About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article with my "ABC's of Advice." I thought it would be interesting to recreate the article with my thoughts now (without first looking back on my old post). Sound good?
A: Always put God first above all else. Nothing compares to Him.
B: Be kind, even when you don't feel like it.
C: Carry your burdens to the cross.
D: Don't forget who you are in Christ--loved, chosen, forgiven, HIS.
E: Even when I don't understand, God has a perfect plan.
F: Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the prison of bitterness. So forgive freely.
G: Grace is enough.
H: Hope always, even when it seems dark.
I: Inspire others with your faith.
J: Joy is a choice. Choose it every day.
K: Kids are a gift. Give them your attention.
L: Love others without condition.
M: Maybe your biggest interruption could really be your biggest God-appointment.
N: Never give up. Sometimes you have to miss the mark a thousand times before hitting the target.
O: Overthinking isn't going to help. Trust me.
P: Pray about everything. God is the best Friend you'll ever have.
Q: Questions are good. Don't be afraid to ask them.
R: Remember to look for the stars, the little blessings God sends into your darkness. Because sometimes there are beautiful things you can only see in the dark.
S: Serve more than you expect to be served.
T: Thank God every day. For everything.
U: Understanding things from someone else's perspective will often help your own perspective.
V: Victory is already yours through Christ.
W: Worry will wreck you. Put it in His hands and let it go.
X: eXamine your heart and figure out why you do what you do.
Y: Your youth will not last forever. Use it to glorify God.
Z: (be) Zealous for God above anything else in your life.
If you want to check out the first edition of this post that I wrote in 2017, read it here:
This week I turn 22.
It's crazy to me how fast time goes, especially as the years go by.
As I've been reflecting on what God has taught me and how He has worked in my life over the last year, I contemplated things that He has been teaching me over the 22 years of my life.
Today I wanted to share those things with you...
1. Nothing else comes close to Jesus. If I don't have Him, I have nothing. All the accomplishments, relationships, money, dreams that this world has to offer will never come close to the surpassing worth and greatness of knowing Him as my Savior.
2. Life doesn't always turn out how I think it will, and that's okay. Different doesn't mean any less beautiful. But when God takes a hold of the different, He just makes it a different kind of beautiful.
3. Life doesn't slow down, so stop waiting. It's easy to think that "when life slows down" or "when I stop being so busy" then I'll finally make time for all the things I want to do and all the people I want to love. Life doesn't slow down. Stop waiting.
4. Donuts are always a good idea. Do I need to further this point?
5. Find joy in the mundane. Not every day is a roller coaster adventure. But every day has something amazing in it.
6. It's okay to not always be okay. Life hurts and the wounds don't always heal overnight. It's okay to not be okay right now, but don't stay there forever.
7. Your heart will heal someday. Especially when we're young it can be easy to wonder if the pain we face in this crazy, sin destroyed world will ever go away. I have learned that you can't heal on your own, but there is a great Healer who will heal your hurts and make you whole. Nothing heals wounds like God does.
8. You're never too old to dance. And if you dance in the produce aisle at the grocery store singing the VeggieTales theme song, you are my hero.
9. Everything in life is an opportunity to glorify Him. When you walk down the hallway at school, you can glorify Him in your interactions with your friends. When you write that book because He's gifted you with the talent of writing, you can glorify Him through the words. Life is meant to be lived for Him and His glory--every part of it.
10. Organize your room. You'll feel better afterwards.
11. Anxiety is big, but your God is bigger. Any battle you face--anxiety, depression, grief--all of those hard things that life throws at you feels like giants in your path. But your God specializes in knocking down giants.
12. It really doesn't matter what people think of you. And if we're honest, they were probably more worried about what they said than what you said.
13. Smile at strangers. Everyone deserves to see God's love. Start with a smile.
14. A relationship will not make me complete. Only God can complete me. A boyfriend could never do that. And it really is okay if I don't have a boyfriend right now. Life is not all about romance.
15. Gratitude will effect your attitude. Not every situation in life is going to make me feel grateful. And certainly not everything in life will bring a smile to my face. But if I can count my blessings even through the tears, I have grown.
16. Be present more. Yeah, Snapchat streaks are fun. And yep, Instagram has a bunch of new stories to watch. But there are people right in front of you at this moment. There is a sunset waiting to be watched. There are people needing to be loved. Step out of your screen and be present.
17. Read your Bible every day. Relationships take work and time. The only way to develop a relationship with God and know Him is to spend time with Him. And it's greater than any other relationship on your agenda right now.
18. Following God's will for you will most likely terrify you. Follow Him anyway. He's not wrong.
19. It's okay to feel weak sometimes. God's not finished with you yet. And in your weakness, He is strong. He wants to use you as you are now, but I promise you He's not leaving you that way.
20. Don't take good health for granted. There will come days where you won't always have the energy and health you have now. Cherish the good days.
21. Never stop learning. You can always grow and learn. Pay attention to the people God places around you--kids, peers, older adults, everyone.
22. Jesus is worth it all. That sums it all up.
Here's to walking closer to Jesus in my 22nd year. <3
Last year I wrote an article titled "21 Things I've Learned in 21 Years."
I had fun comparing them after I wrote this year's article. If you want to have a look too, go here:
If you are a follower of Jesus, there is a high chance that at some point you have believed a lie about what following Jesus actually looks like.
I have debated for hours on how to open this post and I finally decided that would be a good place to start.
