throwback thursday: Uganda edition

taking that final leap of faith. moving past the prayer and into the practice. that’s what this trip taught me. this past summer I had the honor of traveling to Kampala, Uganda for a mission trip. I learned a lot about genuinely leaning into hearing the Lord’s voice and paying attention to his whispers while on this trip. on our way to Kampala we had a major set-back with flights and ended up stuck in Amsterdam for three days (yeah, great place for a missions team to great stranded i guess?). anyway- we were frustrated and confused why God would set us back three days when we could be in Uganda sharing His love. The Lord showed up in the most unconventional and amazing way, on board for a KLM Royal Dutch airplane with a lady named Stacy.

here is an excerpt from my journal on July 21, 2017:

“Today was amazing. we finally traveled to Uganda. when we were on the plane Josh was sitting next to a lady named Stacy and she was Ugandan, but was going to school in Cuba to become a doctor. she was traveling with her friend Faith.

I was watching a movie a few rows behind Josh and Stacy and I got knots in my stomach. you know the “ooooh-Jesus-is-about-to-do-something” feeling?? yup. that’s the one. I felt a nudge from the Lord to pray for that random lady next to Josh, so I went to the bathroom and prayed over Stacy. I didn’t even know her name yet. I prayed that the Lord would allow me to talk to her and that He would make a way because I didn’t want to force anything. I walked out of the bathroom after a very long time (long enough for people to think I was probably battling with the airplane food, but nope I was just talking to Jesus). I went and talked to Katie and while we were talking Josh called me over to him and Stacy. I was so absolutely nervous. I was thinking, “oh, Jesus, what are you about to do next? give me the words to communicate with her.” I was just absolutely freaking out on the inside.

I walked over and Josh introduced me. after the introductions she noticed the giving key I had around my neck that said COURAGE. she asked me what it was and why I was wearing it, I told her about giving keys and how you get one with a word you need a reminder of and when you meet someone who needs it more you give it to them. then, Josh said, “So, Ashley, Stacy thinks pain doesn’t allow you to know God. would you mind telling her your story?” I thought, “okay Jesus, I see you. you rock!!!”

I began telling her all about my sickness and how my daily pain doesn’t nearly compare to the joy I have found in the Lord. she was very receptive, but continued to ask questions. I was about to walk away when Josh hit me with one last question, “Ashley- does Jesus love Stacy?” I got down on my knees in the middle of an isle on a plane and looked deep into her dark chocolate eyes. she looked as if she was empty, and nothing but Jesus could revitalize her. I responded, “Stacy. when Jesus was on the cross you were on His mind. on the cross he saw every sin you have ever committed and says you are still worth it. and when Jesus rose from the grave he was rejoicing because he can finally be in relationship with you!” I continued by telling her how I had gone to the bathroom to pray for her even before I knew her name. I asked her, “if God doesn’t love you why would he send me to the bathroom 45 minutes ago to pray over you when I didn’t even know your name?” 

I looked at her and could almost tangibly see her heart begin to soften. I sat back down in my seat, but continued praying over her throughout my flight. at the end of the flight we all left the plane and I saw Stacy for one last time. I walked over to her, took off my giving key, and handed it to her. I told her, “I want you to have this key. every time you see it, I want you to think about this plan ride and say a prayer.” I gave her a big hug and she whispered to me, “you are so strong and beautiful.” and that was the last we saw of Stacy.”

this is a reminder to step out today. to let go of the fear and let go of control. when I gave this situation to God he did something astronomically more than I could have ever imagined. who knew praying over someone in an obnoxiously small airplane bathroom could really change someone. don’t ever downplay the nudge you get to take a step of faith, that nudge may just be the difference in life and death for someone.

 

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the pressure of perfection

As Christians, sometimes we feel the pressure to be perfect. I know I feel this way, all. the. time. I put this pressure on myself, allowing lies like “if I mess up I will completely ruin my witness and I won’t be able to share Jesus ever again.” how melodramatic, right? how vainglorious and prideful of me to think that MY mistakes can limit GOD. God doesn’t use me based on how many sins I commit or the weight of each sin saying, “I can use her because she only lied about a grade, but I can’t use him because he cheated on his girlfriend.” all of our sins are washed away by His blood, not one sin cost more to Jesus than another (1 John 1:7).

