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 

His banner over me is LOVE

A banner is a flag or some type of paper or cloth bearing a symbol, logo, slogan or other message. Did you know that God goes all out and to extreme measures to send banners of His Love and adoration for you daily? Even beyond the normal & ordinary ways. His wonder is all around.  Are your eyes opened to see? He uses creative ways to speak to you.

This little story happened this week and watching it unfold was pretty cute.

My son begins his venture into high school in less than two weeks as a freshman. He is at “fish” camp this morning learning all about the new journey he is about to jump into. He’s ready to start this new chapter of his life of growing up. He realized Homecoming is only 2 weeks away from the first day of school. He started thinking of a girl he wanted to ask to go with him. The whole ask process is way different than when I was in high school. Friends would just simply ask someone to go to homecoming with them and that was it. Nowadays there is a lot of thought and preparation going into the question. It’s a big deal!

My son and his friends came up with an idea to hand make a really big banner with the question …(girl’s name) Homecoming? They spent two hours stenciling and hand painting 12×12 letters on a giant 10 ft banner. They were so happy with their creation and artwork. They rolled up the banner, trying to keep the wind from blowing it away, and fit into the back of my truck. They stopped at central market and he purchased a long stem rose and gummy bears as a little gift to go along with the banner question to homecoming. His friends set up the meeting place with her friends. He hid behind the rose bushes and fountain at the town square and waited for her to walk up with her friends and he popped up from the bushes with rose in hand and then she saw him with this huge 10ft banner asking her to homecoming. She almost cried! She said YES!  This sounds like a setting to a cute movie I would like to watch. Boy asks girl to homecoming… I know I’m mommy here and seeing my little boy growing up makes my heart happy!

This began stirring in my heart seeing this rather large banner and the expression of time and thoughtfulness it took to plan this invitation out. This banner got me thinking of the ways that we can speak to others or receive words from others. Along those lines was the thoughts of how God creatively designs banners for us to see.

God will send out His rays of love and grace and share it in the most creative ways. In a banner held high, He will speak of His love for you. He will shout it from the mountain tops. He will declare it from the roof tops. He is in love with you! He will also show you in your little baby the love that He has for you. When you look in that sweet little reflection that is a part of you… God’s grace in one tiny face.

Slowly, sweetly, He speaks. Listen. Look around and see. Capture the signs and sounds around you.

He brought me to the banquet room, and His banner over me is love. Song of Songs 2:4

Pockets of My Heart

shutterstock_200983001My heart is filled with adoration, love and thankfulness to our Beautiful Creator. I look around and everywhere I see there is beauty and wonder to behold. From the simplest of things like this morning a sweet little old man was sitting by himself sipping his coffee at the donut shop. He smiles as he looks over at my son and I can just see his wheels turning. Possibly thinking back to a time when his children were younger and he brought them into the donut shop to pick out their favorite treats. The sign above the coffee dispenser read Royal Cup- Savor the Experiences. As my little boy sat and recalled his adventures at the amazing water park and the joys that fill his days I was all ears. I was eager to know more. This older man was eaves dropping and he just kept smiling with the biggest grin on his face. In the middle of our conversation, we looked over at him and included him in our small talk. We wished him a blessed and happy day. I sometimes think or wonder: could that be an angel or messenger sent from God as a sweet reminder that He is all around. Watching over us. I tucked this sweet reminder in the pocket of my heart.

There are so many treasures within the pockets of my heart. I would love to share dozens and dozens of them with you today if only we had hours to share together. There are some that are rising up to the top and bring joy to my heart as the memories begin to surface. The sweet faces of our embrace grace girls walking into our classroom. Their eyes at first filled with a puzzled look and unsure of what to expect. Those eyes began to soften and become clear with the realization of the gift that had been placed within them. The wonder of creation. The gift of life. Grace. Beauty. Love. Holding their hands and speaking hope into their situations. Walking into the hospital room and seeing the glow upon their faces as they are holding their precious little baby in their arms. Oh the sheer joy, delight and glory that fills the room. As my arms reach out to embrace the babies, something within begins to overflow with so much love and thankfulness. Sweet tears. I tuck these treasures in the pockets of my heart.