You see, there's quite a few myths going around about what following Jesus looks like, and they're all just that--myths. You hear them in schools, in friendly conversations, in families, and...even in church.
As Christians we can sometimes swing from one myth to the next or land somewhere in between, while still believing the lie they've planted in our hearts. Don't believe me?
Well, that's why I wrote this article. To show you four common myths that Christians believe about following Jesus and why they aren't true.
Myth #1: Following Jesus means a happy life free of pain or suffering.
This is more commonly thought of as the prosperity gospel. And oh, is it ever wrong.
Jesus never promised a life with no pain or suffering. In fact, all He promised was that if we followed Him we surely would face suffering and even persecution for Him.
Yes, God is a good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children, and I certainly have received countless blessings from Him. But that doesn't mean I never suffer or I'm free of pain.
But when I follow Jesus, I know and believe that I have a faithful Friend to walk through the pain and suffering with me. He doesn't promise no pain. But He does promise I'm never alone.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you." (Isaiah 43:2)
Myth #2: Following Jesus isn't really a sacrifice.
The first myth can often lead into this one. And this one can get pretty tricky very quickly.
Here's the truth: If you are following Jesus wholeheartedly, it is going to cost you something.
It's not enough to say we follow Jesus and then live our lives however we feel like living them, without sacrificing anything for Him.
He gave up everything for us. Why can't we give up everything for Him?
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)
Myth #3: Following Jesus is done only on Sundays.
Jesus didn't just die for your sins part-time. So don't live for Him part-time.
Following Jesus is not like a job where you "clock in" at church every Sunday and Wednesday and then when you leave you're done following Him for the week. Nope, not how that works.
Following Jesus is hard and messy sometimes and it's definitely a 24/7 deal. If we are to develop a relationship with Jesus and know Him, it can't just be for a couple hours a week. Relationships take work and time.
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." (John 10:27)
Myth #4: Following Jesus is about a list of rules that I have to follow perfectly.
Oh, did I believe this one for a while. And sometimes it's the easiest one to start believing.
This lie can convince us that we have to do more and be more and try harder to earn God's love. It can deceive us into believing that if we do not follow all of the rules we think we should, then we have failed at following Jesus.
Here's the truth: I sin every day. Every day I mess up and I fall and I get messy. And every day in His mercy, God picks me back up, dusts me off, and reminds me to keep following Him.
God cares more about you than He does your performance. Following Jesus is more about a relationship than it is a list of perfect rules to follow.
"For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart--these, O God, You will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17)
Following Jesus isn't easy or pain-free, it takes a lot of sacrifice, it's 24/7 commitment, and it's more about a relationship with a perfect God than following rules to be the perfect Christian. Following Jesus will always look differently than we first think, but one thing I do know: It's the greatest adventure of life.
If I could go back in time, there are plenty of things I would want my teenage-self to know.
But if I could, I’d especially want to go back in time and shine some truth into a few of the lies that I believed as a young person.
Maybe you’re struggling with some of these lies too. If so, this is my invitation to you to experience some truth.
Lie 1: I’m too young to do big things.
The world we live in likes to convince teenagers of a lot of thing–and one of those things is the lie that they’re “too young.” For awhile, I convinced myself that I was too young to serve God in all the ways I wanted to. But I was so wrong.
You are never too young—or even too old—to do big things for the glory of God.
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth”; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:6-8)
Lie 2: My current circumstances will never change.
When I was a teenager I often believed that whatever current circumstance I found myself in were always how things were going to be. It was easy to feel like things weren’t going to change, especially when you’re stuck in the sometimes mundane pieces of life.
But things do change, and they change faster than you could imagine. Keep waiting for Him to come through.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
Lie 3: I’m too different from everyone else, so I’ll never fit in.
Different is one-hundred-percent awesome. You were created uniquely. There is no one else on earth exactly like you, and that is a good thing.
You don’t always need to “fit in” to be loved. You are loved completely just as you are.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14)
Lie 4: I’m not good enough.
Christ takes all of your weaknesses and shortcomings and he makes them enough. You don’t have to do it on your own. Your weaknesses in the hands of God are the most beautiful thing you may ever see. Trust me on this one.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Lie 5: Everyone is thinking badly of me.
If we’re honest, that mistake you made when you tripped in lunch and dropped your food all over the floor? No one is going to remember it in an hour, let alone fifteen minutes.
And if we’re even more honest? It doesn’t matter at all what they think anyway. All that matters in the end is what God thinks.
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
Now it's time for our first place winning story, "No Fear in Love."
I think you're going to love it...
It was the 4th of May, and the sun glistened on the newly sprouted leaves once again. The flowers were blooming, and the butterflies were hesitantly proclaiming the goodness of their Creator with each flutter of their wing. Water brooks trickled, the breeze softly whispered. Chipmunks scurried. It seemed like the perfect day for singing, dancing, and just being joyful. The animals didn’t need to be taught. The birds just sang their love songs, and the bees buzzed their harmonies. Praise freely resounded from every creature big and small. Joy filled the hearts of what was understood to be everyone on the earth. Everyone, except for Julia’s.
“Well, what have you got to say for yourself? You never talk, do you?” Her father’s voice raged within the walls of what Julia was sure to be most horrible home on earth.
“I try to make you happy. But, why do I try anymore, if it’s just impossible? I can’t be here anymore.” Julia cried in a louder voice than usual, pain resonating through her heart.
