It’s that time
of year when the sun shines and suddenly you’re aware of every piece of dusty
furniture, smudged glass, and clogged gutter and you dedicate every spare
moment taking part in the reluctant but necessary ceremony of spring cleaning.
I’m not going to give you literal housecleaning tips. You’re going to have to
jazz that up your own way. However, I would like to encourage you to take the
duster around your heart in case any cobwebs have started to build up. Here are
some ways to get started.
Look for the dirt
choices or habits that just aren’t working for you? Do you find yourself in a
rut rather than a routine? Now’s the time to stop in your tracks, look those
bad boys in the eyes, and say “We’re gonna fight.” It’s time to be active not
passive. Take the time to make a list of the things in your life that are
missing, not working, or just plain harmful. Recognize them and pray about
them. They are issues for a reason, and God is the only one who can give you
enough strength to wrestle with them.
Sort through the mess
Just like when
we decide to sort through closets, attics, or storage space, we must sort
through the areas that affect us spiritually, mentally, and physically.
What are our priorities? How do we manage our time? What do we spend our money
on? How are relationships? Keep whatever brings a smile to your face and
discard the unnecessary in your life.
Prepare for your plan of attack
you’ve asked the hard questions, it’s time to fast and pray about what God has
revealed to you. Fasting depends heavily on prayer for strength, discipline,
patience, and whatever you’re wanting to accomplish through this cleanse.
It’s humbling, it’s difficult, it’s refreshing, and it’s beneficial in
many ways. However you decide to fast (food, media, TV), lean on the grace of
God to help you grow closer to Him. He may reveal ways to help with this
process. He may give you the added strength to be done with somethings that’s
hindering your growth. Or He may spiritually reset your mind.
Clear the clutter
This is when
you officially act. I look at clutter as anything that has crowded your life in
a negative way and has kept you from Jesus. Whatever that may be, come up with
a plan to deal with them. Take it one day at a time and know that you’re not
going to step into perfection, but you can step into progress.
cleaning can be grueling, but the whole reason we do it is because we want to
be surrounded by the things that make us feel good and healthy and proud. Do
this for your soul and for your mental health. Your spirit will thank you.
If you take the time to go through these steps, you’ll be ready to walk lighter and smile brighter, feeling renewed, rejuvenated, and redeemed.
You’ll hear talk of the ranch from me. I can’t escape it. That’s how it is with things indelible. They become a part of you and never leave you. Rancho el Camino is like that.
The ranch was a God-calling. One of those rare moments when you know He is speaking directly to you and there is no going back. Only forward. Into something entirely unknown. Radical. Without borders. You move forward because in your heart you know that, with Him, you are in the best place you can be no matter how scary it looks.
But how it started—before it was a calling, before we sold everything we had and packed up our van and five kids to drive across the border—before all that, it was just Him and me in a cement dorm. A sacred meeting I’ll never forget.
We were on a short-term trip to Mexico. My husband, Peter, myself, and a team of youth group kids from NJ. It was July. And it was hot. I mean really hot. Tip the scales hot with 100 percent humidity. I was seven months pregnant with my youngest and fortunate to wear medical stockings that take hours to get into on a dry day. I was an emotional wreck even before the fever hit.
Our team got ready for the morning—a full day of evangelism in a mountain village with people I didn’t know, a language I didn’t speak, food I couldn’t eat, and fly-ridden outhouses I shouldn’t use. When the man in charge heard me tell Peter I couldn’t go—more because of the fever than the outhouses—the man said, “Buck up. Get out there. No one stays behind.”
I cried on my husband’s shoulder until I got to stay behind.
So, there I sat. Alone. Tired. Hot. In a cement dorm room with bugs as big as my fists. The team gone and no one to talk to. Feeling quite pitiful. Telling God how wrong He was to bring me there. How I wasn’t a missionary. How I wasn’t an evangelist. How I didn’t like being in foreign countries, or even people that much. How I was sick and pregnant, and couldn’t He see how miserable I was?
