Steward your influence well

The past few days I have struggled with this concept. I can’t seem to get it out of my head. Even our greatest in leadership are human and many fail. Even if someone doesn’t hold a leadership position, they are a person of influence to someone. Think about it for a second for your own life. Are you a leader in an aspect? Are you someone who others look up to for wisdom, guidance, prayer, and counsel? Are you a person of influence?

You are a person of influence…to someone. You are a person who someone, somewhere looks at. They watch your lifestyle. They observe your postings on social media. You might be their parent. You might be their church leader or pastor. You might be their teacher. You might just be someone a little older than them. But whether you like it or not, you have influence in this world to someone. And my heart is grieved when those with larger audiences ignore the burden of their influence.

It may seem like nothing to you, but what you do matters. What you say matters. How you approach conflict and criticism matters, especially the larger your platform. Friend, whether you’re a pastor of a mega church or a stay at home parent, you need to be held accountable. You need to allow yourself room for someone else to shape you into the best person you can be, especially as a Christian. And to be clear: you don’t have to be a Christian to be a person of influence; my readers just tend to be a lot of pastors. Allow people access to your life to be your accountability; the ones that can be your support system but also the people that will call you on your crap. Allow people to speak life into you even and especially when it seems like little life actually exists. You are human and you will face circumstances that make you want to act out foolishly, take revenge, speak gossip, or whatever else. Choose wisely how you respond even when life isn’t the greatest because someone is watching you. Your kids, your students, your congregants, your neighbors, your siblings and so many others are watching you, especially those of you who profess to be Christians. They are watching to see your response.

Some just fail more loudly than others.

Don’t fail into the trap of social media tirades. Don’t gossip about it especially if you haven’t prayed about it. Everything we do is a point of influence and if we aren’t careful, we might not be influencing others the way we would actually want. I know for me personally, especially as a minister, I am not only a professed Christian, but someone who others come to for counsel, prayer, and wisdom. In my grief, anger, brokenness and anything else I face, I still have a choice to be human and go through the processes I need to without damaging my influence. I firmly believe a huge goal in our lives as Christians is to point people to Jesus with how we live our lives, the good and the bad. One poor social media post, one inappropriate conversation with someone at work, one act lacking integrity, one flirtation with someone married…the list can go on but it comes down to the fact that one thing can destroy credibility, your voice, your influence.

Your influence can always be redeemed. Jesus can redeem anything. But friend, I urge you to be cautious, especially those with the bigger platform of influence. If you mess up, if you sin greatly or publicly, if you destroy everything that was once your influence, that doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Allow accountability again. Allow correction. Be humble. Ask for forgiveness with those you hurt. Whatever your failure might look like, it is redeemable. But you have to want it. If you haven’t messed up greatly, that’s amazing. Steward your influence well. Make the conscious continued choice to live well, to allow yourself to still be refined, to allow yourself to be human, but to also recognize that you are an example to those around you of your beliefs. You get to choose how you respond to things which ultimately shapes your influence.

The best day.

Pictures from the best day of my life so far. Well, sort of. Let me explain briefly. The best day of my life was when I decided to live my life for Jesus. This was the second best day of my life. I’ve prayed for my wedding, but even more prayed for my marriage. So to be able to have a dream wedding with a man far beyond my dreams…oh man. Our wedding was stunning and went smooth. We weren’t stressed. We went hiking. We enjoyed ourselves. Ultimately, our wedding wasn’t what was important; our marriage was. Our marriage was the purpose of the wedding and everything else was just detail. God brought us together and as a bonus we were honored to be able to get married in Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah. What better way to symbolize marriage. You will have highs and lows, joy and sorrow, good and bad. Heck, it rained on our wedding day. It didn’t ruin it for us though. Zion was the perfect way to capture how we felt. A big God loves us so much that he brought us together. And that same God created Zion, created the world around us. I was constantly humbled during our time in Utah and Arizona looking at the landscape. What a beautiful architect to design everything from the smallest to the greatest details. Our wedding was a dream come true. A prayer answered. And just plain fun. Enjoy our pictures. And if you ever want an awesome vacation, check out the National Park Service and visit amazing and breathtaking places like Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and more. Get outside and experience the world around you. And bonus, it’s way more fun to do life with those you love than by yourself. Find your people, your tribe, your love, and go live life well.

