Jesus Freak

This blog title is the name of a song from the mid-90s that has long since given me the heebie jeebies. I didn’t want to be associated with those types of Christians; the ones who wore black t-shirts with a cross made of big nails (no offense if this was or is your jam). When they put their hands in the air, to me, it made the Christian life appear easy and seem like there was zero room for doubt. More than that, they wanted to share this good news with a passion and that seemed uncomfortable. I don’t like uncomfortable and especially don’t like to make others feel it. So, any expression of faith that I’ve ever had, for the most part, has been timid. As I’ve said 2,001 times on this little blog, I tend to be a people pleaser. Honestly, I have cared way more what the humans around me think of me than I do the big God I believe is the Creator of all things. That’s a big embarrassing. 

Just like with politics, religion is a sticky topic and ripe for ugly discourse. I poked my little nose into a faith-based or political hornet’s nest a couple of times and ran away with my tail between my legs because I hate the feeling of disapproval. One of these times was several years ago when out of nowhere, I had the notion to “share the Gospel” with a few family members that do not believe the God of the Bible to be real or relevant. This was very unlike me and because I felt such a strong feeling in my gut about it, I thought it was possibly the Holy Spirit nudging me. (Yes, I said it. Holy Spirit. I also refer to Satan, the Deceiver, from time to time, too. He’s a nasty one). I wrote a letter and, along with a Lee Strobel DVD (because I thought the idea of watching something would be easier than reading an actual book), I mailed them to a handful of these family members that repeatedly came to mind. It was terrifying. For you Jesus Freaks out there, this is a piece of cake, but you could call me a Jesus Wimp! I had sweaty palms as I dropped them at the Post Office.

Sometimes when I think of it, I’m proud of myself for having the balls (“yikes. should she be using the word balls in a post about Jesus, for crying out loud?”) to send them in the first place, but other times I just feel icky. The response was mixed reviews. One led to a VERY high-stress (I’m talking really sweaty palms here) string of email communications to debate the issues, which was ultimately ok with me because it meant dialogue. The most difficult response came in the form of a stern letter (unopened DVD included) that advised me to not push my beliefs on them. Although I wouldn’t call it fruitful, any potential behind the scenes heart and mind changes are things that only God will know and ultimately (and thankfully) not my responsibility.

I’ve read a lot of stories of other believers that have prayed for years and years for their loved ones’ salvation. This encourages me to continue to pray for those people that come to my mind; that they would have softened hearts and minds towards Jesus. In an attempt to be actively praying this for my family members and friends, I created an alert so that their initials pop up on my phone each Friday as a reminder to pray. I may never see changes in my lifetime, but I’m believing that I’m honoring God by praying and maybe He’s working on me through it.

Praying has been as far as I’ve gone in recent years in an attempt to help others know God. I don’t have the natural boldness that others have, but I think a big misconception I’ve been carrying is that we should feel bold in order to be bold in our faith. My current bible study (through BSF) is on the New Testament Book of Matthew and I’m learning so much on this topic. It’s encouraging me to practice loosening my fear of looking like a kooky Jesus Freak and moving toward my confidence in Christ. Faith is not simply a soft and cuddly positive outlook that everything will be ok. My BSF notes on Matthew Chapter 8 boldly define biblical faith as, “relational trust in God – not just that He exists, but that what He has promised is true and worthy of personal commitment”.

As we dive headlong into the Christmas season, it is easy to glide along listening to carols, frantically shopping for gifts, or cursing the loneliness with bottle in hand. Then there’s the mall Santas telling us we better be good and the damn Elf on the Shelf reminding us that we can never get our act together in remembering to move it (I banned the Elf on Day 2 of Christmas 2015). Mindlessness and avoidance can be the name of the game and before we know it, the season is over and it’s back to “normal”. I don’t want that. There just has to be more to this life. Thank God, there is. It’s Jesus.