In that room I wrestled with my failures and my inadequacies. As a wife, and mother, and even deeper, as a believer. How will I ever be used by God? When everyone else was so excited to be serving, and I didn’t even want to be there. My husband lived for those moments. In fact, he was made for them. God could use him, I knew that. But me? How could I call myself a Christian when I felt so spiritually weak? When I’d rather hide. When I’d rather be alone.
It was in that dorm, in that moment, God gave me the scripture that He would later use to call us to full-time missions in Mexico—ten amazing years in the desert to develop a ranch for kids. To use my love for horses to reach thousands. But I couldn’t see it then. Only how miserable I was. How ill-equipped and disqualified to make any kind of impact.
But the Lord gave me something else that day too. Something sweet and transcending. He spoke gently to my heart. To my turmoil inside.
He said: Child, I am not calling
you to be someone you are not. I did not make a mistake when I knit you
together. You may never be an evangelist. You may never be comfortable in a
crowd. Or in a strange land. But you are uniquely you, with your own gifts I
have given you. Not to be altered or changed by what others think you should
be. Nor by your own guilt or judgement. Your equipping ground is to grow closer
to Me. And through that, you will know who you are and who I made you to be.
You mean, You will use my passions and gifts? Those things already a part of who I am? For Your glory?
The fishes and the loaves. My favorite Bible story. Many
of us know it. A multitude needed to be fed—five thousand men. Not including
all the women and children. The disciples found one boy willing to give up his
lunch—two small fish and five loaves of bread.
But the disciples said, “What are these for so many
Who am I
to make an impact when all I have is this?
What the boy had in his sack was only enough to feed
himself. That’s it. But in the hands of Jesus, the small offering became an abundance.
It impacted thousands.
The boy could have held onto his lunch, guarded it, kept
it secret to make sure he didn’t go hungry. He would have walked away with a
good sermon and a full belly. But he would have missed the miracle. He would
have never known what happens when his meager offering is placed in the hands
of the Master.
That’s the thing. You and I can labor and strain and strive, and at the end of the day we’ll have enough to feed ourselves—maybe. And we don’t step out because ourgifts and talents seem insignificant. Inadequate, with no true purpose or value. Not like that other guy, the one with the great platform and leadership skills. That disciple who really knew Jesus. He has what it takes.
Remember, the Lord didn’t create you to be like that guy or that girl. You are NOT your coworker. Or your friend. Or the neighbor with the list of accolades. NOT the one who looks like they have it all together or the one who seems to juggle everything with perfection.
You are you. Uniquely shaped for your own Kingdom purpose. It’s not about what you lack, but what you already have.
And no matter how scary it looks, step into it. Release it. Because in your hands—your very own hands—you hold exactly what He needs to make miracles happen!
-Author and Novelist -President of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) NY/NJ Chapter -Co-Founder of Rancho el Camino, La Paz, Mexico -Pastor’s wife and Mom of five amazing teenagers and young adults
*If you don’t know where your true identity lies, read until the end to find out.*
I’m going to upset a lot of people by saying this—stay
I take issue with statements like these:
Trust your heart.
Believe in yourself.
Be true to yourself.
Don’t look at me like that!
These are phrases and themes that you can easily find
in Disney songs, movies galore, motivational speeches, and just about everywhere
you look. More and more, society encourages us to discover and love ourselves,
and ultimately do what makes us happy.
Sounds alluring to me! We are our own unique individual, after all, and no one matters more than we do. It’s our life, our body, our heart; shouldn’t we be the ones to know who we truly are and follow what we truly want?
While there is some truth to that mentality, there is a monumental flaw which can cause us to miss the DANGER WARNING WRONG WAY sign ahead.
Let me clarify: You are beautiful. You are unique. You
are loved by the Creator Himself. You are the only YOU born into this world,
and that is such a privilege. But let’s
be honest. The society that prompts us to trust our hearts and be true to
ourselves is the same society that forces us to compare to impossible standards
and gives birth to insecurity.