“You just don’t get it, do you? If you did, you would know you’ll never be good enough. Don’t expect to succeed in this life! It’s impossible for you. I’m tired of you throwing me Bible verses all of the time and expecting me to be someone I'm not!” he raged.
Julia’s tears fell like rivers. “I am done. I have tried loving you but I am…” she hesitated. “I am leaving.” she cried, subtly putting her hand in her tattered shorts’ pocket, grabbing a small piece of paper that held a phone number and address to freedom.
“You’re not leaving. I forbid you to leave!” He yelled louder.
“I am twenty-one!” she protested. “God said to me…”
“Stop saying God speaks to you! That Bible you read is just a bunch of old tales.”
“He does speak to me, and His words are the same then, and forevermore. I just need Jesus and He will take care of the rest. I am done being a stepping stone for hatred! I must do what’s right for me, and what God tells me to do.” she said assertively, tying the laces of her neon red converse. Her long brown hair stuck to her cheeks from the many tears that left their stains there.
“If you walk out of this door, I’m done with you!” His brows furrowed and his hands raised.
“That’s your choice. I’ll be praying for you. Goodbye.” Julia replied, slamming the door and ignoring the lump in her throat that arose when she looked into his eyes. Each time she did, she was instantly reminded of those painful times in her past. She had not known her angry father to be any different, so she just bottled up her longing. Her longing to be loved without fear.
Julia felt the warm sun on her face. It felt so relieving to be out of the house. She pulled out the small piece of paper in her pocket again and dialed the phone number written on it.
“Hi mom, it’s Julia. I want to come home. I should have listened to you. You were right about him. I need to be where I can be loved. I need to be...free.”
The next morning Julia turned over in her bed at her mom’s place and glanced at the clock. It read 9:59 A.M.
“I…slept…in?” Julia sat up with a start and stared out the window. It had been forever since she slept in that late. Rolling over she grabbed her tattered Bible and lay awake reading its treasured words. She opened up to 1 John 4 which read,
“Love is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
She stopped there when her stomach interrupted her with its selfish grumblings. She sometimes felt as her stomach did, in pain and in starvation because she was lacking what she needed. She sometimes felt like grumbling and complaining, too.
But she remembered that Christ died for her. Who could love her more than that? Did He know how imperfect she was, and how many times she fell? Did He see her infirmities and know her sins? If He did, He would truly see there was no reason to love such a weak and lonely girl as she.
But He did, and He loved her just the same. Her heart skipped a beat for the first time as she tried to comprehend this great and gracious love given to her, freely. Her tears could not be held back. This kind of love removed fear, and banished all memories from the past. If only man understood this love and stood up and honored God’s children because they feared Him! If only they loved. Not a fake love, or an artificial love that remains until you are too far deep to escape. But a true love. One without lust, sin, strife, anger, selfishness, pride, and impatience.
“Lord, I know I’ve messed up so much in my life just as everyone else, and I don’t consider myself any better than them. Please remove my painful memories. I need to move on. I can’t possibly do that looking back all of the time. You alone have shown me what true love is, and for that I’m forever thankful. Help young men and women to obey your call to love. Not fake love, but your kind of love. The love of man shatters, and the praise of another will not last, so that is not what I seek. Make it possible for me to love again, and to accept love in return. Even though I'm hurting, you’re my Healer. Please remove my pain of the past, and make me Yours, and free at last. Amen.” Julia opened her eyes from praying the words that poured out from her aching heart. A deep sigh escaped from her lungs as she got ready for her day. Her first day of being free.
The sun was still shining, and the birds were singing their songs. Children ran races around the lush green grass that blanketed the earth. Julia stood by the window clenching her warm mug of tea in her fragile hands. Her head leant against the kitchen glass window lined with white lace curtains. The sun in her face and the smell of her spice tea brought an innocent smile upon her face. She longed to be like the children. So innocent and pure. Never worrying about a thing.
Just then the kitchen phone rang. Julia’s mom was nowhere around, so she answered it.
“Julia? This is your father. You need to come back home.” The sound of her father’s crackly dull voice brought all that fear back. Her voice shook, her hands trembled, and her anger arose. How could he say such a thing after what he did to her?
Just then God spoke to her heart.
“Forgive, but do not give in.”
“I…I…” she stuttered.
“Please.” he begged.
“NO.” Julia slammed the phone down, tears streaming down her eyes. Now she was mad at God and her father. How could He tell her to forgive? How dare He command her to love someone who never loved her, or her mother? This could not be the voice of God.
“Julia. Did I not forgive you at your worst?” This had to be Him, but she denied it. Sitting down at the table, she sobbed.
Forgive. That word rang in her ears, making her heart heavier with each beat. God was not telling her to take part in this abusive relationship and to give in, and go back to her old life. He was only telling her to forgive.
“But it’s so much harder than that!” she protested. The phone rang again. She stayed seated. An hour passed, and her mother left for work. The phone rang again. Julia still sat.
The fourth time, the phone rang, and Julia had enough.
“Hello?” she snapped over the phone.
“This is Mercy Hospital. Your father had a stroke.”
Vision, blurred. Heart, pounding. Fear, conquering. Love, fighting.
“Lord, help me.” she cried.
Racing to her room, Julia grabbed her Bible. The life-changing words managed to be seen through her blurred vision.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” This was her last confirmation. Forgiveness was her way to freedom.