Questions to ponder this Christmas season: Is Jesus really the “Reason for the Season”? Is the Christmas Story fact or fiction? The history, the archaeological evidence, the supernatural occurrences…What would it mean for you, in your everyday life and for whatever happens after you stop breathing, if Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God? It could be a Game Changer. Worth the ponder, but don’t stop there. This evidence demands a response, one way or another. My Christmas prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would know God’s love for you and that your heart and mind would be softened to hear and trust in His truth.

Love, Emily

April Kingdom Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

When I sat down to write this morning’s prayer, my mind naturally drifted to my Dad, who just left this earth to be with you, Lord. I don’t know exactly what happens after death or what it looks like and it often leaves me feeling strange and a little uneasy. I make no claims to be bible savvy and don’t know how specific it gets when describing the immediate afterlife. Funerals and health scares gets one thinking about these types of things and for good reason. It does encourage envy in me sometimes of those already gone because when pain and failure hits, I want the ease of something other than this life. Jesus prayed that you, God, are in heaven and that You have a plan. If I’m choosing to believe that the Jesus of the Bible is honest and true, then I’m choosing to believe this prayer, given to Jesus’ disciples, is guaranteeing to us that this earth is not all there is, that You are worthy of honor and that You intend for much more. This morning I lift up in prayer to you the families that have lost someone they love and are wondering about the mystery and what comes after that last breath. I also pray for those of us hurrying about our days with little to no thought of death. My prayer is that you will hold us in a way that we can feel the sorrow and also practice the trusting in there being something greater.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lord, what about that anger I feel? Anger over the power of words and anger over things out of my control. Anger that I don’t feel how I want to feel. Death and loss is hard enough, but having other feverish emotions grabbing ahold of the coat tails of grief feels plain tacky. Lord, help us to separate ourselves from the strong emotions that we often wear like reading glasses. Help us to step back and see them as something that could be getting in the way of a healthy perspective, a gentle response, or a kind attitude. When we see and feel pain caused by others words and actions, please give us space to separate from those, too; to see that others’ sin and mistakes do not define them and that we can choose forgiveness and grace regardless of how we feel about it. You tell us to forgive just as you do and I know that it can only be done with Your help.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

The movies I see and headlines I read give me pause as I consider what I truly believe. Wouldn’t it be easier to agree with this or that? Wouldn’t it feel freeing to escape the confines of my everyday life and explore one more adventurous and tempting? What truly is right and wrong? How much do we rely on generational “rules” or uptight guidelines that are never mentioned or implied in Your Word and that cause us to unnecessarily judge others? Are we falling prey to people pleasing that leads to jumping on the trendy bandwagon without too much thought or prayer? Stop us in our tracks before we make that comment or that choice, pass that gossip, or assume the worst in others.  

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

No Apology Apologetic

Yesterday a Facebook memory pop-up showed a quote I’d posted several years ago by world renowned Christian Apologetic, Ravi Zacharias. He was one that encouraged and challenged me in my faith and the many natural (and also the not-so-natural-OCD-induced) doubts that arise. To hear the news of his exposed dark secrets was startling and heavy. It felt so disappointing and not so much because I expected perfection as a leader, but because I feel betrayed by someone that I thought was living a challenging life while holding tightly to the grace of God. He never gave me a sneaky, prosperity gospel feel. He seemed humble. Little did many people know, he was covered in darkness and temptation. Did he feel remorse, guilt, shame? Who knows. He died before making any sort of confession or repentance. You may not be one that believes in this sort of thing, but I feel that evil is permeating through this world and this is a prime example. Evil oozes and creeps about much like a broken jar of molasses.

When a public failure occurs from a Christian, it tends to give doubtful people more ammo to disregard any inkling of curiosity about the faith in Christ. I certainly don’t blame that tendency. It’s often how I feel when heartache occurs through cancer, accidents, etc. When a well-known, often mocked leader of the faith fails in tacky ways, I feel such an annoyance that they’re damaging the reputation of the core of the Gospel; the truth that we are all failing on a daily basis in some way or another, that we are hopeless without grace, and that Jesus Christ provides that love and mercy at the start of every day for those that faithfully trust in Him. That trust may look like a drunk donkey or a toddler just learning to walk, but He loves us no matter what. When Ravi’s reputation crashed and burned, it felt different, like a punch in the gut; similar to how I felt when our beloved Cliff Huxtable, AKA Bill Cosby, fell from his lovable spot in America’s hearts.