It’s an endless cycle, and it doesn’t just stop once
we decide to love ourselves and trust our hearts. Let’s face it, we’re not to
be trusted. Our sinful nature motivates us to live by the desires of our flesh,
and it’s so easy to get that confused with who God created us to be.
God outlined His intentions for us, and if we go back
to the Bible, this is what we find:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and
desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
And he said to all, “If
anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily
and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
“And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)
“If anyone comes to me
and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers
and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke
“Whoever loves his life
loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal
life.” (John 12:25)
“He must increase, but I
must decrease.” (John 3:30)
“But I tell you, love
your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44)
“For the whole law is fulfilled
in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galations 5:14)
say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to
the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in
conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want.” (Galations 5:16-17)
When we live by our rules, trust in our own ability,
and strive to obtain everything we want on our own, it only makes failing so
much more inevitable and potentially devastating. That’s because we’ve left out one key figure.
*Let Him be the One to love you. Our identity begins and ends with believing in the love of Him as our Savior and the application of His Word. That’s what first welcomes us as sons and daughters and begins our journey as followers of Christ.
Don’t be discouraged.
He designed you as an incredible, one-of-a-kind being.
Within His design comes skills, talents, dreams, and a multilayered
personality. Those things are beautiful and fit within His special plan for your
life. BUT He also reminds us to test our heart, to discover His will, and to
We shouldn’t follow our heart. We should follow His. We
don’t have to blaze our own trail, we can walk in His. We shouldn’t be true to
ourselves, we should be true to Him and who He made us to be.
When we realize life goes so much deeper than ourselves, we can recognize the power God has to transform us into a life-altering force in this world.
Prayer does not have to always be about you. It isn’t a laundry list of the things you want and need. It isn’t a meaningless mantra you say so you can check it off on the to-do list. It’s a time of unleashing, surrendering, fellowshipping, processing, and renewing with God; taking the time to do all that is such a precious act of faith.
If you feel like your prayer life is getting dry and your mind is left wandering or you’re not sure where to go with your words, you can refocus with these fundamental types of prayers.
1.Prayers of Praise (1 Chronicles 16:28)
It’s not hard to focus on God and His greatness. Worship Him for what He’s done for you. Thank him for His love, grace, mercy, and faithfulness. Remember His history. If you still can’t find the words to praise, no worries. Just open your Bible. Psalms is a great place to start. Here are some other examples that are perfectly fine for you to pray:
2. Prayers of Thankfulness (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Spend time in prayer just practicing gratitude. Be thankful for both the exciting and the mundane. Be thankful for the things you take for granted like your house, your car, your phone, and your clothes. Be thankful for the people who bring you joy. Our blessings are gifts from God no matter how insignificant they may seem. Imagine a life without those blessings. Their presence can be worth more to your life the more you recognize them in prayer.
3. Prayers of Silence (Psalm 46:10)
You may think, well aren’t most of our prayers silent? Perhaps, but I’m talking about silence as your prayer. Our inner selves are so busy with thoughts, questions and worries. Praying about those things is great, nonetheless, we need a breather. Practice quieting your mind and letting God dwell and minister to you in His way.
4. Prayers for Others (John 13:34)
When you don’t have the words to pray for yourself, make good use of your prayers by focusing on others. Pray for our nation, our leaders, the persecuted church, your coworkers, your family, and your friends. Anyone that comes to your mind that has even the slightest impact on your life could be blessed by your faithful act of prayer.
5.Prayers in Tongues (Romans 8:26-27)
For those of you who practice praying in tongues, this may be a good time to do so. From what I’ve learned, ‘tongues’ is a very personal connection to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to pray on your behalf, even if you’re not sure what exactly you’re praying for.
Remember that prayer sets things into motion. Prayer invites God to move, to minister, and to grow you as a person. Don’t limit your prayers. Remember the One Who deserves them the most. Make your time with God full and meaningful.
