The Year of Living Frugally

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” –Zig Ziglar

It’s a little scary to put “out there” (what if I fail?), but I have some very specific goals for 2016. And it’s nothing short of amazing to me how focusing on my goals is changing the way I think. One of my goals is to be out of debt by the end of the year (I don’t believe in buying on credit anymore – my debt consists only of medical bills, but the pile of bills has grown by 1/3 because I was in the hospital over the summer). Since I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, decided to call on the principles I learned in Financial Peace University last spring, and got really, really serious about getting out of debt my thinking has really started changing.

For example, I was steaming veggies on the stove a couple of days ago and I got distracted so burned an expensive saucepan, ruining it pretty thoroughly…or so I thought. But instead of throwing it out and using it as an excuse to go shopping for a new pan (which is probably what I would have done even as recently as several months ago), I spent 20 minutes applying an SOS pad, some Bartender’s Friend (it’s like Ajax or Comet, but for cookware/kitchen surfaces), and some serious elbow grease to the thing and now it’s almost as good as new.

Between my newfound, fierce determination to reach my goals and reading a chapter of the New Testament every day (which is actually another of my goals – I want to read the entire New Testament this year), my mind is being renewed.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens…” —Ecclesiastes 3:3 (Yes, I know this is from the Old Testament, but it fits.) “…There is a time to shop, and a time to work with what you have.” (I totally made this part up, by the way; still…I like it.)

Technically speaking this is my year of surrender (my word for the year), but I think that privately I will wind up referring to it as my “Year of Living Frugally.”

D-Day Revisited

Five years ago today my life completely changed course.

 “I’m not happy in this marriage and I want a divorce.”

As though branded like cattle with a white-hot iron, Frank’s words are seared into my memory.

On December 13, 2010, with my stomach still stapled shut recovering from surgery, feeling that something was wrong because he seemed very distracted all the time, I asked my husband what was going on with him. He tried to joke at first, but his heart clearly wasn’t in it – so I asked again. He hesitated for a split-second then said, “we can talk about it after Christmas.” A shiver of dread ran down my spine and ice cubes quickly filled the pit of my stomach. Christmas was two weeks away; I couldn’t live through two weeks of not knowing. Could anyone? My first thought was, “there’s someone else.” And as much as I didn’t want to know, I had to know.

He sighed heavily when I gently prodded a third time. (Three times a charm?) Crouched down in front of the wood stove, he jabbed at the wood he’d just put in a couple more times with the poker. Then he slowly got up, closed the door, took a few steps looking like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, sat down at the small, wood farmhouse table across from me, looked down, and quietly said, “ok, but just remember you wanted to know…” I’ll never forget the pained expression on his face or the sad tone of his voice as he looked up at me, took a deep breath, and said, “I’m not happy in this marriage and I want a divorce.”

And just like that, less than two months shy of our 18th wedding anniversary, the only man I’d ever really loved, the man I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life with and I were suddenly on different life paths heading in different directions.

I was completely shattered – I can remember thinking, “I’m never going to get over him and I’m going to be broken forever.” The only silver lining I could see at the time was that at least there wasn’t anyone else. It was almost unbearable enough to deal with as it was, but to be betrayed like that would have made things so very much worse. For the first few hours after he dropped the bomb it almost seemed surreal, like it was happening to someone else. But the agonizing pain set in pretty quickly. We stayed up until almost 3:00 a.m. I cried and begged him to please change his mind or to at least agree to counseling. Even in my despair it was plain to see the guilt he felt was real and ran pretty deep, still, although he said he loved me as a friend, he wasn’t in love with me so he wouldn’t be swayed.

I barely ate for days. Sleep became a thing of the past – I’d drop off into a fitful slumber for a few hours every couple of days or so out of sheer exhaustion. For financial reasons we continued to live together for another six months. A couple of times very early on I started drinking around noon to numb the pain and was completely trashed by the time Frank got home from work at dinnertime. But realizing how destructive it was, I stopped before it could become a real problem.

I chose to lean on God instead.

At the time we were both backslidden, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth it was like a switch flipped somewhere inside and the connection between God and me was instantly reestablished. I have a (deeply spiritual) theory as to why it happened the way it did, but I won’t derail myself by going into it here. I think that’s a topic best addressed in a separate blog post.

Let me tell you…I never would have survived without Jesus. Seriously. Never. I was not built to withstand the depth of heartbreak and emotional anguish created by my beloved husband ending our marriage.