(All pictures are compliments of my amazing photographers and dear friends All My Love Photography: Jeff and Joelle Cope.)

A decade.

A decade of prayer, and I’m here. Finally. Let me rewind.

Ten years ago almost to the date, I began intentionally praying for my husband, who at the time, was a distant stranger. I began praying for him for a few reasons. I was saddened after a breakup. I was longing for marriage. And I was lost. I felt like I had no direction and it seemed all of my other friends were in serious relationships and getting married. And there I was the newly single friend. But I felt such a clarity at that time, ten years ago. I knew God was good on his Word as I had seen his faithfulness so many other times. I was 21 years old about to finish college. I thought I knew so much. And in some ways I did. However, looking through my lens now I see how God shaped a 21 year old girl who was unsure, lonely (at times), confident yet paradoxically insecure and molded her to be a woman that prayed for her biggest dream.

You see, ten years ago, in my singleness, I hit a point where I was desperate. I couldn’t understand what God was doing, but I was convinced that God had a man out there somewhere just for me. I was convinced that God gave me that promise. I was convinced that God would show up. Granted…I didn’t think it would take ten years. I didn’t think I’d have to wait so long.

Then again…neither did Abraham and Sarah.

You see, they had a dream. And they were heartbroken probably for a long time because their dream seemed to come up empty. Then God showed up and made them a clear promise that they would not only have a child, but a legacy far greater than they could have imagined. They had to wait a lot longer than I did to see their promise come to fruition. During their time of waiting, they tried making it happen on their own. I wrote about that more here when they settled with a surrogate to God’s promise, a counterfeit. A fraud. God still used their mistake for his glory. And then one day…the promise came. After decades of waiting, and in their beyond-elderly years, Sarah became pregnant. It had to have felt like a dream. It must have been surreal for the dream to now be tangible.

And that is how I have been feeling for the better part of a year, but especially the past month. You see three weeks ago I married the man that was beyond all the prayers I had prayed for my husband. He exceeded expectations. When the Bible talks about God doing abundantly beyond what we can ask or imagine, I can honestly say it is actually what God did for me when it comes to my husband. Ten years ago when I began praying for my husband (forgive me as I am still excited to actually say “my husband”), I began something else very intentionally. Ten years ago, on a plane to Israel for my study abroad, I had a journal. Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I not only love writing, but I process things when I write. I have prayer journals that I have written in for almost fifteen years. They’re basically my prayer genealogy- prayers prayed and answered. It’s incredible to look back and see what God has done. But this journal was different. I took a leap of faith. I was trusting God with my most vulnerable part of me- my heart. I longed to be married and become a wife and live life, ministry, adventure, and more with my husband, a man of mystery. So I decided since at the time I didn’t know my husband, and I was very single, why not journal letters to my future husband. He could still hear (read) about my life and things that were happening. He could still be a part of the years prior to our meeting. And then I met my husband for real. No other man in my life, past or present, was like him. And it was almost instantly (a few weeks honestly) that I felt that he was man that I had been writing letters to all these years. Nine years before meeting him. I prayed everyday for my husband for a decade.

What blows my mind about this and why I constantly feel so humbled is that God was faithful. He not only was faithful in a dream I had, a prayer I had, and a hope I held deep in my heart, he showed up and surprised me with someone far greater than I imagined. Friend, I don’t tell you all of this to brag about my life. I tell you this as someone who went through every seeming emotion over the course of nine years of singleness, one brief but terrible relationship, and still held onto a prayer. I tell you this as someone who held that prayer before God every day because I believed he would do something. I even prayed that if God didn’t want me to be married, he would give me peace in the indefinite singleness. And for a while that’s exactly what he did. Friend I tell you this because three weeks ago I said “I do” as the finality of a long season of waiting and prayer and preparation for a dream that God did all to still believe it was worth it. It was worth every day waiting. Every day wondering “when”. God not only was faithful in his word to me, he surpassed my prayers. You see, God didn’t have to give me a husband for me to be serving him still. I learned through that season that God was good despite my circumstances. I learned that God loved me massively beyond what I could comprehend. But I learned obedience and prayer, and though I may have struggled at times, I believe God saw my heart and knew his promise, much like that of Abraham and Sarah, and decided that now was the best time for me to see it come to pass. And what’s amazing is that this isn’t even the end of the story. It’s just the beginning of a new chapter.

