Unbowed

As time does, today finds us acknowledging that time has swiftly passed.

It seems as though it was just summer…just autumn…just Christmas. And now, we’re embarking on a brand new year.

For a lot of folks, the New Year is filled with the hope of what’s to come. There’s so much possibility in the coming days, weeks and months. I’m excited, too.

But what I feel in addition to excitement is a renewed confidence. A belief that no matter what comes or what the future holds, God brought me this far. I know He won’t leave me.

Much like the line from “Invictus,” we’ve made it “bloodied but unbowed.”

Last year was hard for so many. Folks lost loved ones and jobs. They fought physical, spiritual and mental illnesses. They sacrificed, nearly succumbing to hell all around them.

So while many are facing this new year with excitement and optimism, there are a great many still who are simply relieved. Those who are glad to be done with a year that tested and tried us — our patience, our faith, our fortitude.

We were bent to near breaking last year. We often felt as though we cried more than we smiled. Worried more than we hoped. Fought more than we simply lived.

We struggled and scratched and clawed through layoffs and loss, debt and depression, sadness and sacrifice. We prayed and pursued. We protested and proclaimed. We worked and waited.

Many of us made it to 2015 only by the grace of God. And we’re relieved just to have made it.

If this is you. If all you feel about 2015 so far is relief that 2014 is over, know this: you made it.

The storms that the enemy thought would take you out only made you stronger. The traps the devil meant to harm you only catapulted you forward with more focus and greater determination. What would have literally caused someone else to lose their mind motivated you to keep going, to not give up.

And you’re here, standing at the dawn of a new year. Bloodied, but unbowed. Bent, but unbroken. A little weary, but still a battle-ready warrior.

To you I say own your stripes. There’s a courage, a confidence, and a determination that comes with overcoming. Yours is a testimony no one else can give because they haven’t walked in your shoes, haven’t fought the battles you’ve won.

To you I say stand tall and proud. Because while others were too busy wishing away their todays hoping for tomorrows, you lived and breathed every moment — the good, the bad and the unbearable.

To you I say don’t shrink back. Don’t be so overcome with relief that you forget the strength, the faith, and the resilience your trials earned you. Yes, you may be bloodied, but you remain unbowed.

To you I say this is a new day. A day ordained for your victory; predestined for your triumph.

This day. This week. This year is a year of restoration for you.

God saw every test, every trial, and every tear. He heard every prayer and every plea. And for you He has worked in the background to bless you in the open.

Time will not slow down. It won’t ease because we’re tired or overwhelmed or overcome. But it is the knowledge of what we’ve already been through – and beat! – that spurs us on in our weakest moments.

My prayer for you is that even as you make resolutions, that you’ll also make it a point to count your blessings and your wins. In all of your forward thinking, look back long enough to claim your hard-earned strength and faith and fight.

Own your stripes, your bruises. And honor the important parts of the “old” you in this new year.

Bloodied, but unbowed. Bruised, but unbroken. And blessed in spite of it all.

*A version of this post appeared on The Huffington Post yesterday.  You can check it out here.

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Huffington Post Blog: On Bedside Baptist

I can’t remember how many times I’ve learned – and relearned! – the lesson about the pitfalls of busyness. (Check out one of those times here.)

But a few days ago I found myself in that space again: suddenly realizing the toll overcommitting was having; this time not just on me, but my family as well.

Head on over to the Huffington Post to check out my latest post on my membership-in-good-standing at Bedside Baptist and, most importantly, the liberty I found there.

Huffington Post Blog: On Being A Dictator

Things not going the way you expected? Stop looking at the HOW and return to the WHO.

For the past few months, the Lord has really been working with me on one simple, yet significant, principle in my walk: trust My promise, don’t worry about My plan.

You see, my husband and I have been believing God for some very specific things and I found a few weeks back that what had began, for me, as bold, expectant faith, had somehow morphed into anxious, obsessive lusting after this thing.  So much so that I began trying to orchestrate for God how He could deliver said thing.

Needless to say, my plans never came to fruition.