God started working on me right away, but it wasn’t until I moved into my own apartment six months later that my healing really started. When I was at home I was able to shut out the world. It was like I was on my own personal retreat with my Heavenly Father every day – exactly what I needed.

It took a few years of choosing to forgive Frank daily (sometimes more than once a day), crying oceans of tears, countless hours on my knees, attending Divorce Care (Christian support group) for over a year, counseling for almost two, reading the bible (a lot!) as well as other books designed to help steer someone in my position toward healing, and lots of love and support from family, friends, and co-workers, but I can honestly say that my heart has healed; and while we don’t talk often, Frank and I are still friends. I went out of my way to make sure of that. Divorce is traumatic enough without adding all kinds of negative energy, anger, bitterness, and drama to the mix. It was best for both of us and for our son to keep things friendly. I have a few friends that told me we had the friendliest divorce they’ve ever heard of. But really, how could I say “I love you” on one hand and try to take him to the cleaners on the other? How would getting angry and making things difficult for him have helped the situation for any of us? I had no control over his actions, but I could control my own.

It’s a testament to how much God has healed me that on this five year “anniversary” that I feel like He’s letting me know I’m finally ready for the next phase of my life – whatever that may be. I never thought I’d be able to love anyone else, but I know that if He has someone for me, not only will I be able to love him, but I’ll be able to love him even better and more completely than I was able to love Frank. (God has done a LOT of healing!) Whether or not there is someone out there for me though, I will serve God wholeheartedly for the rest of my life.

It may sound crazy, but I am so thankful for the last five years. Everything has changed – but they’re good changes. I’m closer to Jesus than I ever imagined was possible, I genuinely like the person I’ve become, I’ve even been healed of a few wounds that have been plaguing me since childhood (!), and He has blessed me with a good life filled with wonderful people who care about me.

All that said, I am far (very far!) from perfect and have a long way to go yet in my “becoming,” but praise God, His mercies are new every morning; and I can honestly say I’m happy. I’m really and truly happy.

Thank you, Jesus.

Changing Focus (kind of like using binoculars, but not really…)

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” –Man in Black, The Princess Bride

Both angry and hurting about something that happened a few days ago, I called a friend needing to talk and wound up being the one doing the listening. As it happens, it was better for me that way. Talking about what what had upset me wouldn’t have solved anything and it probably would only have made the internal churning worse. But listening, being there for someone I love, praying for her when I hadn’t even been able to pray for myself, snapped me out of the funk I had slipped into and served to remind me (as if I could really forget) that there is plenty of pain and unfairness in life stemming from circumstances beyond our own control, and it made me determined to do something about the few things I can do something about.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28

It can be very easy, especially when you live alone, to dwell on the things you wish you could change in your life but can’t. However, I’ve discovered that focusing my attention on others instead of dwelling on my own circumstances helps significantly. It changes me, lifts me, gives my life purpose and meaning, and shifts my focus back to where (or rather on Whom) it belongs.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! –Philippians 2:5-8

It’s not always easy to focus on someone else instead of focusing on my own circumstances, and to be honest I probably fail as often as I succeed. But I keep trying because I know that giving up isn’t an option. God put me here for a reason and that reason isn’t to wallow in self-pity. To the best of my ability I’m here to love Him, glorify Him, serve Him and others, and to shine His light in a dark, hurting, and hopeless world. I don’t know why He chose a screw-up like me, but if He can use me, I’m His to use.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20

Dancing in Public in My Skivvies

Um…no actual public skivvies dancing here. It just feels like it, you know? Every time I turn around lately I keep getting the message loud and clear that God wants me to be more transparent. And as a good friend pointed out to me the other night, that means making myself vulnerable. And making myself vulnerable means exposing my heart – scary stuff for me. Thus the public skivvies dancing metaphor. Haven’t we all had nightmares about being in public in our underwear?

Given my personal history, my gut instinct is to try to protect myself from any potential heart-trampling (from anyone – not just talking about guys here). But really, where’s the love in that? Going into self-protection mode encompasses closing myself off (to a degree) from others. But God is showing me more and more that in order to love people the way He wants me to love them I need to open myself up and trust Him to protect my heart. There will always be people who won’t appreciate, will be jealous of, or just not comfortable with my openness and honesty, but I can’t let naysayers direct my steps. God’s told me what He wants me to do, I just need to be obedient, trust Him, and do it. It’s not easy; I’m making some mistakes because there’s a learning curve here, but I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone…for Him. And I believe He will honor that – even when I mess up. And I do. Frequently.

