Wandering in the Wilderness

“Everyone wants the promise, but no one wants to be pruned.” – Kris Vallotton

The journey of life is full of new beginnings, unexpected turns and course resetting. Often times, when we feel like we’ve arrived, a new change shakes us or grows us. Many times, this process is painful, but necessary for maturity.sand_sm

I have experienced many of my own twists and turns throughout my life journey; but through it all, God has been with me, guiding my steps and whispering reassurance to my heart along the way. You can read about my testimony and God’s goodness through my life struggles on my About Me page.

Earlier this year, I found myself at an unexpected crossroad in my career and life in general. I call it “unexpected” because I had known for years that God’s will for my life was to remain within my place of employment where I had been for the last 15 years in different positions. He confirmed His will for me to remain where I was many times by providing opportunities for me to minister to others through love and encouragement. He gave me moments to share His love and His nature with the lost, hurting and broken. He gave me lifelong friendships for encouragement, correction and growth. He even used my workplace to bless me with a husband who is the love of my life.

Amid the blessings were also job struggles and pains associated with maturing and disappointments along the way. In many ways, I believed my place of employment was my long-term “Promised Land” because it was where God had sent me. But then it happened — change.

Sometimes, the change in course is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. In many previous crossroad situations, the choice was often not obvious; but in this particular case, there was no mistaking it.

Months earlier, I began to feel a deep stirring of the Spirit, nudging me and telling me it was a season of change. It was time to move. To be honest, I wasn’t excited. I know I should say I was giddy with anticipation about the prospect of moving on to a new adventure, but I wasn’t. I was finally feeling settled and comfortable in the position which I had been placed. It certainly had its challenges and issues. In fact, there was a storm going on in that area of my life; however, I assumed it was one of those issues that would eventually get better. Plus, I knew I would give up many blessings to change careers — daily interactions with amazing friends, a position that gave me direct access to the organization’s decision makers and knowing how my role fit into the organization. But my heart became restless and many nights were sleepless.

I realized the first day I felt tug of the Spirit on my soul that God was also giving me a choice. Although He told me it was time to change course, I also felt Him telling me I could remain where I was and He would bless me and others for His Kingdom’s purposes. However, I knew if I moved, it was the best choice that He had for my life. Even so it was not an easy decision.

I asked God, “Where will you move me? Where do you want me to go?” When I didn’t receive an answer, I prayed and waited.

Although I really hate change and my stomach was quite unsettled, I answered one morning, “I am willing to go wherever you called me.” In that moment of submission, I felt like God was saying to me through unspoken words to my heart, “Understand there will be a sacrifice; but if you lean on me and relinquish control, I will give you new coordinates for your life and career. I know you’ve dreamed for many years about a specific type of job. If you go where I’m asking you to go, your dream will be realized. But it won’t be without a cost. Spiritual growth and trust in me will be necessary to see it through to the end.”

When I asked God what the path ahead would look like, desperately wanting a roadmap to make the process less intimidating, I felt like He was telling me it would look nothing like what I could anticipate, and I wouldn’t know all the answers until the end. But He knew. I just had to trust Him. As I considered the terms, I took a deep breath and watched as my season of change was set in motion.

The trust aspect became my greatest trial I faced. There were plenty of twists and turns and lots of confusion like a complex maze, just as God had warned. The process of moving took much longer than I thought it would. Patience is still an area in which God is constantly teaching and correcting me. Several days, weeks and months passed before the process was complete. Also, there were multiple interviews at different places. When something appeared to be working out, it suddenly fell through, and I really didn’t know what or where to go until the last minute. Even after I arrived in my new workplace, I was in constant transition and helping in a couple different areas for several weeks. Although I struggled and change was hard, God was faithful and kept His promises, and I suddenly found myself with options to go into the field I love.

“Almost there! Just keep going!” I would tell myself. Some days, I said it to myself through tears. Did I mention change is hard? Sometimes, I wondered if I’d be in the Wilderness forever. For a restless heart, sometimes the waiting period can feel that way. It can be easy to lose your way and lose hope if you take your eyes off of Christ and focus on all the uncertainties. But God kept every word of the promises He gave me.

People often think of the Wilderness as punishment. They think of the Israelites wandering in the desolation for 40 years. Instead, it is usually a time of testing and trials intended to grow and strengthen us. It is a time of preparation for our next life chapter which requires more than previous situations had demanded. Wilderness moments, although sometimes extremely lonely and discouraging, is never without God’s grace (Mark 1:13). For me, the greatest experiences and often the closest I have felt to God occurred during my Wilderness moments. It makes the life struggles worth the perseverance when we see God move miraculous ways.

