Come With Me: Beyond the Invitation

Don’t you just love opening an invitation?  Lovely, thick stationery with an embossed seal takes a little effort to tear open, but it  carries so much excitement inside.

Not only does an invitation reveal something very special, such as an upcoming wedding date or a chance to shower some love on a new mother. But it communicates something to you as the recipient as well.

You are important. You are loved. I chose you for this. I want you to be part of this monumental moment.  It just wouldn’t be the same without you. Please say you’ll be there; I want you to experience this with me. Come with me and become part of my history.

In Suzie Eller’s just-released book, Come With Me, she reminds us that every single day, we have a chance to hear those words of invitation. Not only to hear them, but to accept them wholeheartedly.

Come With Me Release Day

Suzie journeys alongside the original 12 disciples of Jesus, and plants herself firmly as the 13th disciple. Throughout the book, she leans in to what they may have been thinking and feeling as they heard Jesus’s words, witnessed His miracles, and walked with Him daily, never having the benefit of knowing how His story continues even today. They didn’t have the luxury of hindsight, of being able to look back over thousands of years of scholarly analysis and see the nuances in what He might have been saying.

They were rough fishermen and despised tax collectors. They were Regular Joes. They went about their daily business of mending nets, reeling in the catch, balancing the books, squinting to record figures.

But they got an invitation. One by one, Jesus said Come with Me.

He had no sales pitch. Nothing at all that would indicate they were ablout to live a prosperous, carefree life. In fact, many of Jesus’s words would indicate the exact opposite.

But they each accepted the invitation. Leaving their jobs. Their families. Their positions. Their very identities in society.

Unlike the invitations we get in the mail today, Jesus’s invitation didn’t list a location, a dress code, a meal preference. You know, the things that help us be prepared for the big event. Nothing of the sort.

So why would these individuals say yes, knowing nothing beyond the man who was standing in front of them?

It didn’t make sense. They literally had no reason to open themselves up like that at first. No guarantees of any sort. But when Jesus spoke those words, they knew something more, something bigger than they’d ever dreamed of, was right there in front of them.

I doubt they knew it at the time, but by accepting Jesus’s invitation to Come with Me, they actually acknowledged that they were chosen.

It was an invitation alright. To put faith into practice. To understand forgiveness and mercy. To see with different eyes and hear with new ears. To be fully known and absolutely chosen anyway.

This exact same invitation Jesus gave to the twelve is the one we still have today. For some of us, it sits unopened in a pile of other important things, but we fear opening it because then we will have to make a choice to RSVP. For many of us, we have opened the invitation and accepted, but somehow thought it was about what to wear or what to buy to take along with us, missing the bigger picture entirely. And yet for some of us, we’ve been part of something bigger but the memories have faded.

This book is for all of our hearts. It’s about the journey we take when we decide not to just accept Jesus’s invitation, but to go wherever He leads. Out into deeper waters. Into unknown places. Into the darkness to carry His light.

That sounds all fine and good, but isn’t that a little scary? Can’t we just be happy with RSVPing and showing up for that one thing and just calling it good?

Don’t worry, Suzie understands. That’s why she encourages us in this book to “whisper yes where no wants to take root.” Throughout the pages, she shares ways that Jesus drew her closer by taking small baby steps of faith. Notice that I said Jesus drew her closer, but Suzie makes it clear that she also had to move closer each time she felt that stirring.

My life became hinged on Jesus nearly 14 years ago. The thing I continually learn is that He is always and forever choosing me. No matter what, He wants more of me. More of my heart. More time with me. He is the ultimate pursuer. No matter how inadequate or stagnant or unlovable I might feel, He is always reminding me of His invitation.

No expectations. No prerequisites. No list of improvements that have to be made before I can accept the invitation. He says Come with Me. I just have to whisper yes and allow Him to walk me through the rest.

Friends, Suzie’s Come with Me book officially released today! This is one you can read on your own or with a group, allowing Suzie to be your guide into a new adventure with Jesus.