Wherever you find yourself tonight, trust that God has a plan for you and story he is writing that is far better than one you could write on your own. We are not our best storyteller or writer. God is. And I can tell you that waiting on God’s promise is beautifully humbling. Trust him, and the only way to do that is to get to know him. Spend the time to get to know him. Spend the time to learn his Word and see what he has to say in your life. And then be obedient. Let him lead your life. And when you do, I can promise you this: it will be worth it in every way. After a decade of waiting and trusting God, and now seeing his handiwork, I can absolutely tell you it is worth every moment of following God.

Happily never after. The idol of a spouse.

beyond the mundane

About a month ago, I shared my heart a little bit with you all in my post Honest Words From A Single. In that post, I wanted to both encourage singles and the Church. Single-hood is valid. It is part of what helped launch the Early Church. But at the same time, marriage- Gospel centered marriage, is just as valid. When we begin to think one is greater than the other, we miss out on a large group of people that God has invited to be a part of his story. So today, I wanted to write another post, focused on spouses, whether you’re a single person in search of a spouse, or someone married who already has a spouse, this blog is for you.

For so many of us single people, we long for spouses. I can’t honestly speak for everyone, however, I know how I feel. I…

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New.

Here we are at the end of yet another year. For some this year has been the hardest one full of challenges, heartaches, pain, suffering, and disappointment. For others, it has been among the best in their life, full of hopes fulfilled, joy, dreams coming true, and more. For all of us, we each inevitably face the new year, we face whatever is coming while looking back at our past year. And we reflect.

It’s funny for me. This time last year, I was preparing and gearing up to work in just a few hours on New Years Eve. Honestly I had no plans and didn’t want to be alone on New Years, not because I can’t handle being alone at the holidays but because I wanted to be focused on starting fresh without wallowing in the pain of the past. For me, last year ending was so needed. A year full of compromise, brokenness, disobedience to God, but ending with painful yet beautiful redemption…I was insanely ready to have new goals, dreams, and purposes. So as everyone else rang in the new year, I had been on a traffic stop when I heard our dispatch welcome everyone into 2018. As I walked into the year, I had no clue just how polarizing it would be to 2017. I had no idea that less than two weeks into the year, I’d meet the man I’d marry this year, a man far beyond my dreams. I had no idea I would be gaining some amazing (almost) family members by this man. I also lost family members. I had a friend I considered one of my closest, walk away from our years of friendship. I published the first edition of my book, Naked and Bare,…a dream longtime coming came true. I completed my 4th Tough Mudder with my roommate. I paid down a ton of debt! I lost weight and went down pant sizes…no idea how many pounds or inches because I don’t really care. I only care that I’ve gotten in better shape, gotten stronger, and eat healthier. I’ve continued to grow in my field as a cop. I’ve served at my church and seen lives changed by Jesus.

This year has had so many amazing moments. Moments that surprised me, humbled me and blindsided me. There have been some rough moments, but honestly, the good of this year far exceeds the bad. I don’t say this to brag at all. Nothing I did made this year great. God absolutely gets the credit. He took a girl that despite some mistakes, failings, disobedience, and pain from the year before, and make a year beautiful because he is redemptive and loving. He is kind. And he knows more than I do. To you reader, I encourage you in this. Whatever good or bad you have faced in this year, know that God loves you tremendously. His love outweighs the bad and nothing you have done could make him love you less. But he does have more purpose for you than you even know. He longs for a deeper and stronger relationship with you. He longs to lead you to a better, holier, more fulfilling and purposeful life. Even if you’ve had the best year ever, can you imagine for a moment, what more God could have for you? If your year was bad for whatever reason, God does have more for you beyond the struggle and difficulty and pain. And for all of us, regardless of what this next year brings, if you keep God at your center and continue to pursue him, there is nothing that will defeat you. It doesn’t mean you won’t face hardship or pain. But it means God will walk alongside you on your journey and give you strength, peace, wholeness, and perseverance. Be humbled today as you have yet another day, and hopefully, another year to live not just your best life, but your best life for God and become part of a bigger and better story than one you could write for yourself.

