The Ravenousness Hunger of Self

Photo by M. Spiske (Unsplash)

Grace and I were excited to get together! It was our annual trip to the local nursery to buy vegetable starts, meander through flats of annuals and perennials, and be amazed by the love and effort put into propagating seedlings.

The greenhouse sits at the East end of town. Nestled between the owners’ home, grazing land for their cows, a pond for ducks and geese, and an open range frequented by coyotes and wolves – a dream amid the Central Oregon desert.  

The drive takes about 30 minutes, in one direction. Just enough time to catch up on family and mutual friends and unearth all the brokenness in the world.

We talked about lost loved ones. The devastation of a friend’s recent struggle. And just as we turned off the main road, our conversation shifted.

Our churches have been meeting in person for several months. They started small, just a few people, pre-registered, socially distant, and masked.

But now…

Attendance is increasing, pre-registration is on the decrease, distance is disappearing, and masks – they slide further from face to jacket pocket to non-existent.

Please don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into a political debate or lecture you on the benefits or evils of the vaccine. But I am going to challenge you to consider this phenomenon.

Grace offered,

“Have you noticed that some people have become more self-focused? There doesn’t seem to be any room for considering the needs of others. My pastor keeps encouraging our congregation to pre-register, maintain distance, and wear a mask. If not to protect themselves then surely to protect others. Yet, it seems that people are much more interested in their wants and needs.

It’s all about I, ME, and MINE.

I’m starting to wonder if the pandemic hasn’t made us…”

We turned onto the dirt and gravel road leading to the greenhouse and parked. The next hour was spent walking, imagining, and running through our mental wish lists. Finally, the green wagon was filled – baskets of gold, black-eyed Susan, and a beautiful rock-climbing vine, guaranteed to be the splash of color that adds that special punch.

We paid the owner, loaded our car, and drove back down the dusty road turning left towards home.

Our conversation picked up right where we left it.

“I’m starting to wonder if the pandemic hasn’t made us selfish. Everything has become so politically charged, racially motivated, COVID complicated. The longer we are isolated the more we focus on ourselves.

I get it but I don’t think that is what Jesus wants us to do. What happened to all those Bible verses about loving your neighbor, putting them before self, loving as Jesus loves?”

We spent the remainder of our drive wrestling with ideas on how to shift our selfish tendencies towards God’s love.

1 John 3: 16-18 reminds us,

This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.

The Message (MSG)

We negotiated our final turn before home and agreed…

Perhaps the answer to this ravenousness hunger of self is to  

  • Shift our focus from what we are sacrificing to what Jesus sacrificed – His life for our eternity
  • Prioritize loving others over having our way
  • Consider the outcome – love disappears when we ignore the needs of others

BeLOVED, let’s not get stuck in our wants. Instead, let’s take a risk and stop talking about love, and practice it – wear it like a favorite sweatshirt all soft and warm.

Let’s commit today to love as Jesus loves.

Be Blessed,


REFLECT:

1 Corinthians 13 is considered the “love chapter.” Giving us a framework of how to live out love in our daily lives. Please take a few minutes to read the verses below and consider the questions that follow.

1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languagesand special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

New Living Translation

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. According to verses 4-7, what should our love look like? How should it behave?
  2. Verse 12 tells us that three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love. Why is love the greatest?
  3. How can you better reflect God’s love through your attitudes and behaviors?

ENJOY:

Where You Are | Jeremy Riddle | Bethel Church – YouTube

P a r a d i s e – The Borkennes of Living Between Two Gardens

Photo by Unknown

It stood defiant, framing the long driveway. A single word –

P A R A D I S E.

The letters were carved into a giant log that spanned the width of asphalt and placed atop two support poles. The sign welcomed its visitors, all those that turned off the main road.

The archway could be seen as you round the curve in the road. And this is the interesting thing, I’ve driven this road 100s of times and never noticed it. But today, the sign stood stark against the backdrop of its surroundings.

In 2020, just as the pandemic was engulfing the country, a wildfire raged through Oregon. It consumed acres of forest and took with it homes, wildlife, and small-town economies. The devastation was unimaginable.

One scene will be forever etched in my memory. A single two-story home stood proud, unscathed by the flames. Yet, all the surrounding properties had been consumed, piles of ash on bare foundations, only the chimneys stood as reminders of what had been.

P A R A D I S E graced a driveway that led to scorched trees and a cement slab. The home was gone. The foundation swept clean, charred twisted metal was piled neatly in one corner of the yard.

P A R A D I S E led to utter devastation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my drive, the randomness of the destruction, the pain and suffering the fire caused. It draws on similarities to another garden experience that changed the course of the world.