Why am I even writing about this disappointment? I don’t know. I don’t do it in defense of anyone or the faith to which I’m clinging. I reckon it’s just a way to remind us that pain, failure, temptations, bad habits, and sadness are inevitable on this side of heaven. It’s a fact. It’s a reminder of the benefit of honest friendships, accountability from our trusted relationships, and hopefully, a opportunity to remember that we can share our failures and temptations in those safe, loving spaces. I’m praying right now that you, dear reader, find such a space.

“While it is fair to call out Christians for hypocrisy, the hypocrisy in no way negates Christianity, but rather establishes it. In the same way that it would make zero sense to call Beethoven a substandard composer because a six-year-old plays a Beethoven piece sloppily and out of tune at a piano recital, it makes zero sense to call Jesus a substandard Savior because his followers imitate him poorly.” – Scott Sauls, A Gentle Answer

February Kingdom Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done;

on earth as it is in heaven.

Although my moods and feelings change often and doubt creeps about, right now I feel a deepness in my belly as I think of You in heaven. Oh, what Your Kingdom will be like. I think it’s similar to how one feels when we become enraptured with a fairy tale or love story; the excitement over what will one day be true is thrilling. I can only imagine the sigh of relief we will feel. When life feels overwhelming or when we feel ridiculed for believing in such a story, I pray that you will give us just what we need to move through those emotions and CHOOSE to trust in You and choose to trust that what You say is true. Your Will is mysterious and to be honest, frustrating at times. My first instinct is to assume You feel annoyed with our ignorance and doubts, but then I’m remembering that You see us a sheep; helpless little creatures that receive Your gentle compassion, love, and patience. Thank you for loving us. 

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Help, Lord! Generations of us are falling prey to commercialism and without knowing, are spending money and time on things of little value. We might want attention, approval, more confidence, or just the warm feeling of “one more thing” or “one more minute”. Why is self-control and self-discipline so hard for us humans? Please forgive us for ignorance, laziness or excuse-making. Forgive us for judging others, even those closest to us, for something that we are also guilty of, but are unable to see because of the giant log that’s in our own eye. Thank you that You do forgive us and welcome us to try again and learn the art of relying on You for our comfort, confidence, and acceptance. 

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

Help us see those temptations differently, if even as a tiny glimmer. Whisper into our ear an opportunity to stand firm and choose differently. Help us not forget that we can put on the armor and even in baby steps, learn a new rhythm and pattern for the 24 hours of each day You give us. 

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Failure During Advent

I’ve failed a lot during this Advent season. I think it feels different than failure on a Tuesday in June, but I think I’m seeing it’s been mostly in a good way. Call it depression or my “natural” perfectionistic tendencies (and the OCD part of my brain is dying to give it a label), but Emily is generally not Emily’s #1 fan. So, when I set a goal, particularly one that is based in my faith, failure feels yuckier. With this Advent, I chose to pause my social media activity to try and quiet things, had a book that I hoped to consistently read with the kids, and other lovely goals. Failure happens all the time though and my fears and internal critic tells me I’m not going to get the hang of this, I’m no good at self-control or focus, comparing myself to other moms, etc. 

In the midst of one of my brain’s sucker punching sessions, I saw the benefit of failing during Advent. It gives a clear chance to see the greatness of God’s character in why He came in human form and was wrapped in swaddling clothes being laid in a manger. God is Love. Perfect Love. Compassionate and Never-Ending Love. Not only did I see the opportunity of giving up something during Advent, as most do during Lent, in order to pause and think on Him, but it also happened as I stumbled and failed; when my self-control and self-discipline were majorly lacking. I’m not good enough, at least in my own eyes, but I GET TO rest in Him. You and I can choose to believe that He sees us differently than we see ourselves. I want to do better and still find myself desiring a magical (AKA perfect) holiday season filled with cozy, reflective moments (cue the scene of me gazing out the window at the snow falling as I cradle a steaming mug of warmth in my hands), but yet again, I’m ever aware of the crummy parts of reality that greatly hinder my dramatics and wish for perfection. 

