Press On, Beloved.

We have such a priceless value in knowing Christ, yet we so often find ourselves searching for value anywhere but in Him.  Opening myself back up to the public world with my writing has filled me with such emotion that ranges from being filled up, knowing that this is God's work, to beaten down and completely misunderstood.

Putting my writing out there comes with risk. My heart feels deeply and my words are meant to touch, impact, and provoke thought. At times, I feel nervous about my writing, others, confident. But mostly in the last couple of weeks of putting myself out there again, I have felt insecure. I worry about what the few may think and forget the many who have so lovingly encouraged. I focus on how my words could be twisted by a handful, and lose focus of the many who have found goodness and encouragement. I forget to look ahead to where I am called, finding myself clinging to the past, afraid to keep going.

In the midst of feeling these conflicting emotions, I came across Philippians 3.  Paul had written the Philippians to thank them for the gift they had sent him but also to encourage them to stand firm in the face of persecution and even rejoice, while continuing to press toward the goal:  the believer's heavenly citizenship.  It was when I came across Philippians 3:13-14 that I was suddenly able to see the priceless value He has within me. Paul says:

"No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it {righteousness}, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."

Paul wants the Philippians to follow his example in knowing that past performance is worthless. Paul works hard to do the works in which Jesus called him to do, even knowing it will bring suffering.

And just like that, I press on. I press on knowing that I am writing for God's glory. The future does not rely on the past.  My future is found in knowing Christ. The value is found in pursuing the prize. Putting myself out there may cause me to participate in suffering, but it is for His gain, therefore, I must keep on in the race for His glory in the ways He has called me to do so, which is to write. If I stop thinking about man and I remember to see the priceless value in which God has in me, I will not fail.

It is not about the good things Paul does, it is about his zeal for working in Christ. At times, my insecurity of failure, of being misunderstood, of being judged takes away that zeal, but going forward, I will be in prayer to work hard at forgetting what is behind and looking forward to what is ahead.

Nine Things I Wish I Did In College

Ah, college.  The days where time was just a number and responsibility was making sure I did my own laundry once a week and still make it to class.  I still giggle thinking about the summer of my freshman year when my parents told me that I could either get a job or take summer school, but doing "nothing" was never an option.  I chose to work, but being in my prime years of tanoerexia, I just couldn't bear to be inside all day when the sun was so bright.  So.  I got a job at the local car wash, worked just long enough to be ineligible to register for summer school, then quit.  Who would hire me when I could only work six more weeks before summer?

It was a brilliant plan that would only work one summer.  The rest of my summers were spent taking minimum courses to avoid a job.  Funny considering I CHOSE to work my last two years of high school (at a tanning salon, albeit. I am telling you...that tanoerexia thing is legit) and ended up saving $5000 in 1999 all on my own.  I had work ethic, I just clearly needed to save it up for a better time so that by the time I was old and 25, I was still driven and motivated.  Sigh.

I digress.  I loved college.  I made incredible friends, met the love of my life, and genuinely loved learning, but looking back, there is so much that I would do differently.  At 19, life just looked so different.  It was the first time "freedom" really sunk in, choices that were made were mine and mine alone and literally...the t i m e.  There was so.much.spare.time.  No one could have ever convinced me that in ten years, I would be going to bed at night begging for more hours in the day.

Often, I look back at my college {and really pre-kid} years to where I had so much time and think back at what I would have done differently.  How would it look if I was 15 years the wiser?

1.  Woke Up Early. 
Slow mornings over coffee (let's be real, I didn't even need coffee then) that would never have been interrupted.  That would have been living life.

2.  Read More.
More novels, more newspapers, more of the bible, more textbooks.

3. Exercised Daily. 
There are so many benefits to working out, but the main one would be to form healthy habits young. Exercise promotes better eating, better habits, and a clear mind.  If I had exercised more, I sure would have....

3. Drank less. 
I am not saying that I regret my time having drinks with friends in college.  I don't.  But had I spent more time exercising, I probably would have drunk responsibly and had the same amount of fun without the day-long lethargy the following day.  And if I drank less, I definitely would have...

