted was to sit and spend time with Jesus for the rest of the day. To be honest, I was applauding myself for making time for Jesus in the midst of a busy day. But then Jesus’s words spoke to me, “Go and tell.”

We have to spend time with Jesus to grow in our faith. He invites us to come and see his goodness, just as Mary had to come to Him to find out the good news of His resurrection. But like Mary Magdalene, we can’t stay forever in the “come and see” stage. Jesus commands us to go!

Oh, how I long to stay in the garden! It’s just me and Jesus, and I feel safe with Jesus. In the garden, I don’t have to think about the hurt around me. I’m not busy in the garden, and I get to be with Jesus all day long. I don’t have other people asking me to do things in the garden. I’m with Jesus all of the time, so temptation is much easier to refuse with Jesus by my side and the world far away. I can’t think of any downside to being in the garden, for what could be better than spending time alone with Jesus constantly?

But we were not called to garden life!! Jesus calls us into the garden, but then he commands us to leave the garden and tell the good news to others. Jesus, the LIVING Savior, has paid our debts and longs for us to spend eternity with Him. Could there be any greater mission?

My prayer today is that we would come to the garden. I pray that we would find comfort and joy in the face of our Lord! I pray that we would listen as he speaks our name and tells us who we are in Him. But may we never become too comfortable with garden life! For we have been called to go and tell! But take comfort, Jesus, our risen Savior, promises to walk with us WHEREVER here is!

What’s in a Name?

Many years ago, when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, a former youth minister at my church came up to me during fellowship time at church. “Do you know who Anna was in the Bible?” she asked. I had heard the story of Anna many times in Bible class at school. “A prophetess” I answered. “Yes!” she said. “Do you know what the job of a prophetess was?” “To tell people about Jesus,” I said. “That’s what you do, Anna! You tell people about Jesus!”

So I got to thinking today…what’s in a name?

First, I wondered if we’re living up to our names. The Bible says that Anna worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. Do I worship night and day? Do I “give thanks to God and speak of him to all who are waiting for redemption?” The name Anna means “graceful.” Do I show grace to those I come in contact with each day? Am I an instrument of God’s grace in the lives of others?

Then, I wondered about our God-given names. The first one that came to mind was “Christian.” Some have said that the name Christian means “little Christ.” Others have said that the name Christian means something more along the lines of “belonging to the household of Christ.” Are we living up to that name? Do we reflect Christ, as those who belong to his household? What about the name “Friend?” What does it look like to be Christ’s friend? Christ calls us his friend because he has revealed to us everything he learned from the Father. Are we living as those who know the Father as revealed to us by Jesus, who knew him best? Or what about “God’s temple?” Are we living as those in whom Christ dwells? Is what we are putting into our minds and bodies fit to share a home with the King?

And then I thought about Biblical characters whose names were changed by God. Jacob, meaning “deceitful,” became Israel, “to prevail,” after wrestling with God. But it was also a promise, as Israel meant, “to become great in number.” Simon, meaning “obedient,” became Peter, “the Rock,” upon which Jesus promised to build his church. Saul, meaning “desired,” became Paul, “little,” to reflect his new humility found in Christ’s call upon his life.

Oftentimes, God’s name changes were not as much a reflection of a change that had already taken place, but rather a promise of a change that would take place. In other words, instead of giving them a name based on a proven past, God gave them a name that reflected something he saw in them that even they did not yet see in themselves.

So what does God see in us that we don’t see in ourselves? What promises has he declared to be true in our lives that we need to rely on Him to bring to fruition?

And lastly, can we be name changers? I don’t recommend going around and giving everyone you know a new name (although I admit I’m already having fun thinking about the new names I could give my friends and family!) But can we see a God given gift or trait in someone that they cannot see in themselves? Can we be used as a vessel by God to declare their new name? Can we speak truth into their lives and give them a vision for what God can do through them?