If God views all sin worthy of death, but he sacrificed his life that we wouldn’t have to die, that means that all of our sins are forgiven. no matter how “bad” they may be. PRAISE JESUS, AM I RIGHT?

now, back to the pressure of perfection. Jesus already knows our sin, heck he’s felt the weight of all of it. us thinking that God can’t use us because we sin is doubting God, putting our omnipotent God in a box of our limited mind. it chains us to the presumption that God has expectations for us other than to love, enjoy, and follow Him. Our sins do not define us, it’s the overwhelming love that buried our sin that defines us. When we live in the lie we have to be perfect,  we are setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves and when we do mess up, it is going to make us feel that much worse.

don’t let the pressure of perfection force you into a fearful, lesser life.

we are not meant to hide behind the shame of our sin. we are meant to recognize our sin, find the root of the problem, and forgive yourself because that debt has already been paid. people mess up, all the time. when you are able to open up and show you don’t have it all together, it makes you more approachable. people can connect because of common mistakes you’ve made. don’t miss out on an opportunity to share how Jesus has redeemed you because you are carrying the weight of something that has already been lifted. 

 

a force to be reckoned with

bad things happen. unfortunately, that's life. but it's what you do with those trials that makes you stronger.

In Acts 5:12-42 the apostles are facing the affliction of the pharisee's and the council. they were imprisoned for teaching the name of Jesus in Jerusalem. one night while in jail angels of the Lord appeared to them and released them from prison so that they could continue preaching in the temples. when the High Priest finds them teaching again he wants to kill them. they are not killed, but let go because one of the Pharisee's realized they were doing the work of Jesus and convinced the rest to let them live. as the apostles are leaving the court they are rejoicing.

"Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name." Acts 5:41

The apostles were being oppressed and going through hard times. they were being ridiculed and arrested, but their attitudes were ones of thankfulness. they were thankful that the enemy saw them as a big threat. you see, Satan knows he becomes less powerful with every person who comes to know the truth in Jesus. he is going to attack the strong-willed the hardest and when your heart is on fire for Jesus he will try his hardest to extinguish that fire.

Every day is a battle, a battle to stay joyful and not allow Satan to steal my hope. Satan is threatened by people who are living in the freedom of Jesus. he is going to attack you with everything he has, so that he can try and make you stray from Jesus. the harder Satan hits you, the more impactful he thinks you can be.

it's ironic though because it's in the trials and the hard times that we see Jesus more prominently. when we aren't on cloud nine, but in the valley, we are forced to rely on Jesus so much more. So really, Satan is working against himself. he is fighting a hopeless fight. he is fighting a fight that he has already lost and we are fighting a battle that has already been won for us.

let's change our lens on how we view our trials. instead of shutting down because you are in a hard time, rejoice because you are a force to be reckoned with. Use your trial as a time to rejoice. Proclaim, “Yes, God. This time in life is hard and I don’t see why its happening right now. But I KNOW all things work together for the good of those who love You. I praise you for the fact that you have already won and you have already conquered this fight.”

Satan sees something in you that's powerful, and that is Jesus. when you are in the midst of a hard time remember the goal of the enemy is to steal, kill, and destroy. don't be disheartened because of your trials, be encouraged. you have the potential to bring many people to Jesus. don't let your trials stop you. let your trials be a testament. let your trials help you declare, "JESUS IS GREATER."

 

He crushed it.

when Jesus carried his cross to Golgatha He carried our sins too. He felt all the weight of sin and shame on that dreaded Friday. He understands what you are going through. Not in the cheesy “Jesus just gets it” kind of way, but in the true “Jesus gets it because He felt the weight of all of your sin in three hours” sort of way. Jesus took our sins to the cross.

before we sin, we have already been forgiven. Jesus knew what we were going to do before we did. that’s why when he said “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” our sins were nailed to that cross with Him. we may make one mistake and suddenly we are “no longer good enough” for the Lord’s love. honestly, we’ve never been good enough for His love and we never will be. Jesus makes us good enough. He took our sin and he crushed it. He separated himself from His perfect Father to allow us to live lives that wouldn’t be remorseful. The cross is a declaration of freedom from the power of sin.

if we sit around sulking in our sinfulness we will never experience the grace of the Lord. The grace that declares, “I know you are not perfect, but I love you and I am willing to be scorned, beaten, nailed, and separated from God just so you can live a full life with me and you may experience eternal life”. More often than not, we are the ones who wont let ourselves let go of our sin. We hold onto it. We make ourselves feel terrible for what we have done. But why? Why is it we always see Jesus on the cross and not on His throne interceding for us? God has already forgiven and forgotten about our sins. Why cant we?