5. Found a Church. 
If my life in college could have been summarized with a one-word motto, it would be "ME."  Life was all about me and little about God.  Now that I am in my thirties, I could fill days with listening to sermons, reading the bible, and journaling how the Lord is moving in my life.  I often think of how I had all the time in the world to make my mark, but I was too concerned with myself to see the needs of the world around me.

6. Served Others. 
And if I would have seen the world around me as it was really was, I surely would have served others with more passion.

7.  Went on a Mission Trip.
A simple mission trip in college could have easily changed the course of my life and flipped my motto of self to motto of others.  I had all the time in the world and no fear of how my children would fare with my halfway across the planet somewhere.

8.  Valued a Penny. 
Money had no value to me.  It wasn't because I was from a ridiculously wealthy family because while my dad made an excellent living for us, we weren't dripping with money.  But for some reason, I thought my twenty-year-old self-was and financial mistakes made at that age don't easily go away.  More than that, the habit of undervaluing a penny creates more problems in the long wrong.

9. Tanned Less. 
Lastly, had a valued a penny, maybe I wouldn't have spent so many of them on covering my body with sun damage and potentially skin cancer.  :) 

A Little Cup of Kindness

I am constantly amazed at the selfless people that God has placed in my life. Tonight, I needed childcare in a complete crunch. I walked over to our amazing neighbor's house to ask if they would be able to watch the girls for me to run up to the school. Without hesitation, Mrs. Terry committed, but she wouldn't be available in time for me to leave. She wasn't going to let that stop her, though. She was dedicated to helping me out.

We walked next door to our other neighbor, Mr. Chris, and asked if he would mind if the girls hung out with him and his three kids (yes! three!) until Mrs. Terry could back. Again, not even a blink and he not only said of course but also offered to get them dinner if necessary! As if the offer to feed my children at the last minute wasn't enough, he completely blew me away when I showed up thirty minutes later with the girls and he opened the door and exclaimed, "Hey, girls! Y'all like chocolate chip cookies? Wanna make some?" Seriously!?


When I arrived to pick up Preslie and Blakely at Mrs. Terry's house, they were red faced and their cup had been filled with joy while I was gone. But what filled my cup was seeing that Mr. Don was ironing her dresses for her trip she was leaving on tomorrow. She has an out-of-town speaking engagement this weekend. Yall. She offered to help me with my kids instead of preparing for her big trip. And her husband helped her while she was helping me.

Yes. Those kinds of people surround us on our street and are part of our world. It's not just that. My other next door neighbor, Ms. Ann, spent three hours a week this past August helping Preslie brush up on her reading before school started. Dawn, up at the top of the street, rushed down one summer night with road trip supplies on a whim after she found out my mother in law was in the ICU and I had to get to Houston with the girls alone while Adam was in Mexico City for work.

You see, I am in total awe of these selfless people. Why? Because being selfless is not easy for me. Selfishness is one of my biggest weaknesses and one of the biggest hurdles in life. Oh, but how the Lord has shown me what a gift it is to be so utterly selfless, extending far beyond my neighbors and into the lives of my very best friends, with people who have hearts to give and their service, their love, their selflessness teaches me so much. It encourages me that I, too, can break this curse and learn from them.

Friends. This is what being the hands and feet of Jesus is and I am so thankful for these hearts of pure gold that God has covered me with. Thank you to all my people, and you each know who you are, for loving our family fiercely even in the mundane.

I am learning. Don't give up on me yet.

Prayers for Vegas

Immediately after a tragic event sucker punches humanity, we see sparring debates over gun control and our mental health care system.  Words turn to bullets as people become so bitterly obsessed with attacking the opinion of others that they fail to remember the deaths of the innocent they are arguing over in the first place.

The blame game begins but no one looks inward.  No one looks at where the root of evil really began.  It's not because of Trump or Obama or Bush. Or democrats or republicans. Or oppression or injustice.  Or weapons or healthcare.  Long before any of these eras drew a breath, long before a gun was created, there was a murder and it's story is told without a single discrepancy.

It is the story of Cain and Abel. Cain had no weapons. He had jealousy sparring his heart; he was filled with evil and wicked ways and thoughts, and that was all the motive that he needed for a tragedy to occur. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?"  There, in Genesis 4, is where the first record of murder is cited.  No guns, no health care, just evil.

