Pray, Joy, Thanks: My New Mantra

By Chris Sweet, guest contributor

God has been teaching me about feeling the joys of life while pain is present.  I’ve learned that His love is in the reflection of the shattered pieces of glass reflecting our brokenness.  It’s the glimpse of light on its shards.  The broken edge reflects the Creator’s loving gaze, who picks us up, roots for us to get up, heals us, and showers us with grace and mercy.

I’ve been encouraged by amazing books on the topic of loss and finding joy such as those written by Dr. Mary C. Neal and Pastor Levi Lusko who themselves have suffered unimaginable loss.   Dr. Neal wrote the book “To Heaven and Back” and Pastor Lusko wrote “Through the Eyes of a Lion”.  Dr. Neal died and went to heaven and returned to tell her story about Jesus, heaven and the angels.  She also suffered the loss of her son.  Pastor Lusko suffered the loss of his daughter.  The tragedies suffered by both are our worst nightmares.  But they talk about Jesus and their interaction with Him and the hope and healing He provides.  Dr. Neal in an interview said that the verses that were pressed into her spirit when she returned back to her body after dying were simple but powerful:

Pray without Ceasing 1 Thess 5:17

Be Joyful Always 1Thess 5:16

Give Thanks in All Circumstances  1 Thess 5:18

I love this simple mantra so much (Pray! Joy! Thanks!) that I wanted to share it with you.  When he lost his daughter, Pastor Lusko reflected on the assurance that what can’t be seen with the naked eye is being also worked out by God.  He states in his book that “This is the war:  every moment of every day, we must make the all-important choice of whether we will rely on the naked eye.  Will we trust what we can see is there, or believe what God says is there?  …  The apostle Paul put it this way:  ‘So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.’  2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT.”

We have all suffered such tragedies in our own lives.  Remind yourself that Jesus loves you.  Hold on to the things that cannot be seen.  He is always working behind the scenes of your life.  His intent toward us is love. Take the verses in the Bible as God’s promises to you that He has you.  And as we continue our days on earth in whatever form and with whatever condition, let us hold these verses as our mantra “Pray without ceasing, be joyful always, and give thanks in all circumstances.”  Here are some ideas for living that mantra:

Pray without ceasing.  Have an open conversation with God that starts in the morning and just talk to him throughout the day and ending in the evening before you go to bed.

Live with Joy.  Laugh, tell jokes and enjoy conversations with family and friends.  Take a moment and look at nature and appreciate the beauty in this world.  Do things that make you happy and try to figure out ways to make others happy (e.g. by sending that encouraging text message).

Be grateful.  Tell God all the things you are grateful for.  Have your family and friends name off things that they are grateful for when you get together.

And, don’t give up on your dreams that God has whispered to you from the time you were born.  Do your mission and live “Pray! Joy! Thanks!”  (Love it, love it, love it).

Cleaning Out Your Closet

By Bindu Adai Mathew

Spring is here! Well, let’s be honest, here in Florida, our “winter” is actually the equivalent of Spring up north. Growing up, I always loved spring… warm but cool weather, the trees have leaves again, there are fresh, colorful flowers everywhere. I‘ve always adored the Spring season because it makes me feel alive again. My mom also loved Spring, and like mothers everywhere, she always liked to use that time to clear out our closets and do some deep house-cleaning.

For me, cleaning out my closet and getting rid of toys and clothes was the equivalent of forcing me to eat liver and spinach for dinner. It was the equivalent of no cartoons on a Saturday morning or no swimming pool in the summer. It was neither palatable nor fair. So what if I didn’t play with that toy anymore or that I no longer wore that dress?? It was MY dress… it was MY toy. And I still liked both, and I was not ready to part with either.

Then high school hit, and I not only hoarded my clothes and toys, but I began to save my schoolwork. I began to worry that I might forget how to do a quadratic equation in college, so what if I still needed my notes and homework to figure it out? (In my defense, there was no Google or Internet back then.)

My mom fought a yearly battle with me, encouraging me to clean out my closet and get rid of unneeded things. “But that was my first Trapper Keeper! I have to keep it!” or “I know parachute pants will come back in style. Why do I have to give them away?!”