If you find yourself in your own Wilderness experience, take heart! You are not forgotten. God is preparing you for your next adventure. He’s giving you an opportunity to see Him move and to mature spiritually. You will see He is faithful, and you will eventually reach the end and discover your Promised Land.

May God’s peace, love and joy accompany you along your life’s journey.

Spiritual Warfare: Finding Victory in the Midst of Battle

If you’re a follower of Christ and you’re trying to live out the Great Commission,savior prayng you’ve probably experienced spiritual warfare at some point or another. That’s not to say everything that happens to us is spiritual warfare. In a fallen world, bad things sometimes just happen, or we experience hardship or pain because of our own sin or the sin of someone else. In contrast, sometimes as Christians we are not prepared for true spiritual attacks because we don’t expect them to happen or don’t believe they happen. Jesus faced temptation; therefore, I believe the battles in the spirit realm are real. Scripture reminds us in 1 Peter 5:8 to always be vigilant of Satan who is always looking for ways to destroy us. Since spiritual attacks are real, how do we learn to recognize and overcome them?

In my own life, I have experienced hardship, difficulty when trying to pray, threatening dreams and other unexplained events that seem to happen without reason. Do I believe these issues were caused by spiritual warfare? It is possible and likely that not everything I just described came from the Devil, but some of it certainly seemed to be. Why would I assume the cause was spiritual warfare instead of something else?

The Bible says the spiritual realm is always active around us, fighting for us or against us. At the time, I was purposely attempting to spend quality time with the Lord because I wanted to grow closer to Him, and I wanted the friends around me to know Him. I also wanted to encourage and assist those friends with restoring hope in their lives during difficult situations they were walking through. Within a couple days, the craziest things began to happen. Everything in my life that was a stability point for me (my basic needs, financial needs and my health) was turned upside down. I also experienced trouble in my prayer life. I couldn’t focus. I went from feeling closer to God than I ever had felt to feeling like I was unable to hear His heart at all. I felt alone and completely separated from Him. If you’ve ever lost your connection to your Father then you know it feels like your whole world has ended. Then the dreams started, and they were awful. I would dream things that were not normal nightmares for me. In one of my dreams, I found myself standing alone in my house. Suddenly, I heard a disembodied voice laughing sardonically and taunting me by saying, “You keep doing what you’re doing, and I’m going to destroy you. Give up.”  This dream repeatedly occurred over several weeks. At the time, I didn’t make the connection that I might be battling spiritual warfare, but before all of those strange events were over, they intensified and got much worse and much more troubling.

What should we do when we think we’re being attacked spiritually? Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10-18 to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”

In addition to following Paul’s instructions, I generally try to analyze the situation before anything else. Was I going after the things of God when the bad things started to occur? Did I cause my own grief? Did someone else hurt me? Did the issue seem to happen randomly? If my sin appeared to be the root of the problem(s), I should ask God for forgiveness. If the problem involved harming another person, I should ask the offended person for forgiveness and reconcile the relationship. What if someone else harmed me? Christ says I must forgive and pray for the person. Basically, forgiveness leads to healing and restoration. Both of these scenarios could include elements of spiritual warfare, but they are likely caused by my actions or someone else. If the issue appears random, sometimes it’s harder to figure out what to do. In any of these situations, I try to keep my eyes on Christ. I ask for protection, wisdom and help. Through God, we find our victories. As Mark Batterson puts it, “I have an unshakable sense of destiny that as long as I pursue God’s calling on my life, then God is ultimately responsible for getting me where He wants me to go.”

The verses below have helped remind me who is in control in the midst of strife. They are written on paper and affixed to my computer to remind me every day of His goodness, provision and protection:

  • Isaiah 41:10: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
  • Isaiah 43:2: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
  • Isaiah 58:9a: “Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.”
  • 1 Peter 5:7: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
  • Psalm 121:1-2: “I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”

If you’re looking for a visual reminder, you are welcome to pin, download or print these Pinterest quotes:

Lasting Happiness

Earlier this week, a friend shared an article with me about maintaining lasting happiness. Since my friend thought the article was useful, I agreed to read it. After all, we can all benefit from learning positive techniques to better ourselves, right?

smilesAccording to the article, psychological studies over the past several years have consistently shown many of us are dissatisfied with our lives and depressed due to daily pressures, stressful life circumstances, money concerns or family strife. The article’s author followed the analysis by giving several suggestions on how to maintain happiness: act happy even if you don’t feel it, indulge more frequently in pampering yourself and focus on the things you have and not on the things you don’t.