After each mass-casualty tragedy, we search for the motive as we overlook the simplicity of evil at it's worst.

"In the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of Godliness but denying it's power. And from such people, turn away!" 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

Is there really any question why this is happening after reading the above? Does that not sound like a spitting image of mankind surrounding our cities?

Friends, we have been greatly warned.  As we near closer to Jesus's return, these warnings will become more and more loud.  More and more clear.  More and more devastating.  Not because God isn't good, because He is the exact opposite.

The more God is taken out of this world, the more evil is let in, and the more evil that resides in the hearts of man, the more tragedies such as this we will see. God has been removed from our speech, from our lives, from the forefront of our focus only to be replaced with pure evil, selfish motives and desires of the heart.  People search for satisfaction, clinging to any earthly possession they can find hoping for a peace that they desperately cannot find, for the peace that they search for can only be found in a life walking with our Lord Jesus Christ.

So let's all take a minute and put down our weapon of words and let's be silent and pray for the families and victims of yet another tragedy.  Let's pray for the hearts of man to turn from wickedness, from selfishness, from being lovers of self and to take up the cross. Instead of engaging in debate, let's fill our time praying that our world in its shaken state is woken up and Jesus is not only seen, but allowed to enter the hearts of evil man.

For no one is too evil for the Lord to renew.

This madness will stop when every heart turns from it's wickedness, repents and believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Completely, Divinely, Beautifully Free

You know that feeling when you're searching for comfort but you are going to all of the wrong places, then suddenly, God's word is divinely breathed into your life? That happened to me last week.

I was feeling burdened by how something I had shared last week inadvertently, negatively effected others. While I stood strong in my truth, knowing that it was meant for good, my heart was tattered at the thought that others were unable to see my heart, to see my pain, to see my faith, to see all the grace and forgiveness and protection I had been walking in for so many years, unable to see that I was not sharing someone else's story, but instead my very own testimony.

Mostly, my sadness was that in a time where the new me was meant to shine, evil took hold and all my faith, all the strength and obedience it to took to be a warrior for God over the last few years in this situation, was suddenly completely gone. It was as if all of my faithfulness to Him (and others) was a total waste. None of it was seen.

It was a moment where I hurt for others as an unintended result of my actions and was upset with myself for creating what I had, yet I was confident in my well-thought-through decision and knew full and well that the pain caused was not by my defect. This was an act of evil interceding in a moment in which was meant to share God's light and His divine intervention.

The result of the light of the Lord being covered in darkness, and me seemingly being the one who brought the cloud, left me shattered.

You see, the problem here was that I knew the truth, but I was FEARING MAN. I was fearing what others thought of me and it was grieving my soul. I was fearing what MAN had not seen, ignoring that GOD had seen it all. I was letting the fear of misperception, of guilt, of anger drive my thoughts and emotions.

I was not standing in faith that those who trust in the Lord and work hard at His work are kept safe. I was not remembering that to share the works of the Lord in our lives so often brings discomfort. I knew wholeheartedly how in this situation I have protected and loved hard and loved fiercely and granted grace and forgiveness in which can only be supernaturally explained, yet here I was, feeling a snare. By man's standards. Not by the Lord's.

The moment I read Proverbs 29:25, I was freed.

Y'all. Completely, divinely, beautifully freed.

The burden was immediately lifted, my mind was cleared, and my heart regained it's confidence knowing that no matter what a few may think and what worldly consequences I may face, the Lord will keep me safe--even if part of that safety is rejection.

I think we so often forget that this life isn't about what man thinks of us, but what Jesus knows of us. It can be so challenging to rest in that peace, trying not to justify or defend yourself, but at the end of the day, none of it matters. I created this place to be LOVE-FILLED, to be TRANSPARENT, to be REAL, to be FULL, to be FREE. Starting with me. Ending with you.

It is my hope that, today, someone reads this exact verse just as I did last week and is completely freed from their fear of man. Don't let fear of man get in your way of sharing His truth, His light, and His goodness. Trust in Him. Follow His ways fully and He will protect you.

Letting Peace Be More Important than Your Fight.

Here we go again.

Another day waking up to our country in turmoil.