So today, may you know your name. May you live as one who knows what they have been called and knows the One who called them. May you trust in who God has called you to be, even when you do not see it in yourself. And may you have the courage to speak truth into the lives of those who long to know their name, and the One by whom they are called.

Be Thou My Vision

A few days ago as I drove to school, I was listening to the words to the song “Be Thou My Vision.” This is one of my very favorite hymns, and I hadn’t taken the time lately to reflect on the words. So I got to thinking…what do our lives look like when we invite Christ to be our vision?

I think we would see a lot more hurt, and in turn, respond with a lot more grace. Oh, if we only knew the struggles and hurt people were facing that we probably will never know. Thank goodness God sees our hurt and responds with love and grace. If He is to become our vision, we must do the same.

I think we would see others not as competition, but as partners in sharing the good news of the gospel. We wouldn’t look at others and try to do better or be better. Rather, we would be inspired by their faith and seek to join them in their efforts to further God’s kingdom.

I think some of the things I think are oh-so-important when I am doing them would become rather unimportant with Christ’s vision and in light of eternity. May we do every task knowing that in everything, we should reflect Christ, but with the knowledge that not every task is not the end-all, be-all in light of eternity.

I think we would face trials and know that they are only temporary stops along the way to eternal healing and eternal life with our Heavenly Father. Though the trials may still be incredibly difficult, we can take comfort in knowing they are not forever if Christ is our vision.

I think we would be able to look at the future and see the end of the story, not just the current struggle. It’s so easy to get weighed down by today’s struggle and convince ourselves that our struggle is the end of the world. And then we wake up the next day, only to find ourselves in another “end of the world” situation. But here’s the good news…God has given us his vision! We know the end of the story! Though we may not be able to see all of the stops in between, we know that God is victorious in the end and that through him we are also victorious!

May we take comfort each day in Christ’s vision, as we long to see the world through his eyes and see each day in light of eternity.

I Can’t Pray

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:26-28

I think these verses are some of the most comforting to me in all of Scripture. How often do I come before my Father, longing to share my heart with him, but not knowing what to say. Sometimes it’s fear. What if God is judging me based on my prayers? Or what if the thing I’m praying for brings challenging situations into my life? Other times I’m tired. My mind is weary and I’m too tired to put my prayers into words. Sometimes it’s feelings of inadequacy. What I’m asking for certainly couldn’t matter to the God of the universe. Other times I’m too upset to pray. I go to speak, but all that comes out are tears of brokenness. Sometimes I’m ashamed to pray. Certainly the perfect God doesn’t want to hear from sinful me again. And yet other times, I’m doubtful. What if I’m praying for the wrong thing, or what if I’m praying myself out of God’s will?

But the Spirit, he prays on my behalf! When I don’t know what to pray, my words, my tears, and my silence are being transformed into a beautiful melody that is too deep for words, yet gains strength as it reaches my Father’s ears. It is a beautiful melody, a melody that moves the very heart of God, for He hears the prayers of his children and longs to draw them near to His heart.

Oh, that my life would be a life of prayer. May we come before our heavenly Father not as a last resort, but as a first response. May we come humbly before his throne, knowing that we are not deserving of His love, but knowing that His unconditional love is more than enough to meet our every need. May we come boldly before Him, knowing that as soon as we turn our thoughts to God, the Spirit is interceding for us. And may we know that our God indeed hears our prayers, and He is working all things for his purposes.

(Update: I didn’t realize until after I posted this that my last post was on the same verse! Oh well, God is always teaching me new things, and He has obviously been bringing this verse to mind lately!)

Pray

It’s a miracle that I survived my freshman year of college. I mean, it’s probably a miracle that any of us survive our first year away from home, away from our parents, and in a totally unfamiliar situation. We spend the first 18 years of our lives (and for some of us, much longer) almost totally dependent on our parents. They provide a home and meals for us. They drive us around for the first 16 or more years of our lives. They sign off on every paper for everything (literally…everything) we do. When you’re having a bad day…Mom to the rescue. When you’re having trouble with a teacher…parents to the rescue. Then they slowly wean us off of our total dependence on them, but let’s be honest, for must of us, college is a major jump off a cliff with a prayer that we’ll fly.

