Stir It Up…

Author, Ann Marie Collins

Ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, and the answers range from hilariously entertaining to terrifying.  A different times in their lives my oldest was determined to join the CIA (she would have been good), my son talked about joining the Israeli army (he is only about one-eighth Jewish), and my youngest was either going to be a nurse or do hair, (she chose nursing).

I cannot recall ever telling my children they could be anything they wanted to be, because the truth is most things require you to have some kind of minimum qualifications; a natural ‘bend’, inherent talent, or giftedness that can harnessed and honed.  I will never sing like Alicia Keys, run like Usain Bolt, or do a Biles like Olympic gymnast Simone – not without serious damage to my body parts.

However, I believe in the omniscient God who has placed within each of us “gracious gifts” which cannot be earned, bought, or sold.  They light up the passion and fire in you, and you would do it for free if you could.  In the middle of activating and exercising your giftedness you know you’re ‘in your lane’; feeling energized, exhilarated, and anxious all at the same time.  That is how I feel when I am writing alone, or speaking in front of a group of people; excited, fueled by passion and nervous energy.

But sometimes it also feels like life, or people in life, are orchestrating to douse every inner fire with buckets of fear; fear of the toll failure would take, or the cost of successfully ‘doing you’, or the pain of judgement.

“That is why I would remind you to stir up (rekindle the embers of, fan the flame of, and keep burning) the GRACIOUS GIFT OF GOD, THE INNER FIRE THAT IS IN YOU…  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity; of cowardice, of craven (weak spineless, gutless), – and cringing and fawning fear, but He has given us a spirit of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” II Timothy 1:7 Amplified Bible

Five years ago Os Guiness spoke at our church and with a single phrase from the Bible lit an all-consuming fire in me and changed the direction of my life forever.

“For David, after he had served God’s will and purpose and counsel in his own generation, fell asleep…” Acts 13:36a Amplified Bible.

The decision was immediate and final; THAT is what I want said about my life.

At 55 years old it is both sobering and motivating to acknowledge that more than half of my life is over.  I refuse to let fear of anyone or anything stop me from ‘stirring it up’.  Along with His gracious gifts, He has given unconditional love and access to His infinite power working in and through me.  So with everything to gain, and nothing of eternal value to lose, I’m …just living the thing.

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Idol Worship…Who, Me?!

“You shall have not other gods before Me or besides Me.  You shall not make for yourself [to worship] and graven image or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth.” Deuteronomy 5:7-8 Amplified Version

Second Lieutenant Nathan Collins

My son came home from college last week for spring break (BEFORE spring…go figure) which triggered a flurry of activities; getting him ‘suited up’ for his sister’s wedding in June, prescription glasses, doctor visit, family dinner; the week was over before I knew it.  Somewhere in the whirlwind of busyness we were reminded that he has been a member of the Army National Guard for nine years; now a Second Lieutenant, leading men who are often older than him.

Flashback nine years ago as I drove two hours north for his swearing-in ceremony, having an earnest and emotional conversation with God about surrendering my man-child to Him…again.  In my head I recognized that the career path he had CHOSEN, (while we were at war on at least three fronts!) was honorable, but with the risk of him being killed or seriously hurt so high, there were some things I needed to work through with God IMMEDIATELY! 

For example, the reminder to NEVER close my fists too tightly over anyone or anything that God gives into my hand.  It is too tempting to think of the children as MINE, the house as MINE, the job, MINE, the money, MINE, and so on.  But on that drive north to Sacramento I had to recognize and affirm again that my son, my girls, my job, in fact everything I have are only on loan to me through the lovingkindness of the God who OWNS IT ALL, including the very breath I breathe.

Whatever I place the highest value on in my life; to which I ascribe the highest worth…THAT is my god.  That person or thing for which I will sacrifice the most of my resources, is who or what I worship; that is my idol.  That which I hold so tightly in my fist, refusing to let go even if God Himself tells me to give it up…that has the potential to destroy me as surely as holding on to a grenade with the pin removed.

