New Theme for April: Pursuing Dreams

pursuing dreams

This April I am introducing a new theme on pursuing dreams.

When I was in my early 20’s, I had a dream about my future. I was at a concert and I had a brochure of people’s pictures and where they would end up in 20 years based on the choices they were making today.

I hoped to see my picture, and when I did I was immediately excited. In my picture, I saw that I was married and we had a daughter.

I couldn’t wait for this dream to come true.

I became very frustrated when the years 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25 went by with no hope of my future husband in sight. I started to wonder if I had heard God wrong.

I was raised in a conservative Christian home that groomed me to be a wife and a mother. I quickly learned I needed business skills and an education so I went back to college, to Biola University and finished my degree in my mid 20’s, and it was during this time a co-worker said this to me:

“God wants to birth a ministry through you–if you’ll let him–not to say your future husband isn’t important.”

What do you mean my future husband isn’t important?

My whole life I believed getting married was the most important thing I could do to secure a lasting future–so much so that I even had a dream about it. It took me years 26, 27, 28, and 29 to learn God really did have a ministry for me (writing).

I believe now more than ever–God wants to give 20 & 30-somethings big dreams.

And not just dreams for a future husband, a stellar career, a perfect family, or a padded bank account and a 401k retirement plan. No!

He wants you and I to identify with Him.

To deny our selfish rights and pride, pick up our own cross, take it with us on our shoulders, and follow Him. Doesn’t sound so appealing does it?

In foreign countries today, Jesus is visiting people in dreams and visions. Dreams and visions are not happening as much in the United States as they are overseas. I believe it’s because we are not persecuted for our faith (at least not yet anyway).

Why are dreams so important? Why is it that prayers and dreams lead prisoners to freedom over there and not here?

I read this sentence from Captive In Iran a new book published by Tyndale Publishers. It haunted me immediately. I read it after I had already decided on April’s theme of pursuing dreams. It was about the accounts of Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh–both 20-something women–who were imprisoned in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran.

Their story shattered my American plastic Christianity pretty quickly.

Although I will never be able to share publicly why their story means so much to me–I can tell you I agree 100% about the statement that prayers and dreams lead people from imprisonment to freedom.

I wished I hadn’t spent so much of my 20’s fishing for a husband, when God wished to bless me with so much more.

Eventually God brought my husband to me anyway–I didn’t even have to go fishing.

Get it?

Renee Fisher?

Going back to Maryam and Marziyeh’s story. What impacted me the most from reading their story is the fact that they spent the entire book talking more about the other prisoners and less about their story. I was moved to tears at the end of the book when they found out one of their most closest friends in Evin Prison was hanged to death. She was only 28 years old.

Are your dreams big enough that you’re willing to die for them?

Too big that you run away? Or too small that you lose all hope? It is my desire this month to share other stories that will inspire you to once again pick up your cross–I mean dream–and follow Christ.

Maybe you’re currently experiencing the death of a vision.

Maybe you’re waiting for the dream to be born and it’s been years.

Or maybe you’re in the delivery room about ready to give birth to that dream.

I believe that God has a dream for you too–a personal dream that involves more than you’ll ever dare to dream, ask for, or hope.

“Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish; but he who keeps the law [of God, which includes that of man]—blessed (happy, fortunate, and enviable) is he” (Proverbs 29:18, AMP).

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What's good about Good Friday?

good friday

[Monthly Contributor – Hannah Stovall – I always appreciate the way Hannah’s writes about events with such child-like faith. As she writes about Good Friday, I can’t help but see the wonder from the point of view of a child.]

Working in children’s ministry, my brain is constantly in kid mode, especially when it comes to holidays.

What do they really think about Halloween?

How exactly do they feel about Christmas?

What is good to them about Good Friday?

That was the big question at our midweek programming on Wednesday night. Small talk with littles quickly turned to the Divine when their wheels started turning.

It was hard for them to pinpoint. Honestly, it’s a hard thing for an educated adult to articulate; but one sweet little third grade girl said it perfectly.

“The day was bad. The result was good.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Grin.

She floored me.

How perfectly accurate.

“And when the sixth hour had come, there was a darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Mark 15:33-34

I cannot imagine a worse day.

I can’t begin to fathom what it would have been like to see the Messiah killed, to watch Him lay down His life and to personally have not yet grasped all of His hints at resurrection. He told them—over and over— He would rise again!

