Get back up.

I had a moment tonight at the gym. For so many it might have been a defeating moment. I’ve been working out a lot this year and I feel healthier than ever. I’m stronger than ever. Between running, weight lifting, kettle bells, and eating decently (I still like the occasional soda and brownie…). And finally my hard work is paying off. Its an amazing feeling looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing your improvements. Its amazing when other people notice it as well.

Tonight while at the gym, I was pushing hard. I intensely did kettle bells- squats, swings, and dead lifts for about 40 minutes. Despite the gym still being packed, I was in the zone. In between my kettle bells I would do sets of 10 squat jumps. I decided tonight to increase the height to around 2 feet. I just started doing these jumps about a month ago and I am improving every time. But tonight my worst fear in doing box jumps occurred. After about 45 minutes of my circuit, going back and forth between kettle bells and jump squats, I went to do a jump and my foot got caught on the step, I think, or maybe I misjudged the step. But I came down crashing HARD. Like bruised my shin badly and almost busted my face hard. My legs were basically at muscle fatigue. They felt like jello. I regained myself and breathed for a moment. I thought, for a second, “did anyone see that?” and praying nobody did. Then I laughed. It was a simple yet profound moment for me. I could have stopped. I could have gone home to ice my shin right away…it was swelling and turned into a nasty bruise pretty quickly. I could have, but I didn’t. I didn’t want that to be how my workout ended.

I didn’t want to end in defeat.

I got back up from the floor, reset the equipment, and told myself I needed to do 5 more box jumps perfectly before I could be done. I ended up doing 7 I think. Why does that matter? Because sometimes, often really, in life we fall. We will crash. We might bust our face or our shin or simply our pride. It is so so easy to let the difficulties or failures or our our footing become something that defeats us. And even more, we let the voices of others bring the same shame or defeat. We might get mocked or laughed at while in the midst of difficulty or failure. Others might look at us with concern but do nothing to help. Like I said, it is so very easy to look at what has happened, or see our mistakes or look upon failure as a sign to stop, give up, give in, or quit.

Friend let me tell you this. Do not quit. Don’t give up. If you are going through a major difficulty, something out of your control, breathe. Find people to help you along the way. But if you are going through a failure or a mistake, something you can control, stop sitting on the floor looking at your bruises. Stop seeing the defeat before you. And get back up. There might be people mocking you. There might be the nay-sayers in your life that tell you that “you can’t”. There might be the people who laugh at your. Don’t be discouraged by those voices. Be encouraged by the only voice that actually matters: God. He loves you massively. He adores you. When you make a mistake, when you sin, when you fail, he does not see you as defeated. He sees you as human yet fully capable in him. I’ll be even more honest tonight. Recently I have had conversations with friends of mine, a few specific incidents actually, where the person slipped up and made some mistakes and poor choices. There might be tangible consequences- the symbolic bruise or busted face- but they made a choice or mistake. The conversations I have had with a few of those individuals are ones where they speak of such shame and defeat and believe that in no way could God love them. I remember feeling such shame and defeat. I remember thinking that I was too messed up for God to love me. I also remember the feeling of freedom when I finally, truly received God’s love, on more than one occasion…my metaphorical getting back up.

You see, our walk of faith is not unlike that of fitness and health. You don’t just arrive at being healthy and fit. You work at it every day. You work on form, increase weight or intervals overtime, increase distance, and more. You choose to make better choices and even some sacrifices. You choose to pursue it. And like me tonight, when you make a mistake and end up hurting yourself, or sin or disobey, you have a choice. You can continue to wallow in whatever the mistake was and be defeated by it, or you can get back up and keep working on it, even with your bruises. You might make the mistake again. You might fall again. But you keep trying. God is by your side cheering you on. Ignore the voices that oppose his. Whatever you might be struggling with, choose to keep pressing forward. Choose to keep pushing. Your faith is a journey of daily becoming closer to God and stronger in him, just like when we workout. Overtime, you’ll begin to see your hard work and faithfulness pay off and then you’ll be able to look at the journey and see from where you came.

Settling for Hagar.

It is amazing when we can gain perspective on some things in our lives when we allow ourselves to be humbled and process what God is doing. Recently, I have had the story of Abraham and Sarah on my heart and it continues to come back up time and again. When the same Biblical stories and themes keep repeating in my life whether through sermons at church, conversations, or even posts I see online, I choose to believe that God is speaking and trying to tell me something. Maybe even confirm something I’ve already considered.

In case you aren’t sure, I want to summarize the story. Abraham and Sarah were a couple, essentially the founders of the Jewish and Christian faiths, their story found in Genesis. Abraham was a man of faith, a man obedient to God and his leading. Abram was also an old man and Sarah was an old woman. They lived in a world where your legacy was absolutely contingent on leaving children to continue the family line. Yet they were barren. That’s what makes the story so powerful. One evening, Abraham was praying and God told him to step outside and view the stars. If you have ever seen a perfectly clear night full of stars with no clouds, pollution, or lights from elsewhere, then you know how breathtaking it can be. Abraham was told by God to count the stars for they would number his children. God told him that he and Sarah would conceive a child and he’d father the nations. Can you imagine Abraham hearing such a promise, that he’d be a father at his age? His wife even laughed. But because they were faithful and truly believed God and his words and leading, they trusted and believed that promise.

But the promise didn’t come immediately.