Truthfully, my life would make a great country song. I was fat, unhealthy, my husband divorced me, had to put my dog down, lost a family I loved, I’ve been shamed, lonely, rejected, put down, misunderstood, bullied, taken advantage of…gosh, I could go on but I think you get the gist. God has healed me from a lot of that stuff though. I’m actually carting around significantly less emotional baggage now than I was even when my ex and I were still married. And the stuff that’s left? Well, all I can say is God and I are working on it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a work in progress.

Contrary to what some people may think, I see myself and my considerably glaring flaws pretty clearly. But I also know to the subterranean depths of my soul that although I was filthy inside, because Jesus paid the penalty for my sins, I’ve been washed clean; and that’s made me completely and unreservedly His. I am the beloved daughter of the King of kings and Lord of lords – that makes me royalty – a princess. His princess. (I don’t always feel like one, but that doesn’t change the fact.)

As scary as the making-myself-vulnerable-and-exposing-more-of-my-heart thing is, it’s also kind of freeing. Through this I’m learning that it’s o.k. to just let my hair down and be myself because that is exactly who God created me to be. While I don’t plan to pour out my heart and soul to absolutely everyone I meet, generally speaking my life is pretty much an open book. How can my life glorify God if I’m putting up walls – hiding where I used to be, how far He’s brought me, and where I’m at now?

Also, pretending to be someone I’m not – someone other people want me to be – is demeaning, soul-crushing, and exhausting. It just doesn’t work for me anymore so I’m not doing it. What you see is what you get, folks. I’m an extraordinarily loyal friend, a total goofball, a prayer warrior from the word “go,” enjoy nothing more than making people smile and laugh, can totally roll with the punches (“expect the unexpected” is becoming my credo), and am passionately in love with Jesus. As far as I’m concerned I was put on this earth for two main reasons: to worship and glorify God, and to serve Him and others.

As far as the potential heart-trampling thing goes, the way I figure it people are people and everyone is flawed in different ways. I have (finally!) come to a place in my life where I can accept people right where they’re at – flaws and all. But I know that in their imperfection people will trample on my heart sometimes, and even though I’m honest-to-goodness bone-weary of having my heart trampled I’m also coming to realize that it’s merely part of the journey, and because I’m His my heart is always repairable.

The thing is I have hope in Christ. That doesn’t mean I expect circumstances to change to meet my desires, it means that I have the assurance of going Home with Him to heaven one day – so I can live in this sin-saturated world with the joyful anticipation of what will come later; and it means I have His promise that He will walk with me through every trial and circumstance of my life (He really does! I may feel lonely sometimes, but I am never alone); and it also means I have the confidence that things will work out the way He wants them to because I firmly believe to my toes that even though I may not understand the “why” or the “when” (or the “if”), He genuinely has my best interest at heart with every single circumstance He engineers or allows in my life. I do slip up occasionally and try to “nudge” circumstances in the direction I’d like them to go, but I know nothing I do or say takes Him by surprise. In spite of myself, I will end up exactly where I’m supposed to as long as I keep my eyes fixed on Him. And the part that leaves me in a perpetual state of humility and awe? The fact that He understands all of this…and loves me anyway. Skivvies and all.

The One Where I Want Stuff

“Awakening and owning the dreams that God has placed in our hearts isn’t about getting stuff or attaining something. It’s about embracing who we are and who he has created us to be. In him. He is our dream come true, and the one true love of our life. But we can’t love him with our whole hearts when our hearts are asleep. To love Jesus means to risk coming awake, to risk wanting and desiring.” ― Stasi EldredgeBecoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You

A dear friend of mine asked me today what I want and how I envision my future. I answered her in part, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot and, as far as what I want goes, this is what I’ve come up with (in no particular order):