My copy is already a little ragged, with multiple dog ears and notes scribbled in nearly every margin. It’s one I will revisit again and again along the way. Be sure to check out Suzie’s blog and some of her other beautiful books, such as The Mended Heart and The Unburdened Heart.

 

 

 

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Welcome! {Just this one thing}

What do I want in this life?

That’s a question I ask myself often. Sometimes to actually figure it out, and sometimes to just to weigh everything against my purpose to see if I am on the right track.

I’ve thought for years about a mission statement. A personal one for my life. I’ve even started to write one out a few different times, but it always seemed a bit too contrived, like I was trying to say all the right things to myself. To give myself a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy to nod my head at.

It never really worked.

Then during this past year, everything has been turned upside down a bit in my world. It’s made me look at everything and everyone a bit differently. Life has forced me to look at everything through a new lens of self-preservation, which has been both good for me and painful all at the same time.

But I realized these feelings of self-preservation have really been self-care, which I’ve neglected for entirely too long, and that’s not a good thing. So where am I to begin?

My faith in Jesus is the center of my life, so I want to follow what He says. He boiled everything we need to know down to a couple of things to focus on, which we refer to as the greatest commandment.  I am learning that to carry out the greatest commandment, to love God and to love others as I love myself, I have to actually love myself.

I’ve been thinking about what that means. What does it actually look like to love God, love myself, and love others as myself?

I could almost feel the light bulb warm up and begin to buzz.

It looks like freedom.

Evaluating every area of my life: physical, spiritual, emotional, relational…the way I want those parts of my life to play out are rooted in freedom.

Freedom is the yardstick with which I want to measure my life. The degree to which I experience joy is determined by the level of freedom I have in each of the areas of my life. The degree to which I have a right view of God, myself, and others is in direct correlation with the amount of freedom I have in my world. Experiencing too little freedom or distorting what freedom means in my life causes heartache in my relationships, in my work, my communion with God, and the way I view myself.

For me, everything comes back to freedom.

What do I want in life? I want to be more free.

I’ve been a writer all my life in some capacity. No one is paying me to write books or articles. I write because I must. It’s how I think and process. It’s how I share my thoughts in hopes that they help someone else feeling the same way. I’ve written for six years at praythenlearn.com and by sharing there I’ve already become just a little bit more free.

But it’s time to center everything, even my writing, around my goal of being more free. It’s a reality that in this life, we can never be completely free. As long as we live in these bodies we will be subject to pain, injury, illness, and death. While we walk this earth, we will live among evil, lies, and deception. There is no freedom from all those things right now. When we leave this world and go on to our eternal life, we can be completely free, as we were meant to be.

That is why to be more free is my goal. To be more free in each area of life. To be more free than I was a year ago or even yesterday. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, so I want to be about the business of having more freedom in my daily life.

Jesus said:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.-John 10:10

This is what I want out of life. To have it to the full. Free, abundant life.

Will you join me on this journey toward more freedom in our everyday lives? To live as Jesus wanted us to live? As free individuals, making the most of every area of our lives and every moment while we are here on earth? To know what it means to love our God, ourselves, and others in freedom?

Welcome to ToBeMoreFree.com. I hope to see you again soon.

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Forgive and Get

So there was this dude from back in the day. He’d gotten himself into some pretty serious debt (the equivalent of millions of dollars) by borrowing from the king of his land, and on budget-balancing day, the king decided he wanted everything settled up. As you’d guess, the guy didn’t have the funds to pay it back. So, as was the custom of the day, the king ordered that everything this man had be sold so the man could make good on his promise of repaying the debt. This included the man and his whole family being sold into servitude to settle the account.

The man in debt, clearly distraught over this, fell to his knees and begged the king:

“Please master, Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.”

The king, even though he had every right to demand repayment, was filled with compassion toward this man, and made a decision. He decided to let the man go free, not just to have more time to pay back the debt, but to be completely free. He released him and canceled his debt completely. The man’s debt had been erased. He owed nothing. He was free.

