Words that are worth it

blog picI was thirteen, at a ballgame with Lindsey. She was a knock-out, and all the boys agreed. In fact, two “older men”—tenth graders sportin’ driver’s licenses—approached us with eyes for my bestie. Then one of them pointed at me and said in his best swagger, “I know why Lindsey hangs around ugly girls. ‘Cause it makes her even prettier.” Still a cringe-worthy scene, so imagine my braces-and-freckles reaction.

Fast forward to age twenty, as I spoke with my college professor. He’d not been kind in the past, and this day was no exception. During our conversation, he dropped a self-esteem hammer: “You’re average at best,” he began. “You’re not unique and never will be. But you’ll be a decent citizen and have a fairly nice life.” B-r-u-t-a-l.

Now before your heart breaks for me, please know there were positive encounters, too. And life has surpassed “fairly nice.” But how unfortunate when painful words linger; sadder still is our tendency to believe them.

Not sure when it hit me, but I once journaled these questions. And I’m telling you, they were a literal Godsend:

    • Why let boys decide my value?
    • Why blindly believe anyone’s opinion of me?
    • Why spend time with people who degrade me?
    • Why not believe who God says I am?

I’ve grown up hearing God’s description of me and you, too: We were made in His image. He formed us uniquely—with awe, even. He has plans for us, good ones. And these truths aren’t just temporary pick-me-ups. They are life changing.

By life changing, I mean more—way more—than feeling better about ourselves. Of course, God’s words soothe the soul: With Him on our side, who cares what men say? But validation isn’t the only benefit and honestly, it’s not the main one.

When you truly embrace who you are in God’s eyes, some interesting shifts can happen:

  1. Distractions fade. Stressing over what others think is exhausting. (It’s actually self-centered.) I wonder what God could do with a girl who frees her mind and focuses on Him.
  2. Purpose emerges. God has stuff for you to do—fulfilling stuff that’ll bring you to life, make each day matter. So ask Him for the bigger picture. And then live big.
  3. Faith becomes personal. You were born with God’s love. But you weren’t His child yet, not ‘til you followed Jesus. Once that happened, though, you gained a best friend, a wise advisor, and a perfect role model. (Want to know more? Message me for life changing details.)

Tired of hurtful words? Ready to send them packing? Cling to who you are. Cling to whose you are. I promise, God is worth it. Thanks to Jesus, you are too.

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An eye for deeper waters

olivia 2

 

Don’t get me wrong: God’s directive was clear when I wrote A Daughter’s Worth. The topic was biblical and timely. It still is. But lately it’s given me pause.

From page one, my heart ached for young women seeking value in boys, popularity, body image. I watched girls struggling to matter. I saw them drowning in the fight. And I knew the answer to their angst was a loving Heavenly Father.

Strange thing is, God soon showed me that insecurities linger. Twenty and thirty-somethings began using the book for their Bible studies. Even as I taught A Daughter’s Worth to hordes of teens, my own issues resurfaced. And I was forty-something.

After this unexpected generational appeal, I began to wonder: Why haven’t we grown-up girls moved past the pain? Is some hurt especially crippling? Are we just now addressing it? Or, God forbid, are we stuck?

Two comforting scriptures have always soothed my wounded self-esteem: One says that God heals the heart (Psalm 34:18). Another, that I’m special to Him (2 Corinthians 6:18). These verses help my feelings; they should. But faith-altering questions loom in light of these assurances: What is God healing me for? When will I accept my identity in Christ and stop circling these same emotional waters? Am I missing real depth by floundering in shallow pools of “me-focused” Christianity?

Granted, new believers—and most teens I’ve met—wade through a “who am I now?” adjustment. It’s a necessary period of self-awareness. I mean, it takes a minute to comprehend that despite formerly swimming in sin, we’ve now been mercifully washed clean. We are His!

But if we long-timers are truly transforming, then where’s the “more of Him and less of me” growth? Some of us are still nurturing shame instead of praising our Forgiver. Some of our Bible studies devote more time to bemoaning personal issues than understanding (or applying) scripture. Some of us pray solely for easier circumstances but never for God’s glory through trials.

