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3 Ways to Build Faithful Friendships

3 Ways to Build
Faithful Friendships

05/17/21

Let’s be honest — girl culture isn’t always great. Even in the church, it can be really hard to find spaces filled with women that are inviting and open.

Female friendships are hard, y’all. What should be a safe and welcoming space is too often competitive, toxic, and critical. Spiritual sisterhood is a rare thing, and the intentionality we so love to talk about in romantic relationships is even harder to find in a friendship.

Not only is mutual effort important, but if we’re all really honest, things like gossip, rumours, and playing games with each other didn’t all get left behind in high school. It would’ve been nice, but old habits die hard, and somehow they sting even more so when they can’t be excused by age.

It’s easy to point fingers, but the truth is that the world has been pushing us into this fight our whole lives. We can’t change that overnight, and we can’t undo any mistakes we might’ve made, but we can decide to change the spaces we’re in.

1. Be the woman you needed as a girl

This is one of the most powerful quotes I’ve ever heard, and very applicable to this topic. It’s something to keep in mind in terms of mentorship, and raising up the next generation, but also an important principle for the generation we’re in. Be the woman you needed yesterday, last week, or a year ago.

Invite a friend to grab coffee. If you know someone’s going through a rough time, check in on them. Call your friends. Ask a stranger to sit with you on Sunday, stand up for others, and be bold in the pursuit of loving well.

2. Embrace humility

There is a lost value to grace and humility in the eyes of our world, and it’s something we need to restore. No friendship is perfect (that’s okay!). Even intentional, Christ-centered, grounded relationships will have their rough patches and harsh words. But own your stuff. If you’ve hurt a friend, apologize. If someone has hurt you, talk it out. Fear and pride can keep us from having these crucial conversations with people around us, but authentic friendships need honesty.

Conflict doesn’t equal death in a friendship. Growing together is a powerful thing, but you have to be willing to come to the table.

3. Know when to stop talking

Friendships are an important space to process, heal, and seek wisdom. In fact, those are some of the greatest benefits of close friendships. But they can also be hotbeds for gossip and criticism. Note: there is a massive difference between discussing a situation with someone you’re close to and actively tearing someone apart behind their back. I’m a verbal processor, and my friends are a huge gift to me in that way. When it becomes an issue is when it crosses the line of becoming purely critical or mean-spirited. Ask yourself this: Would I still say these things if the person I’m talking about was in the room?

We were never supposed to do life on our own. Community is more than just being in a room of people, and this last year has been a perfect example. As followers of Jesus, the competitive culture is directly oppositional to how we are called to live. Where the world tells you to come out on top, He says “I am enough for you”. Where the world encourages you to get the last word, He says “forgive others as I have forgiven you”.

Do the hard thing. Get real with each other. Choose grace over judgment, be intentional, and love in all you do.

To read more from Anika, visit her website.

The Lies of the Enemy

The Lies of the Enemy

05/13/21

The house was empty. My husband had taken our daughter for a walk, and I had a moment to myself and enjoyed a nice hot shower, uninterrupted: a motherhood miracle. I was a couple months postpartum, squishy and stretched in all the places I wasn’t used to being. My mind was like an overly soaked sponge, but instead of with water, it was with exhaustion filling up every crack and hole. My heart was tight with worry and second guessing, and yet sore from trying to expand to hold all this new love I had for my daughter without bursting.

I stepped into the shower and the pounding water quieted everything else. In the quiet I started to hear a voice. As I washed my hair, the whisper turned into a pounding I couldn’t ignore: “You aren’t good enough,” “You are more of a burden than a help,” “They would be better off without you,” “You are a failure,” “Why can’t you figure this out?” I trembled as I tried to fight the voices in my head. These were all the fears that quaked in my heart. I was afraid that other people would see that I was in fact a failure and that I was a burden. I felt the weight of it all the time. The shattered remnants of all the balls I had dropped surrounded me, and I couldn’t step in any direction without feeling the cut of failure.

The Devil’s MO

The weight of these words crushed me. For a moment I believed that this voice was right, that it was only saying what I had known all along. The pain of letting my family down, my husband, and my precious daughter was unbearable.

The devil plays dirty. He kicks us when we are already down. This is why it is so important for us to be ready. Before we can respond to the devil’s tactics, we need to be able to identify his voice to prevent him from gaining any ground within our minds and hearts.

We can expect the devil to play dirty, but the Bible reveals more consistencies in how the devil chooses to operate. Below are three examples, although these examples are not all encompassing of the devil’s repertoire:

1. Vulnerable Attacks (Matthew 4:1-11):

When Jesus was in the wilderness, after 40 days of fasting, the devil appears and tempts Jesus. There are many important details to take from this story, but one of the key highlights is that Jesus was at his most vulnerable.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ // Matthew 4:2-3

When Jesus’ stomach ached with the pangs of hunger, the devil came to remind him of how easy it would be to satisfy that hunger. Another notable point is that Jesus was completely alone. There was no one there to witness if he turned the stones into bread. “Why would it matter?” the devil seemed to imply. Even though nothing is hidden from God, when we are alone it can often feel like we are hidden and that the repercussions of our actions are lessened in secret.

