Bloom Anyway

Recently, we have had an insane number of grasshoppers in our backyard. Green ones, brown ones, yellow ones. I’ve never seen so many.

As you walk through the grass, dozens of them spring up and out of the way. Every day, I have to knock them off of my potted plants where they are chewing up the leaves at an alarming rate. Luckily, my dog, Taco, thinks it is great fun to chase and catch them.

Despite the grasshoppers’ daily feasting on my sunflowers, those plants just keep growing taller and the bright yellow flowers keep doing what they were made to do – growing, opening up a few petals at a time, blooming, and giving me something pretty to enjoy when I sit out on my back porch. They don’t let the grasshoppers keep them down.

There are seasons that we go through in life where trouble seems to swoop down like a swarm of locusts. Wreaking havoc and destroying everything in its path. But even a single grasshopper can do a lot of damage to a plant; just as one problem can keep wearing away at you and your strength and stamina. Sometimes, you get to where you think you can’t handle it … where it feels almost like it is too much for you to bear. Those darn grasshoppers just … won’t … stop! Bloom anyway.

I recently read something (don’t know the author) that made a good point. “The enemy wouldn’t be attacking you if something very valuable wasn’t inside of you. Thieves don’t break into empty houses.” You are special. You have worth. And you are stronger than you think you are.

Life’s challenges may bug you and they may change you, but don’t let them defeat you. Keep getting up. Keep showing up. Keep looking up. Keep growing. So your petals may be a little off balance; so what. Focus on progress not perfection. Your life will continue to unfold and you will grow into an even more unique and beautiful version of you.

And even better news … God will be with you through it all.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31

“So do not fear, for I am with you; … I will strengthen you and help you.” Isaiah 41:10

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” Isaiah 43:2


Bloom Anyway

Lean on Me

I’ve posted this image before. Just wanted to reshare today for a few individuals that I know are going through tough times. There’s no need to try to overcome and push through on your own. Even if you think you can’t share the particular details of your burden with others, you can still take advantage of the benefits of shared faith and friendship. It’s okay to lean on someone else when you are feeling weak or fragile, to find that safe harbor to help you weather the storm. And if you can be that source of kindness, comfort, and connection for someone else today, I pray that you’ll reach out with an encouraging word or a hug and be a blessing.

Pray big. Worry small. Trust God.

My Conversation with God

Today, I want to share with you a partial guest post by my husband, Bart. Having experienced various times in our lives when money has been tight, we have struggled with the concept of tithing (regularly, generously, and biblically). We have often been so concerned with meeting our own needs that we have clung too tightly to what was in our hands rather than trusting God and releasing what we had in order to open up our hands to receive greater blessings.

In fact, I remember having a conversation with my aunt once about what I thought of giving 10% to the church. I told her I felt like the money I donated or gave to various places or causes added up to 10% and it didn’t matter if it went specifically to a church. Giving was giving, right?

Our church has recently been sharing “generosity talks” at each service through members of the church. These personal stories have been very encouraging and motivating. Giving is up and so are personal accounts of blessings received. Following is Bart’s story, which he emailed to Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Plano, last month after sharing it with me:

My Conversation with God

I just had a conversation with God. Well, let me back up and give you some background.
Over the last couple of months, when I have woken up early in the morning, before the sun, I have begun praying. Now, I know praying is a good thing. But one of the things I got from reading the Left Behind series (for the third time) is that praying should also be about listening.
This morning, before I woke up, I was dreaming about taking a test in school or somewhere. Someone walked into the room and called my name. I woke up instantly. I was wide awake. I started my usual prayers, thanking God for my beautiful wife and then just stopped. Hey, why don’t I try listening this morning and see if God talks to me.
In church this past Sunday, there was “another presentation” about giving to the church.  What stood out to me about that presentation was the phrase: “90% of God’s math will go further than 100% of mine.”
Church Note
Being that I can’t just clear my head and think of nothing, I was smiling to myself, feeling pretty proud that my wife and I had recently been having conversations about giving to God. We had decided that we would give 10% of our earnings, but rather than tithing it all to the church, we wanted to have some control over where our money went. We felt like we would give more joyfully if we got to choose who we were giving to. So, we thought we’d give some to the church but the majority of our tithe would go to other missions of our choice like E3 and to people we knew personally who have been called to missions. I smiled as I thought about the different people we had been helping over the years go on missions throughout the world. And then I felt and literally heard, “How many of those has your tithe funded completely? Ask Jack [pastor of Prestonwood] how many my church has funded completely.” He was standing in my bedroom looking at me. My smile was gone. Our tithe is nowhere near enough to fund anything completely. “Give my church the 10% and I will bless you so that you will be able to continue giving to the other missions.”
I hear you God. I hear you.
I was so excited, I rolled over to wake my wife and share with her my conversation with God. She was sleeping peacefully though, so I thought that might not actually be the best way to start the morning. So, I decided that I should type up my conversation and share it with you, Jack (especially since God called you by name). God used your sermon, and the recent focus of the church on giving, to reach out and shake me out of my need to control my tithing. I will be obedient to God … joyfully.
God Bless,
Bart Fuller

Chris Kouba, the pastor of our church, wrote back about 15 minutes later:

Bart,
This is such a great email. Thank you for sharing. We continue to hear similar feedback from people who have been challenged by the generosity talks and hearing about their personal journey of obedience and blessing as a result of giving. I pray God shows you so much more of himself as you take this step of obedience and release control over your tithe. In my personal experience, I have found that God always supplies what I intended to give and supplies even more to give above and beyond what I originally intended. The key is being willing to trust him for everything instead of trying to do only enough. Thanks for sharing and if I can help you in anyway in the days ahead, please let me know. 

Chris Kouba, Lead Pastor North Campus

In the past, I am sad to say, we have often given out of what was left rather than from our “first fruits.” Since Bart and I talked about his conversation with God, we have decided that we will be giving 10% of our checks as soon as they arrive, before we even pay a single bill. It has not even been a month since Bart’s encounter and our change of heart accompanied by a change in action, yet we are already experiencing blessings and a hope for a more fulfilling future.

I pray the same blessing on all of you.


“…return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord … You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. … Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” Malachi 3:7, 8, 10 (New Living Translation)

Evening Sky

This Is the Week

I read something wonderful and beautiful that a funny and faith-filled friend posted on Facebook today. So grateful that she agreed to let me share it with you here. I hope it touches your heart the way it did mine. 

Easter is in one week.

I am usually a hot mess in December. The slightest mention of the Baby Jesus, and how He came as an infant, to save us from our sins, dissolves me into weepy, sentimental tears. I blow up my house with decorations, torture my family with Christmas music on an eternal loop, and basically fall apart every day until December 26th. Do not even make eye contact with me in church during the Christmas season. Corby practically has to sedate me to make it through. It is simply the most tender holy season.

But Easter, Easter is just as magnificent, and although it doesn’t receive the hype and prep and decorating like Christmas, it is just as deep and holy, if not more so. It is a sober and moving THANKFULNESS for the one who gave His life so we may live eternally. Let us all prepare our hearts this week. May we all go visit a “stations of the cross”, regardless of religious upbringing. Let us all grieve on Good Friday. And may we all rejoice next Sunday. This is the week Jesus rose to his task and split history in two. This is the week he rode on a donkey, cried in the garden, suffered on the cross, rose into glory. This is the week that sinful, broken humans were granted a pardon, justified to perfection and set free. It is too miraculous for words. Songs and sermons will fail us.

May we all huddle at the cross this week in sobering reflection, overwhelmed by the punishment that brings us peace.

Jill Chatham

The Cross

20 Minutes a Day …

Twenty minutes may not really seem like a lot of time to accomplish something important, but, if you think about it, what kinds of things do you or can you accomplish in 20- to 30-minute chunks of time throughout your day?