Nestled deep in what scholars believe is northern Mesopotamia or the mountains of Armenia, the first garden was created. It was filled with beautiful trees, all types of animals, and man in his perfection. Fed by a good water source, life proliferated.

The Bible tells us, sin entered the world through the selfish actions of Eve and Adam. With them, paradise was lost. The brokenness we now experience is a direct descendant from that first sin, charting the course for God’s redemptive plan.

But we shouldn’t lose hope because the Bible also tells us that we will return to garden perfection. A garden where the streets are paved with gold and precious stones, trees bear ongoing fruit, and living water runs freely.

The question becomes, how do we live between these two gardens? How do we survive in the brokenness of sin looking toward future perfection?

The wildfire selected the targets of its consumption. Leaving some structures and landscape unscarred while ravaging others. There was no pattern to the rampage. No one could predict the fire’s path. No one could anticipate or avoid its impact.

It is the same with our lives. We can’t anticipate what is going to happen, storms come and take with them a life’s worth of work – leaving only memories. All our anxiety, planning, preparation does not ensure an easy, successful life. It does not guarantee paradise.

In the Bible, the book of John shares the story of Jesus preparing his followers for his death. He reassures them that for a short time, he will leave them but they can be confident that he will return. He goes on to say,

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

So perhaps the answer to our longings and loss is not found in our planning, our preparation but in God’s provision.

Driving away from the P A R A D I S E property, you round another curve, and off in the distance, a new home is rising from the blackened countryside. A solid two-story structure framed by the charred remains of 100-year-old pines. The rushing river acting as a backdrop to the emergence of new life.

Hope built from the rubble, our lives offered hope from the broken body of our savior.

This world is broken, scarred in unimaginable ways but God has overcome and he offers new life.

BeLOVED, you can trust him for your brokenness today and perfect hope for the future.

Be Blessed,

Allison


REFLECT:

The first few chapters of the book of Genesis details God’s creation of the garden and man’s fall. Take a few minutes to read these passages from Genesis 3 and reflect on the questions that follow.

1 The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.

8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man[a] and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

11 “Who told you that you were naked?” the Lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

12 The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.”

13 Then the Lord God asked the woman, “What have you done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

14 Then the Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all animals, domestic and wild. You will crawl on your belly, groveling in the dust as long as you live.

15And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”

16 Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth.
And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

17And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.


18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.

19 By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

New Living Translation

(Please visit Genesis 3 NLT – The Man and Woman Sin – The serpent was – Bible Gateway to read the full account of sin’s introduction into the world.)

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. As you read these verses, what was the key to sins entry into the world? What actions could Eve and Adam have taken to resist the temptation of sin?
  2. If you are facing behaviors, decisions, or attitudes that are tempting you to sin. What steps can you take to refocus your heart and mind?
  3. We know that we always have God to help us during difficult times. But it also helps to have a community surrounding you that you can confide in. Do you have someone that you can talk to when you are facing struggles?

ENJOY:

MercyMe – Even If (Official Lyric Video) – YouTube

The One Thing…

Photo by M. Askew

Her hair was pulled into a single ponytail, nestled low between her shoulders. Wisps of hair framed her face. Her cheeks and forehead blackened from soot, remnants of her fire pit.

A faded blue floral dress hung loosely on her small frame; a grey sweatshirt peeked from under the neckline. Frayed jeans were pulled high on her hips, held by a shoestring in place of a belt. Her bare feet showed the dirt collected from navigating the dusty trails between her campsite and the rest of the world.

She shared a one-person tent with all her belongings – 2 black plastic bags and a small suitcase. She protected the tent against the wind, snow, and fellow campers by covering it with cardboard, reinforced by scrap wood, sticks from a dying juniper tree, and a black plastic tarp.

Her age was masked by the erosion of a life spent in bitter disappointment. She wore the tension of journeying from campsite to shelter on her forehead. The consequences of living under blistering sun and winter snow seen in the wrinkles on her hands and arms.

She was alone. Comforted by the occasional conversation but it was safer to remain solo. Unattached from the drama of relationships that for her usually resulted in brokenness.

Her life had a rhythm, a cadence that allowed her to survive the daily despair. Yet even with the comfort of her routines and survival strategies, there was an emptiness deep in her soul. A longing that was not filled by a warm shelter bed, or canceled by the patterns she religiously practiced. A relentless ache occupied her waking minutes.

I met Stella late one winter night. Dragging her plastic bags while pushing her suitcase. She limped through the doorway and down the hall. Her bags making a soft swishing sound as they dragged across the linoleum floor. She headed towards the bathrooms.