They had to wait, and wait, and wait for the promise of God to come to fruition. They had to be patient. They probably had to fight the worries or fears of having misheard God, or the doubts of the promise being real, or the desire to just give up. At one point they did actually waver. Though Abraham, was deemed a man of tremendous faith all throughout the New Testament, he did waver in trusting God’s timing of the promise of a son. He didn’t waver on the promise itself. He believed God was true. But after years of waiting for the promise, he decided to try to help God out, so it seems. Sarah, had a maidservant named Hagar, and decided that since she was so old and barren, that Abraham could use Hagar instead to create an heir. I have to believe that there was a sense of desperation and impatience and even failure on Sarah’s side. I don’t know any women that would want to share their husband with someone else. I think she was desperate for the promise to be fulfilled that she, and Abraham, looked for the promise their own way. That was what Hagar was…a substitute to the promise God gave. Abraham slept with Hagar and had a son named Ishmael. Though God still used the story of Hagar and Ishmael for other things, it was not the promise God gave to Abraham and Sarah when he told them his descendants would be as the stars. Their compromise of the promise caused some major issues. But eventually they were back on track and trusted God’s true timing for their son, who would eventually be born and named Isaac. It was through that genetic line that we have the stories of David, Mary, Jesus…the promise that brought far beyond what they could have imagined.

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And that’s the part of the story that has stuck with me for months. How often do we feel like God has promised something to us? I’m not talking something shallow or cheap. It could mean that you believe God has promised you reconciliation in your marriage, a job, a child, physical healing, or whatever else. I can speak from experience, especially in recent years, what it feels like to compromise the promise of Isaac by choosing Ishmael. When we try to force God’s timing on things, when try to make things happen that are outside of God’s leading and direction, we are doing exactly what Abraham and Sarah did with Hagar and Ishmael. We thus choose to believe that our ways are better than God’s and our forced timing is better than his purpose. When we choose to compromise things, especially if it is a compromise counter to God’s heart and direction, not only are we disobedient, we are arrogant in thinking we know better than God. And I can absolutely attest from my own experience, that that sort of pride is one that is very dangerous. It doesn’t mean you don’t love God, but it means you aren’t obedient. Abraham and Sarah were humbled and brought back to a place of obedience to God and his direction and leading in their lives. They chose to be redeemed from their poor choices, and live, once again, in obedience and trust and faithfulness to God who knew far better than they did and whose plans ultimately were far better than they could have imagined.

Friend, stranger, whoever you are reading this. I know what its like to hold onto something dearly and truly believe that God has given you that promise. Don’t give up. But even more, don’t try to make it happen in your own way. Don’t try to get a substitute for God’s plan and promise for you. Waiting sucks, there is no way around that. But the pain of going after something not of God is far worse and can lead you down ways you’d never want to go. Trust God’s leading. Trust God’s timing. And trust that God, who tremendously loves you, has far more for you than you can imagine. Be faithful, be patient, be obedient to God. When God shows up and does what he has promised, it will be far greater than you can imagine, and it will be so good that only he can get the credit.

Waiting for the promise of Isaac is worth it.

Intentional

Apparently my word for this season of my life has become “intentional”. I got to a point recently where I wanted to not only be someone who makes determined decisions and behaviors, but to do so in a way that betters me as a person, a cop, a friend, a woman, a Christian and so on. I began to realize something in my life, that despite being somewhat intentional with many things, I was still missing a lot of intentionality with who I am as a Christian.

At some point over the busyness and distractions of the past couple of years, I lost a lot of the intentionality of my faith. As much as I loved going to church and learning about God, I was also beginning to lower God on my list of priorities…he was no longer my number one. Now granted, I did even realize I had been doing that. My discipline for reading the Bible became minimal, my prayer journaling was limited, and I began to see the effects of my lack of discipline in my relationship with God affect the other areas of my life. It was a slow but sure compromise of placing other things before God. By no means did I walk away from God or decide to not serve him. But I definitely chose to place other things ahead of God in my life, and when anything goes before God, it becomes an idol.

Despite God doing some amazing things in my life the past few years, I have done plenty of stupid or selfish and even sinful things that got in the way of what God was wanting to continue. God gave me an amazing job, incredible church, and wonderful community. God opened so many doors that it became clear that he was leading me in certain directions. But life is funny sometimes, when we begin to place things before God, our stupid self gets in the way. I learned the hard way in a few areas of my life. Like I said, I didn’t even realize at the time that I was removing God from being my number one. So I decided to start again.

It took my heart being broken to show me how misaligned my life was getting. After going through the initial steps moving on from the relationship and actually realizing I was thankful for the breakup, I realized I wanted to get back to a point where I loved God more than anything else. But just like someone who has gained weight over time, you just don’t go back to being fit and healthy fast. There are no good gimmicks that work. It takes effort, discipline, and intention to get to a healthy point. For me I felt like some decisions, behaviors, and distractions in my life became things that removed God as my priority and deeply affected my relationship with God, and that needed to change. I had to decide I wanted to love God more. It wasn’t a feeling many times. It was a choice to choose to love God, or not, and be committed to it. I chose to get back into the habit of daily reading the Bible and applying it to my life. I chose to get back to the habit of writing in my prayer journal again. I had to choose to spend time in prayer with God even when I didn’t feel it. There were many times over this past season that I was not feeling anything but brokenness. There were many times over this past season that I had to deal with a variety of emotions, many of which were not ones that made me want to spend time in prayer, reading the Bible or journaling. But let me clear on this: I KNOW I love God and made that decision years ago to live my life for him. I also KNOW that I made a ton of mistakes and selfishness that messed with that relationship. Look at it like any marriage…God has always been constant and faithful and yet I was the one that was wandering, inconsistent and lacking love. A marriage is significant and should be treated as something worth fighting for…that’s how I look at my relationship with God. I knew I committed to him and that he loved me despite my lack at times. So because of the fact that I KNEW I loved God, I also knew that I had to make conscious decisions to choose to love him again.

