I love you more

Tree Silhouette Against Starry Night Sky

Have you ever been desperate to hear from God? That’s where I found myself last night at Gateway’s habitation service. Desperate to just feel God’s presence and hear him speak to me, I worshiped with abandonment. Worship has always been one of my favorite times with the Lord and this night was no different. 

If you’ve ever attended a church service there were probably words to songs on a screen for everyone to follow along with. Every now and then there are pictures as well. While worship was sailing along I glanced up at the screen and saw space. A countless amount of stars were floating on black space. Softly I heard, “Olivia do you see all of those stars? I love you more than that.” I was taken back by the thought because see as much as I wanted to hear from God I can honestly say I didn’t expect to. I just kept staring the screen as I heard,”Can you count how many stars are in the sky? It’s a number that doesn’t even exist… I love you more than that.” I just began to cry as I continued to feel God’s love for me. The last thing I heard was, “Like stars burn and shine, my love for you is a fiery passionate love, but the difference between my love for you and the stars is that my love for you will never burn out.” As you can imagine I was a mess and also overjoyed. I felt God’s tangible love all around me. 

It’s hard to believe that a holy God could love a sinner like me but he does. See it doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. God loves you with the purest of loves. He died to show you that love and he’s just waiting for the moment when you realize what you mean to him. As humans we can be so tough on ourselves but God is saying hey, forget all that just come spend time with me. I’ll show you what true love is. 

My encouragement to anyone who may read this is to remember that God loves you. That romantic, sweep you off your feet love is real in Jesus. Run to him and let him show you his love. 

Romans 8:38-39  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Olivia 

Begin Again

shutterstock_149210354Sometimes you really need a fresh start, a do-over. We humans can bomb this thing called life pretty badly, and then try to cover it up so that no one smells the stink. We smell the stink though, and it causes us to change the way we view ourselves and the way we think our Father views us. And then condemnation creeps in, telling us that we are just too far messed up now and if we are not careful, we will waste precious time wallowing in a place that we were never meant to be.

Romans 8:1 says that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” After a particularly bad failure on my part one weekend, I was having a hard time maintaining my composure as the lyrics of worship songs saturated me in the love of my Father. I wanted to condemn myself, I wanted HIM to condemn me. Instead, He loved me. Wholly. Two very distinct things He spoke to me during that time. The first was that nothing would ever separate His love from me, and the second was that even Kings, when they fall, are still Kings.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38

The last several years have been very trying and I feel like I have messed up six different ways to Sunday, but what I feel resounding in my heart lately is to begin again. Start over, start fresh. For some, that just means waking up with a new outlook, a new perspective. For me it means that and more. It means recreating myself, redirecting myself, and allowing a lot more healing from deep within.

This may sound easy enough – beginning again.  Not so easy once the doors start to open and things start to shift. Beginning again requires courage, hard work and a willingness to go where you have never been before. It requires maybe dealing with some things that you thought you had already, and it will also reveal to you, well, you. My failure revealed to me that I was still dealing with some self-hatred. Even though I had grown and healed in leaps and bounds in my walk and in my relationship with the Lord, I was still struggling with some things that I really would not have been aware of otherwise. A friend said to me that things happen sometimes so that the root can be revealed. I truly believe the statements “there is purpose in the pain” and “God doesn’t waste a tear.” He doesn’t.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

In what way might Father be leading you to begin again today? Is there an area of your life that you feel needs a do-over? Give it all over to the God of restoration and allow Him room to make adjustments as He sees fit. We have the gift of getting to partner with God in all of His work, and you can be assured that what miracles He performs in your life you will be able to share with others. Don’t let the emotions of temporary failure and the condemnation of the enemy steal that away from you.

Jamie Stapleton

 

 

Do It Afraid

shutterstock_192059996Fear. Faith. Fear. Faith. FEAR. FAITH! Like a chant I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Wanting to cry one second and hyperventilate the next. All the while knowing that I had to do it. Like an invisible rope pulling me forward, I knew that the decision I was making was the right decision. Albeit one of the hardest ones I have ever had to make.

Ever had one of those decisions? You dread it, try to talk God out of it, procrastinate, but in the end you know that it is the only way. And you are scared out of your mind. At this point, you could become paralyzed in your fear – going over every “what if” scenario known to man. Question if you really heard God? Maybe you should pray one more time, you might get a different answer. You call everyone you know just to see what they say about your current situation. And yet, still, you know.