Humbled heart.

There have been so many times the past year I have attempted to write something on here and words have failed me, not because of lack but almost because there is so much I want to say. Just over a year ago, I was praying prayers of brokenness, confusion, regret, grief. On this day last year, I was finally moved into my new house, a dream fulfilled, a prayer answered. It was such a redemptive way to end a crappy year. For me, buying my house in the midst of the unknown, was God’s way of telling me he remembered my dreams and prayers. That I wasn’t forgotten. For those that don’t follow my writings, here are just a few to catch you up to the mess of 2017: In the midst of pain, A hug, A fight worth having, and When God breaks your heart.

Little did I actually know that the house was just a small gift from God to show me his promises and the beginning of the blindsiding glory of his goodness this year. I ended 2017 hopeful with expectation not because I actually had a clue for what God would do but because I knew that I loved God. And if I’m totally honest, for part of 2017 I didn’t love him very well and I was so thankful to be back in a place of loving him, pursuing him, praying, reading my Bible, letting him speak into my everyday. So when 2017 ended, I was in such a place of desire for what God actually had for me, not the counterfeits, not the compromises, not the messes I might make. I wanted only what God had- his best- for me. I began 2018 in a 21 day fast like my church (and many others). This time I wanted to just pursue God. No specific prayers of anything. Just Jesus. Man, did God not only remind me of his massive love for me, he answered a prayer that I have been praying for a decade. I met my soon-to-be husband. I met him 12 days into the 21 day fast. And almost a year to the date of meeting him, I will vow my love and life to him before loved ones and most importantly, God, the One who made it happen. What’s awesome is that meeting him, dating and getting engaged aren’t even the only amazing things that God did this year. That would have been enough to keep me happy for a long time. But He brought me almost in-laws that are amazing; another answer to a prayer I’ve prayed. I have grown in my career and absolutely love my job. I also published my book (Naked and Bare), a dream that I’ve slowly worked on for years. I always found reasons to not publish- excuses I’d make up because honestly, I knew publishing meant my story was officially out there. It meant being vulnerable with the darkest parts of my story. But God helped me finally get through the fear and the doubt and publish, no excuse this time. The amazing stories I have heard since publishing from strangers, friends, and family have blown me away. Honestly, I am humbled.

Humbled.

That seems to be the word I keep coming back to this year. I am constantly humbled. I am constantly stunned by the goodness of God, who loves me far better and far beyond I have ever loved him. I am amazed that God has brought to fruition prayers- promises I believed in for years. Now, let me clear. Not everything we pray for does God give us. He knows far better than we can imagine what is best for us. There have been so many times over the past 10 years that while I prayed for my husband, I found a counterfeit, a stand-in, a fraud. So many broken nights full of tears, longing, and wondering when God would allow me to meet and marry the man I have prayed for for so long. Meeting Tab made every single one of those moments in waiting worth it because he is the one God had for me. He was the promise. The years I put off publishing my book only allowed for God to open up the right timing for it to be read by the right people. The days and nights of my job are often long and difficult and yet I have an unwavering peace and confidence that this field is where God has me. And for so many people that is crazy because I am a minister, a woman, short, and about a hundred other reasons. But I know what God has called me to with an undeniable peace. The pain of last year, as much as I hate so much of what happened, I wouldn’t trade what I learned, what I experienced, how I have grown, because God brought me from that pain. God forgave my sin. God redeemed me from the mess I made. He renewed me.