So becoming intentional became my discipline. I spent time with God. I spent time with godly people who wiser than me and could hold me accountable to living well for God. I stepped back from toxic people, removed toxic behaviors, and have felt such relief in doing so. At the beginning of this year, I even did a 21 day fast, limiting my food intake solely because of my job (instead of doing a full food fast). But that fast was such a great way for God to work in me after months of intentionally pursuing him. That fast was like a moment of a victory. It was a way to solidify some things: 1) God loved me and always has, 2) I am redeemed despite being stupid and selfish and sinful at times (many times!), 3) I am valued by God regardless of what others say or do, 4) I am madly in love with God again and hate knowing that for about a year I loved many others things way more than him, 5) good community is key in having a solid relationship with God, and 6) that the story isn’t even near over.

Whether you are solid in your relationship with God or really struggling, know that God loves you tremendously and will not leave you. No matter how far you might have turned and walked from God, you are redeemable. Don’t for a minute let the lies and voices of the Devil or others make you think otherwise. You are redeemable, loved, and purposed. Whatever your story looks like, start now. Pursue God now. Be intentional. It is the best adventure and journey I have ever been on in my life. And the peace I have now on the other side of being somewhat lost…and its an amazing feeling.

When God breaks your heart

Its amazing getting to a point where you are actually thankful for something bad or painful having happened in your life. That’s where I am.

Over the past few years I have had some major life-changing things happen, good and bad, that have radically changed the direction of my life. I have written about many of those things before. But every single one of them have led me to where I am now. Every major life-altering event in my life has brought me to a place where I trust God in the process and want whatever happens to be so good, that only he can get the credit. Anything else is less than his best for me.
I definitely used to not be like that.

There was a period in my life when I had received hundreds of job rejections…talk about one of the most defeating seasons of my life. Nobody wanted to hire me. Even Walmart denied my application. I mean, seriously? Who knew that was a thing. I was applying to jobs in countries that no one was volunteering for and here I was even getting rejected for stupid or unexplainable reasons. I got a point with job stuff that I was so frustrated and angry that I flippantly told God, “fine, you make it happen!” There was no way I knew it at the time, but that became my anthem. That phrase and prayer became the very prayer I have prayed with everything major that has happened since. That prayer is what led me in choosing my career now in law enforcement. God made it happen and only he gets the credit. But to get to that point I had to go through a lot of frustration and rejection.

When it came to dating over the years, I have had my heartbroken too many times. For anyone who reads my blogs regularly, you might have noticed the recent ones on a theme overcoming a breakup. If you would have told me even just a few months ago that I would be where I am now, I would not have believed you. God is so amazing like that. That relationship was most certainly not meant to be. That relationship was one that was not God’s best for either of us. And it was full of its own mess. I was far too stubborn to listen to what I actually knew. I was far too comfortable with dating the good guy, that I was disregarding that God has a best for each of us, not just a good. In retrospect, I knew it wasn’t what God had for me. I knew it early on and ignored myself and God’s leading. But the guy ended things with me and it tore me up for a bit. It took that breakup and what God has taught me since, that compromising or settling for good instead of God’s great, will always be heartbreaking. I can say that about my other relationships too. God has shown me over the years how beautiful his redemption is in the wake of our mess.

So many times over these years, whether it be boy problems, job issues, or other struggles, my heart broke. So many of those jobs might have been great but if I had taken any of those rejections, I would not be where I am now in my field. Every single guy I have dated and every single time my heart was crushed, I was kept from that relationship for some reason. Now mind you, in the moments following disappointments and heartaches, nothing feels good or peaceful. There is an agony or pain that comes with broken dreams. But maybe, just maybe, that dream wasn’t even our best dream and God wanted to show us far better. I mean he tells us in scripture that “he is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine…”

What if we began to live our lives in the wake of difficulty, heartache, and disappointment not in brokenness and despair, but in trust that the God who said he loves us had better for us? I can look back at some specific things in my life and see something major: when God broke my heart, it actually set me free. I may not have noticed it right away or have even been thankful. But I have to believe that God has been at work in my life in even the simplest of ways and he is doing something still. Those jobs or relationships that he might have spared me from, those things that were good but not great, or good but maybe not godly. Those things, things that the God who created me knew were not what he had dreamt of for me. He wants to do good things, amazing things in our lives, but so many times we get in his way. We sin, we live selfishly, we make mistakes, we settle. But God loves us so tremendously that he would rather break our heart or close a door, then continue to allow us to go down road that isn’t best for us, especially if its sinful or pulling us away from him.

Its not about necessarily having tangible things either. Its not about prosperity…hear me when I say it is not about prosperity. Its about living in the way that best honors God in your own life in the everyday. That can be in your job, friendships, relationship, and everything in between. We get to live in a way that can bring honor to God. God has done some amazing things in my life. The best moments have all been ones that came from trust and faith in him, trusting his will and leading in my life. Everything else has been a counterfeit, a substitute, a mistake, and/or a lesson hopefully learned. Whoever you are reading this, maybe, just maybe, step out in a faith and trust that God has more for you than you could dare to imagine.