Answering phone calls from churches and ladies that are drawn to serve in some way or another with Embrace Grace. They feel a stirring. A desire. A passion. As the vision and heart of Embrace Grace is revealed to them and they share their heart and willingness to serve, my heart is full of thankfulness. So many hearts, hands and lives are pouring into these mommies and babies daily. You could be one of them. I hold you in the pocket of my heart and say Thank You.

Blooms, sweet blooms, I hold you and your babies in the pockets of my heart. As we are expanding and growing daily, I may not know all of your sweet names and locations across the nation, but my heart is with you. I carry you in my heart and whisper sweet blessings and prayers over you often.

A precious bloom wrote a poem and I hold this close in a pocket of my heart: Take me to a far away sea. Somewhere where I can just be me. Digging my toes in the golden sand. As I watch the diamonds dance on your ocean so grand. Helping me to realize that even though I’m so small, You really do love me above all. You create this beauty for me to enjoy. And gave me a new life filled with joy. ~ EG bloom

I’m sure you have many treasures and memories of your own within your pockets. Some are buried way down deep. Gentle reminders and hope filled moments that you can pull out at any time to cherish, remember, and be encouraged. Some of our favorite pockets carry the Goodness of God from the promises He has given to us in His Word. Visit these pockets often. Believing for a recollection of these to come to your thoughts and minds. When crazy moments happen, or you just need to catch a breath, stop and reflect. Reach down in the pockets of your heart and you will be surprised what God will bring up for you. Things you may have forgotten, even things from your childhood, sweet memories and treasures can come to mind and bring you so much enjoyment. Share those pockets with others around you. They would love to partake of the goodness being spread around too. I carry you in the pocket of my heart. Sending you lots of love and goodness…

I carry your heart with me…and its whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing to you…here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart… I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart) by E.E. Cummings

Salina Duffy

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

 

 

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

A Place Called Home

shutterstock_139797706It hit me like a ton of bricks. The realization that for most of the years I had been a mother I had inwardly longed to be single, to not have the daily responsibilities and duties of motherhood. And now that my children were almost grown, how I longed to be a mother. I do not have time in this brief blog post to count the ways that I came to this realization, but I can tell you that I love my children with all of my heart, and that there are no three people more important to me on the entire earth.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I have a huge capacity to love. I long to give to people, and I have a desire to make others happy to the best of my ability. Having said that though, because of sin, hurt and pain in my life, there were parts of me deep inside that were severed. Lacking a connection, they lost life. I always struggled with feeling like something just wasn’t connecting, especially when others would say things that would ring true in my head and I would pray with all of my might, but it was as if something stopped it from reaching my heart.

My friends and I have this inside joke about words that drive us crazy. “Dear”, “Pumpkin,” “Honey” are a few that make me cringe. Tonight though, another word made me cringe and I mentally added it to my list. Consequence. Talking about consequences in relationships and consequences with kids and for once I decided (or admitted) that I did not like that word. As the conversation continued, I became very aware of something I had not before. And it was the key to unlock guilt I had carried for years.

I have always been a task oriented person. Things have to be done, the show must go on kind of person. Stuff those feelings and emotions because you just don’t have time to deal with them right now kind of person. Being a young teenage mother, several things inside of me stopped growing so that other areas could grow rapidly in order to position myself for this new found responsibility. With the duties of an adult, I still had the emotions of a child, and those emotions carried over into the decisions I made as an adult. I did what I had to do, in order to keep my family moving, not really considering what the best interest of a family would be. Very independent and just trying to make it, I made decisions the best I could with my limited emotional and mental capabilities.