So, as my failures led to my perspective changing a bit, I was appreciative of and more apt to welcome the combination of joy and disappointments over the last couple of weeks. Christmas this year was met with lots of green snot, dog poo tracked in the house, and crispy, brown evergreen trees, but also with fun movie nights, ping pong championships, and cold weather in Florida that actually required sweaters! As I’ve written about before and likely will each year as this form of blogging expression continues, life is hard and rotten at times, but we can practice making space for the disappointment, but also choose to look for the beauty peaking about in this life. 

Peace to you, dear reader. You are loved. You are not forgotten. 

Legit Letters

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) once a week, which is an international program for women and they do a study of one book of the Bible each year. The program includes an absolutely amazing children’s program and my littlest one was able to learn a mini version of what I was studying each week. Another gift was the interaction and support from the small group of women you meet with each week. We had a beautiful woman as our leader who encouraged us and prayed for us. Although I have not participated since, it is something I highly recommend and look forward to doing again as things settle and both of my children are in school.

I happened to land on the year that they were studying the book of John, which I feel was just perfect for me. It allowed me to hear the clear basics of the Gospel in such a helpful way. I was encouraged in many ways, but the most valuable piece to me and what kept shining through is the validity of this Gospel message. There were several times that I found myself thinking, “this just sounds so real” or “you just couldn’t have made this up” (P.S. I tend to naturally approach my faith from a skeptic’s view. I wish I were more of an easy believer, but I also know doubts can strengthen faith, too, so it’s not all bad).

As I recently looked back in my notes, several tidbits jumped out to me, but a common theme I love is how cool it is that the patterns and traditions (albeit seemingly strange to us) of the Old Testament were some of the ways God prepared people to understand the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. He was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and Jesus died at Passover as the Passover Lamb.

I love the genuineness and humanness of the people mentioned in the book of John; especially Nicodemus and Peter. Nicodemus was a fancy-pants religious leader at the time, but was so curious and knew there was more to life. He suspected great truth in Jesus and risked his high status by going at night to visit Jesus in order to learn more. He’s become one of my favorite biblically historical figures. I can’t help but love and have compassion for Peter because of his passion and humanness. I can very often relate to him and look forward to meeting him in eternity.

I’ve heard it numerous times, but if you are a new believer, a wonderful place to start is the book of John. I still have very simple bible basics because I continue to prioritize many other things above scripture reading, but each time I’m given the opportunity to really dig into a book of the Bible, I find myself both challenged and soothed by what I learn. I’m finding that opportunity through recent bible studies within my church’s women’s studies and I’m incredibly thankful for the hope and encouragement it provides.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

It’s Christmas Time, All Over the World

Christmas Eve is here at last. Or should I say, Christmas Eve is already here?! I’ve been involved in numerous conversations surrounding how “weird” this Christmas season feels because it’s come so quickly after Thanksgiving this year. Of course, we are usually feeling scrambled and a bit frantic this time of year, but this time felt different and I don’t think many people were keen on it, especially considering how much work it is!

I’ve been grateful to have been slowly learning over the last few years to better anticipate life to simply happen and “mess up” any grand, magical plans I’ve created in my mind over what the holiday season should look like. Sometimes that’s still tough; i.e. the tears shed over broccoli at my five-year-old’s birthday dinner (by both mother and daughter. don’t ask) I’ve written about this before, but some things bear repeating. We can blame society, social media, and the Hallmark Channel, but the expectations many of us place on ourselves and families for the “perfect” holiday experience can really be detrimental. We can be going at a rapid pace trying to fit in all of the experiences that we’re “supposed” to do and completely lose sight of the point. Yesterday, I was internally complaining about all of the gifts I still needed to wrap and I’m so thankful that I then had the thought that I get to wrap all of these gifts. What a GIFT!

