My True Freedom

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17, NLT

I have a love and hate relationship with phone storage, especially when it comes to storing pictures. I have tried every automatic back-up service recommended as the greatest, and it never fails-I always end up with the dreaded “running out of storage message.” It makes me long for the days of point, shoot, develop, and scrapbook all your beloved memories.

The latest dreaded message came from my Google photos app. The app I had downloaded because I was tired of Apple asking me to pay for more photo storage. The app that was now also telling me I was running out of storage, because it was threatening to freeze my email accounts if I did not, well you know-pay for more.

Oh, how we become so chained to our phones, and our need to store those precious memories.

I spent several weeks going through about 4 years worth of pictures, and I noticed something I was also chained to. Not the storing of memories. I think those are OK, if they don’t distract us from simply living in the moment of making them. It was all the selfies I used to take. After noticing that in the last year and a half I had maybe taken 10, compared to the hundreds I had taken previously I began to wonder “why?” Why was I so enamored with posting so many pictures of myself. And if not of myself, of my accomplishments? Of every little thing I did to help or serve others?

I posted my first one yesterday, aside from maybe a profile picture, or a picture about my hair…in I don’t even know how long. In my curls, pearls, and classic “rocket pops.” I thought about freedom, and what we may think today this freedom means. Sure, it has a historical context; this is the reason we celebrate, and eat hot dogs, and shoot sparkly rockets into the sky; but really? Is there a deeper freedom we could celebrate today?

I know I can.

See those were not simply a bunch of pictures I was sorting through to delete, they were a testimony to a yoke of slavery by which I was bound. The yoke of approval and validation. I was chained to a desire and a need to be approved, liked, and appreciated by the world.

Through each post I sought confirmation that I was seen. That I was valued. Each time I shared some accomplishment, I recieved confirmation that I was doing well. Praise. Approval. Each time I shared my comings, goings, work, service-I was being validated with each like and comment. My ego got a boost, and I received confirmation that I was doing something right. That I WAS right. That I was worthy. Special. Important.

Because, here is the truth. I was also bound by the lies of Satan. A prisoner to the horrible thoughts he screamed at me. And the approval of the world, told me something different.

The devil whispered little lies
He tried to steal my victory
But I stared those demons in the eyes
‘Cause these boots gonna crush the enemy. (Zach Williams, “Freedom”)

Until, I began to focus again on the truth. Not what the world thought. Not what Satan said. The truth in His Word. What God said about me. How He approved me. He valued me. He made me special and important, and most of all loved me. And I was set free from the chains of seeking validation from anything outside of Him. Until compliments became something that were nice to receive every now and then, but not sought; because I KNEW my Father was pleased with me. I no longer needed anyone to “please” me with words, praise, or Facebook likes. I was no longer bound by that yoke. I am a prisoner, set free.

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32, NLT

And you can be, too. Maybe for you, those pictures are not what they were to me. Maybe every post, every like, every comment does not give you the attention and value you seek. Maybe that is not your “yoke.” Maybe you are bound to something else that has stolen your freedom. Today could be the day you celebrate true independence. Today could be the day you are finally a prisoner set free. He is waiting for you to drop the chains, and simply ask for it-your freedom, that is.

I do not own rights to video, lyrics, or music.

Don’t Believe the Lies

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

I have been vocal in past posts about my thoughts on, and my desire for boundaries when it comes to social media. In my last social media fast, I came to the realizaton that some of my thoughts may have even been extreme. Maybe even unhealthy. My use of social media is personal, and not everyone will go on the same journey, and it is through this perspective that I have developed some different views, and healthier personal usage.

One thing, however, has not changed-my views on that comment section.

We all wanna know we matter
We all wanna know we’re loved
More the same than we are different
Desperate just to be enough

But it’s like we’ve all forgotten
How much we’re all connected
When I read the comment section. -Sidewalk Prophets

This song, “The Comment Section,” is about the hurtful comments posted in the comment section by individuals behind a screen, and the descriptions throughout it are pretty accurate. What is even more discouraging, is that at times this type of commentary flows into our personal, and face-to-face conversations.

Case in point: I lead a monthly girls group. 3 girls. Supposedly friends working through a self-esteem exercise; but in this past week’s group, spending most of the time poking fun at each other, and spewing hurtful comments about each other’s features, bodies, and minds. “Fat, ugly, dumb.” After more than an hour of this, the life had been sucked out of me. The hurtful back and forth banter disguised as “joking,” wrecked my spirit, and I carried it with me into the weekend. Why is this language among each other acceptable? Why do we poke fun to have fun? Why do we desire to hurt each other? Over time, whether read or heard-these comments leave scars no one can see. Doubts that carry on long after words have been spoken.

With each comment and verbal slur of judgment, we begin to believe all the lies said about us. That interaction in group was only a part of the onslaught of lies Satan threw at me throughout that week. All due to triggers that were reminders of my past. A reminder of an older name that had me believing divorced women truly were not fit to pastor. An email that was a reminder of all the past events that made me feel unworthy and unqualified. The consistent “uglies, fats” and everything else I heard on that day was the last straw.