 “The sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out in a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this He breathed His last. Now the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’ And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.” Luke 23: 45-49

But in that moment, on that terribly good day, I can’t criticize their devastation. I can’t question their hopelessness or their despair. My own doubts, I’m certain, would have run deep.

The morning of the third day would dawn with hope and life and promise.

Everything they knew of their Savior would be infallibly true.

Resurrected.

Alive.

Active.

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find to body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise?’” Luke 24:1-7

The Friday was so hard.

That Resurrection morning made every moment of it so beautifully good.

Easter holds every hope and every promise I believe in. It’s every bit of the foundation that we as Christians  get up in the morning able to stand on firmly.

He is risen. He is risen.

Whisper it. Shout it. Write it in the sky. If you know it to be true, let everyone know it!

I’m redeemed because my Redeemer lives.

There is no fear in death because Christ alone overcame it.

My Savior, Jesus Messiah, is not dead.

He lives. And there is just none other like Him.

diva-hannahstovallHannah is a lover of family and a collector of friends. She’s a bookworm and a movie buff, a wanderer and an expert at napping outside in the summer. Hannah has committed her writing to—not help people escape their reality—but rather encourage them to engage in it. She is currently part of the Children’s Ministry team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. You can read more from Hannah at upwrite.blogspot.com.

[Photo credit: victor_nuno via photopin cc]

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Reflections on Life and Failure

Tonight, I write to make sense of life and reflect on failure too.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hosting guest bloggers for the past few months, but I felt a stir in my spirit tonight. So, instead of sleep, I will listen to that still small voice and write.

Write aloud.

Write to heal.

I started a series called Monday Meditations last month and it has not gone well. In fact, it failed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I got more than 30-40 hits per blog. Compared to the almost hundreds (sometimes thousands) of hits I got for previous series including I Survived My 20s or Pre Engagement Questions–this is shocking.

Well, not really.

Devotionals aren’t a hot topic anymore. I should know because I am the self-proclaimed “Devotional Diva” (insert registered trademark here).

Also, if you choose to write for 20-somethings that’s another strike against you. I won’t even mention how bad the publishing market is right now.

Strike three.

I’m out.

In the midst of reflecting on life and failure, what has encouraged me most are my family and friends. I am truly grateful for my husband, my parents, and the many-many friends on and offline who have taken the time to send me messages.

What I want to say to you all is–Thank You.

Your messages keep me going. I don’t always get a chance to say it, but as a writer I absorb every word.

I am like a leaky sponge–who at the end of a project–gets wrung out for all to read. I bleed words.

Sometimes this is a good thing.

And sometimes–deadly.

Recently, I have kept quiet about a few things because I’ve been intentionally working on my character.

Instead of blurting out or pressing the enter key–I’ve kept it to myself. I’ve recently learned this trait from my husband who doesn’t get easily upset or emotional about anything, really.

It’s a gift.

And as his wife I crave that gift.

I feel social media has become a place for writers to complain and get way more attention than they really need. I know because I’m guilty. I almost deleted Twitter a few months ago, and if it weren’t for Hootsuite–I might have done it.

I wanted to be one of those authors who doesn’t schedule anything. I wanted every word to be directly from me. My heart.

Instead, what I found was that no one noticed.

It was like nothing had changed.

Life still went on.

I know it’s nice when people comment or say things or make you feel appreciated.

I LOVE being people’s personal cheerleader. One of the most consistent phrases my mother (and father if he admits it) says to me is,

“I miss my sunshine girl.”

I appreciate being able to use the gift of writing and pour out like water the stories from my life–and the lives of others. Every email or direct message I get from someone who asks to share their story is like a child asking their parent to feed it–OF COURSE I want to share it.

So when I respond to every message, Tweet, or Facebook post that comes my way and someone doesn’t message me back–it’s hard NOT to take it personal.

I feel like a failure.

I don’t feel important enough.

BIG enough.

Loud enough.

This year God has taught me a lot about how to remain intentional.

No matter who sees.

No matter who takes the time to respond.

God cares and that’s all that matters to me in the end.

I’ll end with this quote from Love Does by Bob Goff, whom I had the pleasure of meeting this Sunday at The Church at RB in San Diego, CA.