More than anything friend, I have learned just how much his love is constant. How much his love revives what feels dead. How his forgiveness removes the shame and guilt of our sin and mess. How disobedience to him only brings pain and suffering. How grieving our sin and then allowing God to move in us is one of the most freeing things we can do. Friend, whatever your story, whatever your year has looked like, I encourage you as you close out that few weeks of this year to consider yourself before God. Who is he to you? My year wasn’t great because of me. It was amazing and humbling because God is just so good and he worked in my life despite me not feeling worthy. The difference between this and last year is one was filled with obedience, prayer, consideration of his heart in everything…and one year was filled with selfishness, sin, pride. Choose how you want to live but know one of these is not good. God has far more for you than you can imagine if you dare to trust him with all that you are and everything that you have. I can tell you from experience, that God is the greatest adventure and most worthy journey you will ever go on.

Story of us…

Its funny to me how even in the fine details God works. It all started in a Starbucks, ironically enough, one of my old stores before my law enforcement career. There I was standing in a line on a Thursday (I think?) in my training uniform when two people I recognized from church were in line ahead of me. Suddenly the guy, Sean, turned around and pointed at me declaring “you go to LifePoint don’t you?”. This began the conversation with him and his wife, Trish, for probably a good hour or two. We shared stories and then parted ways. It was one of the conversations that I was so thankful for in its simplicity.​ We would see each other at church after that pretty regularly and I began serving on a team with Sean.

If someone would have said to me years ago that I would meet my husband on a setup/blind date, I would have vigorously said no and then laughed. Yet that is exactly what happened to us. Summer of 2017, a few months post a rough breakup, when Sean specifically began mentioning that when I was ready, he wanted to introduce me to his brother-in-law, Trish’s brother, Tab. At the time, I didn’t feel ready and honestly hated the idea of a setup or a blind date. For years long before that, it seemed like everyone felt the need to try to set me up. It always annoyed me. But for some reason (**cough* God*), I wasn’t offended or annoyed at Sean’s suggestion. I politely told him no and time went on…and by time I mean, every time after that, Sean would sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly mention Tab and how he and Trish really wanted us to meet. Finally, I think around Thanksgiving or early December, I told Sean that I would agree to meet Tab. He told me Tab would be coming through Clarksville while on leave after his deployment. It became one of those moments where I figured, I loved and highly respected Sean and Trish both as a married couple but also as Christians, that maybe they were actually tryin to suggest something good. I remember distinctly praying a few times just prior to meeting Tab, that I wanted it to be so clear one way or another and so good that only God could get the credit.

So the day came when we were supposed to meet. January 12, 2018. And of course Tennessee gets a pretty bad ice and snow storm. They don’t use de-icer or salt on the roads. They don’t have near enough plows for snow. I figured, if we didn’t meet, then it wasn’t what God had for us and we wouldn’t be missing out. Funny thing is, God definitely works in ways that surprise us and definitely where he gets the credit. Trish called me that morning and said that their babysitter canceled and that since most of the town was shut down due to the weather, she wanted to invite me over to the house for dinner and games…basically a comfy environment to meet Tab. They still definitely wanted us to meet. So I drove to their house; typically a drive that would take maybe 20 minutes, took me almost an hour. Again I prayed on the way, as a step of faith just trusting God, that if this was his plan, he needed to make it happen and be very clear. I arrived to their house and saw Sean, the kids, and a man I assumed was Tab in the driveway. As soon as I saw Tab, despite him being bundled up, I knew I blushed like a little girl. Sean still loves harassing me about that. We all went inside, had a delicious dinner, played Settlers of Catan (which I have yet to win in), and had a wonderful, fun, and great night.The next day, Trish invited me over again for dinner and then Tab asked if I wanted to get coffee first. So we went to coffee, had dinner, played Settlers again, then Tab and I went to IHOP where we proceeded to talk for another maybe 2 or 3 hours. Talking with him was so easy and natural. He asked me out for the next day. We consider that our first real date. We went to a movie then to Texas Roadhouse where we again talked for hours. I learned over the course of that weekend that I wanted to continue to get to know Tab and see what would come of everything. He was someone I knew was worth knowing better.