So, of course, this man lived a long and happy life, forever grateful for this freedom, and extended the same grace to others that had been extended to him, right?

Um, not so much.

That dude went right on out, came across a guy who owed him some money (the equivalent of a few thousand bucks) and grabbed him by the throat, demanding he pay back the money this instant. This man also couldn’t pay back the debt, so the dude had him thrown in debtor’s prison.

Some folks heard about this, and knowing he’d JUST been forgiven all his debts, went and told the king about it. The king was irritated to say the least. He summoned the forgiven man and asked him WHAT IS UP WITH THAT??!! He said “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”

You might recognize this as a parable that Jesus told, as recorded in Matthew 18. (Retold here in the Krysten paraphrase.) 

This parable was told in response to Peter asking Jesus “How many times should I forgive someone who has sinned against me? Up to seven times?”

Oh, Peter, you’re so adorable. You thought seven times was a lot. I’m with you. 

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”

Jesus said the Kingdom of God plays out like this parable. God is the king. We are the ones in debt to Him because of our state of sin. He has fully and completely forgiven us, no matter how much of a mess our credit history is. So when we go out into our world, He expects us to transfer that mercy to others. He expects us to remember our great debt that we couldn’t repay, and to offer the same forgiveness to others.

But there’s one thing this parable doesn’t tell us. It’s the part we figure out for ourselves when we put in to practice what Jesus said to do. It’s the hidden gem that we get from obedience to this practice of forgiving. When we free someone from their debt, we become free as well. In fact, the freeing is more for us than for them!  Unshackling someone from us by forgiving their betrayal, their insensitivity, their part in our abuse, their coldness, their poor parenting, their lack of love and understanding… Whatever the case may be. Releasing them in your heart and mind releases us as well. We get to live more freely and move forward with what God has in store for us.

Forgiving is no easy task. It’s not a one-time deal. It’s a choice we make over and over to extend freedom as it has been extended to us. It’s a process of renewing our minds to allow God’s truth about us and our situation to permeate every place in our lives, so we can really live. It doesn’t mean forgetting. It doesn’t mean acting like nothing every happened (in fact, the very act of forgiving someone means that there has to be an offense that needs forgiven in the first place.) It doesn’t even mean reconciliation with the person in every case. But it does mean freedom.

This week has been a tough one. I’ve been working through this process of forgiveness toward someone that, quite frankly, doesn’t really “deserve” my forgiveness. This person did something terrible to me, on purpose. They treated me in the worst way a person possibly could. And they’ve never once said they were sorry. They haven’t even acknowledged their wrongdoing. They’re just going about their everyday life as if nothing ever happened. And chances are, I will never hear an apology from this person as long as I live, even though I certainly am owed one, and much more.

My life has been changed by the way this person has done me wrong. It’s been devastating. Life-altering. It’s cost me hours and hours of distress and thousands of dollars in counseling. It’s created anxieties in me that I’ve never had before. It’s made me act like a person I’m not, on more than a few occasions.

And I am tired of living that way. Having a bitter undercurrent just below the surface of your life is no way to live. And honestly, nothing this person could ever do or say would really take away the hurt that has been imposed on me. It’s forever affected my world. 

So rather than waiting forever to get the apology I’m owed that will never come, (and wouldn’t really help much if it did) I’m working on being obedient to this command of my King. For my own sake. For freedom. 

  
I begin by recalling a debt that I owed, that I couldn’t repay. I remember how I have been forgiven of that massive debt. How I could never make it right even if I tried. And I decide to forgive my debtor as I have been forgiven. 