I want to make people smile and laugh. I want to bring them joy. I want to show God’s love to the unlovable. I want to comfort the brokenhearted. I want to sing again. I want to laugh over silly things. I want to visit Kevin and Jill in California. I want to go dancing. I want to keep losing weight and get fit. I want to write for a living and be a published author. I want to praise Him continually. I want to help people however I’m able. I want to embrace life in all of its messy glory. I want to make my own dresses. I want to stop being irritated by trivial things like snow and inconsiderate drivers. I want faeries to do my dishes and laundry for me while I’m sleeping. I want to spend more time with my family and friends. I want to fall in love with someone who genuinely loves me back (bonus points if he’s a musician). I want a pitbull – preferably a female so I can name her Morticia (“Tish” for short). I want to always be awed by sunsets and take delight in blowing bubbles. I want to sit outside with a cup of steaming, hot, coconut coffee and watch the sunrise with Jesus. I want to be as supportive and encouraging to others as they have been to me. I want to shine (His) Light into people’s lives. I want to feed people healthy food that tastes great. I want to spread the gospel. I want to find my Native American ancestor. I want to see countless people come to faith in Christ. I want to be seen, known, and loved for who I am. I want to feel beautiful. I want to go to Europe. I want to get better at managing my time. I want to slow-dance in the moonlight. I want to smell the ocean. I want to make people feel special. I want to be wanted. I want a huge bouquet of lilacs. I want to be there when the people I love need me. I want time to clean out/declutter my apartment. I want to walk barefoot in the grass. I want to sit around a bonfire some night with a glass of wine, singing with friends while someone accompanies us on guitar. I want to get better at being on time. I want to teach illiterate people to read. I want to learn what it means to be Native American. I want to make people feel welcome – wherever I am. I want to be a shoulder for people who need one. I want a guy who’s willing to make a fool of himself for me. I want the people I care about to be happy, healthy, and have a strong relationship with God. I want to be kissed in the rain. I want to help hurting, damaged women find healing. I want to lie on a hillside and make cloud pictures. I want to come home at night to someone I can laugh and pray with. I want to love others right where they’re at. I want to be able to give more. I want to embody the fruit of the Spirit. I want to be with someone who is as sold out to Jesus as I am. I want to be the Proverbs 31 woman. I want to make God, my parents, and my son proud of me. I want to be used to show people how valuable they are. I want Jesus to come back. I want God’s will – for all of us. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I want to always be as thankful for my many blessings as I am right now. But what I want more than anything is simply to be the woman God created me to be.

The One About Men

“Men are from Earth, women are from Earth. Deal with it.” ― George Carlin

I’ve discovered something about myself. Even after being on my own for just about four years, I have trouble talking to (most) single men. There’s just way too much pressure. Married men? No pressure, so no problem. Even men with girlfriends are fairly easy-ish to talk to. But parade a single, unattached guy in front of me and the wire connecting my brain to my mouth (or fingers) magically comes unattached. I have been known to say some pretty ridiculous, embarrassing things – in person, email, Facebook…the method of communication doesn’t make a difference. That’s not to say the things I say aren’t true, it’s just that I usually mean them a bit differently than they come out. Nerves are horrible, pesky things.

“One frequently only finds out how really beautiful a woman is, until after considerable acquaintance with her.” ― Mark Twain

Then there’s the whole “how are Christian women supposed to handle dating in the 21st century?” question. How are we supposed to handle it? Honestly, I’m baffled. For pete’s sake, I need the rule book! Will someone please send me a copy?

“Our hope doesn’t rest on our finally getting it together. Our hope rests in Jesus.”― Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You

Personally, I want the guy to be the guy and do the asking and pursuing. That’s how God wired us after all (read Captivating by Stasi Eldredge and Wild at Heart by John Eldredge for an extensive, biblical explanation for this). But because of past experiences which have left many of us – men and women – leery of being hurt again, and because society has given women the message that we should go after a guy if we want him, the whole man/woman/relationship thing has gotten pretty confusing and convoluted. Case in point: if I simply wait for a guy to call me (or ask me for my phone number) I could be giving him the impression that I’m not interested in getting to know him better. And if a guy who has been burned in the past thinks I’m not interested in getting to know him better then he may not want to risk rejection by reaching out first. Conversely, if I reach out and initiate an innocent conversation with a guy, he could write me off as being too forward. See what I mean? Con-fus-ing. (And for the record, I’ve done both and neither approach has worked for me thus far.) That said, the reaching out first thing generally makes me uncomfortable – I’m just too old-fashioned I guess. I think I need to quit doing it.