My Lord, keep me from ever becoming so enamored and preoccupied with the gift that I fixate on making and keeping it all pretty and shiny, no matter the cost!  Instead help me to fix my eyes on you, the Giver of all things that are good, and good for me, especially when it is only given to me for a season.

I choose to stand before you with open hands, ready to receive from you all that I need for “life and godliness”, and equally ready to quickly surrender anything you ask/tell me to. You alone are my God whom I worship; the only One for whom I am… just living the thing.

Naked And Not Ashamed…

Author, Ann Marie Collins

“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” Genesis 2:25 Amplified Bible

When I moved to the United Sates from Jamaica in 1988 I was surprised that the thing I missed most was not the warm weather or traditional Jamaican food.  This is saying a lot because I live in the California Central Valley aka, Jamaican food Siberia, between two and five hours away from the nearest hard-dough bread, yellow yam, ackee with saltfish and so on!

No, what I missed most was the feeling of belonging.  I missed my community; those women and men who made up my inner circle of friends with whom I could, figuratively speaking, be “naked and not embarrassed or ashamed”.

They saw me through my best and my worst, rejoiced with me and cried with me, praised me and lovingly corrected me.  After years of doing life within this tight-knit group, I knew I could trust them to be a ‘safe place’ for me and to love me unconditionally.

Looking back I can see now that my community also sheltered me from having to face my greatest weakness and vulnerability.  Separated by 3,000+ miles and the ridiculous cost of international calls the insecurities and fear that imprisoned me for so much of my life were mercilessly exposed, and I had nowhere to hide.

My first reaction was not to deal with my issues, but to desperately seek the cover and shelter of a replacement community as quickly as possible.  The result was a mixed bag of foolish mistakes, hard truths, and painful lessons.

Thankfully, facing,  and doing the hard work of dealing with my insecurities ultimately led to freedom from the tyranny of my fears of never measuring up, never living up to expectations, never being good enough, and not deserving to be loved well.

I learned that I ought not, and will not be “naked” with EVERYONE!  I accept the challenge to love all people, but if my life is my dwelling place, there are really only a few that can be welcomed into the sanctuary of my ‘house’ and be privy to my deepest concerns and vulnerabilities.  Some need to be ‘porch’ people, others ‘yard’ people, and others, particularly those with destructive tendencies, need to stay on the ‘street’ and be loved over the ‘fence’.

Years later, thanks to Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media, contact with my original community is more frequent, easier, cheaper, as authentic as ever, and, sometimes to their dismay, the new, free me can be even more “naked and not embarrassed or ashamed”.

The greatest blessing has been the expansion of my community with new house, porch, yard and even street people with potential.  So these days it is a very good thing that what I miss most about Jamaica IS the perpetually warm weather, AND the food!  Thankfully, I have a plane ticket to go back at Christmas, so till then I’m …just living the thing.

“Help me!”

Author, Adrienne Yerzy
Author, Adrienne Yerzy

I’m in love with my 2 year old nephew; like, I call my sister-in-law and ask her if I can babysit. Recently on a Saturday morning I took the little guy out on the town. We started at the doughnut shop and got a sprinkled doughnut, then went to Borders Bookstore to see Thomas the Train; to Target to get some toys, and then to the pet shop, or as I told him “the zoo”. Modesto’s zoo is the best! You can pet the rabbits, watch the turtles, and find 100 Nemo’s and Dory’s…and auntie doesn’t have to take care of any of them.

While we were at the pet shop, we turned the corner to see a huge, I mean HUGE, parrot. Tail included, it was about 4 feet tall, and it was trapped in a 6 foot cage. Not only was this gorgeous, very colorful creature confined to a small space, but it could talk and it said “Help me!”… over and over.

The voice of the parrot haunted me for quite a while, a few hours actually. It was so sad to me that one of God’s prettiest creatures was trapped and unable to live a full live as was intended. And while I reflected on the sad image, it kept saying in the background “Help ME!” Soon, it was time to leave, so we got some pizza and I finally took him home.