This doesn’t come easily. But with God’s help, I start by transforming the way I think of this person. In a very practical and tangible way, I write down everything I think about the person (everything—no holding back. God knows anyway.) And then I search the scriptures and  write down the truth about this person, as God sees them. As he sees all of us. 
Then, I say the things out loud. This is the hardest part.  My own thoughts first…filled with hurt, bitterness, pain:

______ is an awful person. _____ doesn’t deserve forgiveness for this. How could someone do that to me?  To anyone!?

Then the truth of God’s word, canceling out my unforgiving thoughts: 

______ is made in God’s image just like I am. _____ has fallen short of the glory of God just like we all have. _____ has sinned against me, but while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us all. (Genesis 1:27, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:6,8) 

I don’t have to like this right now. I don’t even have to believe 100% that these things are true about this person. Yet. But I will. Because God’s words ARE truth, and truth will win every time. I will continue reviewing these thoughts vs. God’s truth (and the many other pairs such as this that I’ve written down about this person I’m forgiving) and trust that I’ll be transformed by the renewing of my mind. 

I’ll make the decision to release them from this debt they owe me, because I want more freedom. And forgiveness is the way to go about getting it. 

 

Love: Join Together & Get Creative

I had the opportunity today to contribute to the #loveis series over on the Facebook page for Sweet to the Soul Ministries . So thankful to share alongside some lovely ladies who have taken time this month to consider what the scriptures say about this thing we call love. My focus was on Hebrews 10:24:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…

The entire book of Hebrews has something to prove. The author was worried that his audience was waffling in their faith. He implored them not to go back to the old, comfortable way they’d always known, approaching God by routinely making sacrifices, checking off a spiritual box. He went to great lengths to show that Jesus is our high priest and no other sacrifice is needed.

God is really really smart, y’all.

He knew that even when we came to understand that Jesus is our center, it would only be a starting point. Our faith is a lifelong process of trusting and learning to love like Jesus did. He knew we would get discouraged easily. He knew we, too, would waffle back and forth in our faith at times.

He knew we would need some strategies for sticking with it, for moving forward in our faith when life got harsh. For when it seemed too difficult to center our lives around a Savior who was all about showing love in practical ways.

So what did God give us as an answer to these difficulties? Two things stick out to me from Hebrews 10:24:

First, He gave us other believers. The verse says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Us. We. One another. The words used here don’t signify any of us being an island. We need each other to keep the momentum of love & faith going. We need to encourage each other to put God’s love into action.

The second thing God gave us is creative minds. Other translations of Hebrews 10:24 tell us to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” and to “see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out”.

Oh, I love that. What a challenge! He wants to see just how out-of-the-box we can get in demonstrating love toward others.

So friends, let’s take on that challenge. Let’s just get all kinds of creative in how we show His love today. Forget about how we will be perceived because of it. And let’s not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by how difficult life may feel at the moment. God knew it would happen, and He’s given us one another to figure out how to creatively persevere in showing His love to all people.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. What comes to mind when you think about God asking us to be inventive and creative in love? Who is a person in your life who spurs you on toward love and good deeds? How do they do this? Tell me about all it! Your thoughts will spur even more of us on toward encouraging love and good deeds today.

Tell Somebody

I guess I’ve always been a writer.

Somewhere in elementary school (I think 3rd grade) there was an essay contest. The prize was the most famous Care Bear of all, Tenderheart Bear. The topic was something along the line of telling about someone who loves you a lot. That was a no-brainer.

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Tenderheart Bear

 

I wrote about my mom. I wrote my essay about how she was simply the best mom ever. Not just really great like regular moms, but over-the-top great because she was both mom and dad to me. I told about how she did all the jobs of a mom and dad and she did them all well. I wish I had a copy of that essay now. Those written words are long gone, but the feelings behind them are exactly the same. She was the very best mom any girl could ask for. She raised 7 children, most of them with a not-super-helpful husband, and the rest of them without one at all, after he passed away when I was very young.

I remember the way the tears were perched precariously inside the rims of my teacher’s eyes when she explained that I had won the contest with my essay about my mom. In a matter-of-fact way I told her, “I knew I would win! I have the best mom ever. And now everyone knows it.”

