New…again!

Author, Ann Marie Collins
Author, Ann Marie Collins

With 2017 fast approaching I pulled out my Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Of The Bible (kicking it old school) to see how many times the word ‘new’ is used in the King James Bible in reference to God’s interaction with humankind, and it was a lot! I stopped counting at 60+.

He is continually “making new” or “doing a new thing” and something deep inside me responds to that truth with excitement, and ever-renewing hope because of the extraordinary power and creativity of my God to deliver, heal, redeem and restore; to make all things new again and again!

It is a rare thing indeed for me to even be awake when the New Year arrives, though I do appreciate the symbolism, but the Lord knows I need ‘do-overs’, and ‘newness’ way more than just once a year.

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.  Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘therefore I hope in Him!’” Lamentations 3:21-24

One of my friends posted this message on Facebook:

“Our hope is not in the new year…but in the One who makes all things new.”

My hope for 2017 and beyond is in the One who gave me new life; who amplifies my joys daily, redeeming the times of hurt, loss, and failure, guiding me safely through it all so I don’t self-destruct, and teaches me to use the lessons learned to inform my present, and serve my future.

“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth.  Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…  Because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen.  This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise.” Isaiah 43:19-21

I do have some strong ‘desires’ for the coming year; to get a ‘newer’ car before this one falls to pieces around me, finally landscape the back yard, make great memories with my youngest who gets married in June, and go home to Jamaica at Christmas for the first time in 20+ years.

However, years of experience following Jesus has taught me to hold even good plans very loosely in my heart and mind because,

“ ‘…my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

My REAL plan is to navigate this new year like a Jamaican in a crowd where they’re handing out free food; eyes fixed on Jesus, hanging on with a vise grip to the One who leads me, clearing my path and making a way even where there seems to be no way.

No anxiety. No fear… just living the thing.

Two Thousand Years Ago… by Wendy Morgan

merry-christmasChristmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the way it brings out the good in people. I love celebrating the birth of Jesus and worshiping with the people at our church. I love preparing our hearts and our homes. I love pulling out the Christmas decorations that we have collected over the years. Every year I look forward to opening the well-worn boxes and hanging the ornaments at their special places on the tree.

I especially love getting out all of our nativity scenes – this year I counted nine, including the one I keep up all year. I took my time arranging each one and as I was doing the final touch of spreading the hay, I began to think about how different they were. Of course they all include Jesus, Mary and Joseph but after that they all take on the imagination of the one who designed them. Some seem to be historically correct but one of my favorite nativities has the shepherd wearing a fedora of all things. Some of them have baby Jesus barely covered while others have him wrapped tightly against the cold.  I got to thinking about that very first Christmas and how we can only wonder what it was really like.

Two-thousand years ago:

The manger on the china hutch

     Shows  starlight shining low

The nativity in the other room

     Has a little bit of snow

What was that night really like

     Two-thousand years ago?

The sheep are at the shepherd’s feet

     The camels lay outside,

Is the young donkey in the stable

     The one that gave Mary a ride?

What were the wise men thinking

     As they gazed upon the king?

Did they worship on their knees

     Did they hear the angels sing?

They placed their gifts and treasures

     On the ground at Jesus’ feet

Did they know that this new babe

     Would be the bema seat?

The shepherds looked with wonder

     At the truth the angels told

Did they wish they had a gift to bring

     Like frankincense and gold?

Were there people crowded ‘round

     The place the baby king was born

Or were they still all sleeping

     On that very Christmas morn?

That holy night in Bethlehem

     Brought good will to men on earth

When God the Father sent his son

     To live with men on earth.

We could wonder at what happened

     Or believe in what we know,

A savior child was born to us

     Two-thousand years ago.

Some details about the birth of Jesus that are unknown to us, like so many things in the Bible that God decided not to reveal, but nativity scenes are a great tradition we can use to tell the Christmas story, even if there’s no camel, or your shepherd is wearing a fedora. The heart of the story is not in those inconsequential details, but in the never-ending love of a God who sent His own Son to be the Savior of world… just living the thing.

Mastering Martha…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

For many years Christmas was not a good time of year for me. I got married right before Christmas 1991, and for many years after I was not a fan of the holidays. It was my own fault. I was such an idealist, with high expectations about what married life was supposed to look like; what I was supposed to look like. I had an unrealistic ideas of what being a wife and a mother was like in real, everyday life.

Believing a lot of the lies I’d been fed inside and outside the church set me up for epic failure. It didn’t take long for me to respond with deep disappointment at myself, my husband and my children. Nothing was turning out the way I thought it would. My idea of a perfect little family was far from perfect, but I kept holding on for dear life to those ideals. I was intent on being Superwoman.