Julia jumped into her car and called her mom. There was no way that she was going to let her father go without telling him that she forgave him. She prayed for nothing but God's strength and love on the way. After all, she had none left. If anything happened in that hospital room, it had to be God. If she forgave, it was all because her Savior forgave her, and could also forgive this imperfect man.
Arriving at the hospital she wiped away her tears and clenched onto her tattered Bible. The peace of God overwhelmed her. The doctor said he was alive, but not for very long. She was his last chance of hope.
“Father, I know we have not gotten along, and I know this is hard for the both of us.” she clenched his trembling hand. “But God forgives. He forgave me and I forgive you, too. If you can hear me, I want you to pray with me to ask God to forgive us both.” Hours passed and Julia sat next to her father’s deathbed and quietly prayed, love filling her heart for the first time. Love was not from man, but from God. For the first time she realized that love is not only for the perfect, but for the broken. Forgiveness was given by a perfect God to a depraved generation. He loves unconditionally, that we may also love unconditionally.
At her father’s last breath, he spoke one sentence that would change her life forever.
“My God, forgive me. I believe in you. Show your mercy and love to me. Save me.”
Tears filled Julia’s eyes. God’s love forgave and saved him. Her heart was aching and rejoicing all at once. Just then her mom walked into the room and embraced her. Julia could finally feel again. She could finally feel love.
Many years had passed, and it was Spring again. The sun glistened on the newly sprouted leaves. The flowers were blooming, and the butterflies were hesitantly proclaiming the goodness of their Creator. The breeze was stirring along with the people who were anxiously watching from their seats. Julia glanced from the silver ring that was being placed on her finger up to the man who loved her more than she loved herself. Patient. Kind. Without strife, and without lust. Today seemed like the perfect day to be one with the man that God had given her.
The Lord whispered to her heart, “Perfect love casteth out fear.”
“And Lord, You are my perfect love,” she whispered under her breath.
One thing Julia knew for sure, was that no one, no matter how humble or proud, had a reason to love, but that Christ had first loved. True love is fearless, and it forgives. That day joy and love filled the hearts of what was understood to be everyone on the earth. Everyone, including Julia’s.
1 John 4:18-19
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.”
About the author:
Hello, I’m Hannah! I’m a 16 year old homeschooler and a follower of Jesus Christ. The Lord is the most important thing in my life, and He’s given me a heart to reach this next generation for His glory. Writing is one of the ways I accomplish that! I have known the Lord my whole life, but it was not until I was in my early teens that I truly started living for Jesus, even the hard things. I am a happy writer who enjoys the outdoors, worship music, Bible journaling, sign language, and dancing. Jesus and I have a strong and personal relationship, and I believe that it’s important for every person, young and old, to have the same connection with Him! You can visit my blog at: https://generationlights.weebly.com/hannahs-pages
Last month I had the excitement of announcing our first place winner and second place winner of my 3rd annual Worth it All Blog Story Contest!
Both winners won their story being featured here on the blog for you to see. Disclaimer: I, as the author of this blog, do not necessarily claim to agree with the opinions stated in these works.
The first story I'm posting is our runner-up, "Ever Heard of Love, Luke?"
Let's get going...
When I phoned Peter and asked if I could come over, he agreed immediately. We made a date for that afternoon. I met him in their clean kitchen; he made us each an espresso and then we sat at the table.
Peter fastened his grey-green eyes on me and nodded. “Talk.”
I closed my eyes, wondering where to begin. I thought of the things that came to haunt me in the quiet of night. They weighed heaviest on my heart, so I started there.
The boredom of war ate at me. We just . . . we’d vegetate, you know, until we were called to action. Most of the guys sat around, swearing and smoking and talking junk. Others would do things like playing cards. Grant and Matthew and I read. We read until we had our books memorized; then we started on each other’s books. Because of the censors and checkpoints and taxes, I couldn’t write to Mom and ask for more.
It was soul-destroying. Humanity was not made for that.
And then we fought. Then it was guns and blood and yelling and shots and wounds and death. And only afterwards, when you stood with your hands clamped painfully around your gun, heart pounding in your head, sweat pouring down your face, knees shaking . . . only then did you realize how scared you’d been. How you’d been terrified enough to wet your pants.
Humanity was not made for this either.
The contrast just killed me. It was no way to live.
I realized how white my knuckles were, became aware that I was clenching my mug like I’d done my gun. I looked up at Peter.
“It was wrong,” I whispered brokenly. “It was no way to live.”
He nodded. “Go on.”
I stared at my hands, trying to find words for the masses of stuff piled inside me.
The swearing rubbed off on me. Funny how I’ve come to regret such a fairly small thing and still kick myself for using the language I did. But what could you do? Everyone did it; it was really hard not to get a dirty mouth.
Maybe I should’ve tried harder. I don’t know. I’ve always gone against the grain, always hated to conform, always stood out . . . yet there I gave in. Softie.
Smoking, swearing, drinking . . . I know it’s stupid and unambitious. But what else do you do? If you’re stuck there, how else do you cope?
Those guys needed to somehow deal with our living nightmare. Somehow they needed distraction from the wretchedness which was constantly in our faces.
Not that any of it ever worked. Smoking stinks; it’s so stupid to mess up your lungs and does it ever do anything for you? And alcohol turned you insane. You did things that you still beat yourself up over years later.
I don’t know why we did it, and I still wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d been stronger and hadn’t conformed. I wish I’d done better at following God, done better at living.