An Analysis

The article, although well-meaning, seems to provide little comfort for anyone who has suffered with long-term situational depression or difficult moments in life. I know, at least for me, the solutions the author suggested to maintain happiness rarely ever equal anything lasting. However, I will concede to the fact that feelings associated with experiencing happiness can temporarily relieve mental anguish. I also agree there are benefits to filling our lives with encouraging people and things that reinforce positivity and improve our general sense of wellbeing. But if happiness is temporary, what is long lasting?

Why the Difference between Happiness and Joy Matters

As a follower of Christ, I have learned over the years that happiness is a byproduct of joy and a renewed mind, meaning happiness is a product of what resides in the deepest recesses of our hearts (Romans 12:2). I may seem too picky about separating the terms “happiness” and “joy” which most people swap out interchangeably; however, these terms are starkly different from each other. It’s important to recognize and discuss these differences within Christian circles as well as with non-believing friends to discover lasting fulfillment in our lives.

Like anything we choose to make a primary focus in life, “happiness” can become an idol, which, like a spoiled, needy child, constantly demands attention. I believe this is why so many people who seek permanent happiness outside of spiritual fulfillment in Christ never find it. Life happens. Things go wrong. We experience great sorrows. Suddenly, happiness becomes non-existent.

Just as happiness is a byproduct of joy, joy is a byproduct of the One who lives within me. It is not dependent on my circumstances or emotions of the moment. I have joy so that I may bless others and wear it as a living testament of a life changed by the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. It is my identity in Christ, and when I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

When I use the gift of joy to bless others, I find the true meaning of long-lasting joy and fulfilling happiness.

Personal Lessons Learned

A couple of years ago, I experienced several painful sorrows. Those hard moments defined the weakest and most human aspects of my life. During that time, I forgot my identity. Although my happiness was completely gone for several long weeks and months, I never truly lost my joy and hope in Christ for a new day just beyond the dark clouds.

It is likely many of us have faced or will face hard times at least once in our lives. If you are struggling to find joy in your circumstances, you are not alone. Keep going. There is hope just beyond your clouds of sorrow.

Peace, love and joy to you, dear readers.
The In-Place Missionary

Why Does God Allow the Innocent to Suffer?

Introduction

When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?Staring out the window

As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.

The Debate

If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.

In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.

In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.

Life and Our Freedom to Choose

Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.

My Strong and Mighty Tower

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know my husband and I have seen our fair share of struggles over the past eight years; however, we’re probably not that different from you or someone you know. Let’s face it — sometimes life is hard. When we face difficult times, we have two choices. We can choose to give up and walk away from God, or choose to rely on Him for strength and believe the struggles do not define us, claim us, nor are they the end of the story.Lighthouse

As our family is facing another scary life situation, I am humbly reminded that I am not in control. Although anxiety no longer plagues me, I am still awake to visceral pain and anger I feel. I must acknowledge these feelings if I am honest with myself and others around me. It would be a lie to say I don’t battle myself and my humanity when facing problems; however, these emotions cannot be allowed to control me. The One who has control gives hope, and I’m called to remain hopeful and place all my cares upon Him.

Some people have suggested we should “give up and curse God” like Job’s wife once suggested to her husband because of all the struggles we’ve seen in our marriage, but why would I do that? God has always been faithful to deliver my husband and me from prior situations and has even positioned us mentally, physically, and circumstantially better than before the trouble started. Why would He change His promise now? The Bible promises His faithfulness is unwavering even though our lives shift like the sands with the tide, and my life can testify to this truth. He is my rock, my firm foundation, and my strong and mighty tower, shielding me from the storm. I am not promised a life without struggle, only that He will be there along the way to protect my heart, mind, and soul.

I have been asked before, “How can you believe in a God who is supposedly good who allows suffering, pain, and evil in this world?” My response is simple: He gives us free will, and the struggles we face are not the end of the story. As promised in Scripture, great suffering is equivalent to great blessings. Also, encouragement, love, and mercy are stronger than ever in the face of adversity. How many terrible events have you witnessed personally or seen in the news only to have stories of heroism, compassion, and love overshadow the negative outcome? Good will always prevail, and God is always for His people. Our personal testimonies of enduring and overcoming situations break the shackles that bind other people who are going through the same struggles. Our testimonies are hope and freedom.