As I got older, my mom eventually left me and my closet alone. Over the years, my closet grew… and grew… to the point that any time I moved, it was not only painful and overwhelming but truly a nightmare. And after my last move, I realized that my mom had been right all along. However, it’s still not been an easy task to clean out my closet.  I’m very sentimental and I take very good care of my things, so it’s very easy to continue to hold on to everything.  But now I’m in a home where closet space is limited, and I realize that if I do want to make room for new things, I do have to let other things go…

This year particularly I realized it’s not only clothes, shoes, and paperwork that I often hoard. I also hoard unresolved feelings like unforgiveness… resentment… bitterness. I hold onto those hurts and pull them out to look at them, think about them. It’s almost like pouring salt on an old wound. But rather than letting them go, I put that hurt right back in my closet, storing those feelings away until the next time I’m feeling vulnerable or hurt and decide it’s time to think about them.

Just like an overrun closet filled with unneeded things can limit our ability to have room for new things, so can a overrun heart that is filled with hurt and unforgiveness. It’s not only limiting but debilitating. It not only limits your own potential in life, but just as importantly, it limits God. While nothing is impossible with God, He works best in us when are hearts are clean and pure. And more than our current circumstances that we’re focused on, he’s more focused on our hearts, and he often uses our circumstances to transform our hearts.

In my new year posting, I mentioned that it is time. And I truly believe that. This is the time. Today. This year. It is time to let go. Time to let go of the hurt, the disappointment. Time to forgive your friend/mother/spouse/child. It is time to forgive yourself. As the Bible eloquently stated, you cannot put new wine into old wineskins. To make room for the new, you have to let go of the old.

As I think of the promise of spring and the concept of letting go of the old and embracing the new, I’m reminded of the closing chapter of my novel, The Chrysalis:

Like the rings of a tree, each of these events marks a significant year in my life. And now another year has come and gone. And soon enough, this moment, too, would be a distant memory. I could suddenly feel time ticking again. It is as palpable as my heartbeat. I can feel the grainy sands of time slipping through my fingers. As much as I want to curl my palm into a fist, it is inevitably slipping through my fingers. I have only one choice, I realize. To embrace it. To embrace this life—my life. Because Life is happening—with or without me. There was already so much wasted time spent on wishing, wanting, waiting… when life was all around me, ready to be experienced and enjoyed.

Our lives are like this forest. Seasons of beginnings and endings, marking both life and beauty as well as desolation and emptiness, all leading us to where we are, where we are meant to be.

I dig my hands deeper into my pockets in a futile attempt for warmth and march on, eager to explore parts of the forest that I had never seen. It seems to go on for miles, but how far had I ever gotten? Something had always stopped me from exploring—busyness, laziness, fear. I always said that I wanted to explore, but somehow I never had the time. But now the trail lies before me, a seemingly never-ending road of possibility stretches before me, winding and twisting, leading me, and now Life has simultaneously presented me all the time, the interest, and opportunity. As I walk, some markers are initially familiar, but soon enough, I am on unfamiliar ground.

I haven’t even gotten farther than a mile when I come upon it—there amongst the brittle, dead, seemingly barren branches—one little leafling pushing through the lifeless tree bark. A bud. Alone in its dark green, fragile glory, it dares to breach its tiny blade through. It is a reminder that yes, change is on its way and what was once barren would bear life once again. One small bud. Of Hope. Of Life. I smile at the reminder.

With outstretched arms, I lift my head to the waning sun and twirl around slowly and then faster, faster—for after the winter, the spring surely comes, and with it, I, too, am reborn.

Dear Nathalie, You Inspire Me

I have a bright, determined best friend named Nathalie. I have known her since we were 1Ls in law school. We both signed up to be on University of Miami’s roommate list. As fate would have it, we found each other.  Loyalty runs through her blood, so we have been best friends ever since.  It’s been a lifelong friendship of good and bad, up and down; all erupting with hilarious laughter; because after all, life really is that funny.

I mentioned that she’s bright, and also witty.  I mean that.  No matter what the table conversation begins or ends with, she lays down questions about world politics, sex and marriage, life’s hits and misses.  In the midst of conversation, she reminds her closest friends how good it is to have each other, after all this time.