“…sitting and waiting is one of the most miserable occupations known to man – not that it usually is known to men; women do it much more often.” ― Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber

So what am I supposed to do with all these questions I have when I’m not getting any answers? Well after a few months of wrestling with all of this I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply need to try to relax (“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda), go about my (or rather my Father’s) business, and wait till that guy with the same set of values I have and I cross paths. You know, the one who loves Jesus and puts Him first, genuinely cares about people, and is ministry-minded with a heart for the lost, the one who sees the Bible as a handbook for life – not just a book of interesting stories and great quotes to hang on the wall. He’s the one who will smile at me like he means it, and when I smile back at him and our eyes lock, he’ll think to himself, “Wow. I wonder what her story is.” And then he’ll come over to ask me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Trust Without Borders

“Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior” –from *Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

A friend sent *this song to me last night. Unaware that my word for the year is “faith,” he sent me a song about faith. It’s one I’ve heard before – we sing it at church. The song is soul achingly beautiful; it brings tears to my eyes and makes me long to be held in my Savior’s arms every time I hear it. (If you’ve never heard it, I included the Youtube link below.) I fell asleep last night and woke up this morning to it running through my head. I think this will be my anthem for the year. It fits where I’m at perfectly.

I spent 2014 learning to trust God in new and deeper ways. And though 2015 is my year of faith, I can already see that this year’s lessons are just going to carry over from, build on, and complement the ones from last year. Inspired by this song, I prayed what some may consider to be a dangerous prayer this morning: though I believe my trust in God is absolute and my faith is unshakable I asked Him to deepen my trust in Him and to strengthen my faith. Why could that be considered a dangerous prayer? Because, much like praying for patience, where you develop patience by continually being put in situations that require you to exercise it, I know that asking God to deepen my trust and strengthen my faith may well result in being put in potentially uncomfortable (at the least) situations which will require me to exercise them. But the very deepest desire of my heart is to become more and more like Jesus, so to anything that would bring that about I can only say, “whatever, Lord.” Whatever You have for me, whatever You want for me, and whatever it will take to get me there…that’s what I want too.

And as I write these things I can suddenly see in my mind’s eye a picture of Peter climbing out of the boat, wind whipping his hair and waves crashing against him, to walk on a stormy sea toward Jesus. This picture comes to me often. It’s a lesson that can be applied to so many different situations: as long as he kept His focus on Jesus, Peter, a regular human being just like you and me, walked on water. Think about that for a minute. He walked on top of the water…just thinking about such a thing fills me with awe. But as soon as he diverted his focus to the storm raging around him he began to sink. Trust and faith are developed in the stormy circumstances of our lives. When we exercise them and God comes through, providing for our needs (responding in whatever way He feels is best and on His timetable), trust is deepened and faith is strengthened. He has brought me through some pretty nasty storms thus far and He will never leave me or forsake me – of this I am certain. So I face 2015 without fear, assured of my Savior’s constant care.

My soul is even more at peace than usual today, resting in His ever-present, unconditional love for me. Undeserving as I am, covered by His sacrifice on the cross, He has made me worthy to come to Him, to hold my arms out to Him at any time and know that He will always reach back and pull me close; and I can curl up on my Heavenly Father’s lap and rest my head on His shoulder – safe, comforted, and cherished.

After all I am, wholly and without reservation, His…

…and He is mine.

“I will call upon Your name

Keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise

My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine”

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) 

An open note to my brothers and sisters in Christ

My first post on this subject got a good bit more dry and lecture-like than I originally intended because I frequently crave structure when I write. But you know, sometimes you just need to be raw and honest. So that’s what this post is going to be: raw and honest; I’m just going to be informally candid here.

I know… this is my third post in a row writing about this, but rarely has a subject reached so deeply into my heart and grabbed hold of it like this one has:

*”No one knows… what it’s like…to be free…”

*”Does anyone know… what it’s like… to be free…?”

The best way I can describe what has been happening to me lately is to simply say that God has lit a fire in me with regard to unbelievers. And I saw the movie Left Behind at the theater a week and a half ago, which only added fuel to the aforementioned fire. Although no one knows for sure exactly when this scenario will take place, for those of us who believe the bible, we know the Left Behind scenario (minus the fictional characters’ storylines) will happen…sometime. Since you can practically cross-reference biblical prophecy with the evening news these days, it appears as though there is at least a small possibility it may happen at some point in the not too distant future. (However since I’m sure every generation before mine has probably thought the same thing, it’s equally possible my generation won’t, in fact, be alive to see it.) That’s just it though. We don’t know. Jesus could return in several minutes, days, weeks, months, years, decades, or even further down the road than that. But whether He returns for His church in my lifetime or not, I want to know I did whatever I could to share God’s love with as many people as possible. I don’t want to have regrets thinking, “I could have/should have done more.”