2. Trusted Friends (Matthew 16:21-23):

In this story, Jesus is predicting his death and resurrection. Peter, a trusted and close friend of Jesus, takes him aside and voices his concerns, which is followed by the famous line from Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23). I can’t imagine how Peter would have felt at that moment. Isn’t that just one of the worst things your Lord could say to you?

The devil can and will use the various voices that we open ourselves up to to plant lies and destruction. He will even use the voices of those closest to us, those we trust the most, those who we go to for advice and wisdom, and those that have the best intentions when they share with you. Because we are broken people, our views, opinions and advice can often lack the full perspective of God’s plan. It is so easy to get distracted with our worldly view. Wisdom can be found in seeking the advice and wisdom of others (Proverbs 12:15), but it is important to lean primarily on God’s Word and wisdom and be discerning of the voices that you take to heart.

3.Cunning Ways (Genesis 3:1-7):

We are all familiar with the story of Eve being deceived in the garden. The serpent is described as “crafty,” “cunning,” and “clever”. He asks Eve, “Did God actually say…”. Eve is put on the spot questioning whether she really understood God’s command. The serpent contorts God’s words. He twists them so that they appear negative as if God is holding goodness back from Eve. Instead of asking, “Did God actually say you couldn’t eat from that one specific tree?” he asks, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” The serpent knows the true repercussions of Eve eating from that tree, but carefully chooses his words to make it desirable: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” First he denies the truth of God’s words and replaces it with his own modified version, but fails to mention the high cost of having their eyes opened.

The serpent has Eve questioning the goodness of God, and with that question looming over her he then gets her to question God himself. “Is that the kind of God you want lording over you? Wouldn’t you rather be your own master, knowing good from evil like God?” And isn’t that the same story the devil sells us everyday? Wouldn’t you be a better master for yourself, don’t you know better? Is God really that good? Can he really be trusted? Even though Eve walked with God in the cool of the day, she still in this moment questions these foundational truths.

Equipped to Defend

How can we choose differently than Eve and Peter? How can we respond like Jesus in the face of temptation? We need to be able to first identify that voice and then know how to respond to it. When the devil tempts Jesus, he quotes scripture to justify himself (Psalm 91:11-12), but Jesus responds in kind quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ The devil can twist scripture and pull it out of context in order to fit what he wants to say. Sometimes we are guilty of the same thing, but it feels right because it is encouraging and from the Bible. It’s difficult to know the difference if we don’t actually read our bibles and take the truth in them to heart.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” // Hebrews 4:12

When we read our bibles, we are not just checking off a box on our “good” Christian checklist. Reading our bibles is no meager thing. We are engaging with God’s living and breathing word. We are preparing our hearts and minds, and we are equipping ourselves with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). We are engaging with a spiritual war for our souls and this world.

A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. // Ephesians 6:10-12

Truth Silences Lies

In my case, looking back on this moment, I can see how in my most vulnerable moments as a young mother, the devil had been planting little lies, slowly walking me up to this precipice with the goal of pushing me over the edge at my weakest. I had also allowed several voices to get inside my head. I had allowed the devil to use other people I trusted, social media, and blogs I loved to plant lies and doubts about the kind of mother I was and should be.

However, I had also been really trying to dive into my bible despite all the distractions. I found online devotionals I could read on my phone while nursing. I joined online bible studies and I dove into The Well Practice. I desperately tried to find ways to be with God in my new normal.

This didn’t happen every day and I was far from perfect, but when it felt like I was drowning in exhaustion, diapers, and isolation, the only thing that kept me afloat was my deeper desperation for Jesus.

I knew that he had been through long nights, too.
I knew he had found himself on his knees asking desperately for help from God.
I knew that God worked everything out for good.

I held onto those truths because they were the only steady, concrete things in my life at that point. God was and is so gracious in meeting me where I am and how I am. Because of those gracious meetings at 3am and interrupted morning devotions, I was able to whisper back to that voice in the shower, “ I am God’s beloved daughter. I am God’s beloved daughter.”

And I repeated that over and over until the voice was silent.

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The Mission of the Moment

The Mission of the Moment

04/13/21

When I was in high school, I spent most of my free time planning the rest of my life. I’d look at apartments, watch YouTube videos, and pick out furniture. I was young, but so eager to jump into the next phase of my life. I had big plans for my next steps, and luckily I was able to make them happen. But even though I went where I wanted to, I wasn’t quite satisfied.

It’s not that I was unhappy, it’s just that once again, I found myself waiting. For graduation day, for moving into my own place, for my next dream to realize itself — and the pattern continued. I’d hit a goal, feel really great for about 24 hours, and then move on to the next one. These weren’t all small targets – some of them were lifelong dreams whose value came crashing down when I quickly realized that the anticipation had been worth more than the moment.

It’s not that the anticipation was wrong, or that there’s anything inherently bad about looking forward to the future. But when your eyes are only looking ahead, and not around, you miss out on…a lot.

