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Category Archives: Words of Encouragement

Finding Your Center – Part I

What_is_your_center

 

“Who are you, Jack Frost? What is your center?” -North (from Rise of the Guardians, ©Dreamworks 2012

 

A few weeks ago my dear friend, Kathy Kovach, discussed the movie, Rise of the Guardians, on her Craft Cinema blog. As I read the blog (which is excellent, by the way) I started wondering about this center thing. So I bought the movie and watched it. By the time I was done, the word “center” had taken on a whole new meaning.

Center. It’s the “who” in who you are. It’s what God sees in you that caused Him to call you forth. It’s the deep, hidden part of your soul that, I believe, is what the LORD meant when He said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV).

Our center is very important because it’s the core of who we are. Thus, it’s usually the place the enemy attacks first. For instance, if your center is “hope,” despair might be the attack. If your center is “grace,” revenge might be the attack. If your center is “love,” a fear of being disliked might be the attack.

Over the next few weeks I challenge you to ask the LORD these questions:

  • What is my center?
  • Who is it that You say I am?
  • What is it that You knew about me that set me apart?

If you don’t get an answer right away, don’t panic. It can take an entire life journey for the fullness of your center to be revealed. In the meantime, when the enemy comes at you with his lies (and he will), stand strong in the LORD and in the power of His might and tell him this:

Before I was formed in the womb God knew ME,
before I was born He set ME apart!

For that, my friend, is the strength of your center and something the enemy can never erase.

LORD, finding our “center” can be so difficult–especially if we try to find it on our own. You’re the only one who truly knows the core of our being, for You are the only one who knit us together in our mother’s womb. You know our heart. You know our strength. You know our weakness. Show us, O LORD, what our center is. Not what we think it is, but what You say it is. In Jesus precious name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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At All Times

[Chorus]
And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
Every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
1

These past fifteen months have been a challenge for my family. We’ve experienced death, divorce, family upheaval, and two engagements. Except for the latter, these aren’t experiences most people enjoy going through. Myself included.

With all the stress, I found myself shutting down from time to time. Daily household chores became difficult. Even putting together my children’s weddings was no longer fun. Writing monthly columns for The Inkwell, newsletters for HIS Writers, maintaining social media, was added to the long list of things I dreaded doing. And the joy I felt for the book series God called me to write ten years ago, flew out the window with everything else.

How did the LORD expect me to maintain life? How was I supposed to be there for my family—my adult children—during these difficult times? What about those outside my family who depended on me? Who leaned on me for strength? What if I let them down as well? My heart was crumbling as I watched myself become my own worst failure.

Then the LORD spoke to me in that still, small voice I’m so familiar with. He said, “Jill, this is not your burden to carry. It is Mine. Didn’t I say in this world you would have trouble? Didn’t I say I have overcome the world? And I overcame it to give you peace. Peace that passes all understanding. Peace that is burden-free. Peace that comes from trusting Me in ALL things. Jill, do you trust Me? Can you praise Me in this storm?”

The next few moments were sobering. God was right. He didn’t expect me to carry burdens that weren’t meant for me. And even during difficult times, the times He said there were no promises they’d go away, He vowed to be with me and give me peace.

To trust God when things are going good is easy. To praise Him in the storm, not so much. But even when life is difficult I know trusting Him, praising His name, is the only thing that will get me through.

LORD, I give my burdens to you. I lay them at the foot of the cross and give you permission to carry them. And if the troubles of this world don’t go away, then I give you permission to fill my heart with joy despite what my head says. Thank you for Your peace. Thank you for being there for me during good times and bad. Your ways are perfect, and although I don’t always understand them, I will trust them because you are God and You are good. Praise You, LORD, even in this storm. Amen.

1Casting Crowns. “Praise You In This Storm.” Mark Hall and Bernie Herms. LifesongBeach Street and Reunion Records. 2006

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Out On A Limb

 

Out on a limb

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

~ Philippians 4:8, NLT





The above saying by Mark Twain caught my attention the other day, as did the verse in Philippians. I was about to dismiss both as something nice to ponder when I felt the LORD say, “Write about them.”

“Together?” I asked. “Write about them together?”

“Yes.”

So there I sat, trying to figure out what going out on a limb had in common with fixing your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. I mean, sure, a tree limb is where the fruit is. But in all honesty, at the end of a limb isn’t exactly where I’d normally fix my thoughts.