Perspective

I am going to be vulnerable in this post. Let’s be honest, if you have ever read any of my posts, you know I am pretty candid. I recently had a moment of really bad and even incorrect perspective. A dear friend of mine, that I served as a bridesmaid for, posted her wedding photos online. The wedding was a few months ago. I felt glamorous the day of the wedding despite some dress malfunctions. At the same time, personally I was going through some really rough things, all of which I tried to keep from the bride so not to worry her during the wedding week. I was in a wedding and visiting home single after a rough breakup with the man I had started to plan my life with. Financially I was hit with a few rough things. Physically, I was struggling with the dress just not fitting right because my body decided to do its own thing despite my efforts. Outwardly, I felt glamorous…like 1950s classic glamor. Inwardly, I was struggling to hold myself together. Before you ask, that bride and I discussed this after the wedding. I was honest with her in my struggle. Since that week, three months ago, I’ve slowly but surely been recovering from the many things I was facing during that week. None of those problems have been completely fixed, but God has most certainly been bringing healing to my broken heart, discipline to my lifestyle in areas needed, financial breakthrough in areas of worry. Then I saw the pictures and those feelings came rushing back in force. It was actually only two of the pictures. Two pictures that, in my opinion, were bad angles paired with a dress that didn’t fit right and some resurfaced self-image issues. In those two pictures my arms and face looked fat, I look easily 30-40 pounds heavier than I actually am, my smile was weird (I was unfortunately faking a lot of my smiles that week due to my being emotionally a wreck yet trying to be solid and strong for my friend). My tan lines were showing. My hair looked like a bird’s nest. Those pictures brought back to me the terrible feelings I was struggling with not just that week, but the last 6 months. Those pictures were a reminder for me of the many times I have faked a smile so people wouldn’t ask me if I was okay which prevented me from crying. Those pictures were a reminder for me of the fact that I was single at that wedding without the date I was planning on showing off to my friends because we were wanting to get married. Those pictures were a reminder that there are still days that I feel like I’m getting nowhere with weight control/loss, strength training, and overall being healthy. Those pictures were a reminder for me of the many many lies that the devil (who I absolutely, wholeheartedly believe is real) has been telling me since my breakup. Those pictures were all encompassing of every flaw I see in myself, every bit of hurt, every bit of heartache, every bit of doubt, every moment I battled the feelings of rejection. Every tear, every hurt, every lie.

Its the wrong perspective. The Devil loves helping you see things with poor vision and bad perspective. Sometimes our vision can be skewed by whatever we face and we forget the truth.

Honestly it is probably more than just sometimes. We need a reminder of something else, something greater, something far better than we can imagine. There is no denying that crap happens that we cannot control. After seeing those pictures, I was struggling a bit, feeling as though everything was so fresh and raw again. I finally sat and prayed that night and the next morning…for so many things. I reached out to a few friends. I got some advice I needed, some I didn’t. But I definitely got prayer. After having some time praying, my prayer on Thanksgiving morning was to really embrace everything God has for me. To be the woman he has created me to be. I was reminded that morning to ignore the lies that devil whispers and to listen to God’s voice. I was reminded that God has redeemed me and everything the Devil likes to bring up against me. I was reminded that we can choose to view things as destructive and continue to let them have a hold on us. I was reminded that I am my own worst critic; I am a perfectionist and I think OCD as well. Those two pictures were not perfect. They are ones I don’t want to see on a wall anywhere. But what was funny, later in the day, the bride posted a few more pictures, this time, I felt differently. The angles were better, I felt like I looked beautiful. It was redeeming. For me, it was God’s way of affirming his deep love for me. It was the same dress, same location, same photographer. Basically everything was the same, I just felt better about those pictures. You may be reading this and think its stupid, and thats fine. For me, it was a big deal. I re-gained the right perspective in a way that I was able to see myself in a better light. I was able to see past everything I had felt that week, and the last 6 months, and see myself through fresh eyes. Though it was as if my vision was only blurry temporarily, my vision now is ever clear.

Whatever you face, whatever your struggle, allow God to be alongside you. His whisper will drown out the Devil’s. His voice will overreach the other noises. He will show you his plans for your life. He will restore and redeem you not only from your past, but from yourself. Like I said, we are often our own worst offender. He will give us eyes to see everything in not just a new way, but his way.

The legacy left…

This week has caused a lot of sobering and humbling moments to remind me of some important things in life. My heart sank last week when I heard the news that Hugh Hefner passed away. I don’t grieve because he was a great man. I don’t grieve because the porn industry lost their icon. I grieve because a man died after living a life that has nothing eternal to show for it. My heart sank on Monday morning after hearing the news of Las Vegas. I grieved because lives were taken and lost. I grieved because people were faced with eternity. You might ask why I mention two very different situations- the death of an old man and a mass shooting.

I have spent many moments this week just praying and asking God for direction and understanding of how to process all of this. I am sure if I did my research I would find more lives taken and lost around this world. I would find more stories of people having lived very different lives all with the same outcome- death. In the wake of all the loss of life, beginning when I heard the news of Hugh Hefner’s death, my heart has been stirring one big question: what legacy will I leave behind when I die? We each will meet our end. We each will die, some of old age, some of diseases, some of accidents, and some of tragedy. But we will all die. Death is something scary that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. And honestly, I might talk more about it in a different blog. What I want to focus on in this post is more what we leave behind.