To be frank, I haven't followed the specifics of this latest "silent protest." I can tell you that I disagree with Trump, but I am not here to place opinions on who is right and who is wrong with this whole scenario.  That's not why I am writing this today.

I am writing this to tell you that I am tired. Tired of this country self-destructing, breeding it's own kind of hate. 

Tired of watching friends bicker and name call and turn to personal attacks, family members publicly denouncing one another, and don't get me started on the comments to strangers behind the screen.  I am not seeing the issue at hand any longer.  I am seeing hate.  And isn't hate what "we" are trying to fight?

This hate, friends, no matter what your opinion is, is driving exactly what everyone is trying to eradicate. We are not leaving a positive mark on this world by ruining relationships over who is right and who is wrong. Through these heated debates, yes, we may realize someone doesn't share critical viewpoints that define or mark our personal lives, and we may discover said people are not who we want to surround ourselves with, but friends, by no means does that make them worthy of hate or anger to a destructive magnitude.

It means you are fundamentally different. It does not mean you are enemies. It does not mean that you have a right to withhold love or kindness.  

That is what evil wants.  Goodness does not want or promote or rally for destruction.  Ever.

Isn't part of being a good person, someone who loves others no matter what?  Isn't that part of what we are fighting for?  For love to be given to EVERYBODY regardless of their past, their gender, their religion, their beliefs, their status?

Diversity is a BEAUTIFUL thing when we do not allow it to destruct our relationships with others. 

I am not just talking about loved ones, I am talking about enemies too. We are not called to ruin relationships with others because we disagree. We are called to unite even in those disagreements to become better people as a whole. Better people who disagree but create change. Create hope. Promote positivity.

Yes, it makes us cringe trying to understand the viewpoints of others that we do not understand.  It may even make us angry.  The topics make us feel HARD and REAL and for some, entitled.  And yes, I am talking to myself as I write, because I, too, have fallen victim to withholding love out of disagreeing with someone's viewpoint.

Conflict and diversity are not the problem here--they are necessary for much-needed change. It's how we have chosen to respond to those differences that becomes the problem. 

We must humble ourselves, America. We are all fighting to be right, to be heard, to be seen, to be redeemed, to be validated. Fighting the past, fighting the future, but no one is fighting with CHANGE.  It's all words of disdain, silent and aggressive protests alike. Where are the peace-filled organizations?  Where are the people out volunteering in droves to show their hearts, to show their passions, to effectively create change?

As I ironically wrote in my piece about the Christian's call for peacefulness last week (if you are a Christian, please take the time to read how God views our role in conflict) : 

Don't let the desire for what you want to be more important than your desire for peace. 

Folks.  It's real.  We need to seek our goal with peace in mind, not destruction.  Yes, we fight for the change we see that is needed, but we don't fight with venom and expect a change.  We don't fight using a platform that we know divides or disrespects.  How are we being any better than who we disagree with if we choose methods in which we know will offend others, without getting our point across "silently."  We fight with heart and with passion and with compassion and empathy and love. 

We need more responses that are solution-driven other than bashing, assuming the other person is {insert name calling}, and destroying relationships.

Today the issue before us is kneeling or standing. But the truth is, kneeling or standing takes no effort. I am not talking opinions here on who is right or wrong.  I am talking about the effectiveness and whether it's worth destroying a relationship over.  

Hear me now.  I am not stating an opinion on where I stand in this national debate because I understand the fragile state at heart.  I hurt for the men and women in our armed forces who have bravely fought for our country.  I hurt for those who feel oppressed and unseen and invalidated in our country.   It isn't about that.  I am merely calling for us to LOVE underneath the disagreement.  I am calling for us to put our relationships over the issues--yes, still fight for what you believe, but not at the expense of a family member or friendship.  Seek love through the conflict, friends. 

Instead of ruining relationships over your stance, be the person who puts in the actual EFFORT to make change in your community, the one who gets their hands dirty, and seeks a solution. Don't under-estimate the ability of how just one person can change the course of many. Can you imagine the impact of the "peaceful protests" we would see if those who oppose took their strength and intense emotion and put into action?  Because sitting on the sidelines takes no effort at all.  Starting a non-profit, linking up with your local government, raising money for a charity who supports the cause you're fighting for--those are actions that make far more of a difference than condemning a family member for their perspective or kneeling on the sideline.  Put those raw emotions into something fruitful, not fruitless.  It's easy to love the harmonious, but real love shows when you love in through the discord.  She does personal character. 