I refuse to let Satan continue to throw lies at me. I refuse to let the own comment section I allow to scroll in my head define me.

I struggled with what topic to focus on this month. With whether to even do a monthly reading plan. With May holding space for Mother’s Day, themes of parenting or being a mother seemed to fit; however, not everyone fits this description. Yet, this very moment in life-motherhood; it can fill us with so many inadequcies. We have so many doubts about our abilities, and we tend to compare ourselves with so many others. Thinking they have it all right, and we have it all wrong.

But, it’s all lies. We tend to believe so many lies.

This month, we will be defeating those lies. The lies we believe about ourselves (and even others) because of the world’s vision that we all comform to one ideal. The lies that tell us we need to be a certain way, parent a certain way, or anything else a certain way to be approved. Through Scripture and song, we will discover the truth the world often shuts out, if you only read the comment section.

Because here is the truth: God has made us good, pleasing, and perfect, among so many other things. It is time we believe this, instead of all the lies the devil may feed us.

Be sure to visit tomorrow for a copy of the newest 30 day Bible reading plan, with a link to the playlist of each song, so you can also listen to truth all month long!

You are the pearl

“June? You were born in June? Then why did your parents name you January?”

It is a question I have gotten a lot. I know the answer. Sometimes I take the time to provide it. Other times I don’t.

It has also taken me a number of years to embrace the name myself. To even embrace the person God has shaped me to be. Too many years. Too many hurts. Dark, twisty turns can often lead us to the place where we finally begin to see ourselves in the ways we were meant to be seen all along. It’s eye-opening. It’s liberating. It’s freeing. But it’s a nerve-wracking, heart-wrenching, soul-searching journey.

Sometimes it even means just owning your name. Owning your birthright. Owning the circumstances of your birth, and the suffering, darkness, and grit that have made you who you are.

Which is why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that January is the first month of the year.  A month representing new beginnings. That the name January is derived from the name of the Roman god, Janus, who was the god of new beginnings, with two faces-one to look to the future and one to look to the past. I’ve always used my past to start anew. I’ve never been one to sit and sulk when hurt.

And, no I wasn’t born in January, and there is a reason for that, too. Those born in June, especially at the end of the month tend to be caring, empathetic, and kind. They are also forgiving and extremely optimistic, tending to look at the bright side, and seeing the good in most things (source).

However, they can also have a dark side. They are extremely clumsy (true fact, here), and because of their kindness and empathy-can be taken advantage of, and go through periods of suffering. Like their birthstone-the pearl.

I recently heard the following in a sermon: Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you. Matthew 7:6, NLT

I thought it harsh, but it had me thinking about pearls. Why did Jesus use the pearl here, and not the diamond, ruby, or another jewel? Why the pearl?

Diamonds are great. They are said to be a girl’s best friend. Given as sign of commitment to the one chosen as a bride. Heavily sought after. Written about in songs. Everyone seems to want diamonds on their necks. Their wrists. A ring on it, and not a pearl ring, a diamond one. So, why is Jesus not talking about those? Diamonds?

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” Matthew 13:45-46, NLT

Again, why not diamonds?

One must understand how pearls are formed to understand why Jesus would choose to use this gem here. To find a pearl, one must search through hundreds of oysters. Why? Because pearls are not formed by chance. Contrary to belief, not every oyster contains a pearl. Pearls form after an irritant or some pesky monster enters the oyster. Some annoyance. To keep the oyster safe and secure. To protect it from harm, a fluid is secreted which eventually forms a rare, natural pearl.

So why pearls? Not diamonds?

Diamonds are a dime a dozen. Cut, fashioned, shaped, molded in the way the world desires. Placed in cases at every jewelry store, and set on any band you desire. There are infinite commercials about the diamond of one’s dreams-from Jared, of course.

Pearls don’t need to be cut, shaped or molded. They have to be searched for through seas and seas of oysters. They are sought after in their natural state. They are valuable because they need no polishing from the world, but are polished by God. They are the true representation of grace under pressure, purity, and integrity. They are protectors. Cased in shells until found in their infinite beauty.

Everything that represents Jesus.

June. I was born in June.

Full of wisdom. Polished in my natural beauty and rarity by my Maker. Pure. Innocent. Loyal. A place of safety in darkness. Valuable.

A pearl of great price.

More than just a name

I am chosen. Not forsaken. I am who you say I am. -Hillsong Worship

Have you ever researched the meaning of your “born” name? The name you are called on a daily basis? Maybe it’s the name on your birth certificate or a nickname you have had since goodness knows when.

Just me? Ok. Maybe it’s because my name isn’t ordinary. Or because I get asked a number of questions about my name constantly.