If you’re an author like me too–I know you’ll appreciate this quote.

Enjoy.

“I used to be afraid at failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m afraid at succeeding at things that don’t matter…The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides people into failure. He made us to be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom correctly.  We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents, and each other. The whole thing is designed so we try again and again until we finally get it right. And the whole time He is endlessly patient.”

I appreciate you all. Goodnight.

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Monday Meditations #3 – Moving Forward

(c) Branden Harvey

[Guest Post by Tyler Braun ] – Before I ever had a GPS navigational unit in my car or on my phone, I made sure to carefully plot out driving directions before moving forward.

You remember the drill right?

Pull out a map and a piece of paper. Look up the shortest right and then begin jotting down all the different turns.

Some people love the adventure of trying to find a specific location without directions, but I’m not one of them.

I’m the same way when it comes to camping.

Why do we take our comfortable lives and transplant them into a forest? It’s inevitable something will go wrong and then the supposedly fun trip just becomes a lot of work.

The extended forecast is hot and dry but it ends up raining an entire night and you end up sleeping in a wet sleeping bag.

What fun is that?

I prefer to stay at home where I know I’ll be able to relax.

And I’m the same way in my interactions and relationship with God.

I make small, calculated decisions based on where I sense Him leading, but I never head out on an adventure in faith, hoping He will provide.

I have a hard time moving forward in my life without a full sense of where God is leading.

It’s not that He isn’t speaking or moving within my life, it’s just that I have a hard time listening and discerning well.

We’re often taught to wait on the Lord’s guidance when making decisions, but what about the times when we’re not sure what His guidance is? What then?

God often calls us to move without direction.

It’s the kind of stepping out in faith that few of us choose to do, yet God is constantly surrounding us, guiding us, even when we don’t sense His leading.

What does this look like? Let’s get more specific.

Faith is the assurance of things unseen. It’s the confidence that God will provide as He said He will.

So much of life is operating in the unknown and trusting in something beyond ourselves.

Even people who don’t believe in Jesus put their trust in something beyond themselves. We turn a lot of different ways to find the assurance needed to move forward in life, but how often are we trusting in the promises of God?

This doesn’t mean making irrational decisions or testing the waters of life just to see what will happen is wise. It does mean sensing where God is leading, and then stepping beyond our comfort zone with faith that He is with us.

Direction Comes in the Moving.

I said earlier we must learn how to move without direction. I’ve found that God provides clarity after we’ve started the process of moving.

God often waits for us to step out in faith—to begin moving without a specific direction—before He provides the destination.

Rather than waiting for the stars to align, why not move where you sense God is leading, knowing more clarity will be provided along the way?

In Genesis 37, Joseph provides us an example of moving without direction. He gets a picture from God in a dream, of what his life will look like well into the future. But shortly after this dream everything in his life crumbles around him.

Yet Joseph doesn’t waver on believing what he senses God will provide for him. He doesn’t know the end destination. He doesn’t receive specific instructions. But he does stay focused on honoring God with his life.

In the end God honored Joseph, not through perfect circumstances, but through Joseph’s willingness to stay faithful to moving forward in life without a specific sense of direction (read the whole story, Genesis 37-50).

May we do the same.

Tyler Braun is a writer and pastor from Oregon, whose first book, Why Holiness Matters, just released. You can find Tyler on Twitter or his blog, manofdepravity.com.

 

 

 

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I Survived My 20s – Fatherless

[Guest Post by Anonymous] – From a very young age, I knew the Lord. I was lucky to have grown up in the church, and was strong in my faith.

God knew that he had to prepare me at an early age for what I would be up against.

Secrecy. Shame. Pain.

I am fatherless.

As a teenager I was forced to hold a terrible secret, one I knew when change my life forever if I ever spoke of it.

I did all that I could to hide the hurt of what happened to me. I walked through life as if in a dream or a daze, and put a permanent smile on my face so no one could see the truth, the shame.

My father abused me as a teenager.

I would pray and ask God,

“Why? Why this? What can I do? How could my own father do this to me?” 

I was faced with the ultimate challenge and brought to a fork in the road. Do I keep quiet to protect what life my siblings and I knew?  Or do I break the silence, and turn my world upside down?

God prepared me to speak! 

I knew that because God is my father, I knew he would give me the strength to stop the pain and begin the long road to healing.