So who is today that you are going to let your positive, love-filled actions tell your story, your beliefs, and your mission?  How are you going to make that impact on the word that encourages, not

Whatever it is, as long it's love-filled, it won't lead you astray.   

Handling Conflict :: What is More Important? The Issue or The Relationship.

Human conflict is found everywhere.  It has existed since the fall of man and rises up in every facet of the universe.  We see conflict with our very young children, in marriages, friendships, the workplace, sports, in our spiritual lives, and within our own mind, battling itself.

Although conflict is nothing new, it seems in the last few years, the rising polarization of our political parties has bred a new and particularly more vicious type of conflict.  One plagued with strangers hiding behind computer screens, spewing venom at anyone who disagrees with them.  The words that Americans used against each other last November were nothing short of vitriolic. And truth be told, my tongue was tested many, many times.

While conflict can be evil, some of the world's greatest success comes from conflict.  Relationships can be strengthened through conflict, hearts brought to the Lord through painstaking struggles that lead to powerful reconciliation.  Cutting out life's conflict is unreasonable and unrealistic.  Why?

Because conflict exposes our inner need, our desire for peace, it opens up the opportunity for us to become peacemakers and allows us to spread goodness despite differences. 

Years ago in my past life, I was no stranger to conflict.  There were times I actively sought conflict with family members over issues that were completely irrelevant to righteous living.  The problem with me was that if I felt strongly about something and I thought that I could help someone, I went gun's-a-blazing with my thought process, my ways, my views.  The goal was never to hurt; it was always to help, but my approach was simply terrible and I ended up leaving loved ones bitterly hurt.  Peacemaker, I was not.  Conflict seeker, I was.

Admittedly I am still not a person who bats an eye to conflict, however, I have been humbled through several eye-opening experiences that have taught me how to handle conflict when it arises.  November's election was one giant test to how I was going to show up to the battlefield:  as a peacemaker or as a conflict-seeker.

In Matthew 5, Jesus began his famous Sermon on the Mount by teaching the Beatitudes.  The Beatitudes are characteristics manifested by his disciples and the citizens of His kingdom.  In Matthew 5:9, Jesus says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God."

That is who I want to be.  A child of God. I don't want to be the faded girl who stirred up controversy because she was sure her opinions were right or because she wanted to declare herself more righteous than the next person.  Sure, Christians are called into conflict to help one another, call for accountability, and there is a place for conflict when helping friends, or sharing hard truths to those who may be blinded, but I never want to be the person who allows the desire for what I want, my mission, my vision, to become more important than peace.  

When I look back at my life in my twenties, it was marked with conflict with others.  Whether I was the one who initiated it, or it was thrown onto me, I was never quick to seek a peaceful end.  I sought to come out on top, to be right, to have the upper hand, no matter what it did to the relationship.  How absolutely self-centered my heart was. 

It is no secret that I am passionate.  I am opiniative.  I am intense.   Those characteristics do not just die the moment you are humbled.  I still struggle with conflict from time to time, but since my relationship with Christ has deepened, the pattern of this conflict decreases more and more.  Years ago, my pastor said something that I have yet to forget and that completely changed my approach to my bold personality: 

"We need to get off of the issue {we are arguing about} and remember the relationship."  

Think about this for a moment....let it marinate.  Imagine if we handled all conflict with our spouse, with our children, with our insanely politically opposite friend without forgetting the relationship at hand.  Folks, this isn't just something for Christians to live by.  This is for ALL of us to remember.  Evil wants to destroy peace and will take every opportunity to do so. 

Throwing it back to the election this past year, I saw so many people end friendships over who someone voted for or what they shared on Facebook about candidates.  Yes, was it all annoying?  Absolutely.  Did I see character in friends that surprised me or disappointed me?  Yes.  It wasn't about who they voted for, but how they handled themselves in this time of conflict.  Everywhere I turned, people were putting the issue ahead of the relationship.  Even if it was an old high school friend on Facebook that hadn't been seen in ten years, I still valued them as people and the relationship that we once had over the issue, but sadly, so many Americans did not see it that way.  Quite frankly, this isn't a reflection on Christians, this is a reflection on humanity and how it exposed our nation's ugly selfishness. 