Or maybe I’m the only one who has thought…hmmmm…does this name fit me? Is it an indication of my personality?

January. It only ever ranked in the top 1000 baby names of the year since that rankings inception in 1978 at…wait for it. 639. Out of 1000. No surprise. I was born in 1978. This was right around the time a movie, with a character of the same name was made. Guess the novelty wore off, because it never ranked on that list again.

However, it did rank among the top names to make fun of during my school-age years. Along with my maiden name, now made famous by a country singer, known more for her legs than her easy to poke fun at last name.

Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John-but you will be called Cephus (which means Peter).” John 1:42

While my parents may have given me this unique, easy to make fun of name, like Simon, who received his own new name; I was given a number of new names when I accepted Christ.

Though my father may have picked my middle name, and had much to do with that now made famous last name, my heavenly Father gave me a new name when I entered His family.

I may be January to all who greet me. But I am more than just an earthly name to God.

I am chosen. I am royalty. I am beloved. Set apart. Victorious. Forgiven.

I am who He says I am.

What I know now

“Are you an albino?”

“I was wondering that, too. You know…because of the hair and big lips.”

Those questions? Those comments? They were made about me. All while trying to get through an already awkward middle school gym class.

Those comments told me these things: You don’t fit in. You look different. You don’t belong.

So I did everything over a number of years to somehow look like everyone else. I couldn’t change my lips, but I could at least try to change my hair. So I thinned it out. I tried to straighten it. So I could run my fingers through it like all the other girls could their hair.

Try as I might, I still looked different.

I wish I knew then what I know now.

“We’ve gotten some complaints about your ‘sass.'” You are passionate, but maybe tone it down a bit.”

“Pink hair? Interesting…”

“Doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible that you shouldn’t have tattoos? And aren’t you a Pastor?”

“You’re so naïve. That’s cool and all, but you’re too naive. Face it! Some people are just jerks.”

Comparison and criticism didn’t stop in adulthood. If anything, it hurt worse.

I wasn’t in middle school anymore. We were all adults. Why were we still picking apart all things? And casting folks into categories?

I wish I knew then what I know now.

I wish I knew that those middle school taunts, though not forgotten, would one day not define me.

I wish I knew that I didn’t need the approval from those adults to fulfill a purpose God had given just to me.

I wish I knew then, because maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to stop straightening my hair. To show my daughter to love and style her beautiful curls. To love my face. All the delicate, and supposedly big parts of it.

I wish I knew then, that even if I didn’t fit anywhere in middle school, that I was accepted.

That if I didn’t fit the mold of what a pastor was supposed to look like, that I was made for a purpose.

That if I was naïve and saw too much good, that I was loved, and could show others this same love.

So others know they are also accepted. They also belong.

I don’t know what middle school lies you may be believing today. What mold you are being forced to fit into. Or who keeps telling you to give up on seemingly lost souls. Or even that you are one of them.

But it’s not true.

You are made for so much more. You are treasured. You are sacred. You are his. You’re beautiful.

He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:3

Through his eyes

In my job with students during the weekday, I get to spend my time supporting them in various activities. I have had the pleasure of learning how to play the saxophone. I have sat through many an assembly. Gone on a number of field trips, and completed a number of art projects. This was no different.

The assignment was 20 things. Each student had to turn to a page in their book and list 20 things that described themselves.

I noticed something. So many were struggling with those 20. Needed help even coming up with one. Looked around the room for a word. Even asked their peers to describe them, wrote what their peers said, or some word they over heard. “Oh yes, that’s me.”

It bothered me enough that I sat in the lunch room the next day and did the same thing. I wanted to make sure I was just as distracted. To see if this was the reason it was so hard. If I could come up with my own list of 20, or if I would need help along the way. If I would get stuck. Need to look around for validation. Seek the faces of the people around me for support.

‘Cause you stood right there, And then you broke apart the lies. You told me I had something beautiful inside. You brought to life the part of me I thought had died. ‘Cause you stood right there until I saw me; I saw me through your eyes  -Brit Nicole, Through Your Eyes

And I realized why it wouldn’t take me long. And, after seeing my list, why mine was so different than the lists of those preteens in that art class. Because words like forgiven and redeemed would not be on their lists. They were seeing themselves through the eyes of the world. Placing value on themselves based on the opinions of those around them.

I knew in the moment I wrote my 20 things who gave me my value: God. I see myself how He sees me.

But I didn’t always feel this way. I am pretty sure my preteen self looked to the world for approval. I didn’t seek God. I know for sure I didn’t have the relationship I have with Him now. My friends were much “cooler.” Or so I thought.

If I only knew what I know now. No one will love you like He will. No one will accept you in your brokenness like He will. No one will forgive you in the way He will. No one will see all your wretchedness, and look at you with tender love the way He will. No one can  see you the way He does. So stop looking at yourself through the lenses of everyone else, and start looking at yourself through His eyes.

https://youtu.be/WJzaQP1GmEc