I was finally able to tell someone, and my boyfriend at the time helped me to find my voice and break the silence and tell my mother.

After that night, nothing was the same. 

I had to tell my story over and over again, and still felt like I was stuck in a dream–no, a nightmare that had become reality.

Now that I had said out loud what had happened to me, it all became real. I was not dreaming.

After talking to CPS, detectives, court appointed counselors, and the district attorney, I knew that even though at times when my legs or mind felt weak, and that I could no longer deal with the reality of what happened, I knew I had to press charges.

After months of preparation, and after many court hearings, the case went to trial.

I thought to myself, it is me against my father? 

But then I realized, I had God on my side. 

Through my faith in the Lord, and the support of my family I was able to have the courage to face my father. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do!

The day I had to testify, I couldn’t even think. 

Millions of thoughts raced through my head…Could I get through this? Would the jurors believe me? Was I going to throw up? Why couldn’t I stop crying?

I would have to look at him again.

That snapped me back into reality, and I knew the answer! Yes! I would have to look at him, but with the backing of my father, who art in heaven, I could do this!

I could help save the rest of my life, maybe save someone else whom he may have done this to. 

I had to do this.

The trial ended, and after only a few hours of deliberation, the jurors said they had made their decision.

On all counts my father was found guilty and later on received a sentence of 12 years in prison.

It was a bitter sweet day. My father who brought me into this world, who hurt me so badly, had been legally penalized for what he had done.

12 years…and I had a sentence of a lifetime. But, I now know that is not true.

God has a plan, and God will deal with my father and what he has done. 

Unfortunately, due to a technical error, my father’s case was appealed and he was let off for the charges.  After all this work and pain–we would either have to go to trial again or offer him a plea bargain.

My father chose the plea bargain, and now is a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. 

This chapter in my life closed.

How does all of this relate to my 20’s?

In every way. 

Because I had to hold this secret, shame, and pain of what happened to me, I have spent my entire 20’s rebuilding who I am, finding my voice in all of this.

Because of my faith and love in the Lord, I have gotten through what happened to me and have been able to follow the path God has for me.

With years of counseling, support of my family, the love of my husband, and my love of my creator, I have gotten to let go of the secret I held onto for so long.

I have been able to work through the shame. 

I have been able to let go of the pain. 

At times in my 20’s I have continued to struggle and deal with my past, but I know that if I continue to follow in the path that God has designed for me, my life will be full of life, love, happiness, and reward for all I have been through.

I now am 27 years old and am beginning to love who I am.

I have been married for 6 years to my husband, and have obtained two degrees. I now help youth who also have been given a rough start to life, as a marriage and family therapist, and I am empowered with what I do.

Thankfully, I have married a loving man, who holds me up when I am weak, encourages me to push myself, and supports me in whatever I put my mind to.

During my 27 years, I can tell you I have seen a common theme to people’s pain– fatherlessness.

Even though your parent may have either hurt you, left your family, or you come from a product of divorce, know that no matter what, you always have a father, and He will never let you down.

God’s unfailing love is real and pure, and I am a living testament of this. Without God my Father, I would be nothing, or perhaps I could have gone down a deep and dark path.

***The author of this guest post has asked to remain anonymous.

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I Survived My 20s – Depression

[Guest Post by Addie Zierman] – I turned 20 on a warm day in July, and then, two weeks later, I got married.

There was pink tulle everywhere and 200 roses that we ordered online and arranged into bouquets in the church basement. During the ceremony, two of my best friends from high school sang “Be Thou My Vision,” and their voices filled the room, haunting and sweet.

This is how I began my 20s: eyes closed, heart raised.

I was full to the brim with love and with Jesus, surrounded by all of my closest friends who felt the exact same way. From that alter, the future looked sparkling smooth.

I said “I do,” and dove all the way in.

When I think of my 20s, I think of our tiny apartment in married housing filled with garage sale furniture and wedding crystal.

I think of the cornflake chicken that I made from my Betty Crocker cookbook for our first grown-up house guests. I think of sitting up late at our garage-sale kitchen table, writing slow deliberate essays for my senior capstone.

And then I think about packing it all up, moving to China.

I felt brave as I made lists and stocked up on tampons, but the year wore on in that little gray factory town, and I felt less brave every day. How can I think of my 20s without thinking of those dark-haired students with their quick smiles? How can I think about it remembering loneliness ripping through me like a cold wind?