Here’s just a little example of why I’m so surprised that I survived my first year of college. Until I was embarrassingly old (we’re talking late high school here, people) I HATED calling people on the phone. You can blame it on technology, but I didn’t have a texting plan until halfway through my senior year of high school! (And I didn’t have social media or a smartphone until after that.) I was just that shy!! Having to call and make a haircut appointment was like having to walk barefoot on hot coals. I BEGGED my mom to call and make the appointment for me. I don’t know what I thought the friendly lady on the other end of the phone was going to do to me, but it was a terrifying experience. It’s not that I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I’d only rehearsed it a million times before I called. (“Hi this is Anna. I’d like to schedule a haircut with Amy. Do you have an available time on August 1st? Maybe sometime before noon?” Horribly scary, I know…) I knew exactly what to say. I just didn’t have the courage to say it.

This metaphor is a bit of a stretch, but sometimes I feel that way when I pray. I know what to say, but sometimes, I’m just afraid to say it. I’m not really sure why. Maybe my problems seem trivial and unimportant to God. Maybe I don’t feel like I have the perfect words to talk to the King of the universe. Maybe I’m afraid he doesn’t have any “appointments.” Maybe I’m afraid that I’ll say the wrong thing and God will use his power to wreak havoc in my life. Or maybe I’m just too overwhelmed to be able to say what I want so desperately to say.

But lucky for us, God understands our (sometimes totally irrational) fears. And he’s even provided a substitute. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”‭(Romans 8:26)

I can think of times when I have stopped to pray, and all that came were tears. Or times when the words have come, but I was convinced they were totally inadequate. Or other times when my mind was so full of things to pray about that I forgot half of what I was going to say. Or even times when my heart knew what should be prayed, but my lips were afraid to say the words. In those moments, I thanked God for his Spirit who prays on my behalf.

So maybe prayer is less about the words we do or do not say, and more about the state of our hearts. After all, our Heavenly Father already knows what is on our hearts. He simply desires that we come to him in humility and gratitude, recognizing our need for him and thanking him for his faithfulness in meeting all our needs. And the Spirit will pray on our behalf. That’s a promise!

(By the way, I have gotten over my fear of the telephone. And many, many more of my high school fears. Another miracle of God’s faithfulness to be thankful for!!!)

Happy Birthday, Caleb!

It’s this handsome guy’s 23rd birthday tomorrow, and to celebrate, I thought I’d share just a few of the many things I’ve learned in the 9 (!!!) years I’ve known him. Hopefully he doesn’t hate me for writing this, but I wanted you to have a glimpse into the man that I have the privilege of loving!

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1. Drink some orange juice.
While this may not seem incredibly profound, this is what Caleb told me once when I was upset. It’s a reminder that what I am upset over is probably not the end of the world, and it’s a reminder to relax for a moment and think through the problem. (I tell myself this quite frequently now, and my grocery receipts prove it!)

2. With God (and encouragement from other believers), you can get through anything.
This is what Caleb would tell me in almost every letter he sent from boot camp. He would tell me that what he was going through was the most difficult experience of his life, but that through God’s strength and others’ letters, he would make it through.

3. “How lucky I am to have someone who makes saying goodbye so hard.”
Ok, so Winnie the Pooh is actually the one this is usually attributed to, but Caleb has taught me the truth of it. When I get sad (very sad!) that I have to leave him, I remember how lucky I am to have him!

4. Hear God’s voice…and follow it courageously!
Here’s my theory on following God’s leading…if God really wants me to do something, he’ll tell me at least 15 times in different ways, right? I’ll admit it, I’m stubborn and I’m scared, and I don’t like to leave my comfort zone. Oh to be more like Caleb in this area! He hears God’s leading in his life, and he follows it with boldness, even when it’s scary, sad, crazy, or difficult.

