Longing for Paradise

Yeah, a little over a week ago we were at this place. I still can’t believe it.

It all started with a text:

“I really really really just want to stay home tonight.”

There were a lot of things going on – really good things, mind you – but my hubby was tired, and I could relate. As such, I sent him this half-joking, half-serious response:

“I’ve decided I really really really want to run away to an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean for a week. Sans children.”

I think I was expecting him to laugh, or say “if only!” or something of the sort. We had a lot of things going on and had been trying to save money to revamp our kitchen. Instead? Almost immediately he responded, “Release the funds and I am there.”

You don’t have to tell me twice!

We decided to push back our kitchen project. We researched for the best deals. We arranged for childcare for the girls. I was extra motivated to wean the baby from nursing. And then, we went.

You guys, it was amazing.

We spent our time doing things like… reading a book on the beach

Our view while reading. Breathtaking.

… snorkeling

See the little fishies? We saw nurse sharks, sting rays, sea urchins, and all kinds of colorful fish!

… swimming in the pool

The most gorgeous pool I’ve ever seen.

… and enjoying fancy dinners.

Check out that happy couple!

Throughout the planning and the trip itself, I couldn’t help but think about what was really pulling our hearts toward paradise. Aside from getting a chance to relax, why do we feel drawn to these beautiful and exotic locations?

I believe it is because our souls are ingrained with a yearning for heaven. Take the absolute best experiences of our lives, and we still, deep down know that there is something even better waiting for us.

Our vacation was everything that I had hoped it would be. The weather was fantastic and the scenery was gorgeous. But heaven is going to be even better than that.

Max Lucado, in Heaven: God’s Highest Hope, says it this way:

“…we have our moments. The newborn on our breast, the bride on our arm, the sunshine on our back. But even those moments are simply slivers of light breaking through heaven’s window. God flirts with us. He tantalizes us. He romances us. Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come.”

When we long for paradise, it is because it is the closest we can get to what is awaiting us in eternity. Our hearts are yearning for the day we get to be in the physical presence of our Lord. Heaven is beyond our imagination (1 Corinthians 2:9), so we seek out the closest thing to it on earth.

The most beautiful thing I’ve seen or experienced in this life is minuscule compared to what lies ahead. The wait…the work… is all going to be worth it.

“We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” (2 Corinthians 5:3-5ish; The Message)

Interested in learning a little more about heaven? Here is a great message shared by Pastor Chris Hodges from Church of the Highlands just this past Sunday!

21 Days and Counting…

We are wrapping up the final days of 21 days of prayer and fasting at my church. As my last post stated, I started out a bit rocky. However, in the past two weeks I feel like I am experiencing significant changes.

My main objective was to get up each morning at 6 so I could dedicate the first part of my day to the Lord. Did I do this perfectly? No. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely.

(The above creative video was made by our church’s amazing production team specifically for this period of fasting.)

Here are a few things that I have discovered in my efforts to wake up early on a consistent basis:

– Setting an alarm is a necessity. If you are awake at 5, this does not mean you will be awake at 6. Also, check the alarm setting on your phone to make sure it has a ringer. If not, you will wake up at 6:30 with a very silent “Alarm” message flashing on your phone.

– The enemy will use every tactic possible to keep you from your appointment with God. Things like, children waking up uncharacteristically throughout the night, illnesses, and extra little ones in your bed. This is a sign that God wants to do something BIG in your life. Don’t let the enemy steal this time from you!

– Find something that helps you focus. I personally find it difficult to pray for an hour straight. It has helped me to turn on my worship music, write out my prayers, or even to pray while coloring. Taking a shower right away and turning on bright lights is a great way to help your body wake up so you don’t fall back asleep while praying!

– By far, the most beneficial thing I have done during these morning prayer times is write out my prayers. I’ve had journals in the past, but this time I typed out my prayers and what I was learning on the computer. I type rather quickly, so I was less likely to lose my train of thought. I also love having the ability to look back on the things that I have prayed and see how God has answered my prayers. One morning in particular, I was praying about fear and took the opportunity to search for and write out verses on how we do not have to be afraid. This was a powerful way to start my day!

As a side note, I have been blown away by the love and encouragement I have received from friends during these 21 days. I have received texts, cards, and offers to watch my children so I could go to prayer at church. I also had several people come up to me and encourage me in some way at one of the special Wednesday night services. It has been so heartwarming to have been on the receiving end of such encouragement. This makes me want to do the same for others! Our words have such a powerful impact on those around us. Let our impact be a positive one!

Final takeaway? It’s all worth it. I am going to continue to dedicate my mornings to the Lord. There is no better way to begin my day.

“Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3; NLT)

Fast Asleep

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Every August and January, my church holds a 21 day period of fasting. The main goal is to shift our focus from what we think we need, so that we ultimately become dependent on our relationship with Christ.

Each time, when deciding what to fast, I ask myself,”What is something I am dependent upon? What is something that would allow me more time in prayer if I gave it up?” I then try to nail down some specific things I am praying for during that season.

I usually do a limited food fast and give up some or all forms of media. It’s amazing how giving up something so small can help quiet my thoughts and bring me closer to the Spirit. After doing this for several years, I’ve learned that I often get what I put into this season of fasting. I’ve even developed healthier habits.