I think, then, of coming back to America. Of all the starting over. I think of that little apartment that we found with the fireplace and the walking paths, how it felt so much like a gift. Andrew got a job first, and I spent the entire day before my first job interview in the back corner of Barnes and Noble, reading a book on interviewing technique cover-to-cover.

The 20s were a gray cubicle that I gradually filled with photos, a bottom desk drawer that I filled with chocolate.

It was gaining weight from all of those little Milky Way Minis and starting a Serious Diet for the first time. It was learning to run on the treadmill, feeling strong on my own legs.

The 20s were a string of churches, none of which felt like Our Church.

A string of Christians who never really felt like My People. I spent much of those early years reaching for the God that I knew and loved and understood, and coming up empty every time.

And so when I think of my mid-20s, I think of Darkness pulled slowly over my heart.

I think of the claustrophobia of Depression, and the things that I did to feel it less. I think of margaritas and that quick, inevitable turn from tipsy to drunk.

I think of the boy at the coffee shop. The one who was not my husband. The one who smelled it on me, this loneliness, this desperation. I think about how I should have run away so much faster than I did.

I think of my beautiful, high-school friends who crashed into their own crises. They were used by boys or hurt by insensitive Christians or just beat up by the hard edges of life. We started to talk about God differently; some of us stopped talking about him at all.

And so when I say that I survived my 20s, I mean that I dove into my future, and it was filled with so much that I could not see.

The rocks and the rapids, the sadness, the fear. I mean that for a little while in there, I gave up. I stopped trying to swim, gave myself up to the wild river, and still, somehow I found myself waterlogged but alive. Safe on the Rock.

When I say that I survived my 20s, what I’m really saying is grace.

When I think of my late 20s, I think about the long hard work of healing.

I think about my dark haired therapist. I think of our new puppy and the long winter walks where I re-learned to pray. I think about the antidepressants, and I think about that good day when I no longer needed them so much.

I think about the new house, the one with the pond and the deck. I think about hope.

I think about the pregnancy tests that said Positive, the rounding belly, the baby fingers spread small against my chest.

I am 29 years old now, and when I say I’ve survived my 20s, it’s because there are dishes and laundry.

Eric Carle books to read to the babies. Writing to do. There are backgammon games with my husband at the kitchen counter, wine in moderation, chocolate always.

There are all of these broken, beautiful and imperfect people, and some of them are Church People, and I am learning to love them again.

I have survived, will continue to survive, only because He is. His love rises sure as the morning. His grace is saving me every single day.

Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is a writer, mom, and Diet Coke enthusiast. She blogs twice a week at How to Talk Evangelical, where she’s working to redefine faith one cliche at a time.

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I Survived My 20s – Failure

(c) Desiree Shuey Photography

[Guest post by Allison Vesterfelt] -I only have one year left of my twenties. It’s been a crazy, wild, ride, and it’s going to be over really soon.

I have mixed feelings about that. 

Part of me is bummed to get old. You know wrinkles, slowed metabolism, an inability to operate basic electronic equipment, that sort of thing.

But part of me is excited to kiss my twenties goodbye and say hello to my thirties. People say the thirties are your best years and, let’s be honest, my twenties have been fun, but it hasn’t been all that pretty at times.

When I look back over the last almost-decade of my life the image that comes to mind is of a person who doesn’t know how to swim tossed over the side of a ship, into the ocean. Terrified of drowning, I had two options: sink or swim.

I picture my arms waving around like a couple of wet noodles and my head dipping under water each time the ocean swells the way it does. I hear myself inhaling water, choking, and screaming for someone to throw me a life vest.

Then I see all the other people back on the ship, elbows planted on the handrail, smiling. You’ll be fine, they seem to be saying — and I want to believe them…

But they’re the ones enjoying the comfort of dry ground!

My 20‘s were fun, but you couldn’t pay me enough money to do it over again…

The dating and the getting my heart broken, the figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, and how to actually make it happen. The constant worry about friends and money and where I was going to live.

The hope that I was “doing it right.” 

If you’re a 20-something, flailing around like I was, let me throw you a life jacket. It’s okay to experience failure.

There.

It’s doesn’t solve all of your problems, but hopefully it helps you catch your breath. 