Please know I’m speaking to myself here. Just yesterday I journaled this: “I’ve belonged to God for decades. It’s time to trade shallow, self-absorbed faith for the holy esteem of King Jesus. All eyes on Him ‘cause I’m sick of looking at me.”

Want to stop swimming in circles of self? Me too. Here’s my prayer: “Lord, I need a mature faith. I want the adult swim. So it’s time to look squarely on you, the Savior beckoning me to deeper waters. Please show me how to get there. Please give me wisdom, endurance, power, purpose. Give me more of you. And don’t let me return to shore, Lord. ‘Cause that ship of shallow has sailed.”

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Jesus said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.”

“Come” He said.

Matthew 14:27-29

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The near and the good

Want a sweet, feel-good Bible verse for your kitchen? I used to recommend this one: “As for me, the nearness of God is my good” (Psalm 73:28). But lately, the words unsettle me. Truth be told, they’ve kept me up at night.

The crux of the struggle is this: Being near to God has taken a “life is too busy” backseat. And that’s no good at all. For the record, morality is safely intact, prayers are still muttered, and church is attended. But I’ve missed relationship. I’ve missed contentment. I’ve missed what this verse embraces: The writer’s fulfillment—everything that’s good and right—is understood through unrushed, one-on-one God time. No wonder I’ve been lacking.

The first part of Psalm 73 sounds more like me of late. Asaph, the author, has been through the ringer of injustice, frustration, and loss. Also like me, he does his share of complaining. But by the last verse of this chapter…. Oh, boy. This is where Asaph shows me a thing or two: After all the belly aching, and despite continued hardships, he takes his weary self to the Lord’s feet.  Because when God is close, says Asaph, then all is good.

It’s a basic tenet of scripture, I realize. Believers are comforted in the presence of an attentive, ever-present Savior. So why am I not enjoying Him? Has the adage “God is with me” become rhetoric? Or, God forbid, trite? I know better. What’s good for me is nearness to Him. Being near to Him is goodness for me. So to jumpstart my spiritual reset, I paraphrased the verse in several ways:

* I don’t care if the world says that _____ defines contentment: Being near God is all I need.

* Everyone else may have blinders on, but I appreciate a good thing when I see it: God loves me. He wants relationship. And He’s not going anywhere.

* The good life has mercifully come my way: God (through Jesus—I’m adding some New Testament flavor here) wants closeness with me. With me! What else could I possibly desire?

I’m not quite there yet, this getting reacquainted with an intimate Lord. But I want to be. I’m asking God to show me more of Himself. I’m asking for the wisdom to simplify, to rest. And I’m already thinking differently. Here’s a prayer that’s crept into my Jesus time. Chances are, I’ve prayed this for you; feel free to pray it for me:

“Lord, you are good. You are light, joy, justice, and purpose. You are forgiving and loving, provider and sustainer. And you, Father, are near. Please help me [or whomever] sense it, desire it, treasure it, share it. And Lord, I’m thankful that your good presence is always good enough.”

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God whispers (reprint)

sun raysYou’ll never believe it! (Or maybe you will.) I, a regular, somewhat level-headed human, just tuned in to the Voice. No, not the TV show—way better than that. The Voice, as in Almighty God Inside My Head. Undeniably His. And undeniably cool.

It happened at 7:00 a.m. during a bit of anxiety. I was worried about friends, family, money, you name it. And as I peeked into the bathroom mirror, a clear-as-day thought flashed across my brain: “Just focus on Me. Look My way, and you’ll be fine.”

Now, a couple of things need to be said here: Number one, I was not dreaming. And number two, it did NOT come from me.

Believers often say God talks to them. I understand being moved through songs, sermons, sunsets. Most of us have seen a Bible verse leap off the page and into our hearts. That’s God, no doubt. And it’s special.

But can thoughts coming out of a human brain actually be the Voice of God? And if so, how do we know they’re His? Like today. I was certain, squinting in that mirror, that God spoke into my ear: “Just focus on Me. Look My way, and you’ll be fine.” Here’s what convinced me:

1)   It sounded exactly like something He’d say. And it sounded nothing like me.

Throughout the Bible, God says to focus on Him. And His presence calms our inner storm. (Remember Peter’s walk on water?) As for me and my natural M.O, I’m more of a “We’re all gonna drown!” kind of girl. Thank God for His thoughts, not mine. And His Voice is always scripturally sound.