Jesus died. He rose again. So why do we always picture him on the cross? He is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

I challenge you to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for that “one time thing”, the “it was just a few times”, and for the “I can’t seem to get away from it”. When your eyes are focused on your sins you will be in the tomb, but Jesus is outside of the tomb. You cant experience Jesus fully until you stop looking for him in the tomb and you recognize His victory. He has risen. He is in his rightful place- His throne!

now.

being in the moment.

this is a concept that is hard to grasp for many, including myself. we are constantly looking forward to the coming weekend, the next date, the summer that is seemingly crawling toward us. we live in a time where we feel pressured to be constantly going and while we are on the go, we need to be planning your next adventure.

when we aren’t breathing in every second, every moment, and appreciating life, we are missing out on the beauty that surrounds you. FOMO (fear of missing out) is so real today, but we tend to forget is that we can be at the coolest place ever and be missing out because we are consumed with the future.

the best time is now.

we don’t have much time on this earth so I want to challenge us to a few things….

-put the phone down and appreciate what is around you, it will make you happier

-appreciate the small things, it’ll make every day lovelier

-hug your mamma, it’ll make you smile a little bigger

-be in the moment, it’ll make the sweet times sweeter

to those who hurt and hunger

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Matthew 5:6

most commonly we hear the word “hunger” in the context of food. to be hungry you have to be deprived of something. if you are full to the brim you are not going to be hungry. hunger is a blessing. it means that you are desiring something greater. I pray we all realize the benefits of having a “healthy hunger”.

many of people eat the wrong kinds of foods. they believe that eating donuts all day is going to fill them up, but we know that a donut really only provides us with a temporary satisfaction. these are the people who are trying to fill the voids in their heart with things that wither away. things that are temporary; relationships, money, jobs, friends. these people think they are going to be satisfied, but they will never truly be satisfied at the rate they are going.

most people who turn to the temporary things are experiencing or have experienced hurt. the Lord wants us to turn our hurt into hunger. he sees that the things that we are filling ourselves with will not satisfy us. they will in turn damage us, most of the time from the inside out. He sees our brokenness and our time of need as an opportunity for us to realize how hungry we are, and how the foods we are eating are getting us nowhere. the Lord does not frown upon being hungry or being in starvation. He sees it as an opportunity to fill us with the only thing that will ever wholly satisfy us.

the Lord can use our hurt as a way for us to discover our hunger. once we discover our hunger it may fluctuate. when we are starved and in need of all the support we can get we will delve into scripture and take every word to heart. I pray that is the state that you will root yourself in. not the state of starvation, but the state of realization. realization that the Lord will provide and when He does, it will be a tidal wave crashing over you. it will cover you from head to toe. you will be swept away by the power and the beauty that is Jesus. 

let the Lord take your hurt and let Him create a hunger that will only be satisfied by himself.

valentines day

I personally love Valentine’s Day. I think the idea of a whole day dedicated to love is just spectacular. the hard thing about Valentine’s Day, is that it is normally directed toward a relationship you are in. more often, it’s a reminder of the relationship that you aren’t in.

Valentine’s is hard whether or not you are in a relationship, but there is something about being single on Valentine’s day. suddenly, you are more aware of your singleness. you are more aware of all of your friends around you who are in relationships. you are made aware because every picture you see on instagram is a sappy post about how great of a relationship someone is in. these are all traps. Satan tries to tell us that we are not good enough and that is why we are not in a relationship. let me emphasize something- your relationship status does not define you. 

so many times people feel like they are looked down upon because they are single, but I say more power to you. being single is a blessing. when you are single you have more time to dig into the word. you get to experience a raw, beautiful love. THE ONLY PERFECT LOVE. being in a relationship can build you up or tear you down, and I promise, being single is better than being in a detrimental relationship. singleness is a blessing.

please don’t look at this Valentine’s day as a waste because you didn’t go on the most adorable date in the world. look at it as a win because of the love that you have already received. you receive the most powerful love of all at no cost. You just have to be able to lay your life down. Take valentine’s day to celebrate the love that the Lord lavishes on us daily. Scream and shout and post about it. Jesus is offering every single one of us a beautiful, untainted love. He is offering us a relationship where we can never be let down. Jesus is offering us a honest love, it is up to us to take advantage of it.

happy valentines day.

 

fourth man in the fire

Daniel 3 is the story of three extraordinary men, men whom you’ve probably heard. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three Jewish men who were living in Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar had declared that everyone was to bow down to a golden idol when music was played and if you did not bow you would be thrown into a fiery furnace. now, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being men of God, they did not bow down to this idol. when the King heard this news, he commanded that the three men would be thrown into a furnace seven times hotter than normal. the furnace was so extremely hot that the guards who were throwing the three into the furnace were instantly killed. while looking at the furnace, the King realized that there were four men walking around in the furnace. he says, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” King Nebuchadnezzar calls out the names of the men and they walk out of the fire with no singed hair, they didn’t even smell like fire. King Nebuchadnezzar was in awe of God and declared that everyone in Babylon would worship the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

we walk through trials. we walk through the fire. Satan throws us head-first into the fiery furnace. He is trying to obliterate the truth and faith we walk in. I know the suffocating feeling of seemingly being in the midst of a fire and seeing there is no way out.  you are being hard pressed on every side. you feel the heat rising, but then you look to you right. you see the son of God standing right next to you. Jesus meets us where we are, even if that means walking through the fire with us.