Hugh Hefner built an empire. He launched the adult and pornography industry to be what it is today. From having young women dress in bunny costumers working in a casino to having orgies being filled, he crafted the adult industry to be one of the biggest industries in the world. He is an icon of adult entertainment. Or should I say, was. You see, all the money he made and the industry he built means nothing. When he died, he didn’t get to take his favorite Playboy bunny. He didn’t get to take any of his favorite videos, calendars, or pictures with him beyond the grave. Hefner built a legacy, but not all legacies are good. His legacy has been one of the main reasons men and women, girls and boys, are dealing with addiction to pornography, sexual promiscuity, sexual experimentation, self-image issues, broken marriages, and more. His legacy is one that became the gateway for sin to become normalized in our world through sex. Sex is a beautiful thing created by God for us to experience in marriage. Yet that was hijacked by Hefner and the many others who have built their kingdoms of this design. His death for me is very, very sad. His death to me is a reminder that not all people turn from their own way of living- unless that happened in his final moments. His death to me is one that reminds me that I have work to do as a believer in the redemption of Jesus Christ. You see, Hefner could have been saved. He could have in his final breath had a “come to Jesus” moment. Even if he did, the only thing left behind is the memory of the way he lived: sexualizing and objectifying women and men through pornography. Left behind are the women of the mansion who were mere playthings. Left behind are the millions of porn addicts. Left behind are the broken marriages.

I also see people like the many heroes of the Las Vegas shooting…the people who stepped up and saved lives knowing that their own life might be lost. I don’t know their stories or even the number of people. But the idea is there that those people chose to put others first and love them before their self. Many of the survivors, if not all of them, will never be the same. Their lives are changed because of the shooting. I am sure we will see more stories to come.

My point friends is that we never know when our lives will end or how we will die. We don’t know and we cannot plan for it. But we can plan on two things: live with a certainty of eternity with Jesus Christ and living in a way to honor him. You see, we all build a kingdom of our own. We all live our lives. We make choices and intentional decisions. When we die, we will leave a legacy behind. We have the choice to live by building a kingdom not for ourselves, but one that reflects the heart of Jesus in the everyday. You see when we live for him, we love others well. When we live for him, we leave a legacy of love, compassion, truth, integrity, character, forgiveness, redemption, and more. We won’t be perfect. But I can tell you this, that when I die, however I die, I pray that people remember me not because of something I created or built, but how I lived and loved others. I don’t want to remembered for the great things I have done, my degrees, my accomplishments, my selfishness, my lust, my bad choices, my mistakes, or my failings. I am far from perfect. But I want to be remembered for more than any those things, good or bad. I have reconciled with the fact that I am in a dangerous career and there is a chance my end could come while doing my job. I reconciled that a long time ago when doing missions work as well. I want to live my life reflecting Jesus so well, that people see Him in me more than they see me. I want to love God with all that am and everything that I have so that when I die and meet my end, whenever that is, that I leave behind the greatest legacy of all: that Jesus came to redeem us all. So I ask you, look at your life. If met with eternity today, what kind of legacy would you leave?

Piercing through tragedy

Today, I think we as a nation grieve. I have seen post after post from people regarding the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Every new update causes me to grieve more. For the last day, I have struggle to find the words to say and things to share that can adequately show my grief and brokenness. And that’s where I leave it…brokenness. The tragedy of the shooting is more than the lives that were lost or the people who were hurt. The tragedy of the shooting is more than an evil act. Facts of the incident are still coming in and we won’t have all the details for probably a while. And yet the facts we do have don’t bring comfort and the questions still unanswered still bring concern and pain. The majority of the posts I have seen online state something along the lines of praying for victims all the while asking the question of “why?” which remains unanswered.

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But if I may, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on this tragedy as well as an idea of how to move forward.

Every survivor and every victim’s family and every first responder that night will never be the same again because of the shooting. Their lives are forever changed. Tragedy is awful, painful, and no one can truly bring the right form of comfort to someone in grief like this. No amount of politics, church, counseling, or anything else can change the past and the wounds that happened or the lives that were lost. I won’t pretend to tell you that moving on is easy. Though I have gone through personal tragedies, I have never experienced anything like surviving something like this shooting. This is what I do know: that in the wake of another tragedy, the Columbine High School shooting, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. It was out of that darkness, that I came to life in Jesus. So friend, if I can offer you any comfort, let me say that God is not absent in the midst of even the darkest days. He is not hiding and he is not silent. God is grieving with each every person grieving this tragedy. He grieves the lives taken and the lives changed. A common question asked after a tragedy is how a loving God can allow for this to happen. Honestly I don’t fully understand tragedy and the why it happens, but I do know that God gave us free will to choose to live how we want, which in turn means some people, many actually, choose to live in evil ways. And its in those evil ways- sin- that these sort of tragedies happen. But just as some choose to live in sin and evil, some choose to rise out of it.

So when tragedy happens, God is still present.

God is present in the midst of the gunfire as police officers run toward the sounds of gunfire as others run away. God is present in the nurses and doctors and EMTs that strive to save and help as many lives as possible. God is present in the stranger who jumps on top of another to shield them from the piercing rounds. God is present in the people using their vehicles and the concert rails in order to shuffle wounded and others to safety. You see in the midst of the darkness, we tend to see people- often we call them heroes- rise above differences, agendas, and then do something powerful: love thy neighbor, even if that neighbor is a stranger.