That being said, this time around I felt led to do something a little different. I decided I would fast sleep.

Okay, not all sleep. That’s ridiculous. But let’s be real – sleep can be a huge idol for me. I talk about it a LOT. I love sleep and allow who I am to be dictated by how many hours I have procured.

At 15 months old, the baby has FINALLY started consistently sleeping through the night. It’s amazing! But the thing is, I still find it hard to get up before my girls wake up. So, my main goal during this period of fasting is to get up every morning at 6 to read my Bible, pray, listen, worship, and ultimately devote my day to Him.

Our lead pastor has been using the phrase, “Before I start my day, God has something to say!” This is such a true statement. I’ve been seeking God for a long time, and I’m much more refreshed and ready to tackle all that life throws at me when I give God the first moments of my day.

So, how’s it going?

We are almost a week in, and it has been hard. HARD. I’ve kinda failed. I’m a pastor’s wife and I’ve FAILED. Why am I telling you this? Through this failure, I am encouraged. If Satan is working so diligently to keep me away from this chunk of time with God, there must be something extra special I will find in it. I am more determined and cannot wait to see all that God has to say to me.

We have a little over two weeks left in the fast. If you happen to see me around, could you do me a favor? Please ask me how this waking up at 6 thing is going, because who I am does not depend on sleep. Who I am depends on Christ in me.

“for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14; NLT)

Thirty

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Photo credit: Alexa’s Photography

I’ll be thirty this month.

At sixteen I got to drive a car.

At eighteen I got to go off to college and vote.

At twenty-one I was old enough to buy alcohol. What I actually did was tell my waiter that it was my twenty-first birthday and then ordered a virgin strawberry daiquiri. Just because I could. I like to think of myself as a rebel in the oddest sense of the word.

At twenty-five I was a quarter of a century old, and for a math nerd, that was pretty fun.

Then it all blurred together and one day I realized, “I’m turning thirty this year.” Yikes.

My dad is the one who initially reminded me of my milestone birthday. So, when I do get a little depressed at the idea, I simply remind myself, “At least I’m not the parent of a thirty-year-old!” I’m kidding, but not really. Love ya, Daddy ;).

Truth is, I’m not really sure how I feel about thirty. I still think of myself as young, but the twenties are disappearing fast! Everyone says that metabolism slows dramatically the second you hit thirty, and since I’ve still got some baby tummy, that’s not exactly a pleasant thought. And then I think, “I’m almost a decade older than when I graduated college.” Wow.

On the other hand, thirty sounds rather intriguing. Have you ever seen the movie, “13 Going on 30?” It makes thirty sound exciting, fun, and even dream-worthy. I’ve also entered in to a whole new phase of life as a mom and I look forward to seeing how this new decade shapes my girls and my marriage.

Mostly, when I think about turning thirty, I’m evaluating how I’ve lived my life thus far, and how I can grow moving forward. How is my relationship with God? How am I doing when it comes to loving others? Is my life making an impact for the kingdom? Where should I focus my time and energy, and what things should I let go?

I am extremely grateful for so many things in my life. I truly feel blessed beyond imagination when I consider all that I get to call mine. For things like my husband, family, friends, church, home, and the opportunity to stay home. I pray that in everything, my response is always to cling to God and that He will use my life to produce more life.

So, here’s to thirty. May you bring more sleep, or at the very least, may I stop caring about sleep so much.

“But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the LORD’S own house.They flourish in the courts of our God. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.” (Psalm 92:12-14; NLT)

The Walking Dead

Picture stolen from this video

No, not the tv show. I once saw five minutes of it and was completely grossed out. I won’t be going there again.

In this case, “The Walking Dead” is actually referring to me. You see, I’ve always been rather fond of sleeping. I would leave a study group so I could sleep. I have found my best naps to be taken in cars, and I once slept through my husband attacking a raccoon that was trying to eat our chickens. I’m a 9 hour girl, and anything less can result in some pretty grotesque moods and a less than stellar attention span.

And now I’m a mom. Those precious 9 hours have gone out the window and I often wonder if they will ever return.

As a result, I can be pretty grumpy and moody and have an unflattering tendency to take my angst out on my husband. I am at my worst and my weakest and am the most vulnerable to attacks from the enemy when I start calculating how few hours of sleep I’m getting in comparison to my ideal 9. I am obsessed with sleep.

It’s in these moments of weakness and desperation that I realize God is trying to teach me how to depend on him. I am beginning to discover that when I stop feeling sorry for myself and start thanking Him for the immense amount of blessings he has poured into my life, the sleep doesn’t matter. In fact, some of my best moments with Him have been on the back end of a sleepless night.

I wholeheartedly believe that the Lord tests us in our weaknesses, urging us to let go of control. He knows that it is only through Him that we are strengthened and renewed. I assure you, I fail at this more times than I succeed, but I am becoming more and more certain that if I stop trying to force sleep to happen, I will actually feel more rested. So I pray that perhaps instead of being “The Walking Dead,” I can become “The Walking Life.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29, NIV)