It’s okay to break up with a boyfriend. It doesn’t make you a failure. Even if he breaks up with you — even if he tells you he never loved you and never wants to speak to you again — it’s okay. His words, the failure of the relationship, they do not define you. You are not a failure.

It’s okay to get a D on a test, or a paper. In college and ten years from now (actually, probably even three years from now) no one will even know? At least not unless you tell them.

You can get fired from a job. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, or even that you’re not a hard worker. It could mean that the job wasn’t a good fit for you, that you were going through a rough time and couldn’t bring your best work, or focus to the task. It could even mean that your boss was just out to get you.

Your failure does not define you. It informs you, if you’re willing to look at it.

When you get lost in the “I’m a failure” attitude, you feel like you’re drowning, like you’ll never learn to swim. You feel like you’re choking on salt water. The flailing is a natural survival instinct, but it keeps you from seeing that failure is your greatest opportunity.

Go ahead, I dare you to fail.

Failure is the only way we learn what works and doesn’t work, it’s the only way we grow up, become more mature. Without failure, we’re doomed to be the same person we’ve always been, with the same flaws and shortcomings–forever.

I had a friend who knew what it looked like to fail well. We were in high school and there was this staircase, right in the front entryway, where all 2000 students intersected on their way to class. One day, on the way to second period, every student’s worst nightmare happened to her.

Her heel slipped and she thump thump thumped right down to the bottom. We all drew in our breath, and waited…

A few seconds later she stood up, threw her hands above her head, did a little toe-touch for herself (like the Saturday Night Live cheerleader) and burst out laughing.

You know what? We laughed with her. 

You know what else?

She never fell down that staircase again.

Allison is a reader, writer and thinker who believes that becoming brave enough to live an tell the truth. She’s passionate about helping people to tell, hear and understand stories that inspire, uplift, encourage, and even convict by pointing to the truth of Jesus. She is the editor-in-chief of Prodigal Magazine and lives in West Palm Beach, Florida with her husband Darrell.

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What's Your Story – Ashley

[Guest Post by Ashley] I always had a close relationship with God, and felt I could always lean on Him.

In high school, I got a job at a leather store in the mall. I was a trainer on the football team and fell head over heels for popular guy on the team. I had my whole life planned out. I wanted to be a stay at home mom and be an active part of a church.

I knew I wanted to save myself for marriage, but I started to drift from God. He wasn’t into going to church or praying. I ended up dating him and we had a child born out of wedlock. We were engaged for about three years.

I wanted to join a church that I had been visiting, so I went down to the altar and spoke with a deacon. A few days later, I got a call from the membership Pastor at the church. He invited us into his office for a meeting. He advised that the church wouldn’t allow me to become a member unless we were married. I was embarrassed and ashamed.

I didn’t go back to church for almost 2 months when I finally talked him into getting married so I could be a part of that church.  

We got married, and things were already headed down hill. I had been a stay at home mom and recently had a got a part time job at a local retail store. He had started gambling and taking pain pills on top of his marijuana addiction. His six figure income supported his habits. The days continued to get worse.

He would come home late at night drunk and had been spending time after work at bars and strip clubs. I became depressed. I felt ugly on the inside and the outside.

Why wasn’t I beautiful anymore?  

Why didn’t he want to spend time with me?  

One night in our kitchen, I prayed over him as he was trying to crush a pill to snort. He was so angry that I put my hand over a line of pills that he had crushed, then he put me in a headlock that took me to the floor. I pleaded for him to let me go…He snorted the pill in front of me off the kitchen counter.

I was devastated.  

He took off to the bedroom and said he was leaving. I begged him to stay and talk.

He pulled out a gun and put it to my head and pushed me to the floor.

He yelled some profanities and took off out the door. I opened the door and yelled that I was calling the police. He came back up the steps with the gun and told me he was going to kill me. I kept locking the door as he was unlocking with his key. I prayed for God to please let me survive. I made it, and so did my son. It was a miracle that he slept through all the commotion.

I didn’t leave the marriage.

I thought I was doing the right thing. He would tell me that I had broken my vows because I was trying to leave him while he was sick (drugs were making him sick), and that I had promised to love him in sickness and in health.

At this point, I had taken on a job with a good company and could support myself and my son. My brother was very close to me, and he had been staying the night with us a lot and he could keep the arguments down at the house. I never told him about what he had done to me, but he knew something was up.