Although the evil forces likely delight in causing or participating in the chaos that surrounds my husband and me, they cannot possibly fathom the depth of immeasurable goodness that has resulted with each trial. Our marriage is stronger than ever because God is at the center and binds us tightly together. Our personal fortitude endures because He sustains our strength. Our foundations cannot be shaken even as our lives shatter around us because He is steadfast and stable. If at the end of the day, all we have is the almighty God, we have all we could ever need.

If you find yourself in a rough situation in life, remember: rejoice in the testimony God will give you to bring hope to others around you! Your struggle is not the end of the story, and God will never let you see the battle withut first giving you the victory.

My Encounter with the God of Love

I suffered from an anxiety disorder most of my life. In addition to this disorder, I felt shame and unworthy of God’s love and grace even though I had been a Christian for almost 20 years. But now, I can’t deny I’m loved.

In September 2012, I found myself sitting in a prayer service thanks to the strong urging Joy and freedomof a good friend. I remember listening to the live praise music and other Christians around me worshiping God with a love and adoration I didn’t yet understand. I felt nothing. After months of crying and begging God to pull me out of a desperate situation that had only deepened my anxiety and depression, I was completely drained.

“I know you’re real and powerful God, but where are you?” I remember thinking.

The prayer service message that night was all about oppression, mental and physical bondage and how our spirits are affected by these things. As the prayer director spoke, I realized I was the person who needed to hear the message.

“What an odd coincidence,” I remember thinking. But now I know it was a divine appointment.

When the message concluded, there was an opportunity for prayer and worship before we were dismissed. That’s when I felt a tug on my heart as if God was saying, “Go ask for prayer” – so I went to the alter. As the prayer director began to pray over me, she motioned for an intercessor to join us. The girl who assisted didn’t know my story, but immediately said words I’ll never forget, “God wants to know He hears your cries. You think He’s not listening; but He hears you, and He loves you. He calls you His precious daughter.”

After the young intercessor spoke, the prayer director placed her hand on my forehead and prayed for God to break the hold of spiritual oppression and restore my joy. Suddenly, I was overcome with an immediate feeling of immense love and joy. It struck me so hard and so fast that I felt like I might stagger backwards during the prayer, and that’s when the giggles started — and I couldn’t stop. During prayer, happiness overpowered me and the silly giggles increased into laughter. I felt the love of the Father completely engulf me, sweeping away the pain and the darkness that I have suffered from for so many years.

When the prayer ended, I realized I was a different person. My anxiety disorder was gone and peace had replaced it. I undeniably know that God loves me. I will never question His love for me again. For the first time in my life, I have learned to trust with my whole heart.

Thank you for reading to my story, and I hope it has encouraged you.

Praise You in the Storm

I write this blog post, feeling strongly someone may need a word of encouragement while walking through the desert today…

The saying is true that life can be a series of mountain peaks and valleys.  In fact, many times, I find myself in some sort of valley instead of sitting upon the mountain top; and I’ve heard people ask, “How can you believe in God when your life turns upside down?  If He’s real, why would He let these things happen?” After all, my husband and I have had a lot happen to us in recent years: deaths of parents, witnessing one deteriorate mentally; financial crisis, almost the point of ruin; emotional distress and oppression, straining our marriage; and physical sickness — just to name a few. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

One simple truth is my bedrock in moments of trial, pain, and sadness.  He never promises life won’t be hard, but He is always sovereign.  How can I turn against the One who knows my steps before I take them and knows the stars by name?  My pain is His pain.  Yes, I truly believe He cries with us when we are stricken with grief and sorrow; but at the same time, the mantle I’ve been given leads to victory.  “Then Jesus wept.” – John 11:35 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” – Romans 8:28

In my life, He has proved Himself worthy to be trusted over and over again, no matter how small my faith is in the moment of weakness and pain.  I’ve learned without question the most desperate moments which cause me to fall to my knees, knowing I can’t walk another step, is exactly when He miraculously and undeniably shows up.  He never fails to arrive just in time.  Like a knight on a white horse, he scoops me from the ground and carries me to safety.  How can I reject my faithful Lord who has never failed me?  In His mercy, He protects me.  If I trust Him to take the burden, His peace surrounds me.  As a wise man once said, “God will never let you see the battle without first giving you the victory.”  Besides, what is there in this life to be afraid of?  Even if I die, He has conquered death. “O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” – 1 Corinthians 15:55

Struggles of this life ebb and flow like the tides, but His love and grace is constant.

“Oceans (Where feet may fail)” YouTube video by Hillsong United