We often talk about “seasons” in the church and the temporary nature of the world we live in. It’s an important subject, but it also makes it really easy to get caught up in a pattern of thinking that this time of your life doesn’t matter. That all it is is waiting. Preparing. Longing.

For a relationship, a better job, a diploma, a house, a positive pregnancy test.

All things to look forward to – if they’re in your future. Good things, and getting excited about them is normal (and totally fine)! But as women striving to follow Jesus, we know that He has a plan and purpose for our lives. Nothing he does in you or through you is wasted. His timing is perfect, and His will is good.

If you’re in a tough season, it’s tempting to just wish it away. Put your head down, grit your teeth, and stick it out until you get somewhere better. But firstly, no matter what stage of life you’re in, that mindset will probably never go away unless you choose to drop it. You’ll always be waiting, wanting, and wishing for something more.

And, on a vastly more important note, God uses you wherever you are. Whether you’re falling apart or living your best life, there is a holy purpose in this place. It’s okay to look forward, but keep looking around too. What is the Lord calling you to in this season? What is the mission of the moment?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the plan God has for my life, it’s that I don’t want to miss a second of it. Whatever you’re experiencing, growing in, or serving in right now, soak it up. Press in, show up, and find a way to be grateful for this moment and all that it is.

To read more from Anika, visit her website.

Jesus’s Opinion of Women: 5 Gospel Truths

Jesus’s Opinion of Women:
5 Gospel Truths

04/05/21

I love Jesus. The more I read about Him, the more I appreciate that His love was the kind of love that defied all kinds of prejudices, including the prejudice so often held against women. Below are just a few examples of occasions where Jesus, despite other people’s perceptions of women, demonstrated His profound appreciation of them. I hope these accounts encourage your heart like they have mine, and show you more clearly how Jesus views and values all of us.

1. The Woman at the Well

Being The Well, this seems like an appropriate place to start. One of the things I love most about this encounter in John 4 is that Jesus chooses to single out an unmarried, non-Jewish woman caught in a cycle of unhealthy relationships. In doing so, He completely obliterates any assumption that God will only engage with a woman who fits the ideal Christian stereotype. And when I say engage, I don’t just mean that He’ll make polite small talk. The woman of Samaria was the woman that Jesus chose to reveal the secret of New Testament worship to:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. // John 4:23.

His choice to reveal such a paradigm-shifting reality with this woman definitely suggests that He had a high opinion of her – both intellectually and spiritually. I also love the way that the woman responds to her encounter with Jesus. We’re told that she shared her story so that many of her people came to know Jesus as the Saviour of the world (John 4:39,42).

What does this account tell us about Jesus’ opinion of women? He thinks highly enough of us to entrust us with His truth. He also sees the power behind our story, and entrusts us with pointing others back to Him.

2. The Death of Lazarus

If you’ve never before memorized a verse of scripture, today is your day. John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept.” And what is it that brought the Son of God to tears? Let’s see:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. // John 11:32-33

Jesus not only hears the prayers of his daughters, but he is “deeply moved” by the honest, unreserved sentiments of her heart. Oh yeah, and he raised Lazarus from the dead later that day. Wow.

What does this account tell us about Jesus’ opinion of women? He doesn’t demean our emotions. Instead, He empathizes with us and is moved to action by our prayers.

3. The Anointing of Jesus

There are very few things mentioned in all four of the Gospels, but this story is one of them:

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. // John 12:3

While other men were watching Mary and saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor” (Matthew 26:8-9), Jesus was seeing something very different: She has done a beautiful thing to me… She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial… wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. // Mark 14:3-9

What does this account tell us about Jesus’ opinion of women? He recognizes the deep intuition that we have into His worth and cherishes the worship that we offer Him.

4. The Widow’s Offering

Again, a woman’s heart of worship catches Jesus’ attention. This time, it’s a woman who is poor, widowed, and probably viewed as a burden to society. But to Jesus, her service is something to be used as an example to teach anyone – man or woman, rich or poor – how we ought to give.

Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. // Mark 12:43-44

What does this account tell us about Jesus’ opinion of women? He sees every sacrifice that we make in service to Him and wants others to learn from our example.

5. The Witnesses at the Tomb

I LOVE this. Read this excerpt from Matthew 28:5-10, which takes place after the resurrection of Christ:

But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’

I once read a novel called Jesus on Trial, where I learned that the testimony of women in the time of Jesus was widely disregarded in a court of law, as in most other contexts. Despite that fact, God chose to make two women the first witnesses of the resurrection. Jesus also chose these women to be the first ones who would see Him in His resurrected body, giving them the important job of bringing others to their own encounter with the risen Christ.

I cannot overstate how big of a deal this is. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain,” and in verse 17, “… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” The truth of the resurrection is what our entire faith is dependent on, and Jesus chose to first entrust this truth, not to his disciples, but to two women.

What does this account tell us about Jesus’ opinion of women? He trusts us to be faithful witnesses of His most crucial truths. He places enormous value on our testimonies.