Many years ago I heard Joyce Meyer say something I have never forgotten, “Do it afraid.” Some things in life do not come easy, or in cute little gift packages waiting to be opened. Some things in life are designed to challenge us and cause us to grow. Push us past the comfort zone, requiring use of feelings and thought processes we may not be familiar with – or not want to become familiar with.

Very recently I have had three separate issues going on at the same time, but all three teaching me the same lesson. I had a problem with taking ownership of things that were not mine to carry. I was causing undue anxiety on myself. This was a learned behavior mind you, but one that I had not clearly identified before until I had a very short conversation with a wise woman who called it on the carpet – quick. And it was like the sun shined down on this brain of mine and my eyes were opened. In my particular case, I was concerned with how people would act or respond to me in light of some things I needed to do in each situation. Fear. Each separate issue needed to be taken care of, and I was not being hurtful or uncaring to any individual in any way, but I still felt anxiety about how things would turn out.

Do it afraid. This has been my mantra the last week. Do it afraid. Do it afraid. This has actually been the year of “Do it afraid.” From ending an unhealthy friendship earlier in the year, to now changing my home address. I am having to do it afraid. There have been tears – many, many tears. But there has also been hope. A wind beneath my wings that I can’t quite describe to you.

Throughout this time, I have made it a point to keep my mind stayed on Jesus. For me, that means that no matter what, I have been including Him in my mental wanderings and have gotten down on my face and cried out to Him to keep me through anything and everything I was feeling. I have asked for Him to show me the truth, and to reveal things to me that I needed to know. I have spent time in His word and prayer and asked Him to give me strength and to keep me strong, constantly reminding myself that His grace is sufficient for me.

Doing it afraid does not mean you do it alone. Through this time God has strategically provided people who will pray with me, listen to me, encourage me – but most importantly, He has been there for me. Even last night, I was awoken with fears of what this new chapter of my life would be like and I was afraid. And instantly I felt peace, I felt Him wrap Himself around me and assure me that He would be there.

He will be there for you too. Do it afraid. If you are truly being led by God, you will be so glad you did.

Jamie Stapleton

 

Stay Afloat

shutterstock_179168111Day in and day out we encounter times when we are left pondering and wondering what is the outcome of this situation we are facing? The good, the bad and the ugly may come our way and in those moments how do we react? We love when the good times roll and things are going our way. Everything around us is butterflies and rainbows. All seems to be so easy and carefree. Smooth sailing. The stress is bare minimal in those particular days. Days like these are fully embraced and so peaceful. We would love for moments like these to repeat over and over.

But what about the other moments? In those times when the bad or the ugly comes; is our first reaction to panic and allow the pressure and tension to rise and engulf us with fear? Or do we counteract with peace, calmness and assuredness? I venture to say that for many of us, myself included at times, the pressure and tension rises when the resistance is the strongest. My hopes and intentions are to stay calm, cool and collected; but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. As much as I may try, my arms seem to be flailing and fighting to stay afloat.

A perfect visual of this instance was brought to the surface the other day as I was talking to a sweet bloom on the phone. I was sharing encouraging words, hope and speaking life into her situation. As we spoke, in my mind I saw her in this body of water as she was trying to float on her back. Amidst all the things she was facing and enduring at the time, try as she may, she was not able to stay afloat. Her arms and legs were kicking and striving, trying to stay above water. She kept sinking and barely able to hold her head up. She was trying with all her might to figure out the outcome and answers to the things that weighed so heavily upon her heart. She was trusting God so much, and then at times it just felt so hard. Almost too hard. Her arms were just moving about trying desperately to be still. But how she thought?

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

As we began to talk more and more, I encouraged her to close her eyes and visualize herself in the water. Then shared as a lifeguard is instructing someone how to float and gently holds their back briefly as the child or grown up learns to spread arms and legs out and fully relax. If they begin to panic or strive to stay above water, they will begin to sink. But if they can fully relax and be still, the lifeguard can gently pull his hand away and the person can feel they are floating freely and staying above the water. They have mastered the concept of floating.

Now just imagine Jesus as that lifeguard. He is there alongside of you. Holding you up securely.

I came home and my mind began to race about some things that were weighing heavily upon my heart. I began seeing myself in the water with my arms moving about trying to stay afloat. Then the words I had just shared to help and encourage someone else were coming back to encourage me. I went outside and felt a full immersion in the pool would be so refreshing and relaxing. I literally laid back in the water and practiced the exercise of trying to float while too many things were racing in my mind. Things began to jumble up and my arms began to move about. I began to sink. But then, I inhaled and took a deep breath. As I exhaled and gave everything that concerned me to Jesus, I felt Him so near. He was my lifeguard and was holding my back in the water and instructing me. He said give it all to me. Everything. Hold nothing back. I want it all. The more I felt myself giving it over to Him, the lighter and weightless I became. I was floating so freely in the water and gazing up at the sky above me.