I still don’t know exactly what all of this is supposed to look like for me on a day-to-day basis. But I’m ok with not knowing. God knows – and that’s all that really matters. All I can do is continue to pray for more and more opportunities to share His love, courage to step up and walk through when He opens a door, and His wisdom to say the right thing.

I am not a great Christian. I stumble and fail Him daily. But I love and serve a GREAT God, and He can use anything and anyone to reach whomever He pleases. I am honored that He chooses to use me at all to love people for Him and to further His kingdom in some small way here and there.

Do you have a fire burning in your heart to see the lost come to faith in Christ? If not, what’s quenching it? If Jesus came back for us tomorrow, who would you regret not sharing the gospel with or showing God’s love to? What’s holding you back?

*from the song “Free” by Total Surrender

Total Surrender’s Heaven – CD Review

From their Christ-centered, God-glorifying lyrics to their uplifting, sometimes upbeat, sometimes ethereal and worshipful, but always ear-catching, soul-stirring sound, Total Surrender’s new CD Heaven just grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go.

Each song – from the catchy, memorable first track “Lift Up Your Eyes” to the last striking, almost haunting strain of the title track “Heaven” – warmly invited me in, lifted me up, and made me want nothing more than to worship.

Dylan Bradshaw’s vocals blend smoothly and exquisitely with his lovely wife Rachel’s harmonies. As well as being a talented singer and songwriter, Dylan plays the guitar with an easy, natural flair and Rachel’s artistry on the keyboard contributes beautifully to the strong melodies. The focused intensity of Jim Landolphi’s drumming is solid and tight; alternately laid back and energetic, his rhythm is always controlled – perfectly driving the songs. Together, their sound is intricate, elaborate, and sophisticated – praising God together in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn in too.

More to the point, their considerable musical abilities have challenged and encouraged me in my faith to the point that I am forever changed in how I see unbelievers. Since the first time I heard the song “Free,” God has been shaking me up and doing something new. I love all of their music but that song stood toe-to-toe with me, confronted my faith, and said, “Ok, this is all very nice but it’s time to kick things up a few notches.” Lately, the echoes of the chorus run around and reverberate in my head and heart – “do you know… what it’s like… to be free?” Now, everywhere I go I am filled to overflowing with love for everyone I see until my heart feels like it’s going to burst; yet at the same time I’m pierced with a grief so deep I could sit and sob for days knowing that most (if not all) of the people I come in contact with DON’T know what it’s like to be free – because they don’t know Christ. While I’ve always had a desire to see the lost come to faith in Christ, the depth of this ache and passion burning in my heart is new – it keeps bringing me to tears. The songs “Free,” “Wonderful Light,” and “Give It All Away” make me want to run up to every single person I see, wrap my arms around them, and tell them how much Jesus loves them. So I have begun approaching my interactions with others much more prayerfully, asking God for more open doors, and as a result He is providing me with many more opportunities to show His love to others. I’m thankful to Him for using this wonderful music as a catalyst for a closer walk with Jesus.

The poignant melody of the title track Heaven is a vivid reminder that this world is not our home; it has not only further fueled the longing to go home myself one day, but has inspired me to seek and be open to every opportunity to share Christ with others – I am filled with a profound desire to see everyone go home to Heaven.

The songs on Total Surrender’s “Heaven” paint an intimate picture of the love of our Savior, praise God for who He is, serve as a reminder of the glorious homecoming that awaits us beyond this earthly plane, call believers to a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father, cry out to unbelievers to seek God before it’s too late, and bare the hearts of three very special people whose lives are totally surrendered to Him.

“No one knows…what it’s like…to be free…”* –Dylan Bradshaw

     “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

It is excruciatingly heartbreaking to know there are so many (so, so, SO many!) people out there who are NOT free, because they don’t know or have turned their backs on Christ. I’ve been having spiritual conversations with people a lot more often these days (God has been opening lots of doors!) and most of the conversations leave me wanting to cry. People are confused, hurting, defensive, and utterly lost. But they are so deeply loved by their Creator – so very, very loved. He has been sharing His heart for them with me – it’s soul-achingly beautiful and painfully distressing at the same time. His grief over these people is deeper than we can possibly fathom.