I had my head on my arms on the table. Sobbing. My words made no sense, not even to me. Peter’s hand was on my shoulder.
I looked at him. “If you knew . . . if you knew all the things I’d done, I bet you wouldn’t care for me as you do.”
“Luke.” His voice managed to be soft and hard as nails. “We love you for who you are, not for what you’ve done.”
I clenched my jaw. I didn’t want to tell Peter, didn’t want the love in those grey-green eyes to vanish – but confession was pushing up inside me.
I got tattooed,” I burst out.
Only once did I get drunk during those four years – and I mean drunk, now, not tipsy. (That happened about twice, I think.) I was nineteen. We were awaiting marching orders, and we were beyond fed up. I was so emotionally low I let a crowd with whom I never mixed drag me along on their drinking spree.
I got drunk. I got hard heavy roaring drunk.
I could still walk, but I’d taken leave of my mental senses. They said something about “tattoo parlor”, and I let them haul me there.
They asked me what I wanted, and I remember saying, “A cross.” Heaven knows why. I remember thinking, It’s permanent. Just like this war is going to be.
They asked where I wanted it, and I unhesitatingly folded my hand over my heart.
Man, it hurt. The alcohol may have dulled a lot of the pain, but it was still a killer.
I cried my eyes out when I was sober. Countless times I felt like clawing that thing off my chest with my bare hands.
I felt as though God had left me.
I scooted my chair back, oblivious to the tears running down my cheeks. I got up and pulled my shirt over my head. “There, see? Now I’m ruined. Scarred on the inside, tattooed on the outside.”
Peter got to his feet and came to stand beside me. I wrung my shirt in my hands and continued talking. “And then God took Matthew. Two years later. Four months before the peace treaty. Peter, I felt like I was in a desert. There was nothing and no one and God had left me. I wanted to die.”
He said nothing; just enveloped me in a bear hug. I had my hands over my face, shaking as I cried.
“Luke. God loves you.”
That week was Holy Week, and it rained all of Good Friday and Saturday. But Easter Sunday was the most stunning morning I had ever seen. The sky was so incredibly clean, a blue so pure and intense it almost hurt your eyes, almost made you feel it was going to melt away. It was so beautiful it bordered on unreal.
I had only ever known one person with eyes that color. Matthew.
They had a cross set up in church. Next to the pulpit it loomed: rugged, plain, real. It claimed my attention and held it for the whole service.
Afterwards, as everyone was going for tea, I went to the minister and asked, “Can I . . . can I kneel at the cross for a while? Please? I promise I won’t be long.”
She smiled. “Of course.”
Slowly I walked into the deserted church building. I caught my breath. Sunlight poured in through the windows and illuminated the cross. Dust danced in the gold light, glinting like tiny diamonds.
Jesus . . .
I knelt at the foot of the cross. I bent over, forehead to the ground, arms spread before me, palms up. I felt the coolness of the silver cross round my neck as it swung forward and tickled my chin. Tears pricked my eyes.
Jesus. Why did You die for me? Why did You subject Yourself to that pain? Why did You do it if You knew of all the despicable things I would do?
Silence descended. I kept my eyes squashed shut. Images appeared behind my closed lids.
A Man walked – stumbled – fell – up a hill. He bore a heavy wooden cross on His back, but His true burden was heavier: the sin of the world.
A woman stood at the foot of the cross, helpless with grief as she gazed at her Son. He dangled there like a common criminal – He, the perfect Man, the perfect sacrifice. He, the Son of God.
A man stood beside the woman, took her in his arms like he would his mother. His best Friend – that Man of love who hung dying before them – had asked him to take care of His mommy.
I heard weeping. I heard groans.
Pain hung in the air. Blood tainted the wind.
And loneliness invaded.
The Man on the cross felt His Father turn away from Him. He felt His God turn His back.
He felt Himself left alone.
And He was not silent.
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”
My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?
My God? Why? Why? Why did You forsake Me? My God, why?
The images faded. Silence descended once more.
Ever heard of love, Luke?
I knew that Voice. No other spoke with total gentleness while penetrating every chamber of my heart. Only the Holy Spirit.
Ever heard of love, Luke? Ever heard of feeling so strongly for someone that you throw caution and commonsense to the wind? Ever heard of such a desire for the best for someone that you will give your everything so that they may gain?
Ever heard of love, Luke? Love that fights and never gives up? Love that transcends and overpowers? Love that covers all the scars and stains? Love that forgives? Love that cleanses and heals? Love that encompasses all?
Ever heard of love, Luke?
I hung on that cross because of love. For the love of you.
And nothing you’ve seen or thought or said or done can change that love. The blood on your hands can’t. The swear words on your tongue can’t. The images in your mind can’t. The scars on your heart can’t. The deeds in your past can’t.
Luke, I love you.
About the author:
I’m Jeanette, and I’m His :) I’m a nutty South African bookworm, writer, music and drama queen. I love Middle-earth, Narnia, Discworld . . . oh, and all things Celtic! I blog at Only by Grace (https://onlybygrace325852412.wordpress.com) and would love to have you come visit.
I have seen an epidemic sweeping across our nation.
It may not cause fevers, but it causes depression. It may not cause headaches, but it causes division. It may not cause sore throats, but it causes fake smiles. It may not call for a doctor visit, but it does call for revival.
This is the epidemic of perfectionism.
Ever since I was a child, I have been an overachiever. A perfectionist.