Then it occurred to me. Fruit. Not just any fruit, but fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit found in Galatians 5:22. The only fruit against such there is no law. That’s the fruit found at the end of the limb, and that’s where we’re to fix our thoughts.

As most of you already know, attaining fruit of the Spirit is no easy task. It would be great to wave a magic wand and say, “Fruit of the Spirit, appear!” But God doesn’t work that way. He wants to know if we’re willing to go out on limb to get it, and trust Him as we do.

Nobody wants to eat fruit that has gone unpicked and withered or, worse yet, rotted. So when we go out on that limb and take the fruit of God’s Spirit we are, in essence, harvesting, which is a necessary procedure if we expect more fruit to grow.

Of course, whether or not we’re willing to head out on that limb has no bearing on how much God loves us. He loves us no matter what. Nor does it affect our salvation. That part is sealed by Christ’s blood. However, what it does affect is our growth as a person in Christ.

So next time the LORD urges you to go out on a limb, instead of focusing on the ground below, or whether or not the limb will hold your weight, focus on Him–the only one who is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. For it is focusing on Him that will get you to the end of that branch and allow you to partake of the ripest, juiciest, best fruit on the tree: the fruit of the Spirit.

LORD, why is it so hard to trust You? Why is it when I find myself inching across an unsteady branch high above ground that I am always looking at the earth below instead of up at You? My heart knows that You are the one I’m to fix my eyes on but my head sometimes tells me otherwise. I see the fruit–and I want it. But trusting that You will safely get me to the end of the limb so I can partake of the fruit is another story. Therefore, help me, LORD. Help me to fix my eyes on You. To trust You so I can have all that You desire me to have: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The only fruit “against such there is no law.”

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What's Love Got To Do With It?

[Chorus] Oh what’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart
When a heart can be broken 

(From “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, sung by Tina Turner on the album Private Dancer)


Valentine’s Day. Retailers make a fortune from it. Songs are sung about it. Movies are made for it. If you’re in a relationship, this day can be wonderful or heart wrenching. And if you’re not in a relationship, or going through a painful breakup, well, that’s a completely different story.

Coupled with Valentine’s Day is the word “love,” and like Valentine’s Day it conjures up all sorts of emotions in people. It can be a bolster or a letdown, something you gravitate toward or shrink away from. Yes, l-o-v-e is a very powerful word for having only four letters.

How do you view love? Do you see it as something with strings attached? Or as something unconditional? Does it make you feel happy? Sad? Safe? Vulnerable? And how do you view love as it has to do with your relationship with the LORD? Do you have a fearful image of an iron-fisted, wrathful being who is just waiting for you to make a mistake? Or do you have a loving image of a God who is filled with an equal balance of grace and truth, wanting more than anything to draw close to you?

Your past and present experiences with love, either through successful relationship or broken heart, can affect your relationship with God. But you need to remember that, unlike man, God will never let you down. He will not break your heart. He will not provide you with a “second hand emotion.” And He won’t rely on any man-made holiday to reiterate how much He loves you. In fact, the blood Christ flows freely to us in love day after day after day, whether we deserve it or not.

This Valentine’s Day try something different. Instead of looking to man and man-made gifts to make your day special, look to God. Ask Him to show you love through HIS eyes. Eyes that understand the true meaning of agape. Eyes that know love has everything to do with it.

For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)

* * * * * * * * * *

LORD, sometimes I don’t like love because it causes more pain than joy. And when those painful times roll around, I often shrink away from You. Help me not to do this, LORD. Take my hand when those moments arise and lead me to where You are. Help me learn how to trust You in all circumstances. Show me true love, unconditional love, so that I may show others that same love in return.

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new beginnings
And He Who is seated on the throne said, “See! I make all things new.”

~Revelation 21:5 AMP






2012 was a rough year for our family. Lots of change—some good, some bad. Because of this, my two oldest daughters (both adults) decided to usher in 2013 with matching tattoos to remind them this year would be one of new beginnings.
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Our family heritage is a mixture of German, Scottish, Welch, and Swedish, with the majority of it being German. So it was fitting that their tattoo, a balloon (which represents soaring), has a string scripted into the word “anfangen,” which means “to begin” in German.