And tonight it came full force. For the first time, I realized with both my mind and my heart that I grieved not being able to give my children a “normal” home. Mom, Dad, cat, dog, family vacations. Home cooked dinners around the table. Holiday crafts and family traditions. Too busy trying to do it all, I ended up doing none of it well. I couldn’t give them “normal” when they were young and even now – the struggle is real.

Laying on my couch feeling the brokenness, I thought about my parenting skills, everything that I had been through with my children, and I asked the Lord where was the redemption in this part of my story? And the scripture in Ezekiel 37 telling the story of the dry bones came to my mind:

“God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Master God, only you know that.” He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’” God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!” Ezekiel 37:1-6 (The Message)

I had prayed several times this scripture. For God to breathe life into the dry areas, to bring back to life those things that were dead inside of me. As I laid on the couch, I sensed God telling me that the redemption was that by bringing these deep seated feelings out into the open, He was bringing things back to life. Areas that had been severed were now starting to feel again. This was just the beginning to a healing that needed to happen, but was buried under layers and layers of things that had been piled on top.

There is redemption to be had. No matter what area of life, and no matter how long it has been that you have been carrying the load, Jesus has come so that you may have life again. I have fought hard for a place to call home, a place where life and laughter can thrive. Where the skeletons and regrets of times past can show themselves to the door so that the fresh breath of God’s grace can flow freely. And as I sit here sharing this story with you now, on the same couch that harbored my brokenness just a few hours before, I am filled with a sense of home that comes not from man-made striving. The light on this home is forever shining.

Written by Jamie Stapleton

What Do You Weigh?

shutterstock_60419377I went into the garage tonight to do laundry. As I pushed the button to start the washer something caught my eye.  It was the scale. I walk right by it everyday. Sometimes I don’t even notice it. Sometimes I see it and look the other way and then hurry inside. Other times, I look right at it, curl my lip, and kind of make a low snarling sound. Tonight, I looked at it and it seemed to be taunting me.  I dared myself to get on it.  At first I giggled at the mere thought of putting even one foot on that stupid cube that has determined my emotional well-being for so much of my life. (Stupid box.) 

I closed the washer and took a step toward the door.  But, the closer I got to the scale the more I thought I might actually step on it.  After a couple of more steps, I was standing right next to it. Then, before I could stop myself my right foot was firmly planted on it, then my left foot, then right before my eyes the numbers started rising.  Once it registered my…ahem…weight… I had to squint my eyes to see the number. Surely it was wrong! My heart started beating really fast as I squinted my eyes tighter and tighter to be sure I was reading that middle number correctly.  It was the highest number I’ve ever seen on a scale that held me. (Outside of pregnancy, but even then, I stop looking after a certain point.) “Jesus” I said. “I need you to remind me of who you say I am. Like, right NOW.” 
 
I walked inside and sat down here at my computer to start editing pictures. But, before I started I picked up my phone and opened my Bible app to Romans 8. I’ve been hanging out in Romans 8 for the past few days.  I’ve only been reading a couple of verses at a time so that I can really mull over them and let them sink in. Today was the day to read v. 5.  But, after reading a few key words, (measuring, muscle, exercise) I couldn’t stop there. I had to keep reading.  As I read, I knew God had something to say and it wasn’t a read-between-the-lines situation this time.  Tonight, the words that normally seem like a great message delivered by Paul, became a direct response to my request, “Jesus…. I need you.” 
 
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s! Romans 8:5-11
 
Ok, so…if you “focus on God” you will eventually know where your identity lies or better, Who you belong to. You experience life on God’s terms. “God’s terms” means healing, power, acceptance, shameless, FREE, authority, revelation. It’s the life Jesus had. God’s terms.
 
I remember when I was healthy.  I remember when being in His presence and gaining a better understanding of communion was more important than eating food that brings death. 
 
I am “delivered from the dead life…” 
 
I “experience life on God’s terms…”
 
I am ALIVE in CHRIST!
Written by Crissy Terrell