when we are walking through hard times, we can often feel alone. we feel like nobody knows exactly what we are going through, which to a certain extent is true. no human knows exactly your pain, but Jesus does. Jesus endured all the pain that you will ever endure while on the cross. I find comfort in knowing that the one who holds my life knows my pain.  there is a certain joy in knowing that your pain is for a purpose. like the three men from the story, they walked through literal fire and came out with no injuries. in turn, King Nebuchadnezzar came to know and proclaim the name of Jesus.

my prayer is that while you are in the midst of the fire, that you will look to your side and see Jesus. you will see that He cares so much for you that He will come into the fire with you. many times we ask for the fire to be extinguished and for our trials to be taken away, we want an easy life. that’s human nature. The Lord sees it as a refining process. fire can refine and turn something good into something beautiful. when you walk out of the fire, you will be a new creation. people will see you and in you, they will see Jesus. people will be astonished that you walked out of the fire, the trial, the hard time. they will ask what got you through it, and then you will have a platform to share Jesus. Don’t be afraid of the fire, for you won’t be in there alone.

 

He is our Father

in march I had one of my worst days. I was lying in bed in a dark room in excruciating pain, bawling. I had been sick for only six months at that point and I was feeling hopeless. I had absolutely no answers and it felt like I would never be healthy again. it was the worst of the worst, rock bottom. while I was desperate, my dad came into my room. he knelt on his knees and held me while I was sobbing. he kept repeating a few words, “it’s going to be okay. you’re going to be okay”.

my dad was able to keep me on solid ground. by the simple act of him being there for me, it showed that he cared. although he was strong in my eyes, I know that his heart was breaking. he saw his daughter completely broken and hopeless. he saw the pain dripping down her face in the form of tears. his heart was broken and his first instinct was to reassure me that it was going to be okay.

one of the most beautiful ideas is that God is our father. that march day I saw an example of God as a Father. God hates seeing us in pain. He hates seeing us in a seemingly hopeless place, but He sees the big picture. He sees how the pain and the rock bottom situations are going to lead to confidence and triumph. He comes to us at our lowest point and wraps his arms around us and says, “it’s going to be okay”. He says it in confidence. He knows the plans He has for us. He knew that you were going to be in the hard times but He knows it can produce perseverance.

when my dad came into my room I felt safe. there is just something about having your fathers arms around you while you are in despair that is incomparable. the same hands that hold the earth are holding you. many people have the idea that God is like a watch-maker. He created us, but has left us to fend for ourselves. that couldn’t be more opposite than the God that I know. God is personable.

He WANTS you to call upon Him,

He WANTS to help you,

He WANTS to hold you in your darkest times.

there is safety in the arms of your father.

the beauty in the release

we have our ways and He has His. so many times we submit parts of our lives to Him, but maybe there’s one part you don’t want to give up. you want Jesus to have control over everything EXCEPT fill in the blank here. maybe it’s the boyfriend/girlfriend, the school, or the social status. you know you should give it up, but you feel dependent on it.

as humans we want control, we want to know everything. we want to plan every single part of our lives out down to the minute. we realize that there is someone so much greater than us who is orchestrating life, but we think we know better in an area. we give God control of our whole life except that something. the thing that holds the power to ruin you. the thing you hold onto most is the thing that has the most hold on you.

the heart of man plans his ways, but the Lord establishes his steps.

proverbs 16:9

something that is so beautiful and freeing to me is that fact that I don’t have to have everything under control. I don’t need to know why something is happening, I don’t have to know where I am going to college, I don’t have to know who I am going to marry because GOD ALREADY KNOWS. He’s known since I was still in my mother’s womb. there is such freedom in letting go of control. It releases anxiety and stress. about four years ago I dealt with paralyzing anxiety, anxiety that made me stray from who I was. but the the idea that God, the creator of everything and the one who loves us unconditionally and who is omniscient, is looking out for me is what freed me from the chains of anxiety. He is making the calls in the interest of us! He is not looking short term as we so often do. He is looking in a long term view, an eternal view.

we should be at ease with the fact that we know who holds our future. we know who is establishing our steps. we are able to just be in a moment and not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (matthew 6:34). when we finally release our whole self to Jesus only beauty will unfold. there is beauty in the release.