“Begin” is an action word. A word that holds promise and newness. A word that says if you messed up you can start over. Dictionary.com defines “begin” this way:

  1. to proceed to perform the first or earliest part of some action; commence; start
  2. to come into existence; arise; originate:
  3. to proceed to perform the first or earliest part of
  4. to originate; be the originator of
  5. to succeed to the slightest extent in

To me, “begin” means no matter how rough today is, no matter what fire we walked through yesterday, no matter what storm we have to face tomorrow, God has a plan of new beginnings for our life—full of hope, forgiveness, and promise.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” ~Jeremiah 29:11

As you enter into this new year, remember God will never leave you nor forsake you. He will be there for you with GOOD plans—plans to prosper, not harm, you, plans to give you hope and a future. Plans for new beginnings.

* * * * * * * * * *

Lord, as I walk into this new year I ask that You walk with me. I ask that You help keep my eyes focused on You and not on present circumstances. I thank You for the grace You extend me and the new beginnings You present me with each day. Your love for me is great, O LORD, and Your compassion never fails. It is new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness!

 

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ugly_Christmas_sweaterFinally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.  ~Philippians 4:8-9 NIV




This year my adult children decided to add a new tradition to our family Christmas gathering: the wearing of an ugly Christmas sweater. Not just any ugly Christmas sweater, an embellished ugly Christmas sweater. Needless to say, I can’t post some of the ideas that floated by.

While I’m all for family traditions, I was a bit resistant to this new idea at first. After all, in the past it’s been us, not the kids, who have set the standards for family Christmas traditions. Yet the kids reminded me that it’s time for them to start adding their traditions to the mix.

Watching my children and grandchildren grow up and take over holiday traditions is bittersweet. It means learning how to let go of what was mine and allowing my grown up kids make it theirs, even if the tradition isn’t exactly the same. It means allowing them to make their own memories–memories that will, one day, be passed down to their children and children’s children. It means pondering the past in order to make room for the future.

Sometimes I wonder how God does it. Ponder the past to make room for the future, that is. He weaves a tapestry so intricate that every detail is planned out from beginning to end, leaving enough room to stay the same yet grow. Even during those times in our life when we feel we’ve worn an ugly Christmas sweater for more years than we’d like to admit, God, in His grace and goodness, is somehow able to turn that “ugly” sweater into something beautiful.

As you contemplate Christmas this year, as you reflect on traditions past and dream about traditions to come, remember no matter how things change, no matter if one year you find yourself wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, God is still there and has a wonderful plan for your life. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will not let go of you. For He is a God of promise and hope.

LORD, help me let go as I pass the baton of tradition onto my children. Let me find joy in watching them make it theirs rather than resting in the sadness of knowing it’s no longer “mine.” Help me trust that You have tomorrow all taken care of and that Your plan is perfect and flawless. Teach me, O LORD, how to rest in today while pondering the beauty of yesterday and anticipating the hope of tomorrow. Your plans never fail, LORD. For 6,000 years ago when the world failed You, when the tradition You desired for man was stripped away by sin, even then You had a plan–a plan for redemption to come along 4,000 years later. A plan to start a new tradition while not forsaking the old. A plan that started with God coming to earth in the form of a baby…

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Giving Thanks


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.
 ~Psalm 106:1 NIV

Giving thanks. It should be such a simple thing. After all, we live during a time when things are delivered to us in a blink of an eye, and opportunity is just an Internet click away. Even during the most dire times we can still turn to Facebook or Twitter to vent our frustrations, get as much moral support as needed, or “give thanks” in our misery by saying at least I’m not going through what so-and-so is.

Unfortunately, leaning on these things as a litmus test of what it means to be thankful will always leave us feeling empty in the end.

Thankfulness, true thankfulness, is not man-made. It relies on leaning ourselves against God and trusting He is good and desires the best for us, regardless of life’s circumstances. It relies on being satisfied in the deep-seated truth that the LORD’s love endures forever. And it relies on us surrendering to the One who exampled the true meaning of thankfulness to begin with.

LORD, I don’t want my thankfulness to be shallow. I don’t want it to rely on whether or not I’m having a good day or bad. I don’t want it to be finicky; I want it to be deep-seated and true. Help me be satisfied, LORD, so I can rejoice in nothing more than the fact you gave Your life for me. Bore into the depths of my heart the true meaning of thankfulness, and teach me how to walk without grumbling. I praise You, O LORD, and thank You for all You’ve done, are doing, and are about to do. In Jesus’ precious name I pray. Amen.