This concept isn't reserved only for the hotly debated subjects.  

After discussing this with my friends one commented that this concept need not only apply to fundamental disagreements but rather the mundane as well.  She cited the example of her daughter coming downstairs dressed for school in yoga pants, a button-down dress shirt, and unmatching bow. As mom's our first response is to typically encourage our child to change into something that maybe, eh, looked bit more put together {to say it nicely}.  Sometimes, our children agree, but others, things don't go quite as smoothly and before we know it, the peace between us is stripped--all over an unmatching outfit.  

But what if we stopped for a minute and thought, is this conflict worth a disruption of peace in the relationship with my daughter?  If it is, how can I approach this with our relationship coming out peace-filled versus conflict-filled? 

This is how we should respond to all conflict.  Even the painful.  Even the messy.  Even the dark.

Conflict is inevitable, friends.  Regardless of the situation, we must work as hard as we can to seek peace even in conflict.  This doesn't mean we are to be a doormat or to continue in toxic relationships, it means to characterize ourselves by our actions, to pursue peace with God through our interactions with others.

We should actively seek to resolve conflict, never living in consistent patterns of strife with others. We should not sustain, ignore, or tolerate conflict amongst fellow believers as well, nor should we stir it up and let it stew.

We should aim to always create peace where peace is lacking.  It isn't always easy, but it is always fruitful.

What Are You Marked By: Sin or Righteousness?

We live in a generation of justifying our sin.  We live in a generation where churches across the world teach that as soon as you have prayed for Jesus to enter your heart, you are saved and because you are saved, your repeated sins will be overlooked.  We live in a generation where the Bible is said to be outdated and is being replaced by many churches with their "adapted" versions of the gospel, just to feel comfortable or even worse, to make money.  We live in a generation where churches have stopped preaching about sin and wrath because it is uncomfortable, falsely leading those to believe that God's wrath is no longer in play.

We no longer have a right relationship with our sin.  We have turned to such a "me-generation" in so many ways and we are forgetting our true purpose, our true mission:  Living for God.  Living for Righteousness.  Living for Obedience. 

Two weeks ago at church, we began studying Romans 6 where we have been taking a close look at the radical change in the believer's relationship to sin.  We have been discovering what it means to be a true Christian, one who has undergone a radical change in person and as Romans 6 puts it, is Dead to Sin and Alive in Christ. 

In order to do this, we must look at what our lives look like before we ask for and receive salvation. 

Every Human Apart from Christ is a Slave to Sin. 
Whether one's life is marked by good deeds or grotesque immorality, every life without Christ is a life enslaved to sin.  Without Christ, the temptation to sin is unlimited and the boundaries to which those will sin is eliminated. 

A life of sin is obviously marked by those who practice the immorality that Paul highlights in Romans 1:  every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. These people are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.  They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

That wasn't what struck me, though.  A parallel passage to Romans 6 is Romans 3:9-20.  Our pastor summarized this passage as follows:

Following the life of an unbeliever, destruction is found everywhere.  Our words reveal decay in our hearts; our words kill and destroy {vs 13}; toxic speech creates toxic relationships {vs 14}; we have a predisposition to anger {14}; and peace we do not know {17}.  Mostly, verse 18, "there is no fear of God before their eyes." 

Yall.  This. Was. Me. 
I humbly admit this to you.  

I have never lived in direct disobedience and defiance to God. Prior to my salvation, I would not have considered myself a person marked by total and obvious sin.  But it was there, lurking and hiding and nagging and disrupting.  There was no real, sustaining peace.  There was no fear of God.  

As I heard that this morning, I was not alarmed because of shame and disappointment, I was alarmed because I called myself a Christian during these years.  Maybe I have a wrong perception of myself, but I do not think during these years I would be labeled so clearly as a sinner or even a bad person. These were easily hidden sins.  But how I really know that I wasn't living for God is because there was never a true peace that led me into a life of righteousness.  I did not fear God.  I only made decisions based on my comfort. 