We still need to each personally choose to live for God or not. We still need to choose on how we want to live and love him. But I believe that in the midst of tragedy and darkness, God’s image that is in each and every one of us, can be revealed. God’s image that was created in each of us at our beginning, is one that reflects his heart. You see when we love others, when we care for them, when we tend to the wounded and hurting, when we sacrifice, and when we count the cost such sacrifices, we reveal God’s heart for us. God loves us all tremendously. God loves us so much that he made the greatest sacrifice in the world for us just so we can choose to love him (or not). I believe in the Devil and believe he wants only destruction for us, so when we face tragedy or difficulties, we only see the bad. But friend I challenge you, that as we are in the wake of the worst mass shooting in our country’s history, to not only see the bad. See that God was and is present. See that God is here for you, for me, for them, to show us that he redemptive, and healing, and full of hope. Every story I have seen since the shooting, have been ones that reveal God showing up through people. As the gunman shot into the crowd piercing them with deadly rounds, God pierced through the tragedy with His love. The devil doesn’t win this. Evil doesn’t get the victory here.

This world is redeemable. You are redeemable. There is hope through Him.

Living the Sermon on the Mount…

I remember years ago while I was in college I had a religion professor make a statement that has sort of stuck with me since. He was preaching on a portion of the Sermon on the Mount and frankly I can’t even tell you which portion. But I remembered he passionately declared this: “The sermon on the Mount should, at some point, offend you…where the Spirit of God arrests your heart because you are living in direct opposition to it.” It was powerful and convicting and has been something I have thought often about ever since that chapel day. I studied the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe you’re unfamiliar with it. If you have the time, which I would recommend making the time, read Matthew 5-7. Let me set the stage for you. Jesus is becoming a known a speaker all over the land of Israel. People are recognizing his name. People are talking about him. People are gathering everywhere he went because there was something about the things he said. Jesus was in the Galilean region roaming all over the region encountering people. There’s a hilltop that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, now called the Beatitudes. This hilltop was setting for this sermon. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the location because they heard Jesus would be speaking. I imagine it was a clear and beautiful day. I’ve been to this place and it truly is stunning. The crowds gathered. Then Jesus spoke. The things Jesus said were not the popular voice. They were countercultural and often counter religion. They were statements that stirred the people to seek God and ways of honoring him instead of man. The statements were radical. And the people listened. Jesus spoke of forgiving those who have hurt you, of watching your eyes from lust, of redemption, of caring for the poor, of the damages of pride, of faith. Ultimately everything Jesus said was said with purpose to show people something simply profound: that with living in such a way, it goes beyond being religious, it goes beyond being good, and instead brings you a place where we can strive to be holy and God honoring in every facet of our lives. The Sermon on the Mount was not just a radical message 2000 years ago. It is the same radical message today that causes controversy not because its not true, but because we are innately selfish beings and living in a God-honoring way is harder than living in a self-pleasing way. The message Jesus spoke should convict us. It should offend us, as my professor said, because at some point we aren’t living well to one or more of the things he discussed. Maybe it offends you because you actually hate someone, maybe someone who has hurt you, but Jesus says to forgive and not seek revenge. Maybe this sermon offends you because you do lust and allow your eyes to look at people in such a way that your heart is already unfaithful. Maybe this offends you because you know you are prideful. Maybe it offends you because you are like the Pharisees- the religious people of that day- because you are really good at religion but don’t actually know Jesus, and the very thought of admitting that maybe you’ve focused so much on being good and not being godly is offensive. Jesus is our hope. He spoke that message that day knowing that we would fail, knowing that our sin nature would be something that we would daily have to overcome. His forgiveness and redemption are for us. So be hopeful because Jesus loves you. He died for you. And he wants to redeem you. If the Sermon on the Mount offends you, look honestly at yourself and what is the actual offensive part. Maybe, just maybe, its offensive because God is trying to convict you- trying to arrest your heart- to help bring you into something better and more God honoring. God doesn’t convict us without offering hope. Jesus is our hope. He is our hope for everything we face.

Below are a few thoughts I have on the messages of the Sermon on the Mount. Take the time to read Matthew 5-7 as well. Maybe just maybe God has something he wants to share with you…

-“Blessed are the…” Jesus was giving everyone an opportunity to see his Love and purpose, in order that God would be glorified.

-“You are the salt and light of the earth..” Jesus was calling his followers to a higher standard, so that he would be seen by all men. Our lives are a reflection of our belief.

-Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not remove it, a misconception by many. We are to serve him through the Word. This leads to righteousness. So read the Bible and do what it says.

-Jesus spoke against hatred, no matter who it is directed to because hatred is the equivalent of murder. Nothing about hatred is good.

-Lust is as bad as adultery. It is adultery of the heart. All temptation that leads to lust must be removed- “tear it out and throw it away”.

-Jesus also took a moment to share the sacredness of marriage. He understood that it is not easy, but he stood on the side of restoration. Marriage is the best example on earth as to how to live like Christ in relationship.

-Yes or No…simply put. Jesus was telling the people, as well as us, that we must honor him by honoring commitments. Be a person of your word. The rest is sin and evil.

-Revenge and retaliation often seem like the best choice. Yet Jesus said to be a better example of Love by not acting against those who hurt you.

-Pray for all people, especially those that have hurt you, made your life miserable, wounded you…that leads us to God’s perfection, which is holy. It is healing for us to pray and to forgive.