You could:

  • fold a load of laundry
  • watch a recorded episode of a TV show
  • straighten up your desk/file some paperwork
  • read an online article or a chapter of a book
  • scroll through Facebook/Instagram posts
  • make a phone call to a family member or friend
  • check/respond to emails
  • take a walk to clear your head
  • empty the dishwasher
  • play with the dogs
  • stretch or exercise
  • plan a meal/find a new recipe
  • build an intimate relationship with God

Wait! What was that last point? Build a relationship with God? In 20 minutes? That’s not on my “to do” list.

No? Well, perhaps it should be. We all have the same amount of time allotted to us each and every day. And yet, so often the days just seem to slip away from us. Things we never intended or planned for steal our days away, minute by minute. We find ourselves wishing we had more time, but, more likely, what we really want is more peace, more joy, more connectedness … more real-life moments that matter.

Many of us use the lack of time as an excuse for not accomplishing certain things in our days or in our lives. In her blog post on things to do with 30 minutes or less, Courtney Carver shares:

… the real excuse, even if we are really busy, isn’t lack of time. It’s lack of priority. …

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Author Laura Vanderkam says, “Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.”

2016-09-11-22-53-472016-09-11-22-54-45Two weeks ago, I chose to take time away from my work (which I spend a lot of time doing) to attend a Women’s Ministry Kick-off Dinner with my sister-in-law, Jena, and my niece-in-law, Brittany. It was a dinner put on by their church to introduce their upcoming Bible studies for the fall, and I was thrilled to hear that Debbie Stuart (who used to be the Director of Women’s Ministry at a church I attended in the past) was going to be the guest speaker that evening. Debbie is currently Director of Ministry Initiatives at Hope for the Heart.

Well, as usual, Debbie did not disappoint. I had done a study with Debbie in the past and though I knew she was good, I had forgotten just how good of a speaker and connector she was. She shares personal stories (funny as well as heart-wrenching) and Scripture in such a way as to touch the lives of those around her and to infuse in them a desire to know and serve the Lord as she does.

I have to be honest here. Even though my thoughts are not biblical, I envy her heart for Jesus. I want what she has. Not her life or the things she has accomplished or acquired in her lifetime … but I want a relationship with God where I seek Him and hear from Him daily, and He is obviously at work in my life the way He is in hers. Debbie reminded us:

The truth is: It is absolutely essential to spend time with the Lord. No excuses. You will not know Him, His will or His way apart from His Word, the Bible.

So simple, and yet so true. The thi2016-09-17-09-19-39ng is – I have been reading the Bible lately. I do this from time to time but not on a regular, daily basis, and not always in a way that I feel I am getting much out of it. In fact, sometimes I don’t really feel like I understand what I read (although when I take the time to use my MacArthur Bible Commentary and/or compare passages to those in The Message [which is very reader friendly], it does help).

20-minutes-a-dayThe night Debbie spoke, she brought with her a book she co-wrote titled, 20 Minutes a Day for the Rest of Your Life. She explains it this way:

This resource is an excellent guide to studying God’s word for practical application. It teaches various Bible study techniques, dynamics and methods to learning how to apply God’s Word to everyday life. It’s not enough to ask, “What does the Bible say, we must discover what does it say TO ME!” It’s not enough to know what the Bible means, we must know what it means TO ME! It is my prayer that you will develop a deeper walk with the Lord and come to know Him better by spending time in His Word.

If you know what you need to do, but you don’t know exactly how to go about doing it, this book might be the guide for you. You can purchase this helpful resource for $6 (plus $2 shipping). They are currently available through this eBay link. Proceeds go to support Prison Ministry for women!

I started using my book the very next day, a2016-09-14-13-09-06fter the dinner. The first method demonstrates studying and praying through the Psalms. Each “session” ends with you asking God for a verse for the day that you can carry with you or post where you will see it and can meditate on it. I put mine up on a little clothesline in my study area.