After a warm shower and a bowl of soup, we sat across the table and talked. She reflected on the challenges of her travels and the origin of her limp – a fall navigating a rocky ledge near her campsite. As she ran out of words, I asked if she had any specific needs. She responded,

“SHOES!”

She lifted her feet revealing calloused soles and toes scrapped and bruised from exposure. She went on to share,

“I used to have boots, but they were too big – I walked out of them. I need shoes.”

I motioned for her to follow me and we made our way to the clothes closet. A cramped and intimidating room where clothes were stacked and hung from floor to ceiling. Stella ruffled through the clutter. She admired a beige Columbia jacket, slipped on then off a pair of pink knit gloves, and then she found them! SHOES – light blue with black straps and soles.

I handed her a pair of hiking boots but she was determined. She slipped the blue shoes on her bare feet, a perfect fit. I offered warm socks and with the first smile I had seen from Stella’s face, they were rejected. Stella walked out of the space. She was satisfied. She had found the thing she needed most – shoes.

I watched from a distance as she gathered her belongings and headed to the door. I called to her,

“Stella, can’t you stay the night?”

She turned, smiled, and waved, disappearing into the bite of the cold night air. The door closed slowly behind her.

I stood motionless for a few minutes, watching her shadow pass by the window. Her head dipped low bracing against the wind. I wondered how such a small thing, a pair of canvas shoes, could bring joy. Stella’s life was hard, unimaginable. Yet finding them changed everything.

I see Stella infrequently, but each time she smiles and points toward her shoes. She remains content.

Today, I am sitting in the warmth of our home. There is food in the pantry, warm water runs from the faucets, and each night I climb into a bed with clean sheets – a scented candle situated on the nightstand to add comfort. Yet, Stella has something I long for – contentment.

I will be honest; my life is filled with striving. Working to obtain the next thing to satiate the longings. On the good days, I recognize that the thing I need most is a greater dependence on the One who provides all I need. However, I don’t live in the “good days” so even that awareness is inconsistent at best.

Yet watching Stella, pushing and dragging her life, has forced me to reconsider my approach.

Romans 12:2 tells us,

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

New Living Translation

My striving hasn’t worked. I still wake most mornings feeling like I’m dragging around the baggage from years before. Perhaps Stella had it right, she was focused on shoes, the one (most important) thing she needed.

I’ve come to believe that this transformed life that Jesus offers, a changed mind, is the one thing that brings real satisfaction. It takes all our experiences, broken interactions, bad decisions, and poor attitudes and uses them to point out our desperate need for His mercy and grace. It reshapes our hearts, motives, and perspectives and then allows us to be a powerful instrument to love other broken souls walking through the world.

Lysa Terkeurst, in her book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way – Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered, suggests,

…the disappointments we are facing can be used for good if we trust the heart of the Giver.

My prayer for you today is that you become painfully aware of the baggage you are dragging and pushing around in your life. That you realize that nothing you are striving for will bring lasting comfort. And through this recognition, you look to the only One that offers transformation, Jesus. Because resting in Him changes everything.

Be encouraged His BeLOVED there is hope.

God loves you.

Be Blessed,

“Stella, thank you for all you have taught me.”


REFLECT:

In the book of John, chapter 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. She led a life of pain and loneliness, was isolated from the other women, and rejected for her past. Yet, Jesus offers her satisfaction. Take a few minutes to read John 4:4-15 below and consider the questions that follow.

He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

New Living Translation

(Please visit John 4 NLT – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – Jesus – Bible Gateway to read the full story about Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman.)

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. As you read the story of the Samaritan woman, what did Jesus offer her that no one else could offer? How did this radically change her life (see John 4:16-30)?
  2. Take a few minutes to think about your life. What baggage are you carrying? Can a deeper more committed relationship with Jesus help you find freedom? Can it bring true satisfaction?
  3. What step are you going to take to align your thoughts and actions with Christ?

ENJOY:

Grace To Grace – Hillsong Worship – YouTube

Conviction

Photo by B. Jordan (Unsplash)

Have you ever been convicted? I don’t mean criminal prosecution that leads to paying fines or jail time. I mean the kind of conviction that touches your heart and if permitted transforms your attitudes and beliefs. I recently experienced this type of encounter during a morning walk.

I left the house early, hoping to experience the peace of walking as the sun peeked above the local hills. I wanted to witness the beauty of the sunrise captured for only a few minutes as it transitions from crimson and purple to brilliant gold.

However, this morning I was not alone.