No matter what situation you are facing today. He has His hands gently on your back. He is talking you through step by step instructions. Relax, put your arms out to the side. Breathe. Don’t fight it. Just be still. The more still you can be, the better. He will help you stay afloat.

There seems to be a pattern in the thoughts and minds of girls that are sending me messages lately. They are phrased differently and revolve around their own specific circumstances and situations. The heart of the matter reflects upon how to react and respond when these instances arise. Do we begin to sink or float?

These are just a few of the messages that have been coming in lately. They are true expressions and emotions of what some of our blooms are experiencing:

I feel like my biggest fear is coming true… My faith is definitely being pushed to the limits. I don’t know what to do… I’m crying right now. I’m trying so hard to have faith and trust in God. I’m just so scared. – EG alumni bloom

I’m having a hard time right now. I really need someone… My Mom is wanting to kick me out, I had to quit one of my jobs and they screamed at me the whole time. I feel like I never see my baby and my baby daddy has been trying to get custody. -EG alumni bloom

I feel like everything is falling apart. My car is in the shop and it is too expensive to fix, and I really just get too emotional and need prayers. – EG alumni bloom

I just had another sonogram and it showed an abnormal cyst in my baby’s abdomen. Please pray. -EG alumni bloom {Praise report: the following day she had another sonogram and everything was normal and baby is so healthy and strong and the previous reading was an error. Yay God!}

Seeing that baby girl made me a little nervous! She was soooo precious, but I don’t feel ready for a baby at all… – EG bloom

You may find yourself relating in one way or another to some of these, or you can fill in your own responses of what you are facing at this particular moment. Whether it is the good, the bad or the ugly, know that there is a God out there who hears your every prayer and longing. He knows your fears and sees your tears. He is here for you and will never let you go. No matter what comes your way. He promises to stay right beside you and keep you from sinking.

What are you facing today? Questions, unknowns, and everything in between… No matter what you can stay afloat.

Praying for peace and calmness to come over you and bring you the sweetest rest and assuredness that God has everything safely in His hands for you! Praying for all things close to your heart to be safe and secure. Life situations and God’s plans to be revealed. Health, healing and wholeness in a mighty way. A Jesus touch to be felt. Powerful provision beyond what you can see in the here and now. To fully surrender everything into His loving care. May Jesus cover you with His mighty hands and bring you the sweetest comfort. I love you so much! Rest easy and be at peace. Relax. Breathe. God is in control. You will stay afloat.

Written by Salina Duffy

Ears to Hear

shutterstock_175071470I am a listener. I absolutely love to listen! I was once given wonderful advice that has really stuck with me as I have grown. That istake the time to love and listen to whomever is in front of you at that moment. Really focus in and give them your full attention and allow them time to talk. Communication and connections being made.

Throughout my days it may be my husband, or my 2 sons, Embrace Grace mommies and babies, family, friends, team members and so many others that I come in contact with. I love to listen as they share stories, events about their day, and other fascinating factors that they encounter. The highs and lows of life. Ups and downs and everything in between. I engage and listen intently on what they have to share. One of my most favorite to listen to is God. He always knows exactly what I need to hear at the perfect moment.

A few days ago I was intrigued with this movie I had rented and my little seven year old walks in trying to talk to me. Shhhhh… Mommy is watching a movie. I’m trying to hear what they are saying… please be quiet. I can’t hear when you are talking… A few minutes later he is chatty again. I again ask him to be quiet. A third time he begins to talk and says something that captured my attention and I immediately grabbed the remote and paused the movie and was all ears. Ready to listen.

Mommy, his voice sounds like God’s. I look over at him in total amazement. I ask him to repeat again. His voice sounds like God’s mommy… The characters voice was a really deep voice. This man has been in so many movies. One being Simba’s dad on the Lion King. His voice is very distinctive and captures the audience when he speaks.

My son and I have many talks about him hearing God and how He speaks to him. He will ask God questions and relay the answers. In their sweet innocence and childlike faith it just comes naturally for children to hear God speak.

As we are sitting on the couch I look intently into my son’s eyes and desire to know more about this voice that sounds so familiar to him. I ask him so when you hear this voice, what does He say? He replies. Umm… What’s the word? He thinks for a second. Oh yeah, he cheers me on. He says you know like when I am playing baseball. I will be on first base. He (God) tells me to run to second. Run to second. Then when I am on second He says run to third you can do it, run to third. He encourages me to run. His voice sounds like that man on the movie mommy.