5. Star Wars is the best…especially with Caleb!
Caleb introduced me to Star Wars about 5 years ago. I watched all 7 Star Wars movies for the first time with him, and I’ve never watched a Star Wars movie without him. Caleb, “Love me well, you do.”

6. A man who loves and respects his family is a treasure!
Caleb loves his family and cares deeply for them, and he shows it all the time! And this gives me confidence in his love and care for me!

6 part 2…
A sweet boyfriend is amazing, but a sweet boyfriend WITH a sweet family is the best!! I’m SO lucky!

7. Sometimes the sweetest thing you could possibly say is, “I’m thinking about you.”
I don’t have a psychological reason for this one, but this is one of my favorite texts I ever get from Caleb. It often comes in the middle of the night, or randomly during the day. It’s not an obligatory response to something I say, and it seems to come out of the blue sometimes. But it’s the sweetest comfort to know that he is thinking about me as he goes through his day, and he cares enough to stop what he’s doing and tell me. (P.S.-I think this one is great life advice in general and in any kind of relationship. “I’m thinking about you” is comfort when grieving a loss, going through a difficult time, starting a new life adventure, or celebrating an accomplishment. This one phrase seems to say it all!)

Caleb, every day you teach me how to laugh more, to trust more, to feel more, to have more faith, to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, to love deeper, and to never take God’s blessings for granted. Happy Birthday! Here’s to future birthdays spent in the same city, hopefully! I love you!!!

(Can one have “New Season’s” resolutions? If so, my summer resolution is to blog more regularly!)

Reflections

As usual, I am so behind on all the trends. I just finished watching another episode of Season 2 of Downton Abbey. Yes…season 2, which aired in early 2012. I mean, I’m only 4 and a half years late to the party! If I could sum up what I’ve seen of season 2 so far, it would go something like this…war, end of war, and the usual relationship drama. I don’t know if these exact words are ever spoken, but each episode seems to contain at least one instance of someone asking another person some form of this question, “Could you be happy with him or her?” A valid question for sure. I like to think that it’s a step above the questions that are often asked during the relationship drama of most tv shows and movies. “How much money does he have?” or “Is she the most beautiful of all the women I know?” seem to be the typical questions. Money can be lost in an instant and beauty is guaranteed to fade over time. “They seem to be truly happy together” seems a much more noble statement than “She married him for his money” or “He married her for her beauty.” But is “true happiness” really the right question to ask when looking towards a lifetime commitment to another?

Ephesians 5 contains one of the most misused and controversial passages about marriage in the Bible.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…giving thanks always and for everything to God the father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

The remainder of Ephesians 5 and the first portion of chapter 6 go on to continue describing the relationship of husband and wife, children and parents, and servant and master. But the point of each description boils down to one main point…reflect Christ and his church.

Paul used three relationships that were most common during the time he was living to illustrate his point…our ultimate goal in all we do is to reflect Christ.

How would our lives look different if we really took this message to heart and applied it in our lives?

For starters (and to bring it back to my Downton Abbey thoughts), we probably wouldn’t ask “Can I be happy with you?” quite as often. Instead we might ask, “Together, can we reflect the message of Christ to the world?” Do we realize the gravity of what Paul is saying? When people look at our relationships, whether the marriage relationship or another relationship, they should actually understand Christ more than they did before they knew us. This blows my mind! It seems hard enough to have a “godly” relationship, where we seem to have it together, but to actually lead people to a better understanding of Jesus, perfection himself, through the way we live our lives?! Somehow I think there would be a lot fewer second dates if we considered this.

So what does a relationship look like that personifies the image of Christ and the church? I haven’t even begun to process all of the qualities that a relationship like this would demonstrate, but here are a few thoughts.