Conclusion

All throughout the Gospels, there is evidence of Jesus’ willingness to use women like us in His service. He loves us, He recognizes what we have to offer, He is eager to entrust us with truth, He appreciates our prayers and worship, and He is willing to engage with us in our everyday. I hope you know how valuable you are to Him, and that He will use you today to accomplish amazing things.

Join our Facebook Community to get connected with other imperfect women figuring out this whole Jesus thing.

Do More With Less featuring Adorah Raylene

Do More With Less featuring Adorah Raylene

03/16/21

We’re featuring personal stylist Adorah Raylene, a member of The Well Community, to feature her unique personal styling services. Read below for how Adorah is making an impact!

What do you do?

As a personal stylist, I encourage women to step out of their comfort zone with their own personal style and guide them in the right direction to accepting their most beautiful and confident self. I help them create a wardrobe that suits their lifestyle and complements their features. I offer a range of services including closet clean outs, personal shopping, and wardrobe revamps where I curate outfits with pieces that my clients already have.

What led you to start your business?

My entire life I struggled with self confidence. I always wanted it, but never had it. When I found my confidence in Christ, my eyes were opened up to this amazing blessing and opportunity to help other women see all that they are capable of with a little bit of help in their wardrobe. My hopes for this business are that through my services, I can encourage women to do so much more, with less.

What is the heart behind what you do? What do you love about it?

Oh man, there are so many things I love about personal styling! I love all the incredible women I get to meet and work with. I love getting to know each client and hearing what makes them who they are. I love introducing my clients to ethical brands and sustainable style habits. I love seeing how confident my clients are when they feel beautiful in their bodies. The list could go on, but those are just a few.

How do you see God using you through your work?

Before I go into a session with my clients, I always pray that these women would feel loved and blessed and SEEN, and there is no way that I could do that without the help of God. I’ve prayed for a long time that I could be some sort of light to others, and I believe God is using these gifts He has given me to be that light.

What is your favourite client or project so far?

I can’t say I have a favourite client because they truly are all so special to me! However, I do have a super cool story about one of my clients. Back when I worked at Montrose + George, we had a regular customer who was deaf. She was always SO sweet and she became one of my favourite regulars. After meeting her, I really wanted to learn sign language so that I could be of better help to her and other customers that are deaf. I thought that one day, if I had my own client that was deaf, I could cater to them as well.

When covid hit and I was obviously left with a lot of free time on my hands, I started to slowly teach myself sign language. Several months later, after I wasn’t working at M+G anymore, I got a message from that same regular customer asking to hire me to help her with her wardrobe! It still to this day blows my mind that I wanted to learn sign language because of this woman and that she wanted to hire me. It was one of those full circle moments that I will never forget.

What are some common mistakes you’ve noticed people make with clothing or organizing our closets?

Hmmm… clothes hangers are a big one. It’s not necessarily a mistake, but I’ve noticed a lot of people have mismatched hangers or those thick plastic hangers, and the problem with that is that they take up SO MUCH room. Not everyone has a walk-in closet (I definitely don’t!) so it’s really important to utilize the space that you have, and buying the right hangers makes all the difference. Another thing is when people don’t tuck their tops in. It really depends on the top, but you can tuck in almost any top and it elevates your outfit SO much!

What are your top 3 tips to elevate a wardrobe?

1. French tuck ALWAYS.
2. Invest in quality jeans!
3. Accessorizing is so important!

Where can people reach you?

I find a lot of people reach me through my Instagram which is @adorahraylene. You can also check out my website for all my services and prices, or you can send me an email at adorahraylene@gmail.com.

If you own a business and would like to be featured on The Well, please connect with us!

The Impactful Bucket List

The Impactful Bucket List

03/01/21

What is on your bucket list?

Have you been asked this question before? It’s a pretty popular question. A question that can be asked to break the ice, to reveal just enough about someone, but not too much: “Oh, I want to see all the 7 wonders of the world!” “I want to watch all the Oscar winning movies!” “I’d love to own a Ferrari!”

Bucket lists have the power to make you think outside of your normal, everyday lives. They can motivate action. In the Disney movie, “Up,” Ellie and Carl put coins in a jar to one day make it to Paradise Falls. I’m sure the thought of that beauty, of the mist of those falls touching their face, motivated them on many hard days.

But what happens to these bucket lists when we are trapped inside our homes, when travel seems like a far off dream, and the only goal you have today is to (maybe) change out of your pjs into your fancy sweatpants?

The Mirage of Fulfillment

For a long time, the top item on my bucket list was to go to Paris and up the Eiffel Tower. And a couple years ago, my husband and I actually made our way across the Atlantic to wait in line to go up the iron constructed tower. I had been looking forward to this moment my entire life. We were slowly pulled up the tower in the elevator and I had to keep my eyes shut. When we finally got to the first level, I was shaking. Everyone was crowding along the edges trying to get their perfect photo of the City of Paris below. I’m sure it was beautiful, but I stood far back against the wall unable to look. I could feel the wind whipping around me. I had never been so high before in open air. I had dreamed of this moment, and when it finally arrived, I couldn’t step forward to see the view. I was so disappointed.