I feared failing, so I would constantly strive to do more and be more to prevent being seen as a failure. I would cover up my imperfections and shortcomings with a smile or a hearty handshake on Sunday mornings so no one knew that I didn’t measure up to all that I was supposed to be.
After all, that’s what I saw everyone else doing, wasn’t it?
My Christian friends in church or youth group always kept the superficial smiles on their faces while talking about all the happy things. No one ever talked about the hard, imperfect things.
Instead of feeling like a safe haven to be real about my imperfections, on Sunday mornings I felt the need to measure up to this invisible standard of perfectionism that everyone else was portraying around me. It made me feel depressed and divided from everyone else.
And then there was social media.
Scrolling through my news feed and seeing the posts with smiling faces or grand accomplishments, I would feel more alone in my imperfection than I wanted to admit.
Everyone always seemed to have it all together and acted like the perfect Christian. But what about me? I surely didn’t have it all together, even if it was hard to admit. Sometimes I didn’t even want to worship or praise God in the hard stuff. And sometimes I held onto my own silent sins tighter than I really wanted to.
Was I the only one? Looking around at the smiling faces on Sunday morning or the happy messages on Instagram, I felt forced to wear my own façade too. The façade of perfectionism in a world that is so imperfectly broken.
You see, in a world so desperate for something real, the only way to be honest is to let others see our imperfections.
The truth is that none of us have it all together. The truth is that all of us have our “moments.” The truth is that we all suffer from the disease of sin. Romans 3:10 says: “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one.” (ESV)
Since no one is perfect, why do we try so hard to act like we are?
Being real and vulnerable about our shortcomings and imperfections is hard, I know. But what could happen if we fought against the epidemic of perfectionism with the medicine of being real? What could happen if we joined together as a community on Sunday morning to say, “You know, I’m not perfect, but let’s strive to be more like Jesus together”? What could happen if we started caring less about the perfect smiles and started caring more about being there for each other in the tears and struggles too?
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV)
God doesn’t want you to put on that smile and pretend you’ve got it all together before He uses you. He wants to use your weaknesses and your imperfections. He wants to use you as you are, even though He doesn’t want to leave you there.
So where are the imperfect Christians who are willing to stand up and declare that they aren’t perfect, but God isn’t finished with them yet?
Drop the façade and walk away from the epidemic. Join the ranks of the imperfect. See what God is ready to do with you in that place.
Can all the imperfect Christians please stand up?
When I was fourteen, I remember attending a Christian music festival that impacted my life in many ways.
Every year since then I have continued to attend the festival. The worship, the life-changing messages, and the experience of it all made me feel like I was standing on top of a mountain, and not just the one I was literally standing upon. The worshipful nights of singing about our Creator while the sun would set behind the stage always made God feel so close like you could almost touch Him. His presence felt so near.
But the festival always ended.
Every year we would experience four days of amazing worship, and then the music would fade, we would return home, and all that would be left of the week were our memories and the pictures on our phones.
With the end of the festival came the end of the “spiritual high” that the festival seemed to give me. After all, God felt so near there amid the singing of thousands of people on a mountain that He had created.
But at home?
In between the laundry and the chaos and the to-do list that never ends? Amid all of that, God didn’t feel quite so near.
How is it that we can feel God so near in the moments of mountain highs at festivals or retreats or worship services, but at home we can barely get through the day and hear His voice?
Could it possibly be that we become so caught up in the mundane of the everyday that we lose the glimmer of the extraordinary in the midst of our ordinary routine?
You see, my problem is not that I need to attend a concert or a worship experience every night to feel God’s presence. My problem is that I’m not taking the time to look for Him in the everyday.
His presence doesn’t change. But my perspective can.
God is just as near to me in between running errands and doing dishes as He is on a mountainside concert. He is just as near to you in your everyday life as He is on your mountaintop experience.
Look for Him.
It may be harder to see Him in between the soap bubbles and the hours of studying on the computer, but He is there. I promise you that. He’s not going anywhere. He’s just waiting for you to notice Him there too, in the midst of all of that.
How do we look for Him?
Purposefully set aside time to spend with Him throughout your day. Think about Scriptures as you do simple tasks. Pray when you start worrying. Sing the worship songs as loud as you can on your way to work.
Don’t miss Him there.
When you experience the power of God in the everyday, your faith will grow like never before. Yes, it’s wonderful to experience that spiritual mountain-top moment at a festival or retreat. But experiencing Him in the everyday? That’s an experience like none other.
Reach out and grasp hold of Him today.
I stare at the fluffy clouds above me and then back down at the rich, green grass below me.
Being in this familiar spot brings back so many memories of days, summers, and years that have passed. I remember the joy and the pain of the moments that have come and gone. I sometimes ache to go back in time. To fix things or change what happens, or maybe just to relive a moment twice.
And it’s easy then to desire to stay in the past, isn’t it? Surely you feel it to.
The past is so certain. Almost comfortable. We’ve lived it, we understand it. And we would just rather not move out of the past because we’re afraid.
We’re afraid of the future.
Afraid of what could come. For the future is no guarantee. The future is a risk, it is not guaranteed. The future takes us away from what is comfortable and changes us.
Maybe that’s the point?
I have never been one to like change. Change always brings something uncertain, an outcome you don’t know yet. It’s a future that seems even scarier because we don’t know what to expect. Yes, I’d much rather stay right here and not move forward. Not move into that next season or that next phase. Not move into the coming change. I’d rather stay in what I’m familiar with, thank you very much.