I saw him standing on the corner, holding a leash, connected to a very old black lab. He was trying to get the dog to move but she was unmovable, sitting on the edge of the curb. The man continued to tug until the dog gained her balance and began to walk. Her back legs shook and buckled with each awkward step. He kept pulling the leash, dragging his companion, and shouting at her until the dog’s legs gave way and she collapsed. Her owner’s shouts intensified. The tugging contorted the dog’s neck and finally, she was on her feet again. They walked slowly and after a few minutes the man exclaimed, “I’m done!” He pulled the dog across the street, navigated the stairs to the porch, and left her standing at the front door. The owner turned, entered the house, and slammed the door shut. The dog stood motionless staring at the closed door, her back legs finally giving way, and there she rested, accepting her place on the doormat.

I kept walking but I could feel the anger rising, disgusted at what I had just witnessed – man’s insensitivity and cruelty.

My imagination painted a picture of a small black fur ball joining the family. So many memories. Times of frustration for her owners but also countless expressions of unreserved love, comfort, and joy. Now she was relegated to an inconvenience, dragged, and screamed at because she was old and slow.

Outrage grew each time I replayed the tape in my mind – pulling, back legs collapsing, screaming, and finally that look, her eyes steadied on a door that had been slammed shut.

I rounded the corner and my indignation was nudged by a single thought. It started as a gentle prompting and then there it was – conviction.

For the remainder of the walk, I watched a mental video of my life. Times when I had been impatient, inconsiderate, visibly annoyed with family and friends. Moments when I failed to take the time to understand another’s perspective. Resisted slowing down long enough to hear a need, see pain, or comfort a fear. I realized my behaviors were no different from the man with the dog – often insensitive, frequently unloving.

I wonder if you’ve ever found yourself in that place, being convicted of an action, a harsh word, or a snide remark. If yes, then you are right where you need to be. Your heart is still sensitive and receptive to change.

So the next time you feel that nudging, that little tug on your heart to reconsider your behavior, be reminded of the old black lab staring at the door. Unlike her master, God never closes the door that leads to His abundant grace. He remains available to change your heart, your attitudes, and your words.  

You can trust Him,

He Loves you,

You are His BeLOVED.

 Be Blessed,

Allison

 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

John 15:12-13

REFLECT:

1 John 3:11-18 teaches more on how to love others. Take a few minutes to read the verses below and consider the questions that follow.

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. As you replay the mental video of your life, do you find any patterns or behaviors that are unloving and insensitive?
  2. If you were to follow God’s command to love others through your actions, do you think it would change your attitudes and behaviors? If yes, in what ways?

ENJOY:

Grace To Grace – Hillsong Worship – YouTube

Finding Our Way Home

Photo by Unknown (A Bing Photo)

Our dog pushed past me as I opened the door from the laundry room to the garage. His tail wagging with anticipation as he made his way across the garage floor. He knew it was time to explorer his favorite route – right at the driveway, down the sidewalk adjacent to the empty field, cross the street, a stop at the mailbox, and home. A path we walk daily.

But this time, he paused, not at the door leading to the yard, but in front of the workbench. His nose was glued to a small brown ball.

I slowed my steps to better see what he was looking at and there, curled on the floor, was a chipmunk.

He was frozen, the only movement coming from our dog nudging him with his nose. His eyes were squeezed shut, almost as if he was blinding himself for what might happen.

I began to wonder if he was alive. How had he gotten into the garage? Yet, there he was – curled in a ball, cute as could be, and clearly in the wrong place.

I called for my husband, shouting requests, “A cardboard box and warm towels, please.” I held the dog and guarded our small guest. My husband responded with all the requested items and I picked up our little intruder and placed him inside.

My husband and I debated where to place his makeshift home. He opted for outside. But my heart was telling me to keep him warm. Settle him in a corner of the garage. After all, it was cold outside, there was snow on the ground, he had to be freezing.

After some unexpected emotion, we settled on the entrance to our front door. A great compromise for my sympathy-driven response and my husband’s practical approach. I loaded the container with towels and packing foam peanuts to stay off the cold and a handful of nuts just in case he woke up hungry.

The box was snuggled in a corner between the front door and wall. The front porch light turned on to provide warmth and a towel pulled over the top. I gave his small body a little pat and as I walked away, I asked God to take care of His creation throughout the night.

The next morning, I woke with anticipation. Would our chipmunk still be in the box? Had he made it through the night? How was I going to care for him?

The leash fully extended as our dog made his way out the garage door and towards the front porch. I think he knew our furry friend was camping on the doorstep. The towel was untouched, still pulled neatly across the top. I leaned down and peered inside.

NO Chipmunk!

NO NUTS!!

A trail of munched packing foam made its way around the front of the house and under the side-yard gate.

He was gone and I have to admit at that moment, I felt a little silly.

He had found his way home!