As I am sitting there in total adoration and love of hearing these sweet words from my son, a wave of astonishment and awestruck wonder came over me. It really is that simple. We sometimes think that hearing God is something only some people can do. But He speaks to all of us. All the time. We simply have to tune our ears to hear His voice. To listen intently to the things being spoken all around us. The delivery comes in so many different ways. He speaks through His creation, His Word, gentle whispers, our children and so many remarkable ways. As we begin to listen with our ears and really engage in what He wants to speak into our lives it will leave lasting impressions upon our hearts.

I’m reminded of a story in the bible found in 1 Samuel 3 about a little boy that heard the voice of God. Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. The word of the Lord was rare and precious in those days; there was no frequent or widely spread vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had dimmed so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. When the Lord called, Samuel! And he answered, Here I am. He ran to Eli and said, Here I am, for you called me. Eli said, I did not call you; lie down again. So he went and lay down.And the Lord called again, Samuel! And Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, Here am I; you did call me. Eli answered, I did not call, my son; lie down again. Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord was not yet revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel the third time. And he went to Eli and said, Here I am, for you did call me. Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, Go, lie down. And if He calls you, you shall say, Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel answered, Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening. 1 Samuel 3:1-10 AMP

May our ears, just as Samuel’s, be listening intently to hear what God is speaking to us. May our ears be in tune to hear His voice. May we have childlike listening skills to hear so clearly what is being revealed and spoken to our hearts. To encourage us. To enlighten us. To engage and entertain us. To fill our days and nights with life giving affirmations and love that will continue to lift us up and help us through whatever we may be going through. May we be able to drown out the noise, distraction and accusations from the wrong voices and be drawn to the heart and voice of God.

look with your eyes and hear with your ears and set your heart and mind on all that I will show you, for you are brought here that I may show them to you. Ezekiel 40:4 AMP

My eyes will be open and my ears attentive to every prayer made in this place. 2 Chronicles 7:15 NLT

Written by Salina Duffy

Hanging Out In Limbo

shutterstock_108821864Limbo= Lim’bo, Lim’bus

1.    A region bordering on hell, or hell itself.
2.    A place of restraint.

Restraint= (Hebrew) ma’tsowr (mah-tsore’)

Objectively, a hindrance.
Atsar (aw-tsar), Hebrew
A primitive root; to inclose; by analogy, to hold back; also to maintain, rule, assemble; be able, close up, detain, fast, keep (self close, still), prevail, recover, refrain, X reign, restrain, retain, shut (up), slack, stay, stop, withhold (self).

Isaiah 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.

I have found myself on more than one occasion recently saying to myself and others, “I don’t do limbo well!” It seems as though my life and everything about it is in “limbo” at the moment, my place of residence, my passions, my healing and recovery, my job, my relationships, etc., etc., etc. I have continually viewed this as a bad place to be. Looking at the first definition above, that would prove true. BUT GOD!

As I study the second definition I am beginning to realize “limbo” is not always a bad place to be. The verse Isaiah 54:1 seems to start out as a dark place for most women, a barren place. It is a parable of not just a woman who cannot have a child, but all women who have a dream, calling, pull if you will, on their heart. We have so much that “pulls” us into all directions, and usually at the same time! Limbo can be, if we let it, a place of imprisonment, a place of despair and isolation, and really, if we are honest, that region bordering on hell! YUCK! But God wants it to be a place of recovery, refrain from harm, a stillness to stay in His presence. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 We can prevail in “limbo”! “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 We can also keep steadfast in “limbo.” “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Now, I am not saying that I didn’t struggle in my recent “limbo.” As a matter of fact and in total transparency, I actually quit for a bit! Those close to me observed this first hand. They have shown me mercy and grace during my recovery and healing. But God got ahold of me, that’s a great thing, and began to show me how to transfer my “limbo” from that region to His presence. In His presence, limbo looks like this:

L Love = “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 52:8

I Imperfect = “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” Deuteronomy 32:4

M Mercy = “His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation.” Luke 1:50

B Beautiful = “and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Isaiah 61:3

O Open = “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” Psalm 119:148

So the next time you feel in “limbo”, or maybe you are there right now, call on God, only He can move you from the region bordering hell to His presence.

I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.
Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
THEN I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, He saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.
For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9

Written by Kathy Easley

Dynamic Duo

shutterstock_153693311A gentle whisper was heard in my heart when I asked for a blog post title. Dynamic Duo. Whoa! That was power packed. Ready to unpackage the meaning of these two words that were joined together for a purpose.