They need to be shown (His love) and told (the gospel). Contrary to popular belief, sharing the gospel is NOT optional for a believer – Jesus commissioned every single one of us to go out in the world and do just that. I like this saying I heard a long time ago: “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” In most cases, talk is cheap. As his missionaries to a dying world, we need to roll up our sleeves and SHOW them (tangibly – in a way they can understand) God’s love. Does this mean we all need to go to a foreign country? Of course not. Some are certainly called to do that, but for the majority of us, we enter our mission field the moment we get out of bed or step outside our door in the morning. Wherever God’s got us right this minute…THAT’S our mission field.

For example, that neighbor we’re so friendly with? You know – the one we laugh and joke with while we’re both out there shoveling snow in the winter but don’t really talk to very much the rest of the year (I’m preaching to myself here, by the way) – have we reached out to them? Why not? They are our neighbors, but more than that they are beloved creations of our heavenly Father. If God has put a bible-believing-Holy Spirit-filled-child-of-God in their neighborhood that in itself should be our first clue…HERE IS OUR MISSION FIELD. There is no excuse (none!) for them not to have been touched by the love of God through us at some point. And if we step out in faith and God opens a door for a relationship with them to develop, we will have even more opportunities to show them God’s love and may eventually earn the right (as friends) to speak into their lives.

     One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us. – John Wesley

The burning in my spirit, the need to remember this is life and death for every single one of them – literally life and death – is so strong. I know (trust me, I KNOW!) it is incredibly easy to get so caught up in what’s going on in our own lives we can tend to forget that sometimes. But while God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, He DOES expect obedience from His children just like we expect it from ours. So when we get a little nudge from Him to do or say something kind, thoughtful, or unexpected for someone, whether it’s a neighbor, a stranger in the grocery store, family member, co-worker, whoever… WE SHOULDN’T QUESTION OR IGNORE IT. I admit, to my shame, that I have been guilty of that very thing more times than I can count.

I live in a small, 5-unit apartment building. Several months ago, my neighbor across the hall, Brendan, an unbeliever, but a nice enough guy for the most part, was carried out of his apartment in a body bag. He was around my age. He had been injured (or had surgery? I forget) and was on narcotics for the pain.

Unfortunately Brendan mixed the narcotics with alcohol and it depressed his respiratory system to the point he stopped breathing in his sleep. We chatted superficially a bit occasionally when we were out shoveling or if we bumped into each other in the parking lot (although admittedly not often because he smoked and cigarette smoke makes me sick to my stomach), but we never had a single remotely meaningful conversation in the 18+ months he’d been living here. What really upsets me about this is that it’s entirely possible that he’s now eternally separated from God, which means fiery torment – forever. And even though I know it’s not my fault if that is the case, I still bear even a small measure of responsibility for not being concerned enough about his eternal destination when he was alive. I know that as a woman living alone I need to be extra-careful when it comes to my interactions with men (especially unbelievers), but I never even asked God what I could do. Maybe if I HAD asked, God might have said “nothing.” But I didn’t even ask. And now it’s too late.

My intent here is not to put anyone (myself included) under condemnation. We are, after all, human. But this passion stems from the knowledge and conviction that I have lived a great deal of my own life in a self-centered fog. And you know something? I don’t ever want to be that way again. Ever. E-V-E-R. I want nothing more than to always be able to see every single person I meet through God’s eyes – cherished, created in love by Him and for Him; someone I want to see in heaven one day, worshipping God for eternity.

     “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Co. 9:19)

One of the many things I’ve learned from a friend of mine is that the best antidote when I’m feeling sorry for myself or am in (emotional) pain is serving others.  

     “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

Truly, nothing makes me feel happier or more fulfilled than when I am serving others in some way.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Even so, since I never felt as though I could identify completely with any of the spiritual gifts I read about in the Word, I asked God constantly for the last few years (in a whiny sort of way – like the proverbial little kid who’s feeling left out – with his head tilted off to one side, hands in his pockets, kicking rocks) “what’s MY gift?”

A couple of months ago He finally answered me.

“Love is your gift.”

Serving = Love

      “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Love = Freedom

     You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)

“Does anyone know what it’s like…to be free?”* –Dylan Bradshaw

I do.

Do you?

     “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

*(from the song “Free” written by Dylan Bradshaw of Total Surrender – link to song below)