The Martha Stewart era was the perfect time for me to try and fit into the Superwoman role. I kept a super clean house, hosted friends, and made dinners and desserts from scratch.  My kids always looked cute, and knew how to sit quietly in church (well, most of the time). I even sewed clothes for them and their Barbie dolls.

It all looked quite right from the outside but inside I was a mess. I was never content and couldn’t enjoy a moment because I was too worried about the next. I would snap or yell at my kids if they didn’t do things the way I wanted, and disrespected their dad if he didn’t jump in and help. I constantly criticized myself about how I could have done things better. It was insanity.

Then I grew. I read. I listened.

I gleaned wisdom from those who had been there, done that. I made a paradigm shift and learned to let go; to let myself off the hook for things that I never should have thought I was “on the hook” for. I started to let myself be me; who God created me to be and to let others be them, whomever God created them to be.

I memorized Luke 10:41-42.

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

I learned to sit at Jesus feet.

In my insanity I did not like the holidays because it was just another reminder of my failures. Instead of a lovely picture of hot cocoa and singing carols around a beautiful fire, we fought putting up the Christmas tree, and didn’t have lights on the house.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet allows me to let go of those lofty expectations of a Norman Rockwell painting kind of family.  I have embraced my family as it is, messes and all, as we are all… just living the thing.

Frustrating Lies…

Author, Adrienne Yerzy
Author, Adrienne Yerzy

Woah baby, this past week has been a fight. I have been doing some battling, with God in the role of unresponsive “opponent”.  God is love, but I have not been so loving. I’d say “frustrated” would be the nicest word I could use to describe my interactions with God.

Some of my frustration comes because I feel God’s answers in the past haven’t come to life, so I struggle with distrust. How can I seek God for answers with other big life decisions if it appears He didn’t come through for me the past? Where do I go for direction after that?

Honestly, I know my frustrations contradict themselves. I demand things I crave, and then a few hours later, I confess I don’t really want those things.  One day I question what I want, and the next I’m angry because I don’t have things I felt God promised.  If I don’t know what my heart wants, how in the world am I supposed to expect God to answer prayers that change sometimes hourly?!

I imagine that to God, I’m like a football bouncing everywhere, demanding that He catch me.  I wait for answers, but don’t hear anything. It’s just quiet. Friends praise God for amazing things He did, about miracles where a situation was impossible until God intervened …and I’m sitting here like what the heck did I do to get ‘benched’? It makes me mad to see Him active in other’s lives, but not in my life – a lie I wasn’t successful in fighting this past week.

I know that although feelings are real, I’m also waging a war against the lies I hear internally. Regardless of the timelines I impose on God, He promises that:

“…if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:3-5

I know God is a good Father who wants to give us good things:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

I know that part of living life means waiting through life:

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

And I know, and am VERY thankful, that when I get mad at my loving Father, He forgives:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

With this post, I live in confession that I go through phases of struggling; that it is a battle for me to trust God consistently, and it’s hard to hurt well. But I also confess that every time I’ve been in a difficult position in the past where I’ve (literally) cried to God, “Please don’t let me go!”, He has been faithful to hold on to me and at some point, I reach a time of peace, of safety.

Although my actions don’t deserve it, THAT remembrance gives me so much hope for His continued faithfulness! This is my real life and this is what it looks like sometimes …just living the thing.

I Am Loved…

Author, Ann Marie Collins
Author, Ann Marie Collins

This is me.

The woman who moved from Jamaica to northern California and, despite having a post-graduate education, struggled for months to figure out how the deer around Lake Chabot knew that they should cross the street at the “Deer Crossing” signs.  Google did not exist sooooo…

Still, I am loved.

I was in my thirties before I learned that tattoos were not painted on with permanent ink, there were NEEDLES involved! Still no Google, and still no tattoo sooooo… that was one wasted trip to Haight and Ashbury.

Yet still, I am loved.

I blame my Jamaican-ness for the fact the movie-watching is an interactive experience, although I have learned to control myself at public theaters…well, mostly.  In Jamaica the best entertainment at the movie theater comes from the audience.  We encourage, warn, and give advice to the protagonists and verbally abuse the antagonists, while reminding each other out loud of similar experiences in our lives, real or imaginary, as the basis for the sound advice we are giving the actors!

Still, I am loved.

Who says, “Is that a dog?” at the beginning of Racing Stripes, knowing that the movie is about a ZEBRA?!  And who, when asked, “Mom, what kind of pizza do you want?” responds, “I’m going to make cake!”?  I cook gourmet meals, but burn the bread.  I am a giant among my more regular-sized friends; louder and more  Momma Hulk than  Momma bear.  I have failed so many times at so many things I could be a ‘Failure Consultant’…

Yet still, I am loved.