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My momma and birthday cake. What could be better?

I had my picture taken at school with that Tenderheart Bear. He’s gone somewhere now too. But I will never forget that day. I felt proud. I felt important. But not really because of my essay or because I won the contest. I felt proud that even though I didn’t have a mom and a dad, my mom by herself was super amazing. And I was getting the chance to tell somebody about it. Everybody.

 

Today, my amazing momma would be 80 years old. EIGHTY. It’s been exactly four years now that I got the sudden call telling me she was gone. Just like that. My amazing momma was no longer part of this world. No longer part of my world.

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Easter 1983. The only time I recall ever going to church with my mom.

 

It doesn’t matter at all that I am a grown-ass woman. I am a little girl every single time I think of my momma. Every year on this day—her birthday and the day she left us— I cry my ever lovin’ eyes out. I suppose it might always be that way.

I do cry because I miss her, but that’s not the main reason. I cry because I wanted to be a better daughter. I didn’t see it then, but looking back I really can’t think of that many times when I did something lovely just for her. For no other reason than to make her happy. I can’t think of many times that I just told her with words or deeds how awesome I really thought she was. She deserved to know. She deserved to actually hear it while she was still around to let it sink in. She deserved to hear the words I love you a billion times more than she ever did.

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Seven Kids. The first college graduate. That’s one proud momma. Big day for both of us.

 

I don’t feel like I talked about my mom very much when she was still around, either. I should have been telling someone–everyone– how amazing she was all the time, just because it was true.

I look around at kids treating their moms like complete crap, and I think, man, you will regret that so much when she’s gone.

I see husbands and wives ignoring each other in favor of their phones all the time. Like, ALL THE DAMN TIME. What the heck is so important that you can’t bother to even look at the person you are with? You’d rather stare at a screen and fake-talk to other people somewhere else?

Sometimes I go for several days without talking to a single one of my friends. In the course of a few days, can I truly not spare a few minutes just to call or email one of them to let them know how much they mean to me? Of course I could. This is simply a personal failure.

I want all those moments back that I wasted.  But I can’t ever, ever get them. I can’t go back and tell my momma how she’s the absolute best and how I would never be anything without her. I can’t go back and make her laugh anymore, or buy her some peach-pink roses for no reason. I can’t surprise her with gyros for her birthday lunch or help her peel way too many potatoes to mash ever again.

The best I can do is to tell somebody. Tell somebody how much I loved her and how wonderful she was. That’s a start.

But even better than that, I can tell somebody how wonderful they are. Somebody who is still here—right here with me on this earth, right now—what I see in them and how they affect my life. I can tell somebody else the great things I see in them.

And I can hope that by telling folks how much they mean to me, it will inspire them to do the same. Because believe me, no one wants to be thinking of a loved one on what would have been their 80th birthday, wishing they’d spoken more into that person’s heart while they still had the chance.

Do you love someone? Do you see something wonderful in a person?

Tell them. Tell somebody. Tell everybody. Today.

Hope & Joy, Coming Right Up

wreathI’m gonna get right to it. There are two things happening tomorrow that I am super excited about! One is an online devotion study centered around hope, and the other is a photo-a-day project that highlights joyful things. BOTH of them begin tomorrow. Hope-and-joy-focused awesomeness. Who doesn’t love that??

So, a bit of explanation:

There’s an online friend I met through a Facebook group for a writer’s conference we both attended this past summer. Her name is Stephanie Adams, and she has a site called R.E.A.L. Women (Relationships through Encouragement, Accountability, & Love.) Stephanie focuses on women being real with each other and themselves, centered around what God says about who we really are. She writes and hosts online bible studies encouraging women to dig into God’s word to gain wisdom on how to live real lives.

Not long ago, Stephanie opened up an invitation for women to contribute to writing companion articles to go along with a holiday-time devotion study. Since the theme of the study would be centered around hope, I jumped at the chance to participate. After submitting a writing sample, I was offered the chance to contribute alongside 13 other writers for this study. (Yay! Thanks, Stephanie!) I began working on what ended up being a very open, raw piece of writing for me. I hope y’all don’t hate it. It just came from the real that I’m living in right now.