I had a few errands to run on my way home and stopped by a store to pick up a few things. While I was there I crossed paths with a young man who was very clearly in pain. I will not go into details why I knew this, and honestly, as our paths crossed, I didn’t really think much of it. I walked back to my car still hearing “Help me!” and the thought hit me. The young man was in a cage too. He was trapped. He may have had bad things done to him. He might be making his own bad choices. He might be… so many things, but what he is for sure is: loved by God.

The thought struck me then, and obviously still strikes a chord with me now. Why did a trapped bird affect me more than a trapped soul? Maybe we’ve seen hurt too much to be affected appropriately by it. I’m sure there is more to it.

I’m thankful that God sent a reminder to me to start looking into faces. To pray in the moment for someone who seems lost, hurt, or angry, to intentionally offer a word of encouragement, or whatever I have available in the moment. Because if we see something that affects are hearts, I think it is God’s call to take action. Not to the church, not to the government, not to your husband. To you. To me. And this realization and call to act is what it has been looking like …just living the thing.

The Power Of Prayer…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

We have all had them. Those times when there is so much trouble all around that you think,

“Nothing else, Lord, please.”

When it rains it pours. This week I was asked to pray for some pretty heavy things. Friends and family in crisis: a child with a mysterious physical ailment, a family member using drugs, a loved one incarcerated, children not walking with the Lord and making unhealthy life choices

These things can get us down, make us feel overwhelmed, discouraged.

In my devotion today I was reading Mark 3 and three phrases caught my attention:

“…they were silent”,

“He was grieved at their hardness of heart”, and

“…come forward”.

I pondered, am I ever silent? Do I lift my requests to the Lord, asking for His power and might? Not always. Is my heart hard? Do I think nothing will ever change, do I refuse to pray because of this? Sometimes. Do I come forward? Do I bring my requests before the God of Heaven and Earth who has proved Himself over and over and over again to be faithful and true? If I don’t, why not?

I get discouraged. I don’t know about you, but I often take on the weight of the things I am asked to pray for. This is not what God has intended. In Psalm 55 He says to cast your cares on Him, all who are weary are encouraged to come to Him in Matthew 11, and in Jeremiah 33 to call to Him and He will answer. I need to practice these commands and allow Him to shoulder the burdens.

The other thing I do when others ask me to pray is to think,

“All I can do is pray.”

Hmm, all I can do is pray? Is there something better I could be doing? All I can do is pray? All I can do is ask the most mighty, omniscient, powerful Being in this entire universe for help? I am chuckling right now because sometimes I really do think I could do something to fix whatever is wrong, then God could focus on other things. Now that it is down in print, it looks pretty silly. Prayer is the BEST thing I can do for someone!

Prayer is a powerful thing, because God is powerful. He wants us to come to Him. He wants us to lay our requests at His feet. He wants us to live free from anxiety and worry. In Him are the answers.

Ladysmith Black Mombazo sings, “We Nhliziyo Yami”

Oh, my heart be wise when your enemies surround you,

keep praying, ask the Lord for help, for He is powerful.

That is your weapon, do not lose.

Pray without ceasing for the Lord is powerful.

Father, my prayer from 1Thessalonians 5 is that I will always rejoice, always pray, and in all circumstances give thanks, because I know that this is your will for me in Christ Jesus as I am …just living the thing.

Out of the mouth of babes…

Author, Erin Collins
Author, Erin Collins

It seems there is growing population of Christian children with divorced parents. My parents divorced when I was six and though I was not too involved in the process, I grew up with it, loving both my parents, but not really knowing till later that our family situation was “not normal” or “how it should be”.

Seventeen years later I am about to marry the man I do not want to live without, and suddenly my parents’ divorce is something that sets me apart.  Something I had nothing to do with suddenly felt like my sin to carry.

