We were hiking up this long inclined trail to get to this beautiful overlook. It started to feel like we were on the wrong path. It was taking a long time to get there. We could see the top. We were finally almost there. Wait, there is something across the trail. Is that a hammock? Why of course, why would I be surprised? (She says sarcastically.) A young couple decided that hanging a hammock across the trail and snuggling in it was the appropriate place to relax. They are free to enjoy the park just like we are, but sometimes freedom crosses a line into self indulgence.

After we moved around them, my husband and I rolled our eyes and quietly expressed our discontent. I so wanted to say something to them directly. In my head it went like this, “Oh honey, let me get my camera out a couple in a hammock is exactly why we hiked all this way up here.” Okay, my sarcasm can sometimes run amuck. Mostly, I wish I had said something.

It’s that season when we celebrate the great freedoms we are afforded by many who have fought and continue to put their lives on line for such freedoms. It’s easy to translate that into meaning we are free to do whatever we want, whenever we want, but freedom doesn’t equal self indulgence.

That means you must not give sin a vote in the way you conduct your lives. Don’t give it the time of day. Don’t even run little errands that are connected with that old way of life. Throw yourselves wholeheartedly and full-time—remember, you’ve been raised from the dead!—into God’s way of doing things. Sin can’t tell you how to live. After all, you’re not living under that old tyranny any longer. You’re living in the freedom of God. (Romans 6:12-14 MSG),

When I hold up my relationship with Christ as barometer for my self indulgent desires, I’m reminded of His ways. His ways are built on the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This helps me make better choices, put others before myself, and hang my hammock on trees just off the trail.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV).

I know I will still have moments of struggle between my freedom in Christ and self indulgence. I won’t always get it right, but focusing on Him will always improve my odds. How do you express your freedom in Christ? How does that freedom keep you from self indulgence? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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I am often asked why I didn’t become a pastor. The truth is the thought of going to seminary scared me. I was scared that I wasn’t Christian enough. I was scared I was going to have to change. I didn’t want to become like the people who always talked in Scriptures and prayed using Father as every other word. I could never live up to my perception of their standards. They were too Christian for me.

I had a very basic understanding of God’s love and grace. I wanted to keep it that way. I didn’t want to feel judged for not being enough. I was hostile toward anyone who appeared too Christian. They had no idea I was feeling less than. I was certain they didn’t want to know the true me.

What I was missing was the true transformation that comes when we trust God with the darkest parts of our lives. I was missing the wholeness that comes from the One who makes everything come out right.

God makes everything come out right;
    he puts victims back on their feet.
He showed Moses how he went about his work,
    opened up his plans to all Israel.
God is sheer mercy and grace;
    not easily angered, he’s rich in love.
He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold,
    nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,
    nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
    he has separated us from our sins. (Psalm 103: 6-14 MSG).

Slowly, my heart softened. Slowly, I let down my walls of protection. Slowly, God showed me unconditional love and undeserved grace. Slowly, I opened up to the transforming love that can heal and change a heart into a new person. As reluctant as I was, God continued to pursue. God continued to open my eyes to a love bigger than I could understand.

God is in endless pursuit of our hearts. I was slow to accept it, but I’m externally grateful He didn’t give up on me. Trusting Him to transform my heart has brought healing and wholeness is ways I didn’t think were possible. It was for others not me. I’m thankful I was wrong. It is for me and for you.

Do you see others as too Christian? Have you let God begin to transform your heart? Are you holding Him back? How have you experienced God’s unconditional love and grace? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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The road to healing and health can sometimes take us down unexpected paths. I tend to equate dealing with the dark, gross stuff in our lives as cleaning behind the fridge. We don’t go there very often. It is a lot of work to pull the fridge out and usually it is full of dust, grease and maybe some hairy spiders. It is not light cleaning when we pull out the fridge. It is hard work. So hard, that I tend to put it off for another day. Doing the work of inner cleaning behind the fridge is scary. We try to avoid it. It’s hard to imagine that we will feel better once it’s clean.

It was supposed to be a typical week. There was nothing special on the agenda. I started having trouble breathing. My asthma has always been predictable until now. By day three of struggling and inhaler being relatively ineffective, it hit me that this was about something new lurking behind the fridge that needs to be dealt with.

Our bodies are great indicators of emotional wellbeing. Unresolved emotions such as anger, or traumatic experiences are held in the body. It was time to look at when the asthma started and evaluate if it was more than a simple allergic reaction. Trusting this scripture, I pulled the fridge away from the wall.

27The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.28-29 Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire! (Hebrews 12:27-29 MSG).

Facing another perpetrator from my youth has brought waves of emotions. Emotions I wasn’t expecting to have to face again. Fear tried to take over. Clinging to what I knew in the core o my being, I pulled out the fridge.