Because then maybe I won’t be hurt.
And maybe that’s the deepest fear of all.
We fear being hurt. We fear the pain. We’ve all faced it. We’ve all felt it. Pain that cuts deep. Rejection that wounds. Hurt that leaves scars not always seen with the eyes.
The pain clouds our vision. The pain leaves us frozen. We don’t want more pain, so even though remaining frozen in the past keeps us locked in the pain, we think it’s safer than stepping into the future and experiencing more pain.
We hold back our lives.
We hold ourselves back from everything we could be living.
No, I’m not guaranteeing you no pain in the future. But I am asking you…what adventure comes with no risk?
I am telling you…
The best is yet to come.
You see, God is the Master Storyteller. And you?
You are part of His story.
Trust me when I tell you, God doesn’t write a story that is not good. Easy? No. Good? Yes. Oh, yes.
Stepping into change, stepping into the future may hurt more than ever. And it’s a risk because you do not know what is coming next. But I do know that it is God’s best for you.
For everything we go through is God’s way of shaping our story into something more beautiful, more majestic, more thrilling than anything we could’ve ever imagined on our own.
Yes, the best is yet to come.
I keep looking at the grass at my feet as I remember the memories here. Good memories, yes.
But you know what? More good is still to come.
If it’s not good yet, it’s not the end of your story. For in the end, you will see how beautiful God made everything turn out to be.
Brave heart, you must take the next step into what is to come. If you don’t, you might just miss out on the greatest, grandest adventure of your whole life.
And what you will find all along when you step forward?
The Writer of your story--the God of the universe--has His hand reached out to you, ready to go beside, behind, and before you too. He's here.
Your best is still coming.
“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
What would you say freedom is?
Let’s imagine something for a minute that is going to serve as our example for this. You have to know by now that I have an imagination as large as a five-year-old.
So we're imagining that there was a teenager who was given a very expensive car by their parents. All the parents requested with the special gift was that their teenager would always bring them along on the ride. They didn’t want paid back in any way, they just wanted to spend more time with their teenager.
The teenager was so grateful for the gift. They began telling all their friends about it, but slowly they started to consider the possibility that they should pay their parents back in some way. After all, surely their parents would love them even more if they were able to pay them back a little bit for such an expensive gift. Right?
So the teenager got a job to save up some money. They worked long hours while the special gift they’d received stayed hidden in their garage at home. They never had time to take it out on a ride anymore because they were too busy working to earn it. They were miserable because they felt like a slave to a debt that had already been paid for them, and in the end they never got to experience a ride with their parents.
Would you say that this teenager was living in the freedom their parents had given them with such a selfless gift? They were free to use the gift with their parents whenever they wanted. But did they embrace that freedom?
We would all be quick to say that the teenager hadn’t been living in freedom at all. They were living as a slave to a debt that their parents had already paid for them.
Don’t we do the same thing, friends?
I know I have.
When I was fifteen, I became consumed with living out a set of rules I had placed on myself to try to be a “perfect” Christian. In a way I was trying to pay the debt that I could never pay and that Christ had already paid on my behalf.
The best part? When He paid that debt on my behalf, He gave me freedom in return. Freedom to love Him. Freedom to know Him. Freedom to pursue Him wholeheartedly. But I was missing it by staying in slavery to rules that I put upon myself.
And I suppose if I could tell my fifteen year old self one thing, I would start with this:
Following Jesus isn’t about a list of rules you’ve created for yourself, but all about a relationship with the One who just wants your heart.
I had became more like Martha in that story tucked between the text of Luke 10. Martha, who hurried around trying to do for Jesus that she completely missed out on the wonder of being with Jesus.
And isn’t that what we do too when we become so consumed with the rules we give ourselves that we lose sight of the freedom Christ has given us? We become so caught up in doing all the things we think we’re supposed to do for Jesus that we forget He has set us free so we can be with Him.
Yes, there are boundaries. Yes, we live differently than the world because we love Jesus. Yes, He gave us instructions in the Bible and while I know I certainly don't follow them perfectly, I strive to do my best. Not because I have to do it to earn His love and grace, but because I love Him back.
Freedom is your inheritance in Christ. All He asks is that you take the ride with Him.
Are you ready to pick up the keys and go for a ride?
I know this is a bit late and I'm so sorry for the delay. But I'm sure you all are very excited to hear who the winners are for this blog's 3rd annual short story contest! :)
The Runner Up for the "True Love Story Contest", winning their story being featured on my blog and shared on my social media is...
Jeanette van As!!
With her story, "Ever Heard of Love, Luke?"
Congratulations, Jeanette! <3
And our Grand Prize, First Place winner of the "True Love Story Contest," winning their story being featured on my blog as well as a FREE Cheerleader Session with myself and Livy Jarmusch is...
With her story "No Fear in Love"
Congratulations, Hannah! <3
Both of your stories will be posted within the next couple of weeks right here on my blog.
Thank you to everyone who entered the contest--you all wrote some beautiful stories and I'm so grateful you joined the fun!
A Different Kind of Beautiful was the book I never thought I'd write.
It was the book I wrote but never thought I'd show anyone.
It was the hardest book I'd ever written.
For the glory of God, I have chosen to move towards the process of publishing this book. And I'm asking you if you want to join me.
To read the requirements and get more information or to fill out a launch team application, click the button below.
To God be the glory.