Nothing hurt more than to have Christians I look up to assume I need to be treated differently because of my parents’ marital status, or that inevitably I too will end up divorced.  I get that sin causes divorce, but we’re not just a statistic and we do not have ‘the plague’.  My heart is discouraged every time someone “lovingly” points out that I’m different because of my family background.

Wouldn’t it be much more helpful to encourage the children of divorced parents?  To inspire them to fight the statistics, to discern their relationships well, and to take the time to learn about the commitment and communication necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.  In fact, it is my parents’ divorce motivates me to take this beautiful gift from God so very seriously.

And to other children like me, if you are fearful to love, or commit to someone because of your parents’ history, guess what?  That is not of God. There is not a single verse in the Bible that says children of divorce are going to suck at relationships and never find lasting love.

It took me a long time to overcome the belief that I was not worthy of my amazing future husband because his parents were still together.  I thought my past would burden him; that I was somehow broken because of what happened when I was child.  IT’S NOT TRUE!

In fact I’ve worked pretty hard to divorce-proof my relationship.  My fiancé can attest to this as I put that man through the ringer! (Love you handsome!)

So my fellow CODs (aka Children of Divorce), if possible, examine what caused your parents’ divorce and take the steps necessary FOR YOURSELF to guard against it happening to you!  It’s God and you honey, and He’s an excellent teacher who is more than willing to help you figure it out.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” II Corinthians 5:17-18

Ultimately IT DOES NOT MATTER who thinks what about your past. You are not to blame for what you were born into. However, you are responsible for learning from the past, and what you’re going to do with this worldview you’ve been given.

Don’t let having divorced parents become a stigma.  Instead, with God’s help, rise to the challenge of having healthy, lasting relationships… just living the thing.

My Testimony…

Author, Wendy Morgan
Author, Wendy Morgan

I love watching the “I Am Not Ashamed” video testimonies at my church. The fact that God uses our trials, experiences, and sometimes even our deep pain to impact the lives of others for His kingdom is awesome and humbling at the same time.  It blows my mind that I have a part to play in God’s great plan!

However, there was a time when I didn’t think I had a story or testimony. The reason for that stinkin’ thinkin’ was because I didn’t have “a date”. You know the “date” I’m talking about; the- “I accepted Christ on this date…….and my life has never been the same” date.  After all, the greatest decision of your life should be marked by an anniversary shouldn’t it?

My date is: “Somewhere around the age of 13 at a church camp in Big Bear and my life didn’t change all that much”. Very vague and not the “Hallelujah!” experience I used to think it should have been. My life didn’t change much because I thought it was a done deal; I did my part, now God does His. My sins are forgiven and I get to go to Heaven.

I knew that to be true but aside from that I knew little else. My childhood church didn’t teach from the Bible. It taught that Jesus saves, but never that God wants to be Lord of your life.

Fast forward 20 years and I find myself in a Bible-teaching church where I am surrounded by people who actually brought their own Bibles to church. Whaaaaaat?!

I was a little uncomfortable because there was no liturgy, no reciting the Apostle’s Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer and… I didn’t bring my Bible. We sang for 45 minutes!  The pastor taught on ONE VERSE for another 45 minutes, then we went home. What was that about?!  My pride scoffed at what they called a church service, but I went back the next week, and the next, and then it became home.

How exciting to discover the God of the universe cares to have a relationship with me. His Holy Spirit indwells me. The forgiveness of my sin is for my good, AND for His glory. This is much more than just accepting Christ and going to Heaven.  My eternal life begins here in this life!  Finally, my “Hallelujah!” moment!

One of my first thoughts when I was diagnosed with cancer was,

“Well, I finally have a testimony to share”.

Now I realize God has given me a story from my very first “date” to where I am now. Loving Him, learning about Him, and believing Him have all brought me to a place of trusting Him, and what better testimony is there than that.

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesions 4:1

The chance to live a life worthy of the calling of Christ; THIS is the greatest story my life could ever tell, …just living the thing.