The devotion study, Hope Is, begins tomorrow, December 1st. I can’t wait to see how all 14 ladies’ writings will mesh. None of us have seen each other’s articles, but Stephanie already said she could see them working together. God is so cool like that.

If you or a sister-friend you know would like to participate in the Hope Is devotion study, it’s not too late to sign up! Click here to register. You’ll receive the daily devotion content Mon-Fri from Dec 1st through the 18th. You’ll also get access to a private Facebook group for the study, so you can discuss your thoughts with other readers and encourage each other along in finding hope in all the moments of this season. And of course, you’ll get the bonus articles that accompany each day of the study (Keep an eye out for one written by yours truly, entitled Giving on Empty.) So check it out, register ASAP, and spend the next few weeks focused on the best thing ever: Hope.

In a solid tie with hope for the Best Thing Ever award is another favorite concept of mine: Joy.

Have you ever met someone that just radiates joy? I don’t mean someone with a slap-happy smile plastered on their face. Not even a perky person. Those things aren’t the same as joy. Joy is something peaceful, something that makes the corner of your mouth curl up into a contented, relaxed smile. Joy is something small or something big that makes you feel complete just for a moment. It’s a kind of shalom. No matter what’s going on around us, we can savor small droplets of joy in every moment.

My friend Melissa knows all about those droplets of joy. Joy is her thing. She seeks it. Breathes it in. Savors it. Moments move more slowly when we can find joy in them. We can stay in them, draw them out, capture them, and return to them whenever we want to. Because joy is something that is within us and can’t be taken away.

Melissa has taken on many endeavors in the name of joy. As she does so, the joy spreads. (See what she did there?) A couple years back I started participating in one such project called 25 Days of Joy. Beginning December 1st, we snapped a photo of something that brought joy to us that day. We hashtagged that little photo #25daysofjoy and shared the heck out of it. Every day up through Christmas, we focused on joy. The whole process wasn’t fancy or time consuming. It was fun, easy, and just plain joyful.

Jump on the #25daysofjoy bandwagon! Check out the Facebook page here and post your photos to share with other participants if you’d like. Any way you choose to participate, I know it will do your heart good to see the joy in your everyday moments this season.

So, there you have it. A big ol’ dose of hope and joy, available to you right now! I hope you will participate in one or both of these opportunities to focus on hope and joy over the next few weeks.

Joining me for either of these?? Leave a comment to let me know!

Hope & joy to you this holiday season, lovely people!

And…We’re Done! {31 Days of My People}

Whew! What a month! I’m so excited to have completed my first full #Write31Days Challenge! It was a lot of work but I enjoyed every second of it. My only regret is that I couldn’t squeeze more of My Amazing People into this 31 day timeframe! 😦

Thank you again to everyone who read, commented on, and shared these posts. Your feedback has been so kind and encouraging. I hope this series made y’all smile and inspired you to go tell Your People how much you love and appreciate them.

If you missed any part of the 31 Days of My People series, Here is the archive of each post for the entire month.

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1-Introduction: 31 Days of…

2-Martinez

3-Betty Jo

4-Jamie

5-Jeff

6-Tuesday People Tips #1: Reach Out

7-James

8-My Kiddos

9-Jean

10-Emily

11-Tonya

12-Missy

13-Tuesday People Tips #2: The Logistics

14-Erin

15-Jess

16-My Sista

17-Jay & April

18-Amanda

19-Jen

20-Tuesday People Tips #3: The Golden Rules

21-Delaine

22-The Jujus

23-The Target Lady

24-Mary

25-Ashley

26-Jamie Mack

27-Tuesday People Tips#4: Toxic People

28-Greg & Tiff

29-THAT Girl

30-My Man

31-Jesus