But even as I continue to learn this lesson – the importance of guarding your focus when you’re waiting in faith – the Lord encouraged me to share it with you all, too.

I pray my latest contribution to The Huffington Post, “On Being a Dictator,” blesses you! (You can also just scroll down and check it out!)

And you can always check out my other posts here.

BeRadical. ExpectMore. ™

Things not going the way you expected? Stop looking at the HOW and return to the WHO.

 

 

Huffington Post: On Being a Dictator

You’re a bit of a dictator. And I am, too.

The Holy Spirit gave me the revelation one day as I lamented why the blessing the Lord said He’d give me wasn’t coming the way I thought it would, or should.

Imagine that: I was trying to tell the Gift Giver how to give the gift.

It happens much more easily than you might think. The Holy Spirit confirms to you that indeed the Lord heard your prayers for a new house, a new car, a way out of debt, peace about that child, or whatever.

Excited, you begin looking at your circumstances trying to figure out how He’s going to do it. And that’s when the enemy slides into the conversation.

Well, Lord, I know you said I’m the lender and not the borrower, but I don’t make enough to pay off all of these credit cards.

My God, you know I need a new car, but with a credit score like this, it’s never going to happen.

I’ve been praying for a new job for weeks, Jesus, but they gave that job to someone else even though I interviewed. What gives?

Just that quickly, your focus has shifted.

Instead of keeping your eyes on the One who is your Source and Provider, you’re looking at what He wants to give. Instead of fixing your gaze on and pursuing the face of God, you’re inexplicably fixated on His hand.

Unavoidably, when what you see in your human life doesn’t look like what God has promised you in the Spirit, you then get downright depressed and indignant.

You question God, you wonder if it was really His voice, and you quickly lose the sense of peaceful and patient expectation you once had.

How did we get here?

God’s word is clear: we are to trust God.

In fact, the Bible says in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

When we presume to know how God will bless us or deliver our breakthrough, we go from asking of God to demanding of Him. We move to telling Him how to be God, instead of through faith trusting Him to be God.

And there are many risks associated with taking our eyes off of God.

First, we run the risk of making a little-g god of the very thing God intended to be a blessing.

Second, for the God who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we think and imagine, we also run the risk of limiting His move in our lives when we confine Him to blessing us in the way that makes sense to our human logic.

And, third, trying to force God to work within the boundaries of our plan can ultimately cause a delay in us receiving the very thing we so badly want.

It’s a no-win situation. I mean, why would we even allow ourselves to go down this path of trying to play God’s hand for Him?

We know from Isaiah 55:8 that His ways are not our ways, yet we somehow still try to plan exactly how and when He will move in our lives.

Well, as a recovering faith dictator, I share this word of hope: there is a way back.

Simply readjust your focus.

When you find that you’re obsessing about this thing, always trying to guess how and when God will deliver it, actively choose right then and there to offer praise to God for simply being God.

As your praises go up, your focus will be returned to the Gift Giver and away from the gift; and most likely your peace about that thing will also be restored.

That space – inexplicable peace in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds – is where God wants us to stay, to live. He sent His Son to die for us so that we might have eternal life and unlimited access to the peace and joy that comes with not having to worry about anything.

Do you need to check your focus? Are you now consumed with the how of God’s blessing, instead of with God Himself?

If this is you, cut yourself some slack and decide to put your eyes back on God.

And if you aren’t sure if this is you, here’s a quick test: does the idea of how God is going to do that thing for you cause you anxiety? Do you feel like you’re obsessed with getting that thing, and you find it frustrating that the way you thought it would happen didn’t come to pass?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, welcome to FDA (Faith Dictators Anonymous). We’ve saved a chair for you.

Huffington Post Blog: On Not ‘Ruining Christmas’

Yesterday, I was pleased to know that The Huffington Post published my article.

The piece, “On Not ‘Ruining Christmas’,” talks about recent conversations I’ve had about my husband and my decision to not teach the Santa Claus myth in our home. We’ve chosen instead to focus on the reason for the season – celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Well, as you might imagine, the dialogues grew quite heated, with some parents going as far as urging me not to “ruin” Christmas for those who believe.