Have you ever been lost in your life, perhaps not physically misplaced but emotionally or spiritually absent? Have you ever traveled outside your comfortable barriers only to find yourself filled with fear and anxiety – emotionally coiled around feelings of guilt and shame?

I experienced a “lost” season. A time of aimless wondering when life took an unexpected shift. I knew I was loved by God yet He seemed so far away. The dreams I fashioned during my young adult years, were suddenly pushed into my memory and I was left to find a new path for life.

Then another shift, a gentle push to see life perhaps in a different light. Instead of leaning on my worldly understanding, a nudge to risk trusting God.

I had been a Christian for over a decade but giving up my doing for resting in God was foreign. Walking through a future without a plan was uncomfortable but I began to trust, to grow, and with each new challenge, I learned to lean on Him a little harder.

Unlike my approach to rescue our small guest by trapping him in a box and limiting his life to the safety of our garage, God walks with us outside in the world. He allows us to experience feelings of displacement, the fear of not having all the answers, and the frustration of not being able to fix all that is broken, to remind us that He, and He alone, remains in control. Times that reassure us that He is a God of love and grace. He is the One that provides direction. He helps us find our way home.

If you feel like you are wandering, lost, and uncertain, I encourage you to release your tight grip on self-control. God patiently waits for you to lean hard on Him. He waits for you to allow Him to use your season of loss to change your mind and heart.

You can trust Him,

He loves you,

You are His child.

Be Blessed,


 REFLECT:

In Luke 15:11 – 24, we are told about a son that experiences a season of wandering. A time when he does life on his terms. Take a few minutes to read the story and reflect on the questions provided.

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. Have you ever experienced a time when God seemed distant? When you attempted to do life on your own? If yes, what was the outcome?
  2. Do you believe that God can provide relief for your wandering? Why or why not?
  3. What two actions can you take today to grow closer to God, depend on Him, and relinquish control?

ENJOY:

Graves Into Gardens ft. Brandon Lake | Live | Elevation Worship – YouTube

Sanctuary

Photo by unknown(Microsoft Bing)

The air was crisp and cold. A dusting of snow covered the ground – a typical winter morning in Central Oregon.

As I drove toward the intersection, an object caught my eye. It appeared to be a man lying in the gutter, knees touching nose. His dog snuggled close, all his belongings tucked at his feet.

I pulled through the intersection and watched him unfold – head then shoulders, each arm reaching toward the sky. His dog stretched in response to his movement. The remnants of sleep fading as he faced a new day.

His image faded in my rearview mirror. I refocused my attention and saw the sidewalks and gutters lining the road littered with tents, sleeping bags, makeshift structures. Men and women clumsily maneuvered the streets and in the distance, a group had formed to smoke and discuss the day.

I was caught off guard! I was one block from the local homeless shelter. Yet, the streets had suddenly come alive, humanity on display, broken and destitute.

This scene was unfolding at the doorstep to a place that would provide sanctuary. A refuge for all those that needed a bed, shower, a hot meal, and hope. One doorway away and yet, humanity chose gutter, and sidewalk, tent, and car.

At that moment my heart broke, tears welled in my eyes. Not solely out of pity for those relegated to the streets (although no one should have to live from gutter to curb) but because this scene reminded me of how many times I have chosen less. The many times God has offered sanctuary, hope, a refuge and I’ve said, “Thank you Lord but I’ll do it my way.” Times when I stand broken and destitute, attempting to maneuver through one circumstance after another alone – a vagrant.

My windshield filled with the image boldly displayed on the side of the shelter building,

Grace – Changes – Everything

And at that moment it became clear, my aimless, self-absorbed wondering ends at the place where I accept God’s grace – a shelter for my soul.

Psalm 62:1-2 reassures us,

Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

The shelter stood amid a broken humanity, waiting for them to respond and receive. We stand in the presence of a grace-giving, merciful savior. He waits for us to,

Respond and

Receive.

BeLOVED, I encourage you to step out, beyond your self-sufficiency and accept God’s refuge because His grace does change everything.

Be Blessed,

Note: Homelessness in our community, in many communities, is on the increase. The loss of jobs resulting from the pandemic has caused relatively self-sufficient individuals and families to join the ranks of homelessness. Some, as depicted in this story, choose to stay outside of the systems put in place to support them. They are “loners” unwilling to accept the help provided. While most, seek and readily receive sustaining assistance. It is a complex issue, requiring a multifaceted approach to solve. Please join me in praying for all those who are houseless and homeless.


REFLECT:

Psalm 27:1-9 (New Living Translation)

The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.