Dear reader, wherever you are, as one of my favorite podcasters says, I want to give you a “big, fat virtual hug” this Christmas season. You are exactly where you are for a specific purpose today. I’m truly sorry if you are feeling heavy and sad. Life is so hard. I personally cling to the hope that comes through the promise of Jesus Christ that this is not all there is. If you are reading this now, close your eyes and take a few simple, slow breaths. Gently remind yourself that all is well just as they are, even if they are not well (for example, my dear friend and her children that have been vomiting the last couple of days. sigh). It is OK to feel that disappointment. One of the better tips I’ve heard through counseling is to tell myself something along the lines of, “Things are not as I wish they were, but I’m going to look for the tiniest bit of good, be kind to myself, and practice gratefulness even if I might not feel like it.” You are a gift. Merry Christmas!

Live, Laugh, Lice!

Lice. Little critters that enjoy scurrying around on the human head and laying eggs for more little critters to thrive. They make humans slightly mad with vacuuming, laundry, hair brushing, itching, checking and more checking. When I think of living my best life now, YOLOing, or Living, Laughing and Loving, it doesn’t involve lice in my house. BUT, however they came to visit whether it was from a positive experience like a summer camp full of boys or they joined the fun of my daughter’s long hair, that’s part of this tiny window of our little life and compared to the heartache in other pockets of our community, this is a cakewalk.

When we first detected the lice and had our first overhaul of the house and treated everyone’s head, we sat down to dinner and said our nightly prayer as a family. One of the benefits of prayer is that it has the potential to remind us of a bigger perspective on life. I had a situation from one of my favorite books pop into my mind that connected to this annoyance. In The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a true story of two sisters who ended up in a concentration camp after protecting Jews during the Holocaust, the older sister, Betsie, gives thanks to God for the fleas that had infiltrated their living quarters. Corrie is quite taken aback to hear it because she’s likely feeling quite the opposite of grateful. Betsie goes on to explain that because of the fleas, the guards patrolling the living quarters had avoided the area and that allowed for tender fellowship, Bible reading, and singing among the other ladies. What a perspective!

A friend I have on Instagram is adventuring across the country in an adorable camper with her picture-perfect family. You should see the stunning sights and beautiful pictures! However, her most recent caption gave a behind-the-lens play-by-play of the crappy, real-life obstacles they have overcome over the last couple of weeks! Throw a little dose of lice in their cute camper and that would have been the icing on the cake! It was such a great reminder of this same message: It might not be just how we’d like it to be in this short (or long) season of our life, but we can focus on even the tiniest bit of good that we can find. Many times there is an abundance of good to see right on the surface, but other times we may have to take our hand to manually lift our chin and look up to find something for which we can find thanks. Like lice? We agreed that lice allows us to be mindful of many homes where lice or bedbugs may be a very common occurrence and not as easy to eradicate. It’s given me appreciation for simple things that have made it easier to clean and for the “quality time” where the one getting their head checked and hair brushed got to pick the TV show!

There are times when this message to find the good does seem nearly impossible to me depending on my mental health struggles at the time, but I still type it today to help remind myself and you. I think the ability to filter the challenges of life can vary depending on personality type. Not to say everyone can’t be thankful, but I assume it’s easier for some more than others.

There is a woman from my church that just lost her battle to a rare cancer and although I didn’t know her well, the stories I have heard and the beautiful obituary written about her life were astounding. She was a giver; one who consistently put others before herself. I imagine that in general, gratefulness came easily to her, but battling cancer must have been an overwhelmingly difficult circumstance in which to find the good. From what I hear though, she looked for and found a peace among that raging river of sorrow. What an amazing example.