The next time you’re alone with God and you don’t know what to say, remember these basics and your prayers might just become richer with purpose.
A lot can happen in two years. Life can change both on a dime and on 20,000 dollars. That’s roughly how much my student loans cost me, but I dedicated these two years living at home to paying them off. Now, debt freedom is on the horizon. It was such a blessing, even if it felt like I wasn’t doing much with my life.
Though I went through periods when I felt stagnant, God was busy. He still used me. He still showed me pieces of His plan for me. He treated me to accomplishments and opportunities all the while nurturing me in my weaknesses.
The lessons I’ve learned these past two years are treasures I will carry with me for the rest of my life, no matter where I go or what I do.
While working in a job that wasn’t anywhere near my desired field, God taught me a lot. Here are a few helpful tidbits to apply in the working world.
Leadership is knowing when to be tough and when to be encouraging—a balance between getting the job done and being there for the people.
Integrity is demonstrated.
Respect is given before it is earned.
Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay.
God loves all your bosses and coworkers just as much as you.
I could go on, but you get the point. You may not be thrilled with where you’re at right now, but always look at what God is teaching you. Suddenly, everything becomes deeper.
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Some of the hardest days at work were the days I leaned on God the most and I praised Him for getting me through. I know that wherever I’m placed, if I choose to look at it in a way that will make me a better human and a better light for God, I’m acting out my purpose.
You mean I only have to glorify God to fulfill my purpose?
Assuming you’re a Christian, you should have at least a general understanding of what Jesus talks about in the Bible.
Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Care for those who need you. Pray always. Give thanks in everything. Forgive. Encourage. Trust. Be careful of what you say. Stay away from what you know is wrong.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t overcomplicate the freedom Jesus has given us to live as His followers.
If we are following the Word of God, we’re following the calling God has for our lives. Not only will we be pleasing God, but we will also make a lasting impact on the people around us. And you don’t have to be famous to do that. You don’t have to have all the money in the world to do that. You don’t even have to be doing something you love in order to do that.
Don’t confuse your passion with your purpose. Hear me out—your mission isn’t limited to accomplishing your dreams. Sometimes your passion must take a back seat to responsibility. But while your dreams are stirring and growing behind the scenes, your every day life can still make a lasting impression.
No matter where you are or what you’re dealing with, God can still use you.
Embrace the infancy of your purpose. Take the necessary steps to figure it out. It might feel like you’re going nowhere sometimes, especially when you compare yourself to others who are “farther along” or are “doing more.”
Your path is what you make it, and the best thing you could do is trust God with where it leads. If you feel like this is your nomad season, remember, God still provided for His people while they wandered in the wilderness.
Whether you’re sweeping floors or building rocket ships, let the Word of God motivate your work so that you can do everything for the glory of God.
One summer Saturday, I looked at my backyard and I envisioned it. I saw the wood frame of my very own sukkah.
*A sukkah is a temporary dwelling place made with natural materials*
It took me a month, but I used tree stumps as the foundation, scrap wood for the frame, and greenery to decorate the outside. Why did I do this? Because I was getting ready for the Feast of Tabernacles!
What is the Feast of Tabernacles?
This feast is also referred to as Sukkot in Hebrew. The Bible translates it as the Feast of Ingathering or the Feast of Booths. Five days after The Day of Atonement, this feast is one that is more focused on a celebration than a sobering observance. It’s instructed to be a festival for seven days.
Why are we celebrating?
The Jewish people celebrate this conclusion of the fall feasts to commemorate the fall harvest as well as the power of God, who sheltered them in the wilderness after fleeing Egypt. Not only did God protect them, but He also dwelt in their midst as a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). Finally, when they built the first tabernacle, He dwelt in the Holy of Holies.
1 Kings 8:1-2
How do we observe?
The people build small, temporary shelters called sukkahs. Out of natural elements, they build their sukkah to commemorate the beauty and fragility of an earthly shelter. For seven days they treat it like a typical living space, eating just about every meal inside, and some even sleeping in it at night.