For additional reading – Psalms 27 NIV – Of David. The LORD is my light and my – Bible Gateway

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. Who or what are you trusting/following instead of God?
  2. What changes do you need to make in your life, your beliefs, and behaviors to completely surrender to God?

ENJOY:

Cody Carnes – Run To The Father (Live at Motion Conference) – YouTube

Holy Moments

Photo by Morgan (Unsplash)

A stillness fell over the room. The type of quiet that forces you to take notice.

The music played gently in the background and the early morning light cut through the window leaving a shadow across the small wooden table and her favorite cup of tea.

The children were hanging on to the last remnants of their dreams, the dog was curled at her feet, and her husband was buried under his grandmother’s quilt.

She sat motionless, fixed on an indescribable peace. A sweetness, a warmth that enveloped her.

A holy moment; a moment where she could feel God’s presence.

A moment she knew that she was loved like a father loves his daughter – loved unconditionally, effortlessly, intentionally.

Our lives can get so complicated. They can become busier than we planned, out of control. Keeping us from the most important thing, time alone with God. Sitting in His presence, lounging at His feet, spending time getting to know Him, loving Him, surrendering to Him.

Holy moments are found in the stillness of our minds, in the quieting of our hearts, in the intentional discipline of seeking God.

Tim Hansel shares,

God has spoken very boldly about his desire to be a presence in our lives. If I want to heal the ache and loneliness in my own life, one of the things I need to do is get away, alone with God. . . In the silence, God will speak to you most powerfully. Too often his words to us get muffled, lost, or covered by the crowd of many noises both inside and outside of us. We must have a quiet heart in order to hear God’s distinctive message to us.

So how do we make time?

What do we do while in His presence?

What are Jesus’ promises for our time together?

Making Time

Jesus himself was the best example of making time for God. He was often found stealing away to a quiet place to pray and worship.

Luke 5:16 shares,

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

We need to get away from the distractions to a quiet (lonely) place. A place that allows us to focus; a comfy chair in the early morning before the family places their daily demands. A Walk in the neighborhood or hike in the woods, just you and Jesus. A late evening encounter, the day is done and you can rest in your Father’s arms.

You may only have 5 minutes, take the time. Jesus waits to meet with you.

In His Presence

Three things we can focus on while we are in the presence of God; prayer, praise, and pondering His goodness.

Colossians 4:2 tells us,

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

We can use our time alone with God to pray, talk with Him about every aspect of our lives – not just our needs (He already knows) but also our dreams, those tiny things that bring us joy.

Psalm 117:1-2 gives us another hint at what we should focus on during our time with the Lord,

Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!

Take time to praise God for all He has done and continues to do for you. The Lord loves to hear the praises of His people. Listen to worship music, sing or pray in the quiet of your mind, sing or pray at the top of your lungs – don’t forget to praise!

Pondering God, reflecting on His character and nature, allows us to grow our knowledge and understanding of the person of Jesus. Reading the Bible, a daily devotion, journaling are all excellent ways to reflect on God.

His Promise

James 4:8 shares God’s promise for our time with Him.

 Come close to God, and God will come close to you…

Our time with God brings intimacy and builds our relationship with our loving Father. Our faith and trust grow, burdens shift, pain takes on a new perspective, and our lives are transformed.

Sisters, I know many of you are going through difficult times. Times that cause you to fear, question, and challenge your faith. Times where you think I don’t have time to be still, I’m just hanging on!

I encourage you, even in desperate times, to make time to be with Jesus. Because it is during these times – we need to focus on Him even more. We need to sit in His presence, lounge at His feet, spend time getting to know Him, loving Him, surrendering to Him.

31Therefore do not worry or be anxious (perpetually uneasy, distracted), saying, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ 32For the [pagan] Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; [but do not worry,] for your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.

34“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:31-34 Amplified Bible (AMP)

BeLOVED, don’t get lost in the busyness and the distractions of this world. Spend time with the One that can meet your inner longings, your deep loneliness, and your unimaginable losses.

Nestle into your favorite chair, settle into the corner of a coffee shop or a bookstore, walk a quiet path – spend time with your creator.

In return, He will reveal Himself, His passions, His purpose for your life and you will find yourself resting in a holy moment.

Blessings,


REFLECT:

In Luke 10:38-42, we are told about Martha and Mary.

 38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 Martha was the doer, serving Jesus and His disciples, making certain the meal was ready, and all the many details were addressed.

Mary desired to sit at Jesus’ feet. She took this precious time to be still, to grow in intimacy and knowledge of this man Jesus. She chose not to get distracted by the busyness of His visit, the preparation, her sister’s call to do more. She chose to be present, to quiet her heart, to focus on God.