It would radiate love. Not just the “It’s Valentines Day so I bought you these flowers” kind of love. More like the “I’ve had morning sickness for months but you have a big day at work so I’m making you a big breakfast even though it’s making me nauseous to cook” kind of love. Or the “Baby is crying and I’ve already been up five times with her but you’re finally getting a few hours of sleep so I’ll get up and rock her for the 6th time” picture of love. Or the “You’re in a terrible mood and you’ve treated me like dirt all day, but I can tell you’re stressed so I’m going to fold the laundry while you take a warm bath” love. And the “We’ve been fighting all night and we’re both crying ourselves to sleep, but I’m going to hold your hand and pray for God to bring peace to our relationship” sort of love.

It would offer unending grace and forgiveness. Not the “I’ll forgive you this one time if you promise never to do it again” kind of forgiveness. But something more like the “Your anger has led you to say hurtful things for the 100th time, and though I want to respond with more hurtful comments, I am going to respond in love” kind of grace. Or the “You have left your dirty sock on the floor for the 6th time this week, but I am going to pick them up for the 6th time (and gently remind you that we do have a laundry hamper!)” type of forgiveness.

It would seek the Father’s guidance in all things. Not the “She wants to eat at Cracker Barrel but I want Texas Roadhouse so please give us a sign” kind of guidance seeking. But more along the lines of “He’s lost his job and we have no clue what the future holds, so we are trusting you to provide answers in your timing” kind of guidance. And the “Somewhere along the lines we forgot the promise we made to God to reflect his Son in everything we did, so together we are seeking to know Jesus better so that we might better reflect him and his church.”

A commitment to reflecting Christ and his church in ALL of our relationships requires a determination to walk together through the dark times of life when the money is gone, the beauty has faded, and even the forever happiness seems far away. It requires a belief in something greater than ourselves and our relationships, and an unwavering commitment to the promises we have made to God. It is such a daunting task.

So today, may we remind ourselves of the biblical command to reflect Christ and his church in every aspect of every relationship in our lives. May we seek daily opportunities to practice the love, grace, and guidance seeking that Jesus personified. And when we are discouraged and have lost all hope, may we look to Jesus and know that He has shown his love, mercy, and grace to his most unlovable and disobedient creation. And may we cling to him, knowing that it is only in His power that we find the strength to pick up the broken pieces and begin again on the journey towards presenting a picture to the world of the love that Christ has for us.

A Tandem Ride with God

It’s been a long time since I last posted. Partly because I’ve been busy, partly because I’ve been processing all that has been going on and what God has been teaching me…and admittedly, partly because I haven’t taken time to slow down and listen to what God has to teach me. The biggest lesson so far of 2016…a pitcher that doesn’t take time to be refilled won’t have anything left to pour eventually.

But tonight I took a few moments to recharge, and I found this sweet illustration. I have tried to put these experiences into words before, but never have I seen them so beautifully written.

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I used to think of God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there, sort of like a president. I recognized His picture when I saw it, but I didn’t really know Him.

But later on, when I met Jesus, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Jesus was in the back helping me pedal. I didn’t know just when it was He suggested we change, but life has not been the same since I took the back-seat to Jesus, my Lord. He makes life exciting. When I had control, I thought I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at break-through speeds; it was all I could do to hang on! Even though it often looked like madness, He said, “Pedal!” I was worried and anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into adventure. And when I’d say, “I’m scared”, He’d lean back and touch my hand.

He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me their gifts to take on my journey, our journey, my Lord’s and mine. And we were off again. He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.” So I did, to the people we met, and I found in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust Him, at first, in control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it, but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear high rocks, fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus.

And when I’m sure I just can’t do any more, He just smiles and says… “Pedal.”

(Author unknown)

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May we learn to enjoy the “long cuts” of life. May we trust that when life hurts and the way seems scary, God is still holding the handlebars. May we believe that each path is taking us where we need to be, even though the path seems long sometimes. And when we reach the end of the journey, may we look back on our beautifully broken lives and know that God had so much more in store for us than we could have ever imagined for ourselves.