A few months after the gun incident, we took my son to a baseball game and came home to find my brother had passed away in his sleep on my couch.  

My three year old son and I had found him. This was the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me.

I wanted to know where God was and why was He letting this happen to me?

I tried counseling and buying books on how to save your marriage. It was the end.

He didn’t want to be a part of our lives.  

Drugs was his life.  

I had been reading in Job and all the trials he experienced. This is where I gained my strength and renewed my trust in the Lord. I attended Celebrate Recovery at my church, where I learned how to deal with my codependent nature. God had given me little signs in the form of hearts, that made me realize that He was beside me each step of the way.

I decided I needed to divorce.

My son and I had moved in with my parents. I reconnected with my boss from the leather store, and we began dating. We both were single parents with ex spouses who didn’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. We both had a strong Christian background. He proposed to me last year and we ended up marrying a few months later. May 14th is our one year anniversary!!

I can say that I am thankful for the trials that I went through to make it where I am today.

I have a wonderful, loving husband that prays with me and keeps me positive. He is a great father figure to my son. He works hard every day to provide for all of us. I stayed true to God during all my sufferings, and He comforted me. He blessed me with the greatest husband ever. I cannot wait to bow at His feet and thank Him for the many blessings He has bestowed upon me.  My best advice is to keep holding onto your faith when everything else is falling apart. What’s your story?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Ashley is a 28 year old mom of an 8 year old, and a step mom to a 15 year old. I enjoy Bible study and love spending an immense amount of time with my husband and kids. Over the past year, I have learned a lot about marriage. I now understand why it is important to be married to someone with the same beliefs. It is also an amazing feeling when you spouse prays for you. Connect with Ashley on Twitter.

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What's Your Story – Brittany

I want to introduce to Brittany Erbaugh. She was my first roommate ever!

We met in San Antonio, TX because of a nine-month discipleship-training program, “Ambassador For Christ.” She was my roommate and classmate. Because of her influence, she made me watch all three of Lord of the Rings movies. And to get her back, I hooked her on the CBS show, “Survivor (she still watches it). And, one thing we did agree on was Blue Bell Ice Cream, Chick fil A, and ABC’s Lost. But, enough about our relationship!

Brittany is all too familiar with her spiritual battle and mine. I left Texas before I had the chance to find out her side of the story because five months into the program, my body broke (again). My eczema took the skin off my hands. I tried to tough it out, seek medical help, but to no avail. I was forced to move home. I had fled to Texas to find myself. I had just gotten out of a serious relationship wasn’t ready to feel like a failure all over again. I never got the chance to say a proper goodbye to Brittany, therefore I feel it is only fitting to share her side of the story.

I asked Brittany, “How does the battle affect the way you live your life?” I asked.

Brittany said, “I have dreams where I have experienced demonic activity, but it’s the little lies that are easy to give into. The attack starts in your mind first. Not obvious things, but believing into the lies. When you’re not spending time with the Lord, you start to feel the guilt. That’s not who we are in Christ. Christ has interceded for us. It says in Romans 8:1, that ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life sets me free from the law of sin and death.’ We don’t belong to the guilt and the shame. [We tell Satan] ‘No, I am a child of God. Move on.’ Christ doesn’t hang things over our heads like that.”

Next I asked, “Do you live any differently or continue on as before?”

Brittany said, “Our culture is so masked over by materialism that we’ve become a lot less of the religious nation. It’s more about our culture. Places like Africa and India have religion a part of their day-to-day life. They’re more exposed to Demonic possession unlike Americans because we’re so masked by our culture. What has changed me [Brittany] is living a life rooted in Scripture first, and understanding my position as a child of God. This means I’m a daughter of the King, and walking in that identity because there’s an authority there. A place of sonship, of adoption in the Spirit. The darkness doesn’t have power over because I am a daughter of the king, and he [God] has already overcome and he’s alive. Jesus is not on the cross anymore. He’s alive. Because of that I can walk as a new creation. I am the light of the world and salt of the earth. I’m new in him. I have him as my authority and power that darkness cannot overcome me.”

I asked, “How do you encounter fear in every day life?”