Seeking God in a busy world requires some intentionality, a little planning, and perseverance. But Jesus says in Luke 10:42B,

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Jesus confirms that Mary had it right. His desire for our lives is time spent in His presence, at his feet, in a relationship with Him.

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. Are you consistently spending time with God? If no, what is getting in your way?
  2. What is one thing you can do to grow closer to God?

ENJOY:

Nothing Else (feat. Cody Carnes) // The Belonging Co – YouTube

Most Beautiful / So In Love (feat. Chandler Moore) – Maverick City Music | TRIBL Music – YouTube

Lessons from my Father

Photo by M. Parzuchowski

My father passed away on my birthday. It is always a bittersweet celebration – my living and his death.

He was a complex man, which made our relationship complicated. I loved him but there was a part of me that was also intimidated by him.

It’s not that he had an overpowering stature or that he ever raised his hand to me. But there was this smoldering temper. It lied right under the surface and I never wanted to be the cause of it boiling over.

So as a child, I played the role of the compliant good girl, no thoughts or opinions of my own – mirroring his image, avoiding emotions.

That approach worked until it couldn’t any longer – I grew up.

With each teenage and young adult encounter, I learned to navigate his temper. My strategy was similar to that little girl – work to appease him, gain his approval, and stay clear of what could cause tension.

The paradox was that although I carried an anxiousness when I was with my dad, I loved being there. He taught me the fine art of fishing. Hours spent on a pier or a riverbank. We never said much but it was just good to be together. There was a quietness about him that I admired.

Time mellowed him. The loss of my mother left him broken and the temper slowly replaced, perhaps transformed, by an ever-growing faith in Christ.  

When I turned 34 my father freed me from the boundaries I had constructed to frame our relationship. With his passing, he left me a priceless gift – an awareness, an amazing example, of how God enters into our brokenness and brings change.  

20My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

I have to be honest though, I find I still lean on the protective strategies I developed in my youth. The striving to prove, the conflict avoidance, the slipping away from anything remotely close to emotional tension. They’ve become my default. But the beauty is there is freedom.

Just as the Galatians 2 verse shares; I can choose to believe Christ lives in me. A new creation. This trusting allows me to recognize those defense mechanisms are no longer needed. They are old human attempts to protect me from disappointment and pain. The reality is that God waits to give freedom, each time we recognize the old-ways and ask for new strength.

I hope you turn to the God of freedom for all that keeps you striving, fearful, and lonely.

He is waiting for you to ask.

He loves you.

Be Blessed,

Allison

In memory of my dad, Alvin T. Willis (11/19/18 – 2/3/92) ~ Dad, I miss you. Thank you for what you taught me in life and death.


REFLECT:

Psalm 51:9-12 (New International Version)

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

For additional reading – Psalm 51 NIV – Psalm 51 – For the director of music. A – Bible Gateway

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. Can you identify protective strategies you use in your current relationships? If yes, do you feel they are effective, why or why not?
  2.  How can you give all dysfunctional strategies to God?

ENJOY:

Take Me Back (feat. Dante Bowe from Bethel Music) – Maverick City Music | TRIBL Music – YouTube

The True Source of Lasting Satisfaction

Photo by S. Forest

I have a sweet friend that loves to feed the local bird population. She has birdfeeders hanging from her balcony and protruding from the ground below. We often have text exchanges about the birds collecting in her yard and conversations about how to attract more birds when the visitor numbers slow.

I was inspired by her enthusiasm and truth be told a little friendly rivalry was rising – how many birds could I attract to my yard?

So armed with the knowledge she had imparted to me, I added two feeders to my backyard. They were directly below the dining room window, well within view of watchful eyes – will they come?

Then one by one, finch, bluebird, dove, and a random covey of quail found the feeders – a full-blown obsession was conceived.

Each morning, Titus (our fur baby) and I make the trip to the feeders, fill each to the brim, and scatter a little on the ground. During the day, my husband and I keep watch on our guests. He often comments on the number of birds. Yes, the obsession has captured him as well.

One morning I was standing at the window, a warm cup of tea in hand. I noticed the doves. They are frequent visitors. They congregate under the feeders, scratching, searching for seed. I know they are ground feeders but today it struck me. They searched for food, moving from feeder to feeder looking to the ground. While all along, hanging above their heads were full feeders! As the wind caused the feeders to sway, seeds would fall to the ground. But, what they wanted, what would meet their needs, provide satisfaction was right above their heads. All they had to do was look up.

As a younger woman, I had dreams. Things in my life I wanted to accomplish. I moved from goal to goal, accomplishing some, experiencing devastating loss with others, but constantly striving – one more goal. Scratching around life, looking for the one accomplishment that would meet my needs, feed me, all the while looking to myself for satisfaction.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying, dreams are not bad, goals give us motivation. But when we depend on these things to define us, to give us purpose and value, we are like doves – never looking to the true source of real satisfaction.