(Special note for anyone wondering about the story contest announcement that was supposed to go up yesterday: We had a delay with judging and winners will be posted soon. Thank you for your patience!)
“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
When I was eight years old, I decided that I wanted to be a writer.
Growing up, I normally would go back and forth between all the different things I wanted to be (typically based off whatever book I was reading at the time). However nothing ever changed how I felt about writing. I always knew I was meant to write.
So when I was sixteen I wrote a book that I knew God wanted me to publish. I knew He had given me this gift for a reason and I felt strongly that He wanted to use this new book for His purpose and glory.
But I was downright terrified.
And the truth was that I did not believe I was a “good enough” writer to ever be published. I didn't believe that I was even good enough to be a writer.
I was extremely insecure about my ability to write good material. I wrestled with God over it. What if people didn’t like what I had to share? What if I made a fool of myself? What if I didn’t sell any books? On and on the list of “what if’s” ran through my mind. What if I’m just plain not good enough?
And then I read that verse from 2 Corinthians 12. Jesus says, My grace is all you need, and My power works best in your weakness.
Yes, I am weak here.
My insecurities have convinced me that I am not a good enough writer. My insecurities have convinced me that God can’t use me. My insecurities have made my faith so weak.
Maybe your insecurities have done the same for you, whatever it may be.
Maybe you too have wondered if you’re strong enough for whatever God is asking you to do. Maybe your insecurities have made you question who you are.
Let me assure your heart that your insecurity is a liar.
If your insecurity has told you that you are not good enough for what God is leading you towards, it is lying. If your insecurity has told you that God cannot use you, it is lying. If your insecurity has told you that no one loves you, it's a liar because the God of the universe is crazy about you.
Here’s the truth: in Jesus Christ, through His grace, He makes you more than enough for whatever He is calling you towards, because His strength is made perfect in your weakness.
You may feel weak. You may feel like you aren’t big enough for whatever God is asking of you. But know this…that’s okay. You don’t have to be strong to be used by Him.
When I was eighteen I finally took that leap of faith and published my book. The adventure has been amazing. And it has only made me more confident of the truth that God loves to use our weakness for His glory. He loves to show up in the places we are most weak. And He loves to quiet our insecurities and remind us that in Him, He makes our future secure.
So that insecurity holding you back from whatever He’s asked you to do? Kick it to the curb and you move forward anyway.
What insecurity in your life has been keeping you from the adventure of following God’s plan for you? What is one step you can take today to move forward, even in spite of your insecurity?
Have you ever felt left out by your friends?
Maybe you’ve felt invisible to some people, or even very visible but painfully ignored. Have you ever felt alone even in a crowd of people?
The ache of loneliness is one that we should all know, for we will all face it at some point in our lives.
Perhaps you feel lonely as you enter the season of life where your friends are getting engaged all around you, but you are still very much single. Or perhaps you’re in that season of life where friendships are changing as everyone gets older and your heart hurts from the lonely absence of friends who used to be there for you. Maybe you’re feeling distant from family members and the loneliness of it all makes you sad.
Whatever your situation is, the ache of loneliness is painful.
I remember feeling this ache in my heart. Loneliness can feel like you’re walking a desert road with no end in sight and no one to walk with you. You feel so alone.
But there’s a secret I learned about this road.
This secret is one that can make even the darkest alleys of Lonely Road seem brighter. You see, on this road we become so caught up in the absence of those we wished were there that we don’t even look up long enough to realize Who walks beside us.
For walking down every Lonely Road with you and with me, is Jesus.
And when I met Jesus on that road, I began to think differently about this ache called loneliness.
Perhaps instead of being an ache to ignore or fix in all the wrong ways, loneliness is really a calling to a relationship that can heal even the most wounded places of our hearts.
When I am surrounded by people and community, I can feel God there. After all, He created community. I’m not denying how wonderful it is to connect with God while connecting with His community of believers at the same time. However, when I am alone or feeling painfully left out and lonely, it is then that I can experience the presence of God greater than I ever have before.
It must be a choice I make, that’s for sure. It’s easy to walk on Lonely Road and focus on the pain—the ache. It’s easy to become bitter or angry towards the ones that left or towards the paths we thought we should be on but we clearly aren’t.
So I must make that choice. And you must make it too, friend. That when we walk Lonely Road, no matter how great the ache, we will not let that be our focus. Instead we will focus on the God who walks beside us and holds the wounded places of our hearts in His hands. Thrive in Him in this place. Talk to Him. Draw closer, allow your wonder of His presence to be renewed as you find Him in these places you never thought you could.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. And I’m certainly not saying that the ache will go away or the tears will stop falling. But I am saying that you will have Someone who will share that ache with you.
And when you meet Jesus on that road called Loneliness, I promise you that you will never be the same. All along you will discover that you were never, ever alone.
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
Worship through music is a big deal to me.
Music is a very powerful thing and using it to worship our powerful God has brought me to my knees over and over. Some of my favorite time spent with God is driving while singing worship songs to Him.
There are so many incredible worship songs out there, and today I want to share with you some songs I've currently got streaming through my favorite worship playlist.
Ready to do this?
It is Well by Bethel Music
Do it Again by Elevation Worship
Reckless Love by Cory Asbury
Turn My Eyes by Bonray
Come as You Are by Crowder
How Deep the Father's Love for Us by Skillet
Even When it Hurts by Hillsong United
When I'm With You by Citizen Way
Completely by Ledger
What's on your current worship playlist? Comment below and let me know!