When you have been friends this long, you can blame each other for stuff from time to time.  Nathalie still blames me for her divorce. She says that, since I didn’t show up to her wedding, I cursed the whole thing.  Lucky for both of us, she has two beautiful children that proves her marriage was necessary. How could we live without her sweet babies C and R?

Using one of her phrases, all this to say, she has an awesome annual reading habit.  For as long as I’ve known her, she reads 12 darn books per year. She picks them out and gets them read, one per month.  That would explain her ability to lead interesting conversation anywhere with anyone. Something I will strive for, probably, for the rest of my life.

In honor of her, and because of my admiration for her, I am inching towards 12 books per year.  In 2015, I covered approximately 9 books.  I didn’t finish two and I can’t count bible study guides.  I revisted some of the books I read and chose a quote to share with you.  Whether you are well read or not, or even whether you aspire to be, enjoy these literary patches that made up my reading quilt for 2015.

That’s how we get to know each other – we tell each other our struggles and victories. We talk about our past and how those pasts have shaped us and changed us into who we are today. We talk about the experiences in our lives that affect us, and we talk about the ways other people throughout our lives have changed as too. We speak.  Speak, by Nish Weiseth

If you are worried that your art is a waste of time, perhaps you need to redefine success in art. Are you becoming more fully yourself? Is there someone else who believes in you or has been inspired because you were living life more fully alive? Are you learning what it means to depend on God in ways you’ve never had to depend on him before?  A Million Little Ways, by Emily P. Freeman

Could it be possible we have it wrong? Maybe success isn’t in believing I can do anything but in knowing I can do nothing. My limits – those things I wish were different about myself – are perhaps not holding me back but are pointing me forward to pay attention to my small, eight-foot assignment.  Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman

I am of the opinion that the thoughtful arrangement of your daily and weekly calendars is one of the holiest endeavors you can undertake. Drafting a new, proactive, holistic schedule is tantamount to writing a whole new script for the next season of your life. Your calendar plays a critical role in determining who you will become as a person, as a Christ follower, as a family member, and as a friend.  Simplify, by Bill Hybels

I once heard somebody say that God had closed the door on an opportunity he’d hoped for. But I’ve always wondered if when we want to do something that we know is right and good, God places that desire deep in our hearts because He wants it for us and it honors Him.  Maybe there are times when we think a door has been closed and, instead of misinterpreting the circumstances, God wants us to kick it down. Or perhaps just sit outside of it long enough until somebody tells us we can come in.  Love Does, by Bob Goff

Listen to what God keeps bringing to your attention, what he interrupts your thoughts and your days with. In those things you will recognize his leading.  Undaunted, by Christine Caine

Realizing our inability to earn righteousness isn’t meant to be a rat wheel to run on. The depravity of man is only the realization of the hollow, the need. Depravity should only imply that we can be filled with God. I wish I had known.  Wild in the Hollow, by Amber C Haines

You gotta cue the eagle. I discovered that, in moments when I was stumbling, if I called on the Lord and strengthened myself in the name that’s above every name – the name of Jesus- I could arise from a heap on the floor with renewed power. The Holy Spirit would energize me and give me what it took to keep peddling through the pain.  Through the Eyes of Lion, by Levi Lusko

By Sasha Katz

 

 

Our Cord

By JMathis

How far back does Our Cord go, Father?

Far before I cried out to You in despair on so many nights? Far before The Towers Fell? Far before childhood innocence gave way to teenage angst? Far before the glee of my fire-engine red tricycle?

Does Our Cord go back even further than the lifeline of my own mother’s umbilical cord?

How did You gaze at me in The Womb? With wonder? Excitement? Expectation? Bemusement? Where did You think I would fit into Your Plan for humanity? Am I right now where You envisioned me to be? Will I ever get there? Soon, I hope?

Did Our Cord go back to when my ancestors heard The Word and breathed You into their lives?

Was I in Your mind as You watched my 8-year old great-great-grandmother chase after dragonflies in her bare feet? Did you whisper something into her spirit about Our Cord, causing her to follow one path versus another? The path that led to You?