Early in life I learned the lie that love is conditional.  My grades, my behavior, my personality, my performance, were all tools of the trade if I was to earn/deserve expressions of love that ebbed and flowed, were given then taken away until I could ‘earn’ more.  I was 50 years old before I walked free from that prison of ‘measuring up’ and ‘living up to expectations’ for the last time.

Now every day I witness and embrace the perfect, unconditional, love God has for me reflected in my very own “village people”, each of us flawed, but faithful; steadfastly believing God and striving daily to actively live His truth.

They remind me of that truth, with gentleness and grace, leaving room for me to find repentance and restoration without shaming, or condemnation.  They are overwhelmingly kind to me and mine, in words and deeds, generously meeting spoken and unspoken needs with no strings attached, and no expectation of reciprocation.

When life becomes war in the trenches, I look around and there they are, shields of faith locked with mine, and warfare prayers on their lips, surrounding me if I become too weak to fight.  They share the joy of victories won, and the sorrow of (temporary) loss or defeat…read the back of the Book…Jesus wins forever!

Yes indeed, I am loved.

This Thanksgiving, I am celebrating the ‘God-reflectors’ in my life who are… just living the thing.

thanksgiving

 

 

Lord, I believe…

Author, Ann Marie Collins
Author, Ann Marie Collins

Recently someone hurt one of my children very deeply and with little warning a stark, raving, lunatic, Momma Hulk unleashed, and I went off!  I was angry, hurt, and honest about my feelings… yet completely wrong, because I did not act or speak in accordance with, or obedience to the faith I claim to have in God and the truth of His word.  (Yeah, I’m not into sugarcoating, excusing, OR condemning myself when I just plain mess up).

“Be angry AND do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.  Offer the SACRIFICES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and put your trust in the Lord.” Psalm 4:4-5 (emphases mine)

FAILED.

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:6

FAILED.

I was in agony over my child’s pain, deeply wounded by deception and betrayal of trust, and felt someway, somehow, I had failed someone I loved.  Anger, fear, and distrust rolled around in my gut like a poisonous swill that spewed out of my mouth…

“…for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James 1:20

Into the quiet aftermath of my word vomit came another truth…

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” Romans 8:28 Amplified Bible.

Ohmigaaaaaawsh!  I was soooooo tempted to scream, “PLATITUDE”!

“A remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.” Oxford Dictionary

Suddenly, the horror of dismissing any Word of God as trite or inconsequential rose up and overwhelmed my ‘feelings’ like a tsunami’s tidal wave.  With everything I am I believe God’s Word is ETERNALLY TRUE, so I can BE AS HONEST AS I WANT about my feelings, but in the end, I MUST STRIVE to make my actions and my speech line up with what I say I believe, or the watching world has EVERY RIGHT to question my faith in God.

David is one of my Bible favorites because of the authenticity AND activity of his faith:

God, I feel _______  (angry, alone, fearful,…)

But You, God, are ______  (Sovereign, All-knowing, All-powerful, …),

EVERYTHING You do is _____ (right, purposeful, pre-determined, …)

Therefore, I am going to _____(worship, obey, trust, not act like I’m crazy, …)

Being honest about my feelings does NOT supersede my responsibility to exercise the discipline of discipleship, subject my ‘feelings’ to the truth of God, and then do/say what He says,

“…do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (my) God.” Micah 6:8

Sometimes my Momma Hulk needs to seek divine wisdom on how to act, and shut her undisciplined mouth!   I trust God to forgive me, and heal all involved. I choose to forgive and must apologize, then keep on… just living the thing.

So This Is It…

Author, Wendy Morgan
Author, Wendy Morgan

So this is it. Tuesday marks the end of the craziest election season that we have ever seen. We have heard things that we never wanted to hear and accusations so bizarre they couldn’t possibly be true. There’s been hate, division, and violence and unfortunately I don’t think those will end on Tuesday no matter which candidate gets elected.

Our mail boxes are full of propaganda telling us how good one is and how bad their opponents are; and sometimes it seems they both have compelling arguments. Even the propositions we are voting on are enough to make us shake our heads.

We were out to dinner with friends recently and the conversation turned to politics as I think it does around most dinner tables lately. My friend asked if I was afraid of Tuesday’s outcome, and I told her I wasn’t, neglecting to say I had been afraid in the weeks prior. Every time I watched the debates there just seemed to be such an atmosphere of evil. I would think about our choices and end up sick to my stomach. People whose opinions I respect are on different sides and it caused confusion and stress.

However in the midst of all this angst is the Word of God. Being reminded of the unchanging, eternal Word of God is what brings peace to a struggling mind.

“Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning..”    Daniel 2: 20-21

“The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules overall.” Psalm 103:19

As it is with everything else in this life, God will not be surprised by the results on Tuesday evening because HE is on the throne and HE is in control. He isn’t worried or scared and we need not be either. Trusting in the sovereignty of God, our job is to pray that we make informed decisions, that His will is done, and then to pray for our elected leaders.  When I remembered this truth it was a moment to take a deep breath, relax and stop worrying.

However our responsibilities don’t end with the election. If we say we trust in the Lord then we need to be prepared to be witnesses of His grace. Opinions will not change and people will be watching how we react. We need to show that our faith is in God and not the candidate who gets elected.

This isn’t a time to be angry or anxious but to live out our faith in God because we know that man’s plans and the devil’s schemes will not thwart the will of God.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”  Proverbs 21:1

The Word of God quiets my fears and gives me peace as I am …just living the thing.

A Dry Spell…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

Sometimes I take the Lord for granted. I’ve been in church almost every Sunday since my mother became a Christian when I was in the first grade. But, church attendance does not inoculate us from seasons of dryness where we take our faith for granted. We can become focused on things we are doing and not take a step back to see what God is doing. I believe I am coming out of a little dry spell.

I started a new job this year, and the transition was a little overwhelming. I tried to juggle everything, but dropped many ‘balls’ in the process. I’ve been so focused on the juggling that I have neglected some of the things that are most important. My time with the Lord has been lacking when I have needed it the most. Oh, I know all the right answers, but still I get wrapped up so quickly in other pressing things that by the end of the day I realize I have not spent my regular time alone with God.

Unfortunately, because of this I have missed many of the things that He has been doing around me. In my experience I have found that when I am consistently in His Word, walking and talking with Him daily, hourly, I can see His activity all around me. Things have finally slowed down some and as I am getting my routine back, my eyes have been opened again to God’s handiwork in the people around me.  It is a truly blessed experience.

God is at work! He is working in the ministry I have the honor to be a part of. He is working in the lives of the women I do life with in recovery. He is working in my personal life and the lives of my friends and family. I could go on and on. God is at work whether I see Him or not. I would just rather to be able to see Him at work and not miss it because I am not paying attention.

I have been going through the Psalms and it is a very encouraging and peace-giving book. Sometimes the Psalmist was in despair and cried out to the Lord. I wonder was he in despair because he had not been seeking the Lord? By the end of the Psalm though, he is praising.

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, “The Lord had done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Psalm 126:1-3

I guess that is where I am. After experiencing a dry spell, I am drinking from the stream of living water again; my thirst is quenched. I am experiencing the joy of the Lord the way He intends me to experience it as I am …just living the thing.

Just Say No…

Author, Adrienne Yerzy
Author, Adrienne Yerzy

I feel dried up. I’m wiped out. I haven’t had a day off in weeks.  I’ve been working some overtime at work, someone needs help on a Saturday, I need to see my family, and Sunday, the only “free” day, I am participating in a conference…

…the list goes on and on and I am tired. Even as I sit here, I want to scream a little and cry a little because as an introvert I need time alone to rejuvenate and I have not been able to find any space in my schedule for that restorative rest. So my body, my soul, and mind are exhausted.

Didn’t God give us an example? Doesn’t the first book of our Bible start out with “… so the seventh day He rested from all his work”? I mean, even God rests, because it is good.

I remember being in this place before. I was in college, studying, performing, volunteering with a youth ministry, mentoring, etc. and I was burned out. I remember attending a youth camp as a counselor at that time and having devotions in the morning. It was quiet outdoors and I was at a table in the forest, the weather was comfortable, and I read what Jesus said to his disciples:

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” “ (Mark 6:31)

I CRAVED reading that. For some reason the passage gave me peace; it gave me permission to rest. Unlike the Energizer bunny we aren’t supposed to keep going, going, going; we need a break. We need rest. We have to be refreshed. And I loved that within that verse, it showed that Jesus, as a leader, cared about those who were following him. He made sure to give them a break and because he instructed it, they didn’t have to feel guilty about asking to press pause.

So I write this as someone who is really burned out this weekend urging that if you are a leader or a parent or a boss, look out for those under you and take care of them. Make sure you are allowing rest and peace. If you are like me, maybe it’s time to learn the word “no”. I mean, it was one of those first words we learned as a baby, but for some reason as an adult it is harder to remember.

However, to maintain joy, to be refreshed, sometimes we are going to need to say “no” when people ask us to do extra things. It’s especially hard to say “no” when you enjoy helping people. But give yourself some rest, say “no” to a few things now, so that you can do other things in your future with your whole, refreshed, heart. And today, this is what it truly looks like for me …just living the thing.