The things we hope for in this world so often disappoint. I don’t know why I am still surprised by this. There are things that I naively still think are solid, that won’t disappoint me. I expect to be disappointed by weather forecasts and fast food, but I never expect to be disappointed by my own body or the people I love and trust. Or even God Himself. Yet it happens. I get disappointed because this world is broken, the people I love are broken, my body is broken, and my mind and how it comprehends and relates to God is broken, too.

Of course we know that technically God can’t disappoint us. He is perfect, right? And yet our prayers go unanswered, we get that diagnosis, and our minds are overwhelmed with feelings of isolation. We know in these moments somewhere in our brains that God is perfect and all loving and all good, and yet we feel our hearts drop. We feel that familiar feeling of disappointment. We are told He is a good Father who won’t disappoint us, and yet we are often left feeling like He just didn’t show up.

I know these moments. I live in these moments all the time. My feelings tell me that God disappointed me. That if God loved me, He would have done this differently. That I would FEEL differently if He loved me, and that things would be better. And I start to doubt what I know to be true. I doubt the sufficiency of God’s grace, His love for me, and His character. All because what is true doesn’t always line up with how I feel.

Now what does this have to do with bucket lists? Stay with me, we’re just taking the scenic route.

A Revolutionized List

No matter what is on our bucket list, or why it is there, there is always some sort of expectation about how we will feel when it is completed. If we can walk our daughter down the aisle then we will be ready to accept our diagnosis. If we can reconcile that relationship then everything will change. But we still get disappointed. Even though we may be grateful for that checked box, we still are hardly ever ready to die.

The feelings we seek when we get those boxes checked are fleeting and misleading, and sometimes not at all what we expected. But maybe the bucket list needs to be revolutionized. Maybe what we put our hope in needs to be reassigned.

At the end of it all, you may live a life that results in all your boxes being checked off, like a report ready to hand in. But you will be disappointed to find that no one is waiting to collect it. You will have all those boxes checked, received all the gold stars, and still be afraid, still selfish, and still needing Jesus.

Let us not forget that God will be like the master in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30. He will ask you what you have done with what He has given you. Did you grow in your prayer life? Did you pray for that person He asked you to? Did you use your talents for His kingdom, or did you use them for your own gain? Did you love others well, or did you leave a wake of broken hearts behind you? Did you dwell in His presence so much so that at the end of this life, when your time has come, it truly feels like going home?

Faithful with Little

There is nothing wrong with dreaming and hoping. There is nothing wrong with your dream of swimming with the dolphins being fulfilled. But maybe now, more than ever, we are invited to examine our hopes and dreams for our lives. What are we truly hoping for?

If our hope isn’t found in Jesus and in His promises, we will always end up disappointed. Do our dreams or the time we spend to accomplish them align with God’s kingdom and His mission? Or do we sacrifice God’s mission for our own momentary happiness?

These are all questions I am asking myself as I dream of a future that is less isolating and more healthy for my young daughter. But the dreams I have aren’t on pause until this pandemic plays out. God is working out His will in me, Covid or no Covid. The Holy Spirit is already working on my heart, helping me be more patient and to love better. You see, God’s mission, His “bucket list,” is going to come to fruition. It is guaranteed. It is finished. And when you align your dreams with His, you get to be a part of it. You get to climb up the Eiffel tower, look at the beautiful view, and be amazed.

What kind of lives would we lead if our only goal, the first thing on our bucket list, was to be faithful over the little we have been given? To one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” How would that shift and reprioritize how we spend our time? How we spend our money? What we post on Instagram? Would it change the guilt we feel and the stress we drown in? What kind of lives would we lead if we were more motivated by being faithful with little and not consumed by how we feel with much?

Maybe you will still make it to Thailand to paint elephants’ toenails, or maybe you won’t. But at the end of all things, and the Almighty God poses the question, “What have you done with what I have given you?”, may you get to hear His warm voice say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” // Matthew 25:21.

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An Encouragement to Persevere

An Encouragement to Persevere

02/01/21

Being a Christian in the past couple of years has become really tough. The noise of the world has been getting closer and closer to home, and shutting it out has gotten harder and harder to do. People’s perceptions of Christians seem to have gotten less and less favourable, making it increasingly difficult for us to convince any of the people around us that we love them. How in the world are we supposed to respond to all of this?

The answer, I believe, is to fix our eyes on Jesus.

In Him are so many beautiful promises for the Christian who shuts out the hosts of potential discouragements in the world and perseveres in their faithfulness to God in Jesus Christ. Here are just a few of the ones that have encouraged my heart lately:

1. The Promise of Peace

Reading Jesus’ words, it’s pretty clear that he did not expect there to be an awful lot of camaraderie between Christians and their culture. In John 15:19, He is bold enough to tell his disciples that the world will actually hate them. The reason this isn’t a problem is that our peace is not based on the ability of people to get along. In fact, our peace transcends the world altogether:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. // John 16:33

In Christ, we see that our peace has nothing to do with our ability to make the world love us or to avoid difficulty. Instead, our peace has everything to do with the victory that Jesus has won over the world.