For about two months we basically were courting…intentionally and exclusively getting to know each other through distance. Finally we made the decision for me to come visit him. On March 17 we made our relationship official because we realized that this was worth pursuing despite being long distance. I knew that weekend, with a confidence I felt only came from God, that Tab would be my husband. I already knew I loved him then. The entirety of our relationship has been long distance with the exception of brief weekend trips. The distance absolutely sucks but he is worth every moment because I know one day the distance will be gone. Tab finally (hahaha) proposed September 1 on the top of Hatteras Lighthouse after we went horse back riding (my first time!!). Every moment we share is one that reminds of God’s goodness, redemption, and love for us. When he proposed, it was a moment I have prayed for years…not for a ring, not for the glamor or anything else, but being asked to become the wife of a man I have prayed for long before I knew it was him. I cannot wait to start our marriage together and see all that God has ahead for us!

Arrested

I can’t help but compare some things to my job. This past Sunday we sang a song in worship that is one of my favorite overall songs. Its called “Death Was Arrested” by Northpoint InsideOut. The words just reach my heart in a way that humbles me and reminds me of God’s big love. Then it hit me this Sunday…

Check out the lyric video…”Death Was Arrested”

I have heard the lyrics- I know the lyrics- of this song and yet this Sunday the word “arrested” was slap in my face. In my job I arrest people. I take them into custody and their freedom is no longer theirs. I have arrested people on simple charges and some big ones as well, getting them prison time. Now for a moment, follow my train of thought without overthinking it. Assume, for this, that all people who get arrested are guilty of something. Usually how people get out of jail, there is a bond to be paid. Depending on the crime (and history) determines the amount of the bond.

I couldn’t shake the word “arrested” from this song. The imagery was so convicting. I am the person in custody, without freedom because of my sin and wrongdoing. Sitting in a jail cell wondering if I’ll make bond. The price is heavy…I know my sin. I know what I have done. I think I will never be able to stop or change. But then, thats the amazing part of this story. My bond was not only paid, my sentence complete. Jesus paid it by taking my place.

Now in my job, we would think someone was crazy if they wanted to take the place of someone arrested. Yet is not God’s love crazy for us? He desperately loved us so much that Jesus took the punishment meant for our sin, our wrongdoing…our crime. He paid the debt and took the punishment that he did not deserve.

“…released my chains, I’m a prisoner no more…”

You see so many people leave the jail after making bond and return to the same mess that got them there in the first place. It can be super frustrating to see people continue to repeat terrible choices. Then again, don’t I do the same sometimes? God forgave my sin. Jesus died on the cross as my bond of sin and I was freed. I know that freedom is real. But how many times have I gone back to things or tried new things that were sinful and against God, much like the frequent flyers we arrest? How many times have I given God the opportunity to be disappointed, angry, frustrated by my behavior? And yet…how many times has God said “I love you and I will bail you out because you are worth fighting for”? He is disappointed, angry or frustrated. God’s love is incredibly insane. Its not logical to us. It doesn’t make sense, especially when I think of my job. Yet he loves us so much that he is will to prove his love for us time and again, not to enable us (unlike many I have dealt with at work), but to challenge us to stop the cycle and to change and to just let his love overflow our hearts.

And thats the difference. When someones’s debt has been paid- a debt that they were stuck in, drowning in, ready to give up in- that changes a person. I see my life and the misery and shame I was stuck in when I lived my way, in my sin. And I see the freedom I have in Christ- the chains released and bond paid- I am humbled that God would give me such grace. I am convicted of his tremendous love for me.

We are free. We can choose to remain free. We don’t need to return to the things that got us into the mess and arrested and lacking freedom. He loves you far beyond what you think you are worth. He paid for your freedom to start new, start fresh, and live free- truly free. No trial, no further sentence, no probation or parole. Free- a clean slate- because he not only loves you, he knows the potential for the future you have when you let him lead your life and when you live for him, not for that mess you were once stuck.

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.