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Changing Colors

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: ~Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV

Autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. The air is crisp at night but warm during the day. Foliage is filled with breathtaking hues of green, gold, orange, and red. And the scent of warm apple cider and pumpkin pie fill many a kitchen. But autumn, although alluring to the senses, can also bring a hint of sadness in knowing winter is right around the corner.

As the leaves change color and fall to the ground, I’m reminded how God changes the color of our leaves, thus ushering a season of autumn into our lives. He asks us to let go of things we’ve held on to–things that might have brought us comfort. Things we have grown accustom to. Things we don’t want to let die, even if it means new growth is to come in the spring. But God, in His ultimate wisdom, knows these changes are necessary for our survial. And so, whether we like it or not, our leaves change color.

Are you going through a season of change? Do you find God taking that which was once green and ripe and asking you to let it fall to the ground? If so, take heart! For the LORD knows all seeds must fall to the ground and die in order to produce a rich harvest. And from that harvest comes abundance. HIS abundance.

LORD, sometimes I don’t want to let go. I don’t want You to take from me, things I’ve come to treasure. I don’t want my leaves to change color. But in Your wisdom and goodness I know You desire only the best for me. So, LORD, open my hands so the seeds I hold so tightly to can fall to the ground and produce a harvest. Help me trust You, LORD, and open my eyes to see how beautiful changing colors really can be. Thank you! In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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Baby Birds

Sparrows on Lily Plant. Photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. ~Matthew 6:25-30 NIV

This summer we had two robins roost on our front porch. They produced four hatchlings. One day as my husband left the house, and while Mom and Dad robin were gone, one of the hatchlings got spooked and lept from the nest. The hatchling seemed large enough to fly, but didn’t. Instead, it hopped and flittered across the front yard, through the bushes, and down the street with hubby chasing after it.

My husband’s goal was to catch the baby and return it to the nest. Unfortunately, when my dear sweet hubby tried that, another hatchling freaked out and jump from the nest followed by the hatchling he just caught. This time hubby went chasing after two baby birds who ended up going two different directions. It was quite the sight!

As I think about those baby birds I think about us and God, and how much we are like hatchlings. We get spooked when life takes a crazy turn or something unexpected comes our way. And instead of staying inside the nest where it’s safe, we jump out and start running all over the place. Then the LORD comes along, rounds us up, and puts us back in the safety of the nest only to find we freak out and start the cycle all over again.

How silly we must look to our Creator!

Our Father wants only the best for us. His ways are perfect and His plans, precise. His desire is to keep us safe and provided for in a way that requires us to lean on Him instead of ourselves. How simple that should be. But we, like baby birds, don’t always realize He means to bring good and not harm. So we flee and try to do life on our own. Thank goodness our God is faithful to always chase us down! If only we were equally as faithful to stay in the nest.

LORD, I don’t know why I run from You. I know You love me. I know You know what’s best for me. Yet I continually try to do life on my own. Nonetheless, even when I mess life up You are faithful in returning me to the nest. Thank you, LORD, for being faithful even when I’m not. Thank you for loving me even when I’m unloveable. And thank you for just being. In Jesus’ beautiful name I pray. Amen.

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Anticipation

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.  ~Isaiah 40:31 KJV

Remember what it was like as a child waiting for your birthday or Christmas morning to arrive? Sleep was hard to come by and the anticipation, agonizing. Yet, despite our anxiety in the wait, both came. We didn’t have to “do” anything to make them come, they just did.

As adults, we have anxiety over other things: family, children, health, bills, etc. We wait for our ship to come in, for God to answer prayer, for life to get better. We forget God is in control–that He loves us and hears our cries. We forget He promises in all things He WILL work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Instead, we replace anticipation with fear, anxiety, and doubt. And because of that, sometimes–just sometimes–we jump ahead, on our own, without waiting for Him.

Scripture promises those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. Those who wait will mount up with wings as eagles. Those who wait shall run, and not be weary. Those who wait shall walk, and not faint. Waiting means to anticipate, with joy and certainty, that God will come through for us. It means trusting in God and not in ourselves.

LORD, it is so difficult to wait with confidence. To wait without being anxious. And because of this I ask you help me learn how to wait, so when the waiting is over I can bask in the renewal of Your strength. Teach me how to keep my eyes on You and not on my circumstances. Hold me close. Take away my anxiety of tomorrow and replace it with the anticipation of knowing Your promises WILL be fulfilled. Thank you for all You’ve done and are about to do. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen. 

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