When Your Son bled and died, did Our Cord come to mind? Did You anguish over sacrificing Him for me? Was there ever regret, or was Our Cord always the joy set before You?

As You fashioned the earth with Your hands, did Our Cord factor into Your design of the Florida beaches? Just knowing how much I adore and exalt them as Your handiwork?

When there was darkness in the expanse, was Our Cord something that gave You hope and inspiration? Did You draw Our Cord into the night stars, waiting for the day I would crave intimacy with You?

I see today how far back Our Cord goes, Father.

I see now how Our Cord traveled over the time-space continuum, defying obstacle after obstacle over the course of my historical and spiritual lineage–through the lives of my daughter, my husband, my parents, my sister, my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents, my ancestors, Thomas, Peter, John, Stephen, James, Barnabas, Paul, Philip, Mark, Daniel, Esther, David, Deborah, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Adam and Eve.

I see Our Cord in the battle between light and darkness, and I see that Your Love prevails.

Your Love is in the very design, fabric and fiber of Our Cord, and that means Our Cord will never be broken, bent or shattered.

I hang onto Our Cord, assured that through You, my life overflows with Your healing, deliverance, forgiveness, safety, peace, refuge, salvation, life everlasting and Love.

Our Cord is the story of Love. Your story and mine, Father. To You, forever, I cling.

What I LOVE About Myself

This time of year, you can’t help but calculate if you are exercising enough, eating clean enough, spiritual enough, saving enough. Calculate and resolve. All by January first-ish. I usually find this process pretty exhilarating. Yes, I like lists and goals and plans and bucket lists. I like to think about what is better and best. I like to make plans and stick with them. But, it appears there is another way to do this new year thing.

Sitting on a school bus on its way to St. Augustine, I ran across a list of non-goals by Erin Loechner. Her list came just as the slew of resolutions of millions came through on commercials, articles, wish lists and blog posts. Her list appeared as my own thoughts of resolution were working their way through my heart and soul.

Erin says this . . . I think there is inherent worth in change, and I think there is inherent worth in the decision not to change . . . And this is why – year after year – I pen my own non-goals. The non-improvements, the non-betterments, the non-upgrades. The habits I want to stay the same because I once fought really hard for them. The ones I won’t allow to fall quietly by the wayside simply because I caught myself reading an article titled 20 Things To Change In 2016 . . . The ones – dare I say it? – I love about myself.

I had a mini revolution in my soul when I read these words. There are some good things about myself? Things I do well? I can think about those things and write a list? The non-upgrades have a place. And, according to Erin, this list can live in harmony with the calculated resolutions. I love this!

Today, I am sharing with you my non-goals. And, as a side note, I am going to be plainly honest. I am half way though Jen Hatmaker’s book For the Love. And, if I have imputed anything from her brilliant words, it is to let honesty and truth run free! So, for those of you who know me well and for those of you who don’t, here goes!

  1. I am ending my struggle with the traditional definition of rest. Yes, my optimal physical rest looks like eight hours, but I am energized by the books God has placed in my hands. By following the delicious recipes from the cookbooks I continue to collect, like good memories. My rest is those minutes before I fall to sleep sinking under covers; receiving the peace and gratefulness I have for a cushiony place to rest my head/but remembering the many who have no place tonight. I don’t have to embrace rest in its traditional form. My rest is a way for me to worship Him. The more I understand how He defines rest for me, the more I value rest.
  1. I am melting off anything that is not authentically me. I’m done checking boxes and gathering stock for the image I hope to be. Maybe it has some to do with 40 or maybe it takes decades for God to bring you to yourself. This is not a personal announcement of an arrival. This is just me claiming what God has made and going with it. I don’t mind that I quiver with fear sometimes or push against the change He calls me to. It’s how I grow and I am thankful He just keeps convincing me to be me. I’ll just keep melting and I like it that way.
  1. I’m not a great acquaintance. Let’s be friends and connect. I don’t like shallow conversation. I’m not good at small talk because I don’t see the point. I like hearing a heart over coffee/tea. I like to hold a hand and remind a soul that He promises this season will pass and end in victory. I believe that truth is best with love. I believe that from glory to glory, all things come together for good. I believe that hope makes practical sense. And, after all, don’t fret, the God of love wins over darkness.
  1. The truth is I like peace the most. I know this begs the question of why I became a lawyer. But the reason for that is I love justice and equality. I imagined my lawyer life being more of like the civil rights movement than who owes money to whom. So, I smile because God made me to love peace. I also smile because life does not always pan out to your attributes. But in the same way I understand His love, I also understand the imperfections of our lives.