The following Sunday, I just knew I was on the right track when, in church, the preacher had chosen to focus his time in the pulpit on teaching us all on “How to Meditate on God’s Word.” He used Psalm 1 and walked us all through some methods to 1) Read God’s Word; 2) Study God’s Word (observe, interpret, apply); and 3) Memorize God’s Word. One of the main points I got out of his sermon was the importance of having a plan to follow. There are a lot of books and online sources available to help you set one up; two he suggested were youversion.com (a bible app) and esvbible.org.

Last week, I started a Bible study using Beth Moore’s book James: Mercy Triumphs. The five days of homework each week will definitely give me more than 20 minutes a day in the Bible. But I will continue to use my 20 Minutes a Day … book for the other days of the week so that I can become familiar with the other methods of study and eventually determine what works best for me.

2016-09-17-09-19-10

While doing one night’s homework on James, I came across Beth’s discussions on Galatians 2:8: For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my (Paul’s) ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. Beth said:

God only knows how many effective ministries have disintegrated into irrelevance over addiction to comparison. We talk as those who believe God is omnipotent and omnipresent, but we often act as if He can only work through one person, one method, or one kind of ministry at a time. …

There’s a big, needy world out there, and God’s way of reaching it is to enlist every one of us to do our parts in love and humility, variety and diversity.

So, there is no need for me to compare myself to others or focus on what I lack. God will use me … and you … wherever we are in life and to the extent that we make ourselves available to Him. Even if it is only 20 minutes a day.

Be strong in the Lord my friends. And be faithful.

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“ … it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes
and showers righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12

“… those who seek Him, find Him.” see Proverbs 8:17

Slow Down and Trust

Today’s message from Jesus Calling (one of my all-time favorite devotionals) is very appropriate for me, so I thought I’d start out by sharing it with you:

I am with you and for you. When you decide on a course of action that is in line with My will, nothing in heaven or on earth can stop you. You may encounter many obstacles as you move toward your goal, but don’t be discouraged—never give up! With My help, you can overcome any obstacle. Do not expect an easy path as you journey hand in hand with Me, but do remember that I, your very-present Helper, am omnipotent.

Much, much stress results from your wanting to make things happen before their times have come. One of the main ways I assert My sovereignty is in the timing of events. If you want to stay close to Me and do things My way, ask Me to show you the path forward moment by moment. Instead of dashing head-long toward your goal, let Me set the pace. Slow down, and enjoy the journey in My Presence.

[Romans 8:31; Psalm 46:1–3 (NKJV): Luke 1:37]

Although the word “trust” is not actually used in that message, I believe it is implied. The closing words could very well be, “Slow down, trust Me, and enjoy the journey.”

Stop Thinking

I am one of those people who gets an idea in her head and then pushes forward full-force, trying to plan out every detail. I feel better when I am actively taking control of a situation. And I get frustrated when things begin to spiral out of my control or they don’t happen as quickly or the way I think they should. But I know that this is not the best way for me to go about my life. In fact, the more I try to control things, the more stressed out I get, and the further I may fall from God’s actual plans for my life. Or by trying to do everything myself, I realize that I may miss out on the opportunity for others to witness the amazing things that God can do despite obvious circumstances.

That’s why my word for 2016 is TRUST. There are many areas of my life where I need to let go of control and just trust God. So, this year, instead of worrying and fretting, I am going to trust. Instead of planning and manipulating, I am going to trust. I will do my very best to slow down and wait for God to reveal the paths He has laid out for me rather than rushing forward on my own.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything
you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track.

(Proverbs 3:5-6; The Message)

If I trust in God’s plan, and I wait for it, I won’t have to be worried or afraid that things won’t happen according to my plans. And I can be confident that I am taking the right steps for a better future. Is trust an issue that you deal with? Below are some other passages and images that might help you as they have helped me.