2)   It was a grammar thing.

I distinctly heard, “Focus on ME,” a first person reference to the One speaking. Now, if my brain were talking to itself, it would say, “Focus on HIM,” or “Focus on God.” See the difference? When my thoughts on God switch from thinking ABOUT Him to speaking FOR him (first person I, Me, My, Mine), it’s time to take notice.

3)   I was primed and ready for good reception.

During a recent sermon, God nudged me to clean “house” for Holy chats: Praise songs on, TV trash off. Prayer life fed, gossip starved. Verses memorized, wrongs forgotten. The Bible calls it the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). I call it, “Jesus, invade my brain.”

So listen up, fellow Christ followers. He’s searching for ears to hear. And the words He chooses are true, clear, life-changing: “[Jesus said], ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow Me’” (John 10:27).

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A boomerang in the desert

desert

I haven’t written in months. One, I’m overwhelmed with perpetual stacks of ungraded essays. Two, I’m struggling with my own Jesus walk, sometimes feeling inadequate and unspiritual (lies of the enemy, by the way, that I’m vehemently resisting).

Then last night my own encouraging words returned to me. A young woman who’d asked for advice in 2012 emailed a report of Christ’s faithfulness. And with that report, she inadvertently attached my initial message to her. She had no idea (but God did) just how much I needed it now. So thanks, K, for recycling the truths originally intended for you. Today they’ve returned for me (and maybe for others, too).

Dear K,

It sounds as if you’re in the desert, parched with disappointment and shriveled in faith. I have been there too. Please let me encourage you with the hope of Jesus. I’ve learned several lessons walking through my own dry places, lessons that healed my heart by aligning it with God’s:

1) Cling to Scripture no matter how bleak your circumstances seem. Remind yourself of God’s presence continuously, creatively: Post-it notes on a mirror, Bible apps on your phone, praise music in the car. Say the truths out loud as if they were critical for your heart to hear. (They are.) And even when you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. That part is key.

2) Refuse to believe the enemy’s lies. Satan knows you’re wilting, and he’s erected some dangerous mirages to get you off course: Confusion, doubt, blame, bitterness. Don’t let these pools of poison near you; they can be lethal. So how can you, the weary one, go up against the tricky one? You can’t. But He who is in you is greater than any trickster. Ask God for strength. And when the enemy tempts you with desert-sized lies, send him packing.

3) Realize that the desert can be necessary. Maybe you were headed the wrong way. Maybe you needed another perspective. Maybe it’s time for you and God, together with no one else. Whatever the reason, God is with you. And there is an upside to this difficult journey, a heightened, sweet and unexplainable spiritual intimacy. You will be blessed. Encouraged. Changed. Then when you finally cross the desert, you’ll proclaim—I’ll guarantee this one—that the difficult trip was worth it.

4) Expect to trust more and question less. When this desert is just a memory (and it will be), God may or may not reveal the purpose. And while not every “why?” is answered this side of Heaven, eventually you’ll trust God even when questions linger. You’ll have mind-blowing proof of His faithfulness. You’ll begin to see that God’s greater purpose is bigger than your dreams. And He loves you enough to satisfy—especially in the desert.

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. . . . They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

Isaiah 35:1-2

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It could be worse

It just doesn't get any better than Pensacola Beach, Florida. :)

It just doesn’t get any better than Pensacola Beach, Florida. :)

Granted, I was complaining. To my credit the woe-is-me talk was harmless, sarcastic humor—pretty funny stuff too, I might add—but regardless, there was belly aching. And on this particular day, in this particular place, my grumbling didn’t sit well with someone nearby. She glared at me and exclaimed, “It could be worse!”

She was right.

Ever since, I’ve been borderline obsessing over those four words. Was she scolding me? After all, blessings do indeed abound, and I should be more grateful. Was she helping me look at the bright side? If so, it’s uncomfortable to feel relief when someone else suffers more. Regardless of her intention, the sentiment was accurate: It could be worse. So what am I supposed to do with that?

First and foremost, this revelation: I could be afraid of what happens when this life runs out. But I’m not. I could lie awake wondering what my purpose is, why I was born at all. But I don’t. I could run myself ragged trying to be good enough for God to notice me, to love me, to save me from myself. But I don’t have to.