So, there you have it. A list inspired by someone I would like to know more about – – Erin Loechner. Honesty inspired by someone I am just getting to know – – Jen Hatmaker. Wrapped up in encouragement by two more people. My mom and Emily Freeman. And, in the spirit of writing this list, please do be inspired by me and write your own short or long list of non-goals. We spend far too much time getting there and far too little time documenting the good progress of God in us. Sisters, can I hear an Amen?

By Sasha Katz

The Color of Love

By Bindu Adai Mathew

 

If love were a color, what color would it be?

Is it white and pure, like freshly fallen snow?

Or is it ocean blue with waters that run deep and wide?

Or is it the color of the midnight sky that knows no end?

Or is love yellow, bright like the sun, piercing the darkness with its radiance?

Or is it petal pink, soft, delicate, like a baby’s whisper?

Or is love like a rainbow, a kaleidoscope of all color?

Or perhaps love is neither.

Perhaps true love is truly just color-blind…

 

No, my friends. Love is Red. Crimson.

Love dripped from a pure white soul, down a grey rugged cross, and covered the brown, earthy ground.

Love illuminated through the darkness and clothed us with forgiveness.

Love endured all and forgave all.

Love is the color of the blood that was sacrificed so that we could truly live. The life-blood that beats within our hearts, flows within our veins, and rebirths our soul.

The color of Love, my friends, is Red.


For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son. That whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 
John 3:16

Love Letters

February is the month of love.  I remember being about 17 with so much going on in February.  It was my then boyfriend, now husband, Eric’s 19th birthday on February 12th. Valentine’s Day on the 14th and our six month dating anniversary on the 16th.  I can’t remember all of the details of our plans, but I am pretty sure I decorated his white Explorer with balloons and signs in the wee hours of the morning before school.  His parents used to look forward to waking up to see what I had come up with.  I am sure we both planned to bring balloons, love notes and teddy bears and all of the good stuff you walked around school with all day.  Who knows what else.  But February.  The month of love.

This February, it’s still Eric birthday and still Valentine’s Day.  Although I don’t yet know all of the details, I am sure there will be love notes and dinners and all of the good stuff.  As I ponder love in February.  As I ponder its meanings and ways.  I am compelled to write of love today.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been sharing my love beyond the walls of our little blog Femmefuel.  No longer under an anonymous nickname.  Sharing out in the open.  Or at least the wide open of Facebook.  There have been so many comments rooted in love.  Lots of likes.  Many of you tell me what you think when you see me.  It feels good to be seen and read.

At the same time, some of you are surprised to hear me talk about my faith, my thoughts on God.  Some of you are not fully comfortable with my newfound openness.  Some of you feel that I have abandoned my roots or turned my back on my heritage.  Since this is the month of love.  I have to tell you.  That I love you the same I have always loved you.  In fact, the more I grow in God’s love, the more I truly love you.

For me, there isn’t a line that I have passed over.  I haven’t crossed any lines of us and them.  I haven’t chosen to set aside one theology for another.  The best explanation I can give you is that the more I have read of the old and new, the more the two have become one.  The more thoroughly two have become one, the more real my God experience has become.  It isn’t meant to be fully explained in words.  It is meant to be lived.  Out in the light.  In love.

There will be many love letters written this month.  Some of new love.  Some of old.  Some of loss.  Some of love never realized.  Others taking a chance on love.  Over this month, Femmefuel will continue to write our letters of love to share with our sisters and brothers.  You will continue to hear my voice.  Bindu’s beautiful, wise voice.  Jenette’s volumes of psalms flowing from her heart.  And, if she can squeeze out some time, you will also continue to hear from our California sister Chris Sweet.  Our love flows from our heart, hopefully, straight into yours.  February.  The month of love.