I am not naturally a glass half-full kind of person and may have a tad more selfishness built in than others. I am doubtful that we can fully change that type of personality characteristic, but oh, how I would like to try! I crave the idea of making the people I’m with feel special and really serving others. I think this starts with our perspectives on our life circumstances. Circling on back to my friends the lice, little by little, we can move towards a more humble and grateful attitude which may in turn move our eyes to others’ life circumstances in an aim to serve them. Little by little. Itch by itch.

It’s (“Supposed to be”) the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

We just made Christmas cookies that looked like sprinkled blobs and then threw a dozen burnt ones in the trash. I barked at my daughter for eating the flour. 3/4 of our Christmas tree lights went out last week and it’s likely to stay that way until the tree gets dragged to the street with a needle or two still intact. The Christmas season sometimes just ain’t what it’s cracked up be.

I read an article recently that discussed why our culture is so ate up with the Hallmark movie genre. Believe me, I’ve become one of the first suckers to the DVR to record The Mistletoe Promise or Christmas Bride. It’s because we love the happy ending and the cozy world it allows us to visit. The real world can be harsh and scary, so the escape is lovely at times. I see nothing wrong with it, but I hate to think about the rat race that we can enter that has us desperately trying to recreate that image in our own reality.

In the midst of our “joyous” cookie time tonight, I was proud of myself for recognizing that I wasn’t feeling sad and disappointed like I have so many other times when it wasn’t Hallmark quality. I was rolling with it and just didn’t give a hoot that I’d added too much butter to the dough and that my kids were pouring sprinkles down the hatch straight from the jar! It felt great! Maybe that new anti-depressant of mine is kicking in or maybe, just maybe, I’m just getting to be more aware of how imperfect life really is and that it’s really OK.

Hear this, dear reader, everyone really does have something that stinks in their life. Looks are incredibly deceiving. Just last week I learned about something really lousy about someone that I truly thought had it all together. I would have NEVER guessed they had such struggles, but it ended up allowing me to further respect them and empathize with their pain.

Christmas can be complete and utter joy with twinkle lights, beautifully iced cookies, and the most amazing gifts under the tree. It can also be emptiness, grief and stress; maybe even a bit of both. I write tonight to encourage you to remember that. You never know what someone is feeling, despite the beautiful family photo they post on social media. Look for the little bits of joy and soak up that full feeling you get when it’s beautiful. But also be ok when it falls below your expectations. Heck, the movie It’s a Wonderful Life hits the nail on the head with this lesson! It can be a wonderful life, heartache and all. We have to look for the good.

Merry Christmas!

It’s Dark in Here.

The mountains and valleys of life are very curious and unpredictable. Just when I think I may be turning the corner or slowing down the ride for a nice view, the roller coaster does a big dip and makes my stomach flop. If you know me at all, you know I greatly dislike roller coasters. I don’t like the unknown, the icky feeling, AKA “thrill” feeling it gives some people.

Though I recently went through a really rough batch and felt forgotten and lonely, I ultimately know that I am not. It’s so easy to forget when it’s dark though. I imagine you can relate. I heard this message in a few different ways as I was working through the dark spot: look for the little ways that God is providing, nudging me, or reminding me that He’s there. In one of the sermons at church I heard, “the way God often works is through committed kindness, little by little”. That can come in many ways and I found it a timely and helpful reminder to keep me from wallowing too much in my self-pity.  A kind encourager told me that God reveals Himself way more than I likely realize. As I have come to recognize and gratefully so: just because God doesn’t fix me or my circumstances doesn’t mean He’s not present. I have spent a lot of time getting caught up in that frustrating web, which really ends up just entangling me more tightly. Tim Keller says, “If we are in a storm and we pray to him, he may still the storm (Mark 4:39), or he may instead help us, as he did Peter, to walk through the storm without sinking (Matthew 14:27-31).”

I hope you, dear reader, can begin to look up and out more often at the ways your Creator may be providing for and encouraging you. Ask Him to direct ways that you could be used by Him to encourage someone else. He is good. No matter what it looks like outside or feels like inside, He is good.