Trusting God, believing the promise of scripture, and knowing there is healing once the cleaning is complete allows me to put fear aside and start scrubbing. It’s not easy nor fun. It is hope that propels me forward. God gives me the courage to face what needs to be faced. God holds my hand and reminds me that He is not indifferent to my experiences, my pain, my sorrow. He reminds me that I will get a thorough housecleaning. He reminds me that cleaning behind the fridge brings wholeness. It’s risky to trust the One who created us and face the darkness, but I’ve never regretted it.

Have you experienced cleaning behind the fridge? Is God showing you some darkness you need to face? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Perfection is a long time friend. One I’ve been trying to break up with for decades. It has served me well over the years. It’s time to stop using perfection as a defense. It’s the perfect mask. It allows me to show the world someone who has it all put together, who has a great job, the perfect family, and is intelligent. I want the world to see me as someone who doesn’t make mistakes and always has the answer. The problem is none of that is true.

Recently, I was asked to describe what this perfection I have been carrying around for decades looks like. I responded with Jaba the Hut. Yes, the big, ugly, unscrupulous, slave owner in Star Wars. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this is the perfect image. He’s larger than life blob that imposes his will on anyone he can. Perfection is much the same, and before I knew it, I was a slave to it.

Perfection had become the perfect defense against a world that seemed too scary to present my true self to. It protected me. It helped me feel lovable and safe. By the time I knew the truth of this scripture perfection had a strong hold I couldn’t get rid of until now. Now, the grip has lessened significantly, but I’m sure I’ll still have to work on it.

God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” God created human beings; he created them godlike, Reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female. God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” (Genesis 1: 26-28 MSG).

This scripture reminds me why I need to continually work to take off the mask. This scripture reminds me that I am created in the image of my Creator. This scripture reminds me that I am enough just as I was created.

Do you have perfection as a defense? Do you use to to protect you and keep you safe? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

It is that time of year when graduations are all around. As a program director at Bethel University, faculty break out the bulky hot robes with weird hoods and silly hats for commencement. As awkward as it feels, it is fun to celebrate with students who have worked so hard for their accomplishments. This year I had the joy of watching three students who had come through my bachelor’s program together and was now receiving their master’s degree. We think of these times throughout our education, but we also have graduations in faith.

I’ve been reflecting on major milestones in my faith realizing they are a form of a graduation. The first milestone for me was when I was sixteen. I had always believed in God, prayed, attended church and youth group. That summer during worship on a mission trip, I “got it.” I had this moment of profound realization that Christ’s death and resurrection was for me, personally. It was a graduation in faith. There have been many of these throughout the years.

11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1Corinthians 13:11-12 NIV).

Through continual education, reading, praying, learning and communing with God there will be more graduations to come. It is a journey I have committed to in my faith. I choose to keep growing and not let faith become stagnant. When I do feel stuck because let’s face it, it does happen. These words from Paul help push me forward.

13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 MSG).

What are your graduation in faith stories? What are your pivotal moments that have marked your journey? Share them here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Photo of events at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., May 17, 2013. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp was in attendance as President Barack Obama laid a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknowns in honor of all those who have fallen during military combat. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Memorial Day is a great time to pause and remember. We remember those who gave their life through the ultimate sacrifice. Their life for our freedom.

There is something about pausing to remember that also causes me to remember the other losses in my life, as well. I look at pictures and reflect on memories of their life. There is a solemn presence that wafts over Memorial Day amidst the barbecues and celebrations.

I am also reminded that there is One who promises no more mourning, no more pain, and no more tears. He came to give us life and promises to return and wipe every tear..

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-6 NIV).

There is comfort in remembering. There is comfort in knowing there will be a time when there is no more suffering. God is making everything new!

How do you remember? How do you acknowledge Memorial Day? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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I have never been good at expressing anger. I tend to stuff it down claiming that it is better for everyone. I worry that expressing my anger will hurt someone. Needless to say, that means I have a lot of unexpressed anger. I have warned my family that I am working on expressing my anger. They are amused by that. Apparently, my version of anger isn’t very angry.

I have always believed that there are places where anger is completely appropriate. Grief is one of those places. Expressing anger at the loss of someone is one of the stages of grief. My dad died 19 years ago when my oldest was only 3 months old. He died unexpectedly in his sleep. It has taken all of these years to realize that I had unexpressed anger regarding his death. I was angry that my children wouldn’t get to know him.

Unexpressed anger stays in the body. It doesn’t go away. It becomes this underlying stress that can lead to depression, anxiety and forms of chronic disease of which the list is long. I think that’s why we are told to go ahead and be angry and not hold it in as Paul tells us in this scripture.

Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. (Ephesians 4:26 MSG).