And this is why I chose to share this.  Not because I wanted everyone who chose to read this to know my ugly, but because I want those who read this that may have a life marked by failed relationships and destruction to really evaluate their relationship with Christ.  Do you really have a relationship with Him or do you think you do?

No amount of biblical knowledge, years in the church, service you've done, or bible studies you've completed equate to true freedom in Christ if you are still living in a pattern of sin.  And if there is no peace in you, if there is a history of destruction, if attending church doesn't matter to you, how can you be sure you are living for Christ?

Look at your life: Are you marked by a pattern of sin?  Or are you marked by a pattern of righteousness?  If you don't know, a good place to start is evaluating your past and current relationships. 

But here is the Good News.  {because with God, there is always good news}

There is change at salvation.  We are regenerated by God.  The change is the faith and repentance our heart produces which shows obedience to Christ, our new Master.  Faith produces obedience after salvation {Romans 1}.  
The gospel begins to shape us, form us.  Sin is still in our lives, but our lives are no longer marked by a pattern of sin.  We are now dead to the controlling power of sin.  There are glimmers of sin present, but the enemy has been defeated and will continue to be defeated through prayer, the full armor of God, and our high regard and desire for righteousness. 

Enslaved to Righteousness
But here is the deal:  He didn't release us to be completely free, He released us to be free from sin.  Just as sin held us captive, now righteousness does.  Achieving this righteousness is our hope against sin! 

And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.  Ezekiel 36:27 

God in His grace broke our shackles to sin and fulfilled His promise to give us what we need!

Listen Up!  True Christians will not continue to live as slaves to sin.  Keyword: slave.  A slave cannot have two masters and if we are a slave to righteousness, we cannot be one to sin.  

Believers and unbelievers alike, I humbly encourage you to evaluate yourself:  What are you marked by?  What patterns do your relationships reflect?  Do you have a pattern of sin or a pattern of righteousness?

You see, there is just so much hope within salvation.  

"We may not be all that we want to be, but by God's grace, we are not what we used to be." 
Pastor Tom Pennington

Perfectly Made: Celebrating Uniqueness

When we took Preslie in for her eye test three weeks ago, we had virtually zero reason to suspect anything was wrong with her vision. Needless to say, we were beyond shocked when she was diagnosed with a common medical condition called amblyopia, which is where the brain simply "turns off" one of the eyes, forcing the other eye to completely compensate for the "bad eye." In Preslie's case, she has "severe vision loss" in her bad eye, while her good eye works triple time to compensate for her eye that has been disconnected from the brain. While this sounds pretty scary, with the use of "patching," amblyopia is fully treatable. This is news that we rejoice in; however, getting to the result is not an easy process. It involves patching her good eye daily to force her bad eye to reconnect with her brain. The goal is to get her bad eye at the same correction of the good eye to save the good eye and to prevent a permanent lazy eye alongside severe vision impairment or full vision loss in both eyes.

We have spent the last couple of weeks adjusting to glasses (due to her large disparity between lens correction), then this week, we transitioned into wearing the glasses full time.  Today, we started her vision therapy.

Y'all. When I say this small moment of today was difficult, I mean it.  Preslie is our happy-go-lucky, complacent, easily pleased and eager to please, precious child.  I knew she wouldn't love it, but I didn't think it would terrify her as much as it did.  In covering her good eye, we all realized quickly just how severely damaged her bad eye is: she virtually could not see.  Without the use of her good eye, she couldn't tolerate light, couldn't walk straight, nor could she make it down the stairs without assistance.  She cried and she appeared to be visibly tortured as she sighed and groaned in unease and tensed her muscles.  I've never really seen my easy-going little lady this frantic.  It was almost like she was claustrophobic.  She made it 45 minutes, but it was a difficult 45 minutes as her body twisted and turned and anxiety washed over her.   When we removed the patch, she was very quiet, reserved and felt sick to her stomach.  As I reflected on it hours later, I can't help but wonder if that was her first experience with true panic.

While we explained how the patching therapy will reconnect her eye to her brain, it was still a concept a little too complicated for her to understand. I already dread repeating this activity tomorrow (hopefully making to an hour and increasing the time in small increments daily), and the next day, and so on over the duration of the coming months.  Although I remain confident that after a short while, she will adjust to the patch and this will become easy, sometimes I don't want to forget the "bad" because it's the bad that makes the good that much better.