Practically speaking, this peace gives us the freedom to love our hateful world without the pressure of analyzing whether or not our efforts seem to be “working”. It’s not our job to love in order to make peace, but to love by the power of the one who is our peace.

2. The Promise of Joy

The world promises us that we will find joy and satisfaction in all kinds of things. For the generation before us, a lot of people placed their hope in prosperity and acquiring valuable material things. Our generation seems to feel that we are more enlightened, placing our hopes instead in things like freedom of expression, romantic relationships, or in alignment with social justice initiatives. Here’s where joy comes from, according to Jesus:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. // John 15:9-11

The joy of Jesus is a promise to the Christian who perseveres. And the beautiful thing about this passage is that the obedience that is required for us to obtain this joy is not the product of distress or fear of punishment. God’s design is for our obedience to lead us deeper into our appreciation of the love that Jesus has for us, which is just as strong as the love that God has for His Son! That means that when we purpose in our hearts to be obedient to Jesus, we are promised the company of God’s love and a heart that is full of joy. Any joy that is to be found in the world around us is temporary at best. But if we look to Jesus, we will find a joy that is truly satisfying to the soul.

3. The Promise of Hope

“Hopeless” is a pretty good word to use to describe a lot of what we’ve been seeing in the news lately. Our future is so full of questions: When is this virus going to be gone so we can finally be together again? When are people going to give up on harbouring such racist attitudes toward each other? When are people going to stop turning to violence to solve all of their problems?

As Christians, it’s so important that we don’t get caught up in the search for things that will give us hope in this world. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:19 that, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Notice that he doesn’t say that there is no hope to be found in Christ for this life. God commands us to pray for the very reason that He is still involved in our earthly affairs and is capable of affecting positive change in even our most difficult circumstances. But the big picture that we must always keep in mind is that our ultimate hope is in the future that is coming:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. // 1 Corinthians 15:54-58

A hope that we hold in this life for outcomes on our present earth cannot help but be fragile. But a hope that is properly placed in the power of God to make everything new in the end cannot be shaken by anything.

Keep the Faith

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. // 2 Timothy 4:7

Knowing all that we have in our Saviour Jesus, my prayer is that you will persevere. When the worries of our culture become overwhelming, remember what it is God has called you to. It is not our job to single-handedly fix the reputation of the Church, or to make an end of the world’s sin. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed to the point of giving up on this faith. Remember the peace, the joy, and the hope that you have in Christ, and surrender to Him the rest of what is too heavy for us to carry.

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. // Matthew 11:28-30

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When God Says No

When God Says No

01/24/21

I tried everything.

I rationalized, persuaded, begged, pleaded, prayed, and fought for it. It was right. It had to be right. I’d been wrong before, but not this time — this time I needed the win. With a guilty conscience, desperately trying to ignore the underlying feeling of true conviction, I dug my heels in and demanded that I knew what was best. I would carve my own path.

And gently, in the back of my mind, a voice in my head whispered, “How exactly has that gone for you before?”

Because that wasn’t the first time I’d tried to take control. I have been fiercely independent since babyhood, so the act of surrender is anything but instinctive for me. I am not proud of it, but I’ve fought for my own will rather than asking God of His more times than I’d care to admit.

And this time, like all others, left me flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling with tears in my eyes. Finally admitting that He had known better all along.

When God says no, there’s always a reason. But it doesn’t always make it easier to hear. Letting go of something you want is painful and it can be confusing. Having been through this a few times, difficult as it’s been, I’ve learned some really key things about the character of God.

  1. God doesn’t play games.

When God says no, He’s not messing with you. He doesn’t delight in your suffering. The Lord we serve is not sitting in a celestial palace, mocking your pain or toying with your heart. The world we live in is broken, deeply, and because of our own failures, we get hurt.

Generally speaking, I have found that submitting to the will of God usually means getting hurt a lot less. God doesn’t play games. If He’s calling you to something, or simply just to wait, there’s a reason.

2. God is a lot smarter than you are.

When God says no, there’s purpose behind it. I was in a small group a couple of years ago where someone shared this metaphor of our lives as a book. We only see the chapters we’ve lived, and the page that we’re on, but God sees the whole book. (I actually remember thinking at the time “ew, cheesy”).

But it’s even more than that. Not only does God see the whole book, but He’s writing the whole dang library. Your story, along with everyone else’s, is fully known, seen, and crafted by a Father who loves you. This is good news.

The hard part is that we may not always understand why God says no. In the moment, it can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and confusing. I’ve had my moments of outright anger, knowing I’m supposed to walk away from something my heart so badly wants.

And yet, we know that there are reasons behind what He has for us that we may never understand in this life.

Surrendering your life to Jesus is a guarantee that it will not be wasted, even if certain parts look different than you thought they would.

You can try to fight it. Push back, dig your heels in. Sometimes it may even feel like you’ve gotten your way, but missing out on what God has for you would be an absolute tragedy.