The Bible tells us in the book of Matthew,

 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Matthew 6:25-26 – The Message (MSG)

This is a beautiful reminder if we are God-worshippers we don’t have to scratch and search for something to fill us. All we need to do is look up. He promises to care, provide, and love us. And that brings true satisfaction.

Be Blessed,


REFLECT:

Psalm 139 – New International Version (NIV)

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of saw when I awake, I am still with you.

For additional reading – Psalm 139:1-18 NIV – For the director of music. Of David. A – Bible Gateway

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  1. What or who are you looking to for satisfaction?
  2. Do you believe God can meet your needs? If yes, why? If no, why not?

ENJOY:

Won’t Stop Now (Paradoxology) | Official Music Video | Elevation Worship – Bing video

The Other Side

Photo by Unsplash

The drive to the bridge was filled with mixed emotions.

Nestled atop a cliff, it spanned the gorge, offering breath-taking views of the river below and the waterfall that graced the mountainside.

But there was something a little unsettling about a bridge suspended precariously in the air. It didn’t feel quite right to be walking across wood planks connected by rope and bordered by a wire cage. I should add, suspension bridges sway – controlled by the wind and the steadiness of those crossing.

The bridge was a few miles from the parking lot and with each step, my excitement turned to anxiety. I came to the end of the path and the entry to the bridge was in view. It appeared narrower than I had imagined and it seemed to disappear into the trees, a dark uninviting space.

People say the first step is the most difficult. So, I inched my toes to the edge of the first plank, prayed, and started walking. Gripping the wire cage with both hands, I made my way to the middle of the bridge, stopping briefly to look over the edge – water, rocks, a deer, and yes a waterfall cascading over the rim of the gorge to the floor below.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see them running down the path. Teenage boys, R U N N I N G with abandonment towards the bridge. And that small voice in my head began to scream.

Get. Off. The. Bridge!

My peaceful encounter with anxiety, suspension bridges, nature, was about to be profoundly disrupted by a tsunami of swaying, the turbulent waves of teenage boys running across a suspension bridge. As their feet hit the first plank, I turned and started walking towards that dark uninviting exit. But before I could make it very far, the wave hit, the bridge shifted and swayed, and all that I had feared was realized.

I clung to the side of the bridge as the boys ran by. Their laughter and screams could be heard as they disappeared into the shadows.

The bridge’s movement slowed and finally came to rest. I gathered what little courage I had left and made my way to the other side.

It was done. I was safely on solid ground – challenge conquered, crisis averted, and courage growing.

Making my way through the dark uninviting space, I found a path that took me to the river floor, across a shallow stream, up a narrow ridge, and back to the parking lot. All the while, the bridge hung overhead, swaying in cadence with the wind.

Once safely back on pavement, I replayed the day’s events in my mind – toes to plank, first step, boys RUNNING, and a path to safety. I remembered looking up from the river floor and seeing the bridge suspended from cliff edge to cliff edge and at that moment realized I had been changed by the experience. There was a peacefulness settling in that quiet space deep in my heart. A subtle confidence – another fear faced and overcome.  

2020 felt a little like an endless suspension bridge, swaying in the turbulence of unprecedented times. With each step, the movement intensified leaving us searching for something to cling to. It became a year of divisiveness, anger, self-absorption, and unprecedented anxiety and fear.

But it was also a year of opportunity. A break in our normal pace allowing us to reflect and refocus.

Theologian Edmund Clowney writes,

“God sends trials to strengthen our trust in him so that our faith will not fail. Our trials keep us trusting; they burn away our self-confidence and drive us to our Savior.”

Looking back over the journey, I see that I have changed – a little less cynical, a bit more compassionate, and perhaps more focused. Focused on the things that mean the most – husband, sister, best friends. Focused on the truth that regardless of the circumstance, God remains in control.

I pray that in 2021 you will discover the truth taught to you by last year’s journey. That you embrace the fact that God remains near, and that your faith in the steadfastness of Christ grows.

Blessings His BeLOVED,


REFLECT:

James 1:2-8

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

For additional reading – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV

CONSIDER:

Take a few minutes to consider the following.

  • As you look back over 2020, what have you learned about the steadfastness of Christ?
  • How will you allow this new knowledge to penetrate your heart and change you in the New Year?

ENJOY:

The Blessing with Kari Jobe & Cody Carnes | Live From Elevation Ballantyne | Elevation Worship – YouTube

2 Corinthians 5:17