-Be cautious of pride, especially when serving others. Everything you do, do it to honor God not men. Have the mentality: “its not about me”

-Jesus taught about prayer…its reverence, thankfulness, devotion, and intimacy with God. And fasting is about your relationship with God.

-Whatever you treasure and value will show in your life. If that is not God, others will also see that your heart and life is not for him.

-Jesus said to stop worrying or being anxious. Trust God and have faith. Seek his righteousness and he will be with you.

-Jesus was the only perfect person, so do not judge others. He simply wants your life to reflect him, working through your weaknesses. And to be clear Jesus is not saying avoid accountability or correction.

-Jesus said that God wants to bless you, but often we ask things with false motives or skewed perspective. Serve him first above all else.

-Your relationship with God will have good fruit, evidence of your life following Christ, or bad fruit, evidence of your owns ways. Its either/or not both.

-Jesus spoke of a house built on a foundation…Jesus is our foundation and our rock. If he is our foundation, then nothing we go through in this world can destroy us.

The company you keep

The past few months I have been able to really think hard and long about some things. I have been able to sit and pray about some major things in my life. Since the beginning of summer, I have been processing my own grief of a loss of a relationship, dealing with financial issues, going to weddings, making it to my one year at my job, and so many things in between. I have spent more time in prayer the past three or four months, than in recent years. Its amazing how life hits you in the face with something bad and you just have to take the hit. Bruised and bleeding you get hit again. And you keep going forward even if you’re limping, breathing hard, or stumbling to find your way, you keep moving forward. I began this year thinking it’d be one of the greatest years of my life. God had answered so many prayers of mine and it seemed like my life finally found favor. Dreams were coming true. It seemed like everything was on this track. Then things happened.

My job is difficult sometimes. Often actually. I made the determination to be an officer who stays in shape, makes necessary sacrifices, and lives above reproach; theres too much negativity in this world to give anyone an opportunity to discount me in my job. Yet, since becoming an officer my friendships have changed dramatically. So many have walked away from me, people I never expected, simply because of the uniform I now wear. Guys think I’m either too manly for them or in too risky of a job for them. I’ve been harassed on Facebook for taking on this calling. I’m cussed out everyday and threatened regularly (though often by drunks who will fail to remember such threat upon sobering up). I’ve been spit on, bit, kicked, and thank God nothing worse so far. Ask any LEO, they probably share similar perspective. I have discovered that I love my job, but it can be isolating in ways unexpected. It can be lonely.

My personal life has radically been altered this year. From meeting a man I had convinced myself I would marry…to having it abruptly end with little explanation. Dreams shattered and my heart broken on the ground. Having your heart break in such a way was new for me and I would never wish it on anyone. And yet feeling isolated all the more because so many people tell me to hate him, when I don’t hate him at all. Moving on from that…was and is such a process. All the while, I see so many relationships and marriages around me, especially at work, so broken and sad, many full of endorsements of infidelity, pornography, lust, and vulgarity. And regardless of my heartbreak, I am thankful that my story was not one like that. Beyond the relationship ending, I thought this year would be the change also for me financially. Of course in the long term, it absolutely has been. But it seems again, that once I start to make headway with my student debt (which I am), I get hit with something else. The past three months, ironically and annoyingly the same timeframe as my breakup, I have discovered the need for hundreds of dollars needed for car maintenance and 2 grand needed for dental issues. Talk about feeling like I can’t seem to catch my breath.

What has been an amazing part of this painful journey is that I have seen the community around me and how much its affected me. I absolutely love my church and am more convinced than ever of the true representation of the Gospel present. I don’t care if you like the music, the style, the preaching…you cannot deny the genuine love of Christ found there. Amidst my breakup, the people- the family- that I have at my church stepped up and were a support system unlike anything I have ever experienced. The sleepless and tearful nights were also ones full of encouraging, consistent, and prayerful texts, Facebook messages, and phone calls. These people have prayed with me, wiped my tears, held me in their arms, and seen me at possibly my worst. They have surrounded me not just with support, but with the Gospel, constantly turning me toward Jesus. I have other friends that have been support from afar, not allowing the distance to hinder their ability to speak life into me at my most desperate. Many of them were the late night texts or phone calls I have received. Many of them were the ones that made the effort to see me when I made a visit home just a few weeks ago. Two girls I was just in a wedding with- girls I had known but not very well- were amazing blessings in my life during a week I truly needed support. They saw through my smile, makeup and my “always the bridesmaids attitude” that I was struggling, and hurt, and sad. They prayed with me and cried with me and allowed me to process with them. I now consider them friends and not just girls I knew from college.

Friend, stranger, whoever you are that is reading this, I want to challenge you with something very important. Be cautious and mindful of the company you keep. We all will go through good and bad seasons. We will all face difficulties, defeats, and despair. But who we choose to be a part of our life, mainly our closer relationships, can determine our attitude despite the outcome. The people we keep closest to us should be ones of understanding that they will influence us. The friendships and community I have now are ones I am beyond grateful for because I saw the company they were to have in the midst of my own storms. Instead of telling me to be angry, resentful, bitter, they have told me to hope, forgive, love, and pray. They taught me to seek Jesus. During this season, I have seen the other kind of company in my life. These are the ones that told me to react in selfish and sinful ways regarding my breakup and to hurt my ex. These are the ones that didn’t show me Christ, didn’t show me love, didn’t point me to truth but instead to the world. We need to be cautious of those we invite to be a part of our stories. We need to be mindful of who we allow access to our lives. I would encourage you to look at your life…what kind of influence are the people around you giving you? Are they drawing you closer to Jesus and to strive for holiness? Or are they possibly one of the influencers that are chipping away at your relationship with God, maybe without even realizing? I can attest to being in a place where, for a season, I allowed poor community and influencers that led me slowly away from God. And I can attest to the amazing love I found in a community of people who all want to be more like Christ. These are not one in the same.