I sat down in my comfy cozy love seat, opened the blinds so the sunshine could kiss my cheeks. I gazed up at the clouds as they were forming into unique shapes and imagined what they could be. Like paint colors upon a canvas I saw hearts of all sizes in the puffy white clouds. I was relaxed. Heart content. Ready to listen. Time to press in. I began with my journal, pen, bible, and phone with dictionary app close at hand. I could sense that this was going to be a beautiful word that was going to be etched upon my heart to be shared with you. I feel God winks coming.

So here goes. Dynamic is referenced as an energy, effective action, vital, energetic, energizing, magnetic, peppy, powerful, vigorous, vitalizing, zippy. Synonyms of dynamic are alive, awake, full of life, cheerful, overflowing, happy, spirited, passionate, bubbly, perky, sparkling, and sweeping.

As I scrolled down to see the abundance of words given to describe dynamics; I saw familiar eyes and the words MAJESTIC. I knew instantly before scrolling down any further that these were the beautiful brown eyes of Kari Jobe. It was an advertisement of her new album on the dictionary.com site. I smiled inside and began singing How Majestic is your name!

Now to the next word search duo: Two persons commonly associated with each other, a couple. Synonyms of duo were pair, team, two of a kind, deuce, troop, organization, partners and more references were given. As I scrolled down my iphone to my amazement the beautiful eyes were there again. It was the same advertisement for Kari’s album. I searched another word for fun and grins just to see, and the ad changed to something totally random. Ok God, you have my attention. So just what would you like to say about the combination of these two words that you have joined together.

There are many facets and factors of ways to describe dynamic duo’s. Friends joined together for a special mission. Relationships of all sorts. Parents and children. Teachers and students. Leaders and blooms. Ministries and missions. Families. Churches. Pregnancy Resource Centers. A joining together in some creative way set apart by God to fulfill His plans and purposes on Earth.

A common thread is usually seen as we embark upon the journey each semester in Embrace Grace. The dynamics of our EG groups typically have a theme as they are so wonderfully chosen and handpicked by God. Each bloom having their own uniqueness and special stories. There is an energetic and magnetic presence in the room. Girls and leaders alike are cheerful, happy, spirited and passionate. They are eager to learn and grow more. This mission spurs us on for an abundance of grace to be poured out and overflowing on everyone connected at the heart of EG.

This sweet duo is being highlighted at the moment in my heart…

The dynamic duo of a mommy and baby is precious and profound. The closeness that the two share together as baby is within being knit, formed and fashioned in the womb. Psalm 139 vividly paints the picture of this creation. Nothing else compares to this closeness. Mommy, You are full of life. Life giving. Beautiful beyond compare. The baby within you is being nurtured with the utmost of tenderness and love. Belly Beautiful is the word that comes to my heart when I see girls in their pregnancy. I share how special and chosen they are to be carrying this precious life inside of them. They smile and seem to grasp the love and tenderness that is expressed. You are radiant and glowing. Others are drawn to you and love to ask when are you due? Do you know if you are having a boy or girl? Their eyes light up with the simplest of questions because someone has taken the time to ask. To encourage and lift you up with happy thoughts.

You may be wondering in this moment how everything is going to play out. You may wish you had a way to see into the months ahead of you. As a sonogram of your baby is given to get a little sneak peek of your expected arrival. You are able to see a pretty clear visual of your baby growing inside of you. You have been given a due date. A time for everything under the sun. See Ecclesiastes 3. In your weeks and months, as each day passes, you are getting closer and closer to the delivery.

You may not be able to see the end from the beginning, but there is someone who can. God knows every moment that you will ever encounter and face. He knows every detail. He will be along beside you cheering you on. When you are nearing the end of your pregnancy and delivery is almost time, just get ready for the sweetest moments. The best is yet to come. You will meet your little one face to face. What has been growing and developing inside of you will be born and you will experience a miracle. Embrace this season that you are in. It will pass by quickly and before you know it that sweet baby will be growing faster than you can blink. You will savor the moments as they swiftly grow with each passing day.

Beautiful One we celebrate You! Remarkable. Chosen. Powerful. Delightful. One of a kind. You have a dynamic that only you can bring to this world. Let it shine. Let it radiate this world. As we are joined together in special and unique ways we create dynamic duo’s all over the world that makes an impact beyond anything imaginable.
God is in the details. Grand and Small. He orchestrates them ALL!

Written by Salina Duffy