3. God is a Redeemer.

When God says no, it’s not the end of the story. If you’re reading this and thinking “holy crap, this is me” — don’t panic. Because one of the other things that you’ll learn about God through this process is that He is a redeemer.

No brokenness is too great to be used. The parts of your life that you’re not so proud of can and will be used by God if you let Him. He takes you as you are, wherever you’re at, and leads you to Grace.

And always, whenever God says no, it’s because He loves you.

To read more from Anika, visit her website.

Be Gentle, Be Still and Know

Be Gentle, Be Still, and Know

01/04/21

Welcome to 2021! “THANK GOD!” you think to yourself. It is a new year, and as per usual, your head is brimming with ideas of goals and resolutions, hopes and dreams. The change from “0” to “1” symbolizes the change we all are praying this new year will bring. But if you’d allow me, I’d like to take this moment to pull you aside and gently remind you to be gentle with yourself.

I’ve been feeling something different about this new year. Maybe you have too? I normally don’t buy into the idea of new year’s resolutions. There is always a pressure around the end of December to reflect and dissect, to organize and plan. To get pumped up and motivated that this year will be the year. But this year I feel a different pressure underlying all of this.

Maybe 2020 may have felt like a total disappointment. Like 365 days you will never get back. Starting a new year, I not only feel this pressure to make resolutions, but to also make this next year special, to somehow make choices that will make up for the losses of 2020.

Maybe your Christmas this year was a lot smaller than usual. No hustle, no bustle, no big turkey dinner, and maybe you feel pressure to make up for that. This year, everyone will be invited. It will be bigger and better than ever before. I heard it said many times this past holiday season that “we will make up for this next year”. But maybe we should be asking ourselves: “Should we?”

A New Way

This year was my daughter’s first Christmas, and what happened reminded me of 2020 and this global pandemic. I was so excited to show my daughter her gifts. I knew she had no understanding of what was going on, but I thought that the gifts I had picked were so good that they would get some sort of reaction out of her. I knew my daughter, and I knew what she needed and what she would like.

Come Christmas morning, she wasn’t quite herself. She was whiney, and to be honest, a bit miserable. It was clear that she was finding the unwrapping, the lights, and the multiple virtual chats with family overwhelming (and if I’m honest, so was I). Because of all this, she wasn’t interested in the good gifts I had given her.

But when the video chats were done, the gifts unwrapped, and we sat together as a family on the ground, my little girl started to become the smiley girl I knew. In the following calm days she started to explore the new things I had gotten her as I put them out one at a time. She was able to appreciate and enjoy these good gifts in the calm and in the quiet. And I think we are the same.

I know we all want to get back to normal; to give our loved ones a hug, to arrange a playdate or visit our elderly parents. But what if the “normal” we are striving to get back to is the exact thing that God is trying to save us from? I’m not saying that personal contact, birthday parties or going out for dinners are bad. I hope we can do all of these things again soon. What I am saying is this: maybe it is better for us to not go back to how things were, but instead find a different way – maybe even better way. A way that allows us to be able to see our loved ones but not return to the crazy, overcommitted, overstretched and overwhelming schedules that we were so used to. A way where we can go out on a date night but not go back to wasting hours in rush hour traffic, missing out on family time, or opening up our work email before we even kiss our spouse good morning.

I know that just because you haven’t been able to socialize or go into your office that 2020 has been calm or quiet. I know this year has been extremely stressful and has completely derailed the systems we had in place to take care of all we have on our plates. I know that some of you probably feel lonely, and maybe some of you don’t have the same support networks through COVID that you used to have. But I do think that COVID has had a way of showing us what really matters and what we can actually live without, even when we thought we couldn’t. It has challenged everything we had just accepted as a way of life.

Be Still and Know

God wants to bless us with good gifts (James 1:17, Matthew 7:9-11) and He wants to be in connection with us. But in this busy and overstimulating world, it can be very difficult to hear His still, small voice. When we are being pulled in a dozen different directions, it can feel impossible to still ourselves and be in connection with Him. And like the good good Father that He is, God knows better. He knows how we can flourish, and I can’t help but think of this pandemic as a way to quiet us down so we can actually see and appreciate His good good gifts.

How noisy do you think a town would have been back in Jesus’ day? The hustle and bustle, the marketplace, the people, the vendors, the braying donkeys. And Jesus would constantly remove himself, stepping away to be quiet and still, to spend time with God, to hear His voice, to be in communication, to be in relationship (Luke 5:16). How much more noisy do you think our world and lives have become? Our phones constantly binging and interrupting, our thoughts running wild keeping us up at night, the traffic, the talk shows. How much more do you think that we need to quiet ourselves and be still?