Thanks to Jesus, it couldn’t be better. And I am eternally grateful.

So why think twice about one comment? I’m honestly not sure. Can’t help believing, though, that it’s making me grow. Since the “could be worse” encounter, I’ve been praying about the real Ava—who she is on the inside, whose hope she shows to others. Here’s what God’s been teaching me:

  • Struggles are temporary. And to rise above the earthly bad, I must consciously focus on the heavenly good (Philippians 4:8).
  • Emotions can blind me with grief, regret, insecurity, and self-pity. I need at least one safe person—a wise, Jesus follower who knows my heart—who’ll let me vent but won’t let me stay there. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
  • I shouldn’t complain to anyone and everyone within earshot. I may be misunderstood. (Philippians 2:14)

More than anything, I’m learning that—like it or not—my outside should match my inside. I’m praying for infectious joy, that a smile is found on my face. That the smile is 100% real. And that all my words please Him.

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Don’t call me sexy

blog pic 2Dear Friends on Social Media:

This is Kate, and I have a request: Please don’t call me sexy. I know you mean well, and it’s nice you think I’m pretty. But the word sexy, I’ve gotta say, doesn’t actually mean pretty. In fact, it has little to do with my face. When you say I’m sexy, you’re saying I arouse sexual desire. You’re saying I’m sexually suggestive. But to me, that shouldn’t be true. ‘Cause I follow Jesus. And I’m only seventeen.

Maybe it’s just a word to you, a slang term that’s no big deal. But what if it’s a big deal to me? Words—even the ones we don’t think much about—have the power to nourish or starve, to uplift or degrade. And if we’re not careful, the idea behind a word can take root. It can become part of us. It can become us.

I’m not saying it’s a bad word; sexiness has its place. In a few years, after I’m Mrs. So-and-So, the time for smoking hotness will happen. (Oh, my.) And as Mrs. So-and-So it’ll be nice to be physically noticed, even gushed about. But you can bet that when it happens, it’ll be in private.

Until then, though, please don’t connect me with sexy or hot or anything else with that connotation. As a Jesus girl, I work hard at downplaying the hotness and up-playing the classy—a timeless look that my Lord, the right guy, and I find worthy. Yes, that means modest fashion. (In a world of cleavage, I’m all about the layering!) Yes, that means modest photo ops. (In a world of sexy pouts, I’m all about the winsome smile.) And yes, that means standing strong when pouty-lipped cleavage chicks get more likes. :)

Thanks for respecting my convictions, for protecting my name. If the mood strikes, please notice my new haircut. Or my glowing skin after a day in the sun. Or how the joy of Christ shines on my face. That would make me smile!

So can we please back off the sexy? And bring the pretty back? For all us Jesus beauties.

In Christ,

A Daughter of the Most High (Kate)

 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue. . . .” Proverbs 18:21

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The tongue trap

girls_whispering[1]Let’s talk about talking. First, some observations: One, girls generally enjoy it. I know this firsthand. Two, words are important. They shape us, challenge us, inspire us. Three, we sometimes say more than we should. Hurtful things, even. Maybe we’re bored. Perhaps we want more attention, more popularity, more relevance. But more can get us in trouble. Maybe it’s time for less.

I learned the value of less during high school. A rumor—one of those juicy ones—was spreading about Jane. For me, a pretty sheltered teen, hearing details gave me scrumptious scoop about sin life. It also kept me in the cafeteria-chat loop. Besides, the more I knew, the more I could pray for her, right? (A conversation beginning with “pray for so-and-so who is doing the following things” can be dangerous, ladies. Careful on this one.)

Then one day Jane asked me for advice. Yes, me, the one who listened to the gossip and, I’m sure, weighed in as well. Why me? Because she assumed I’d rise above the rumors. She knew I walked with Jesus, and Jesus girls are (supposedly) different. “I trust you,” Jane said. “And I need you to pray for me.”

Oh, Jane. Oh, that I’d listened to others less and to my Savior more. Oh, that I’d backed away from the scoop, that I’d been less self-involved and more compassionate. Like my Jesus.