“It’s a constant battle.” Brittany said. “The battle starts in the mind, and if we can end it in the mind we have the power and authority to take it captive to the obedience of Christ. Christ conquered. In our surrender to him we are able to conquer whether you’re single or married. Now that I’m married it’s trusting God more than my husband. Or if my husband and I want to have kids its trusting God to provide more when we have kids.”

I asked Brittany, “When you encounter a battle do you run or cower in fear or ____?”

“It’s usually 50/50. One or the other, but by not pursuing God I respond by complacency and staying in the middle. Everyone has a process of how they respond.”

“Do you feel welcome in this spiritual battle?” Before you listen to Brittany’s response, I wanted to show our Biblical response to the spiritual battle.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

To listen to Brittany’s story please click here or watch the video below. What’s your story?

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Permission For Peace

Sometimes, you need to give yourself permission for peace. 

I’m letting you know right now this post is going to rock your world. I may get vulgar and you might not like it.

But that’s what we do when we transition. Isn’t it?

We get rude.

In your face.

At first we think it’s our right. We were the ones wronged.

What happens when that apology we’re waiting for never comes?

I can’t tell you how frustrated life’s challenges have been in my life to the point where I refused to stay silent–and I’m the one who got burned. What the?

#1. Like that time my former coworker tried to force himself on me and didn’t stop when I said no–and I’m the one who got in trouble at work for reporting him.
#2. Like that time my roommates were so messy that I paid double rent just to move out immediately–and I had to leave the church we all attended because it was so awkward.
#3. Like that time my coworker acted inappropriately towards our boss at a Christian company–and I quit my job and moved back in with my parents.
#4. Like that time my guy friend acted like he liked me and then started dating someone else–the only girl I confided in about him.

One of my favorite movies is “The Wedding Date.” Debra Messing’s character is told that she has the exact love life she wants. Her face says it all. “You THINK I want to be this unhappy and miserable?” Well, yeah!

That taught me a lesson or two.

Just because I felt in the right, didn’t give me permission to give others the middle finger. That is when I needed peace the most.

“There will be times when we have to defend ourselves. When those times occur, let’s be sure we don’t confuse our job description with God’s job description. He is the consuming fire; we are not” (One Year Alone with God, Ava Pennington).

Going back to #1. After I quit my job God brought me into a place of abundance. Because that experience was so humiliating I ended up writing again. I started blogging. Most of the pages to Faithbook of Jesus, my first book, were from those few years of asking God where the heck was he was.

Going back to #2. God restored my relationships, although not to the point where they were–but it gave me permission to find a roommate that suited my needs at the moment. I wrote Faithbook of Jesus there, and I couldn’t have done it without my roommate.

Going back to #3. I am only responsible for my actions. I am only responsible for my actions. It took me months of therapy, disability classes, and anxiety meds for me to see that I was the one in error. God wanted me at that moment in time to leave room for faith and start writing full time as my ministry.

Going back to #4. I am not proud of how I handled that situation at all. It was the first time that I had the guts to give someone piece of my mind–to their faces. Still, I felt awful for my actions. After I apologized and calmed down, God used their prayers to bring the most amazing man into my life almost immediately–my husband.

Often times when God wants to transition our lives is when we’re most vulnerable to attacks of the enemy.

Satan knows how to push our buttons.

He knows our weaknesses.

God is patient and waits for us.

If you’re in the middle of transition and struggling with playing the blame game, here is a chart to keep you on the right path for peace.

Common Signs of Bitterness

1. Gossip and Slander. “See to it that no one comes short to the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…” (Hebrews 12:15-17)

2. Ungrateful and Complaining. “Do all things without grumbling or disputing…” (Philippians 2:14)

3. Judges Motives. “Therefore do not go on passing judgement before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5, emphasis added)

4. Self-Centered. “…do not merely look out for your own personal interests…” (Philippians 2:4)

5. Excessive Sorrow. “But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart” (John 16:6)

6. Vengeful. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…Never take your own personal revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God…” (Romans 12:17, 19)

7. Brooding. “Love does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:5).

8. Loss of Joy. “And I shall delight in Thy commandments which I love” (Psalm 119:47).

9. A Critical, Judgmental Attitude. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). (Taken from The Excellent Wife, Martha Peace)

The next time you find yourself in a rough transition remember there is always room for peace.

Read Permission to Transition, Part I.

[Picture taken by Nathan Colwell]

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