Once again this scripture reminds me that God cares for our emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. His way shows me how to care for the whole whole person not just the spiritual side of me. He cares about my relationship with Him and my ability to share his love to others by caring for my physical and emotional health.

My attempts to control my emotions and suppress the expression of anger have only caused other issues both physical and emotional. It also teaches those around me that anger isn’t an emotion we are to express. This hurts my family. Learning to follow this scripture will not only improve my health, but my relationships, as well.

How do you handle anger? Have you learned healthy ways to express this natural emotion? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

Recently, my husband has been noting the different way a mom (me) approaches parenting versus a dad (him). He has his approach and I have mine. The truth is we do approach things differently. A mama’s heart is fiercely protective, nurturing and focused on the well-being of her cubs. It shows itself in the way this mama comforts, cares, and teaches.

This has shown itself in the last few months as we have pursued the best way to support our son’s health. I will research, analyze and pursue the best options with proven results. I tend to pursue treatments that don’t involve medication until it’s a last result. The dad version would move to medication sooner.

Men and women, moms and dads are created differently. I believe that God intended us to be different, yet we are all created in His image. God is fully male and female and we are all a mix of those characteristics. Yes, we all have feminine and masculine traits to different degrees. Yet, male and female are uniquely different.

Since we often use male pronouns in referring to God (self included), it’s easy to forget about the more feminine aspects of God. It’s easy to forget that I’m created with those characteristics. Living into those traits allows me to express God to others. It allows me to be fully who I’m created to be.

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” … (Proverbs 31:25-30 ESV).

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3 ESV).

Scripture reminds shows us the mama heart of God. It shows us the intention placed within the feminine. Mother’s Day is a great time to pause and celebrate the special characteristics God gave women to bare most fully and uniquely in the world.

How does the mama’s heart show up for you? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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Sometimes I’m fortunate to read a book that ignites my faith and encourages me to continue to pursue God’s will in my life. I’m encouraged to use every arrow and end with an empty quiver.

Erwin McManus uses the Old Testament story of Elisha and King Jehoash. He uses this story to show that we should keep going and not stop in life until God says stop. It seems simple and straightforward. Yet, I know I pull back when life gets hard. I’m reluctant when God is challenging me to move forward and do more. Here are a few quotes that are challenging me.

“I do not believe anyone is born average, but I do believe that many of us choose to live a life of mediocrity.” “It requires that we defy the odds. You have no control of whether you have been endowed with above average talent or intelligence or physical attributes. What you can control is whether you choose to I’ve your life defined and determined by the status quo. Even when the law of averages works against you, you can still defy the odds.”

“We need to raise the bar of our standards of our faith, of our sacrifice, of our expectations of ourselves, of our belief of the goodness and generosity of God.”

I have no trouble believing in God’s goodness and generosity for others, but often am left questioning “Why me?” Why would God be good and generous to me? But, it’s believing in exactly that, that allows me to have an empty quiver. Holding this scripture close remind me that God will go to great lengths for His children including me.

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, “He throws caution to the winds,
    giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
His right-living, right-giving ways
    never run out, never wear out.” This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God. (2 Corinthians 9:8-11 MSG).

The Last Arrow is a great read for encouragement and renewed passion for what God is calling us to. I was given a renewed excitement to live into what God has charged me with knowing that His generosity is extravagant and will give me what I need to accomplish His goals. I will use every arrow I’m given and end with an empty quiver.

How do you live into God’s generosity? How does He encourage you to live into all He calls you to? Share your experience here and breathe live and bring hope to others.

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It started as a regular Sunday. During the message at church, Pastor shared the scripture of Jesus returning to the disciples. Then he shared tht as he typed “peace be with you” his auto correct changed it to “peace is with you.” Those words sunk deep within me. Peace is with me. It wasn’t until later in the day that I would realize the full depth of those words.

You see, we went to a movie as a family. It was a great time with the four of us. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. There was a sad moment during the movie and I started to cry which was no surprise to the family. I do cry easily. This time I struggled to stop crying. I wanted to sob uncontrollably. It was a sad moment but not that sad.

After the movie, I was really crabby. I was struggling to be nice to hubby. Inside, I wanted to cry some more. I knew this was more than a movie, but what? Then it hit me. It was the two year anniversary of my niece’s death from cancer. Then came the real ugly cry as I though about her and the scripture from this morning.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:19-27 NIV).

When Jesus appeared, the disciples were grieving. He entered their midst and said, “Peace is with you.” In the same way He entered in the midst of my grief and brought peace. Peace is with me. It’s the gift of Jesus. He reminded me that Steph is not gone, but always with us through Him. Even though my heart still hurts, there is peace.

How has God entered your midst and said, “Peace is with you.” How has He brought you comfort in sadness? How has He reminded you that you are not alone? Share your experience here and breathe life and bring hope to others.

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