Decades later, I still occasionally hear women saying more than they should. Hurtful things. Sadly, tongues don’t stop wagging just because we’re older. But thankfully, God has changed me over the years and has shown me how to avoid the Tongue Trap:

  1. Speak up when conversations go south. No need to be mean or confrontational. Just be honest: “I’d sure hate for someone to talk about me like this, so can we change the subject?”
  2. Pray for a person the same amount of time she’s brought up in conversation. This technique is rewarding in many ways, let me tell you.
  3. Offer fewer details to acquaintances about my own shortcomings. Not everyone needs to know all the specifics, and it reduces potential gossip about me.
  4. Find the joy in drama-free conversations. Backing away from scoop means living without the craziness of everyone’s business. Oddly enough, this reduces my own stress and makes me more thankful.
  5. Study and implement God’s wisdom about the tongue. The books of Proverbs and James are great starting places. Bottom line: Talk less, listen lovingly, and make sure God is glorified in whatever I say.

Let’s take care of each other, Jesus girls. Less harmful chatter, okay? And more kindness to others? Somebody’s heart depends on it.

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The little things

Some of my best times with God are spent at Pensacola Beach, Florida.

Some of my best times with God are spent at Pensacola Beach, Florida.

I wanted to see dolphins. It was a perfect beach day, the water blue with white waves dotting the seascape. “One thing’s for sure,” I thought: “If I were a dolphin, I’d do flips just past that sandbar.” But so far, no sea creatures wowed me. Not even a jellyfish.

Sitting there with toes in the sand, gratitude flowed. I thanked God for beautiful Pensacola Beach. I gushed about the endless shades of color. And then on a whim, I threw in the dolphin thing.

“Lord,” I began, “You know what would be cool? A dolphin show. I’d love to see some full-body jumps. Or a few of them playing. Or even a fin, Lord. How about just one fin?”

You’re probably guessing that something awesome happened next. After all, God hears our desires and displays His glory. So it makes perfect sense that a Dolphin Miracle, so to speak, was about to happen at noon on Thursday.

If you’re thinking along these lines, you’re partially right: At noon on Thursday, God’s glory was displayed. But it wasn’t through a dolphin.

As I finished my prayer and stared into the Gulf, movement appeared near shore. Not way out there where the big boys play but close to me. Suddenly, in slow motion it seemed, a little fish did the trick of its life.  In my forty-nine years of beach trips, I’ve never seen a jump with such flair! This may be a slight exaggeration, but I think he nailed a triple-twist backwards gill tuck. For sure, it was a perfect ten. And I believe it was just for me.

After laughing out loud and considering a standing ovation, I got it: “Oh, Lord, your glory is not only in the BIG. Yes, you answer weighty prayers, and yes, you lavish us greatly. But your majesty is every bit as impressive in the places we overlook—in the seemingly ordinary, the seemingly unimportant. But it’s all spectacular, Father! We don’t have to wait for big glory to appear. We just have to open our eyes.”

So thank you, little fish. I wasn’t expecting such a gift from such an unassuming source. But I know who created you, and I know His specialty: Making something pretty great out of something pretty small.

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 “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. . . . . The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:2-4

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Alive and well

friendsHe’s no longer dead; just let that sink in. A human body once breathed. And then the breathing stopped. But a new day dawned and with the rising sun, the Son of God arose.

He’s alive and well: The angel said it. An empty tomb revealed it. Eyewitnesses proclaimed it. Unfathomable, for sure—But the truth of this birth-to death-to life again event is a literal lifesaver.

Case in point, me. I’m no longer dead. I used to be. Physically I was in the world, but spiritually there was no heartbeat. Then Jesus Christ showed up, helped me see a better way—the only way, in fact. So I chose what enlightened dead folks choose: To follow Him, all the way to eternal life.

Now I’m born again. A Christ follower. Saved. My hope is alive, my purpose is sure, and my Risen Lord is the reason.

So what do I sing this Resurrection Day? He’s no longer dead! Jesus sits in triumph at the Father’s right hand. And His Holy Spirit courses through my veins—Let the miracle of that sink in!

Are you singing too? I hope so.

I hope you’re alive in Christ. I pray you’re dead to old sins, former shame, and lingering doubt. No room for those inside the living.

Happy Resurrection Day, worthy daughters in Christ. Let’s breathe in those sweet gulps of new life. All is well, for He is risen indeed!

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