This is one of three feasts where God commanded all males ages 13 and older to travel to Jerusalem to observe it. As a result, present day Jews and Gentiles alike go to Jerusalem to worship together with singing and dancing. Like I said, this is one of the most joyous festivals, and it warms my heart with the reminder of how God will always provide for His people.
How does Jesus fit in?
“Every good and perfect gift is from God” (James 1:17). Nothing could be truer than when God sent His Son to dwell among us. No other moment in history demonstrated such empathy, and as a result, we can be more connected with Him than ever before. Jesus said He was the light of the world and the living water, in other words, He was the guidance and protection of His people (John 7:37-39).
I loved my sukkah. My morning devotions, my meals, and my prayer time was spent inside. I felt like Jesus and I had a space to connect more. And the process–I would almost describe as holy as building an alter to God, and that’s what made it special for me. It was disappointing having to take it apart at the end of the week.
But the good news is, Jesus dwells with us even now, through both the everyday moments and the life altering ones. And one day, He will welcome us into eternity with open arms where we can tabernacle with Him forever.
Dressed in white, my family made our way to the nearest river in our hometown. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the falls cascading down the rocks while a few ducks and geese float along the gentle rapids. We found a clearing near the water, and there, we opened our Bibles in observance of the second fall feast: The Day of Atonement.
What is The Day of Atonement?
Ten days after the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement arrives as one of the highest holy days of the year. When the Israelites first built the Tabernacle, the Levitical high priest would perform a ceremony in order to cleanse the nation of their sin from the previous year. The Atonement ceremony included laying hands on the head of one of two goats. The chosen goat would then ‘receive’ the sins of the people and be released into the wilderness to die.
Only then could the high priest enter the Holy of Holies without being struck dead. Once the ceremony was complete, the Israelites were cleansed, symbolizing their readiness to dwell with God.
How do you observe?
The Days of Awe are the ten days after Feast of Trumpets, and it’s a time of prayer, repentance, and settling debts. The people have a feast the evening before Atonement, but on the actual day, they deny themselves with a fast to recognize God’s holiness and to hate their sin. Temples have several services during the day with blessings, prayers, and Scripture.
The Tashlich ceremony, typically done on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, is where the people cast bread crumbs or stones into a body of water to represent casting off their sin.
⇑ Keep reading to see why this is relevant ⇑
Leviticus 16:29, 23:27, 17:11
Why is it important?
God instructed His people to observe this day, not because laying hands on a goat took away sin, but because it was a rehearsal to prepare them for when the Messiah, Jesus, would come and redeem them. He was the high priest who bridges the gap between us and God in the Holy of Holies. He was also the sacrifice, who took the weight of our sin, so we can be ready to dwell with Him in eternity.
How do I apply?
Remember the stones I mentioned in my last blog? I’d passed them around earlier, and now was the time to bring them out. Mine was colored with different symbols revealing my sin. Holding onto our stones, we took communion, remembering Jesus’s blood shed for the world.
*This next part is something I added and is probably not done in other congregations. *
I poured the wine (juice) over the stones and then I poured water over them to represent the blood and water that gushed from Jesus’ side when he died. Then, we threw the rocks into the river, believing in Jesus’ gift of washing our sins away.
Hurling my rock into the water uniquely touched my heart. I sent the stone that kept reminding me of all my weaknesses and failings careening into the river, and once it left my hand, I realized I could never retrieve it again.
Going back to the person we were before the blood of Jesus would be just as impossible as me wading in the water trying to find my rock. Just like that stone, that sinful person is dead and gone never to remind me of who I used to be.
Our sins have been washed away, and now we can walk in the newness of life hand in hand with Jesus! Praise God!
The Day of Atonement is just the beginning. Are you ready to dwell with Jesus? That will lead us into my next and final feast blog: The Feast of Tabernacles. I hope you’ll join me!