Trust in the Father

Although I don’t like to wait, God always has a plan to work things out for my good. So I must trust His “wait” is either to protect me or to prepare me for what’s ahead. (Glynnis Whitwer, Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day)

Lead Me and I will follow

God always keeps His word. If He has given you a specific promise, you can be assured that He will fulfill it. It may not be according to your time-table, but it will always be according to what is right in line with His will for your life. (Charles F. Stanley, In Step with God: Understanding His Ways and Plans for Your Life)

Those Who Trust in the Lord

Lord,

May we all become people who pray. May we also learn to leave the burden with You, rather than pick it up and carry it with us after claiming that we’re trusting You. Right now, Lord, take the burden. We cast it upon You, knowing that You’re better able to handle it than we ever will be. (Charles R. Swindoll, Insight for Today: The Importance of Prayer)

I know you heard my prayer

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Book Break: The Crimson Cord

I LOVED this book from Jill Eileen Smith on Rahab’s Story. This is the first book in her series Daughters of the Promised Land, but she is also the best-selling author of three other series: The Wives of King David, the Wives of the Patriarchs, and the Loves of King Solomon. If you haven’t read any of her books before (which I have not), and you enjoy biblical/historical fiction, I believe I have found a new author to recommend to you.

The Crimson Cord

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from
Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially
Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a
prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there…
Before the men lay down, she came up to them on
the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord
has given you the land … Now then, please swear to
me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you,
you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and
…that you will save alive my father and mother, my
brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and
deliver our lives from death.”

Joshua 2:1, 8-9, 12-13 (ESV)

From the Back Cover

“Rahab’s story is one of the most moving redemption accounts in Scripture. The Crimson Cord perfectly captures all the drama of the original, fleshing out the characters with care and thought. Jill’s storytelling skills kept me reading late into the night. A beautiful tale, beautifully told!”–Liz Curtis Higgs, New York Times bestselling author of Mine Is the Night

Wife to a gambler who took one too many risks, Rahab finds herself sold as a slave to cover her husband’s debt. Forced into prostitution, she despairs of ever regaining her freedom and her self-respect. But when Israelite spies enter Jericho and come to lodge at her house, Rahab sees a glimmer of hope and the opportunity of a lifetime.

In one risky moment, she takes a leap of faith, puts her trust in a God she does not know, and vows to protect the spies from the authorities. When the armies of Israel arrive weeks later, Rahab hopes they will keep their promise, but she has no idea what kind of challenges await her outside Jericho’s walls–or if she will ever know the meaning of love.

Under Jill Eileen Smith’s talented hand, the familiar story of Rahab bursts forth in high definition. Immerse yourself in a world of dark and dusty streets, clandestine meetings, and daring escapes as a mysterious biblical figure claims her full humanity–and a permanent place in your heart.


Joshua 2

My Review

Most people only know about Rahab from what they have read in the Scripture passages in Joshua, chapter 2, and 6:25. But she is also mentioned in Matthew 1:5 in reference to the lineage of Jesus Christ (“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab”), as well as in Hebrews 11:31 (“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”) The author, Jill Eileen Smith, took these brief glimpses in Scripture, her own historical research, and a lot of speculation on what might have led Rahab to the position she found herself in and wove it all together into an incredible story of despair, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, and love.
I found the characters and the story line to be believable and well-crafted. I loved how Smith connected a very relevant Scripture passage from Matthew 18:23-34 (The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant) to this story. The two stories do not actually connect in the Bible; however, it fit the characters and it worked for me.

Rahab’s story doesn’t end when the walls of Jericho come tumbling down. Instead, as promised by the Israelite spies sent by Joshua, she and her family are saved from destruction, and she is given a chance to begin a new life as a member of God’s Chosen People. This beautiful and amazing journey of faith–sometimes sad, sometimes uplifting–is one that you will want to read for yourself.

What Drives Travelers

Thank you to Revel Publishers
for providing me with a free copy
of this book for my honest review.