With her permission, I posted this picture.  As our children grow, we must be very careful about which stories about their life we choose to share because it's just that: their life, but she chose to share it because it is her new temporary life and though this patch sends her into panic, she is learning through this patch (alongside a few other struggles she has), that she truly is fearfully and wonderfully made.  Her body is not perfect, but it was made perfectly.  Her uniqueness is beautiful.  

Through this experience, she will go through trials but she will be given the opportunity to learn many lessons:  deeper compassion, strength, endurance, accepting differences, coping with teasing, perseverance, dedication, and so much more.  

Some moments in life are just tough. Today, in the midst of a rough spot, we were given the opportunity to celebrate how we are so wonderfully made; how God crafts our every fiber; how He makes no mistake in our creation; how our uniqueness is made to His perfection, no matter how that may seem to us. Tonight, I go to bed with some painful memories of her reaction that make my eyes sting, but I will rejoice in His goodness and this opportunity to bring my baby closer to Jesus's perfect love. 

{From the Archives} It Started with a Handkerchief

It was late-February and I was seven months pregnant with Blakely, battling a nasty case of allergies while out running errands with my dad and a little two-year old Preslie.  It was one of those days where nothing was going right.  I was miserable from both pregnancy and allergies when suddenly I was in dire need of a Kleenex.  And of course, I could not find one anywhere in the car.  I began scouring my purse and everywhere else when Poppy pulled the car over and said, 

"Will my handkerchief do?"  

While he was searching his back pocket, I was soaking in that small question with childhood memories flooding back.  My daddy ALWAYS had a handkerchief in his pocket.  Whether a casual day in jeans or dressed up in a suit, whether a slight spill, or someone needing to blow their nose, he could always pull out his nifty handkerchief and save the day.  It's little things like this in life that you cherish.  I bet we put my daddy's handkerchiefs through the ringer back when we were growing up as tots:  ketchup smeared about our faces, slimy noses, drinks knocked over, and I am sure countless tears.

Not long later, we found ourselves heading down this road in what would surely be considered "old town Southlake" now.  Nestled within a booming neighborhood of multi-million dollar homes, one can find this 1960's ranch style home tucked away on seven acres of land, still surrounded by the white barnyard fence in which my dad so carefully maintained beginning back in 1983 when we moved to the good ole heartland of Southlake, Texas.  

Driving up alongside this home filled us with memories.  We drove back and forth, started and stopped, and even went to a neighborhood behind the home to see the back. We relished in memories. I was roughly Preslie's age when we moved in, with a hot to trot three year old sister back in 1983.  My parents had been married for five years and decided to move from North Dallas out to the "country" for some peace and quiet.  They found themselves some land, the perfect home, and from their the memories flourished.  From a full on vegetable and fruit garden, to cattle and horses, chickens, and a tool shed, a hand built tree house, hammocks and rainbow colored snakes (ahem, sister)...and my favorite, the wrap around porch with white Victorian spindles.  Stormy nights were always in full effect, a tree even sliced in half one night by fiery lightening, sunsets and sunrises that couldn't be beat, a small fishing pond, homemade peach ice cream and crickets chirping in the night.  Hot, summer days with two little panty-only girls running through sprinklers chased by the dogs while their mother and daddy enjoyed sweet tea and a beer.  Cold, frosty winters with the aroma of freshly frosted home made sugar cookies in the wintertime.  Friday nights at the local 3A Dragon Stadium where football was fighting fiercely through the fall as the team was notorious for back to back trips to State, and one special little girl was making the crowd giggle dressed in her little dragon costume while running up and down the bleachers as her sister swooned all the elementary boys under the bleachers.  

Life was so beautiful.  So perfect.  So simple.   We have countless pictures and videos of our years spent over on that quiet street, and despite these boring sick-filled days of now, I am filled completely with happiness and warm thoughts remembering my childhood.  In fact, I think today might be the perfect day to sit downstairs combing through the DVD's of our memories at 1360 Sunshine Lane with one of my dads handkerchiefs in hand.