If you are a Christian, be intentional with who you bring into your life. I urge you to strive for community with other believers that you can do life with. Community can make or break our faith. For me, in probably one of the darkest seasons of my life and a time where I felt distant from God, the community of believers I have in my life were the very thing that kept me from breaking. God used these amazing people in my life, literally all over the world, to encourage me, lift me up, pray for me, pray with me, challenge me, and sometimes carry me. I know the company I keep…they are a company of believers that have shown me love and grace. The company I keep showed me the very heart of Jesus.

A fight worth having

Fighting in prayer.

I know this may seem like a foreign concept to some who read this. But I am utterly convinced that prayer is something powerful. Don’t believe me? Read any post on social media about death, tragedy, difficult times…it could be written by anyone, but I guarantee you that the comments will be full of posts of prayers. What I have found is that we, as a Church, don’t fight hard enough in prayer. We will seek God when it gets tough. We will say a quick prayer for a big exam or job interview. We might say a generic prayer before a meal. But do we really know how to fight in prayer?

I am an advocate for prayer. Not just the quickie prayer. But deep focused prayer. Now before you create your own image of how I pray, I am not a 5am, get up early, kneel for 2 hours a day person. Not me. I am a pace around the room, cry, scream, yell, kneel, weep before God prayer person. I am advocate for prayer because I have seen God move and do amazing things by my prayers. God doesn’t need us to pray. He wants us to pray. He wants us to seek him. But sometimes we need to pray. Actually, more than sometimes. As often as we can muster. What I have learned is sometimes we can’t afford to just say the quickie prayer because we had a bad day. Sometimes, we need to have the uncomfortable, painful, messy, moments in prayer in the solitude of our room, or car, or wherever you can find time in prayer alone. Sometimes we need to make ourselves pray, not so we can check a mark on our to-do list as a Christian, but to realize that sometimes we need to seek out God, humble ourselves, but to also fight.

Ephesians 6:12 states “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This is where it gets tricky, especially if you are not a person of faith or religion. This is where it gets awkward if you are a Christian but you don’t know this. Crap happens in our world. Bad things happen. Sin exists. Whether things happen by choice and consequence, or just because, we need to pray. Evil exists because the devil exists. I believe in Satan. And I believe he wants nothing more for you than being exactly who God doesn’t want you to be. He wants you to feel defeated by your own wrongdoing. He wants you to feel destroyed by the bad things of this world. He wants you to feel unworthy because of your sin or mistakes. He wants you to think that God could never forgive or love you. That is the spiritual realm I speak of when I talk of prayer. When we pray, we show the devil that he doesn’t get to decide the things in your life. You get to by seeking God and allowing him to lead your life. When we pray, we are saying “God I need you, I am desperate for you, I am angry and need your help…” and so much more. When we pray we are telling God our problems, our needs, our hurts, our fears, but also of our faith and our hope and our belief that he is going to do what he promised. What I have learned, and then been reminded of recently, is that sometimes, we need to make the time to pray. Make the time to pray for your needs and ask God to provide. Pray until God does something. Pray until you can’t pray anymore. I’m not talking like 30 minutes and you’re done. Do it everyday. Seek him and his will. Seek his direction and clarity. He will not let you down.

Make the time to grieve your sin. GRIEVE YOUR SIN. And then fight against your sin. If we can’t or won’t grieve our sin, then we don’t know Jesus truly and that’s even more of a reason to grieve. This is painful, humbling, heartbreaking. I know this all too well. I had to grieve my sin years ago when I finally admitted to having a porn addiction and problem with lust. I had to grieve that what I was doing was far from honoring God and far from being holy. I have had to do that again since then for other things. I have had to grieve the fact that my behaviors were grieving God. If we can’t be broken for our sin and the things that we do that grieves God, than we do not know him at all. Start with knowing him and surrendering your life to him. And then pray and fight even for God to work in and through you.

Take the time to fight for others in prayer. Don’t just hope someone changes. Don’t just be sad that someone is living in a way that doesn’t honor God. Don’t be unmoved by people, especially those that claim Christ, who continue to live in their sin and not be broken. Be broken for them. Pray for them by name. Pray for them to know God more. Pray for them to encounter Jesus and the forgiveness he offers. I have a list that has names on it that I pray for daily. I have people in my life that I specifically and intentionally pray for because I know God has more for them than they could imagine. Be inconvenienced to pray for others.

Whoever you are and whatever you face, you might need to take the time, or make the time, to really seek God in prayer. But be willing to fight, because the devil doesn’t want you to realize he is a liar and deceiver. He doesn’t want you to know that God can redeem you from your sin. He doesn’t want you to know that God is good. God isn’t intimated by any emotion you could possibly express to him. He isn’t intimated by language, words, worries, fears, or circumstances. He isn’t intimated by your humanity. Just seek him. Weep before him. Grieve your sin. Be broken. Be angry. But be open for him to speak and move boldly in your life.

God will meet you and move in your life.