You can read the piece on The Huffington Post (along with my other post on Millennials and faith) or below. I welcome your thoughts and feedback!

Thank you!

On Not ‘Ruining Christmas

My daughters came home a few weeks ago and asked the question my husband and I knew was coming but never wanted to hear.

“Is Santa Claus real, Mommy?”

I’ll admit that the first time my five-year-old popped the question last month, I panicked and deflected, “Oh, why do you ask, baby?”

“My friend at school said he is.”

Moments later I spat out, “Ooh, listen! Our favorite song is on the radio.”

The reprieve was short-lived. A few (short!) weeks later my younger daughter, three-years-old and every bit of a precocious middle child, blurted out on our way home from school one day, “Mommy, Santa isn’t real.”

I’d like to say that this time I was ready, that I had a well-thought-out response. The truth was very different.

Although my parents allowed my three siblings and me to believe in Santa Claus, my husband and I decided before we had children that we would not support the Santa story in our home.

Instead, we decided that we’d teach our little ones the truth of our faith: Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, God’s son and the best gift any of us could and have ever received.

We decided that we’d tell them that in the spirit of celebrating God’s gift to us, God blesses us to buy gifts for those we care for in a symbolic expression of love.

We opted not to tell our children that Santa was not real… we just focused on what was more important to us — the story of Jesus’ birth and why it remains such an important gift.

But, as beads of sweat peppered my brow in the silence that followed my daughters’ statements, was that all of the planning in the world quickly falls by the wayside when tested by the persistent, inquisitive questioning of children.

In the days that followed, I took to Facebook to poll my mommy friends, motivated by one fear-inducing thought. I don’t want my kids to be those kids.

As you might imagine, the feedback I got on Facebook was mixed. There were many parents in my boat — “We aren’t promoting the ‘man down the chimney’ myth either,” one father responded.

But I also got a number of “passionate,” (read: angry and snarky) responses from other parents instructing me to “fix it” so that my kid didn’t “ruin Christmas for everyone.”

I was struck by that term, “ruin Christmas.”

How could I “ruin” a holiday established to celebrate the birth of Jesus by teaching my children that — gasp — the purpose of the holiday is to celebrate Jesus?

Sure, I understood what they meant, but I simultaneously felt bullied in a way I hadn’t expected. I somehow had to go along with this myth to protect the practices and beliefs of other families while de-prioritizing the beliefs my husband and I were endeavoring to instill in our own.

How is that fair?

The answer is that it isn’t. People of faith the world over are daily grappling with how to both walk boldly in the divine confidence of who our Creator has purposed us to be and to not make others uncomfortable. It is a tightrope one never quite masters but never quite quits either.

So while my husband and I stuck to our script, we added there are also families that celebrate the spirit of Saint Nicholas, a man who lived many years ago and gave gifts to orphans during this same time of year.

And we closed by saying that, ultimately, we are all believing the same thing: it is a much greater blessing to give and love on others than it is to receive.

My husband and I realize that “Santa” is inescapable (He knows when we are sleeping for goodness sake!). But we are undeterred, perhaps like Joseph who walked countless miles looking for a room for his pregnant wife to stay in and birth the Savior of all people.

We’ll keep affirming our family truth fully expecting that our perseverance will birth great faith and a different — yet equally beautiful — type of wonderment in our children.

Just like the birth of baby Jesus has continued to do for generations.

We’ve chosen to stay on our tight rope and, we respect everyone else who walks the other.

In doing so we, I suppose, are giving a gift of understanding in a season where an appreciation for our fellow man is all that really matters.

Huffington Post Blog: On Millennials and Faith

I had the great honor of being published on The Huffington Post last week.

Speaking to the prevailing rhetoric that the Millennial generation is less religious than previous ones, I offered a different view to what my generation may be looking for in religion.

Take a read.  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/safiya-jafari-simmons/on-millennials-and-faith_b_4193964.html