Next Steps

While passing through Birmingham this past weekend, I had the opportunity to worship with the church congregation that I called home for the four years that I spent at Samford. As I sat in that enormous sanctuary and stared at the beautiful stained glass windows and the massive pipe organ, something came back to me that a former minister had said in one of my first years there. I remember very few specifics of the sermons that were preached during my time there, but one moment came vividly back to me as I sat in church on Sunday. “Sometimes, God gives us just enough light to see the step right in front of us.”

We all know it to be true, but on that day, that sentence spoke to me in a powerful way. I was listening to a Beth Moore message this week, and she said that at times, God reveals well-known or common truths to us in very intimate ways. In that moment, God spoke intimately to my heart as he reminded me that he will always guide my path, but sometimes it might be just enough light to see the very next step.

Oh, if I had only known the ways that truth would be revealed in my life over the next few years. I thought about the times that I sat in that same sanctuary in the months and years to come and had thought, “Oh God, you have promised to reveal the next step, but I’m not sure I can move my feet a millimeter.” Or I would pray, “God, I can only see one step in front of me, and that step looks rather impossible right now.” Or, “God, how many more difficult steps must I take before I can take an easy step?” At times I even sat in that sanctuary and prayed, “God, can I please run 10 steps backwards? I liked that moment in life much better than the one I am in now.”

Oh, the hurt I felt. Yet each ounce of hurt was answered with a heaping ton of answered prayers and unexpected blessings. Week by week, as I returned again to that beautiful place, I struggled with what was in store for my future. Yet week by week, I was reminded of the promise that God would always give me enough light to see the next step, and he was always walking beside me as I took that step. He rejoiced with me as I entered the happy moments of life, he waited patiently when I refused to take the next step that he was calling me to take, and he carried me when I couldn’t muster the strength to take the next step.

I recently heard someone say that maybe God doesn’t show us the whole picture, or even several pieces of the picture, all at once because we might try to change the plan if we knew what was in store. It’s true…my stubborn heart would try to avoid the difficult steps and arrange my life as I thought it should be. And oh the mess I would find myself in…

So as I sat in that sacred place, so full of memories, I thanked God that he sometimes chooses to only give me enough light for the step in front of me. I stood in awe of the patient God who waits for my stubborn self to follow his leading. I praised the faithful God who remains faithful even when I don’t trust his leading. And then, with these promises in my heart, I grabbed hold of the hand of my loving God as he shone his light on the next step.

Come, Jesus!

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” It is a reminder to me each year to anxiously await Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’s birth. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be an Old Testament Jew? They had been promised for centuries that this long expected Jesus would come, but after thousands of years, I imagine that they had definitely started to give up Jesus. For them, the phrase, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” would not have been just a countdown to Christmas or a nice song to sing at Christmastime. For those Old Testament Jews, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” would have been a plea, the cry of their anxious hearts. “How long will you keep us waiting, God? Have you forgotten your promise? Have our animal sacrifices been in vain? How many more generations will come and go before the Savior arrives? Is there truly a hope of redemption and eternal life?”

But in reality, are we all that different? As the Old Testament Jews anticipated the arrival of Jesus the Savior, we anxiously await the arrival of Jesus the Eternal King. Do our anxious hearts ask the same questions? “How long must we wait for your second coming? How much more pain will we experience before you will transform this broken earth into your new earth? Have you forgotten your promise? Have our prayers been in vain? How many more generations will experience the hurt we feel before you bring us to your heavenly Kingdom? When will we experience the promise of eternal life?”

You and I are lucky, though. For Jesus has already come once. He came into a dark world bringing the promise of salvation once, so we have the guarantee that He will come again. After all, Jesus himself promised, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Dale Cooper tells a story about returning home from a summer in Geneva and calling his wife from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. His son got on the phone and sighed, “Daddy, when am I going to be where you are?”

Oh, that our hearts would ask the same question with hopeful expectation…“Daddy, when am I going to be where you are?” And when we doubt, may we look to Jesus the baby, our hope, and Jesus the resurrected Savior, our guarantor. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus!