One day I was doing my devotions and was feeling dry and tired. I so much wanted to hear God’s voice. I felt desperate. As I tried to focus, I could hear the footsteps upstairs, the television on, and my baby babbling in the next room. I felt this deep need to quiet myself, so instinctually, like a child, I covered my ears and I heard the rushing of the blood in my ears. But I also started to hear my heart beating. In those quiet thumps, I started to discern a pattern, and I felt God write a poem on my heart. Following the rhythm of my heart beating THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, I heard these words:

I AM WITH YOU

BE STILL AND KNOW

I AM WITH YOU

STAND UP AND GO

I AM WITH YOU

I now often sing this song to my little girl as I put her to sleep. God uses my very heartbeat, and yours as well, to remind us that we are not alone. But more importantly, it reminds us that we first need to be still and know him first, before we stand up and do what He has asked us to do. We need to earnestly seek out the quiet, to be still and listen to our heartbeats’ anthem.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” // Psalms 46:10

Maybe this year doesn’t have to be the year you lose those extra pounds, or organize your spices alphabetically. Maybe this year doesn’t have to make up for 2020, because maybe 2020 did exactly what it was supposed to. Maybe this year can be a year where the idea of “normal” is questioned and dissected. This year, let me remind you to be gentle with yourself as you grieve what was lost in 2020. But with your spine straight and strong, step forward into this new year confident in knowing that God is in the business of redeeming all that was lost.

Be still and know
I am with you
Stand up and go
I am with you.

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The Best Thing Covid Took From Me

The Best Thing Covid
Took From Me

12/29/20

A global pandemic is not without its silver linings: rest from our something-on-every-evening schedules, quality time with family, time to purge/deep clean the house, etc. etc. But it’s no shock to anyone to hear that Covid-19 has also come with its losses – even to those who have thus far avoided contracting the virus.

As a new mother, I am still somewhat mourning the loss of a lot of things I was looking forward to in the first year of my daughter becoming a true toddler. I feel a sense of loss in the fact that my social, bubbly girl hasn’t been in swimming lessons or making friends at the park, but has been taught that it’s dangerous to get too close to the people we love most. And when my Oma passed away just a few weeks ago, we were robbed of the opportunity to remember her life together with all the people who she meant so much to, and who meant so much to her. These are only two examples of the losses, both big and small, that have been experienced by people all around the world this year.

But there is one thing in particular that Covid took from me that I am not interested in getting back.

My Lukewarm Affections

Before this year, if you had asked me what my devotional life was like, there’s a pretty good chance that I would have told you, “I wish it were better, but it’s just so hard to find time!” Fast forward to March of 2020. Basically overnight, I had an unbelievable amount of time on my hands. My husband was working from home and could help here and there with the kids, our church commitments were condensed to two hour-and-a-half Zoom meetings in the week, and all the social get-togethers on the calendar were postponed indefinitely. If what I had believed about “just needing more time” were true, my devotional life should have exploded!

But, spoiler alert, that is not at all what happened.

Over time, it became obvious to me that my busyness wasn’t what was standing between me and God. It was the state of my heart. And honestly, that realization was surprising to me. Reflecting on my pre-Covid life, I would have told you that my husband and I made God a priority in our lives. We loved to plan outreach events, spend time together with our church family, and discuss theology with anyone willing to engage us on that level. God was on our mind often, and He was regularly factored into our decision making as a couple and family.

But in the hours, days, weeks, and months that I was denied the opportunities to be active in the ways of church and outreach, I struggled to re-conceptualize the practical nature of my Christianity. I knew that I could still pray, but my attention span for it was childlike. I knew that I could still study my Bible, but my desire and focus was frail at best. It quickly became apparent that being busy with the things of God did nothing to teach me how to rest in the presence of God. Everything I had done in the service of God and His church was taken from me, and I was confronted by just how little was left.

A New Goal

The initial realization was disheartening. But as I have brought it before God, He has helped me to see my situation differently. Hebrews 12 teaches us that God disciplines the ones that He loves as proof to them that they are legitimate children. Now I don’t think of this in terms of Covid being a punishment for my lukewarm affections, but I do believe that God uses the circumstances of our lives to reveal to us the areas that we are unknowingly withholding from His Lordship.

“… he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” // Hebrews 12:10

This means that if you are in the same boat as me, the appropriate heart response is not to feel guilty. What we are meant to feel is gratitude: for a God who longs for connection with us, for a God who helps us to see the weaknesses we are truly ignorant of, for a God who promises to meet us with patience in our pathetic attempts to address those weaknesses, and for a God who ultimately enables us to grow to share in His holiness.

What Covid (but really, what God) took from me this year was the belief that all I needed in order to grow in my relationship with Him was more time. With that lie gone, I am free to face the coming year with more accurate and precise goals for my spiritual growth.

While I will always desire to make Jesus known, I will make it my goal to know and desire Him more myself. While I will always enjoy the company of God’s people, I will make it my goal to enjoy the presence of God Himself. And when I am tempted to view these goals as selfish, I will make it my goal to look to God’s word to remind me that all of my usefulness to Him originates in Jesus. The more I know and enjoy Christ, the better I will be at the service that I do.

By God’s grace, may this year be one marked less by works done for God in my own strength and more by recognizing the necessity and supreme value of God’s work in me.

For it is [not your strength, but it is] God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work [that is, strengthening, energizing, and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose] for His good pleasure. // Philippians 2:13, AMP

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