God With Us

I remember going to a children’s Christmas musical at my church probably 7 or 8 years ago now. I don’t remember much about the musical, but I remember that throughout the musical, the characters (who were living around the time of Jesus) kept asking the question, “How will Jesus appear to us?” They debated back and forth. “I think he will come as the president.” “I think he will be a powerful businessman.” “I think he will be the school principal.” “I think he will be an astronaut.” “I think he will be the head of the Army.” They spent the entire musical speculating about what important position Jesus would come to hold. At the end of the musical, they hear the exciting news that Jesus has arrived. They all rush to see him, wondering whose guess was correct. They get to the stable and they all turn to each other, almost in disgust. “He came as a baby? Plan gone wrong, God. Why on earth would he come as a baby?”

It was such a simple Christmas musical, but this final scene comes back to me every Christmas season. GOD WITH US. God with us, and God among us. God…as one of us. I don’t think I will ever cease to be amazed by or fully understand the truth of that word. Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.

A God who is here among us. The idea stands in contrast to every other religion in the world. Other religions worship gods who appear through rain or fire. They worship gods who are buried in the ground. They offer sacrifices to please far-off, distant gods. But we worship Christ who lived among us 2000 years ago, and who still lives in our hearts through the Holy Spirit right now! God with us.

Jesus came to live among us. He experienced dark, cold, homeless nights so that when we need protection, we can look to Jesus who had to rely on an innkeeper for protection. He labored as a carpenter with bruised hands and tired feet so that when we are weary of the tasks before us, we can look to Jesus and know that he will give us the strength we need. He faced temptation so that when we are faced with temptation, we can look to Jesus and know that though we are weak against temptation, he will fight for us. He experienced great loss so that when we are hurting and empty, we can look to Jesus for peace and hope. He cried out to God in anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane so that when we are worried and anxious, we will not be afraid to cry out to God for help. He faced death so that when we look death in the face, we have hope knowing that because of his death, our souls will not die but will spend eternity with him. He endured every trial that you and I will face so that we never have to say, “God, you don’t understand.” Instead, we can look to his pierced hands and feet, the scar on his side, his weary eyes, his wrinkled brow, and his tear-stained cheeks and KNOW that he does understand.

Charles Spurgeon said it better than I can:

“Let us take courage here. If Jesus Christ was born in a manger in a rock, why should He not come and live in our rocky hearts? If He was born in a stable, why should not the stable of our souls be made into a house for Him? If He was born in poverty, may not the poor in spirit expect that He will be their Friend? If He thus endured degradation at the first, will He count it any dishonor to come to the very poorest and humblest of His creatures and tabernacle in the souls of His children? Oh, no!”

“ ‘Immanuel.’ It is wisdom’s mystery, ‘God with us.’ Sages look at it and wonder. Angels desire to see it. The plumb line of reason cannot reach halfway into its depths. The eagle wings of science cannot fly so high and the piercing eye of the vulture of research cannot see it! ‘God with us.’ It is Hell’s terror! Satan trembles at the sound of it. His legions fly apace, the black-winged dragon of the Pit quails before it! Let Satan come to you suddenly and do you but whisper that word, ‘God with us’—back he falls—confounded and confused! Satan trembles when he hears that name, ‘God with us.’ It is the laborer’s strength—how could he preach the Gospel, how could he bend his knees in prayer, how could the missionary go into foreign lands, how could the martyr stand at the stake, how could the confessor acknowledge his Master, how could men labor if that one word were taken away? ‘God with us,’ is the sufferer’s comfort, is the balm of his woe, is the alleviation of his misery, is the sleep which God gives to His beloved, is their rest after exertion and toil… ‘God with us’ is eternity’s sonnet, is Heaven’s hallelujah, is the shout of the glorified, is the song of the redeemed, is the chorus of angels, is the everlasting oratorio of the great orchestra of the sky! ‘God with us!’ ”

May we face each day with confidence, holding fast to this truth…God is with us.