If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try, Try Again.

I was talking to friends this evening, and I couldn’t help but think about how many times I’ve messed up and how many times I’ve had to face God, saying, “Hey, I did it again… Will you still take me back? I understand if you won’t…” And, you know what? He always takes me back. Why? Because He LOVES me, and He is the source of unending grace and mercy that covers far more trespasses than I ever deserve to be forgiven for… and yet, He forgives me – every time.

Even in our darkest hours, God had a plan. Every time we’ve stumbled, He already knew how to work that to our advantage. He makes all things work together for our good because we love Him and long to serve Him (Romans 8:28).

Does that mean we should keep messing up because we know He’ll take us back? No, of course not! We should always strive to do better, to BE better, but what that does mean is that we don’t have to be perfect!

We don’t have to constantly live in fear of our mistakes because He loves us anyway, through it all! Jesus gave his LIFE before we ever knew Him, before we ever turned our life to His path for us. While we were yet sinners, He gave the ultimate sacrifice in OUR place (Romans 5:8). Yeah, we’re going to get tripped up sometimes, but that’s okay. Stand right back up, dust yourself off, get back on the path, and keep on trucking!

God bless!
Elizabeth

Learning to Run

Walking with faith is like learning to run.

When I first began running, I was super gung-ho about it. After my first run, I went out and bought new running shoes, shorts, shirts, and sports bras. I downloaded Runkeeper to keep track of all of my workouts. I even woke up early some mornings to run, and it felt GREAT!

You know what, though? That first run was a little rough, and it’s not like I just got up that day and decided to run. Thing after thing went wrong that day, and by the time I made it back home I was done with the world. I needed to release all that negative energy that was built up inside me, so I ran inside, got ready, and took off to campus. Between my walk there and back and my run around the Drillfield, I put in over 5 miles of work.

I tried to run 2.5 straight laps around the Drillfield, but my body just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t used to that strain. At that point, I don’t think I had really run for any length of time since I broke my femur back in 2009. Despite the pain and the struggle of getting my feet about me, the run felt good, and it made me want to keep running forever.

At first, I kept up. I woke up early at the beach to run I’d go run on the track at home. I even found a couple good routes around town…

But then, life got in the way.

First, I wanted to sleep in. Then, it was too hot in the afternoon. Then, my normal run spots just weren’t convenient enough (or available at all thanks to construction). Just like that, I stopped running. The ease of my running had run out, and I just wasn’t willing to put myself at the necessary inconvenience to keep it up.

I kept telling myself,

“I’ll do better tomorrow.”

Of course, I’d say the same thing when tomorrow came, and then the next thing I knew, I stopped saying it at all because I knew I wasn’t going to do it.

That wasn’t the end of my running, though. The other day, I felt like running, so I did. I went on a 2 mile run with a friend, and it felt so easy. I wanted to keep running even after my friend couldn’t anymore. The ease of running had returned! My muscles only only hated me a little bit, and my mindset made up for the pain. I was ecstatic!

Then, I tried to run again a couple days later, but, as excited as I was to go, my body didn’t support the idea. I went, but it wasn’t nearly as easy:

I only ran 0.75 miles of my 2 miles run because I couldn’t get my breathing together and everything hurt. You know why?

Because my body was awoken to the new movement during that first run! It was relearning how to build those muscles and increase my endurance.

Even though that first run last week was easy, the next several from here on out – so long as I keep it up, of course – will be a lot more difficult, at least for a while. Building muscle and endurance takes time, effort, and sacrifice. It’s not easy, it’s not always relaxing, but it is worth it in the end. The endorphins and satisfaction I feel Post-run are more than worth the pain and effort I put in to the run, not the mention how much better my body feel as time goes by.

Guess what?

FAITH is the same way!

The first big step into faith is a little rough as you face all the stuff you have to release to God and ask for salvation, but then you experience the same post-run high when the weight of sin is first lifted from you. You have new life, and you are so sure you are going to do all these amazing things, and life is going to be so much easier!

But then…

LIFE HAPPENS.

Prayer dwindles. Reading your Bible happens less and less. You barely consider your faith when you act throughout the day.

All of a sudden, you seem too busy to spend time going to church, reading the Word, or talking with God at all. You have too much to do, you don’t have a quiet enough place to focus like you “know” you need to – ANY excuse you can think of works.

And – just like that –

you stop pursuing your faith walk. It hasn’t ended, but you’ve wandered off the path –

you’ve paused your workout with God.

One day, something happens, and you rediscover your passion, so you become rededicated to your faith walk, and you start running again! You feel great! It’s easy! It’s even better than you remember it being! WHY DID I EVER STOP?

Then, you do it again, start trying to build a routine… but this time isn’t so easy. It kind of hurts. What happened?

Well, just like with running, you’ve just awoken all parts of yourself that needs to relearn its proper movements and needs to rebuild endurance. The more you push through and press on through whatever pain or whatever obstacle makes you want to stop and give up, the easier everything will become and the longer and farther you’ll be able to go.

Our journey with God is a race we were called to run with endurance! Keep the faith, keep striving, and don’t give up! Your better is coming, but you have to work to reach it!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”  Hebrews 12:1-2

God bless!
Elizabeth

The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 4

Step 4: Serve.

There are countless verses on why we must serve others. Through this service to others, we serve our Father. One thing that I have learned through numerous trials and conversations with the Lord is that without serving others, I am nothing because when I’m not serving, I’m not loving, and when I’m not loving, I’m not being Christ-like. What good am I to anyone if I’m failing in that most basic of commands?

Too often we get so caught up in working on ourselves, that we forget that serving others benefits us more than total focus on ourselves could ever begin to do.

Why is that? Why is service such a major step in self-improvement?

Serving God by serving others serves you!

Nothing makes falling off the path easier than trying to walk it alone. Always take someone with you. Think about who’s taken you with them. Where would you be if they hadn’t? I know where I’d be, and it’s NOWHERE GOOD!
We should all be thankful for the ones who have helped lead us to our better by following the leading of God. Guess what? They’re thankful for us, too.

I can tell you from my few experiences working with youth in a way that means I’m the one taking them with me that those leading the way receive just as much as those who follow. I’ve learned so much about myself as a leader and as a Christian from each individual I have taught or led. We were not meant to walk this path entirely alone:

“I observed yet another example of something meaningless under the sun. This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, “Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?” It is all so meaningless and depressing.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 (NLT)

We strive to do better when we have someone to be better for.

We were called as disciples to lead others to Christ by acting like Christ.

Christ served his disciples; he served the people, despite the hate. We are called as a servants, not only to God but to our fellow man as a representation of God’s love.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 (NIV)

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” Matthew 25:40 (NLT)

The next big question: HOW do we serve?

People serve in all different ways – just like people worship in all different ways. I serve through my writing and through my connection with the youth, whether these youth are from church, camp, school, or work. You can serve in any way that fits you: helping a stranger, volunteering, talking to those who need a word, listening to those who feel unheard, or including those who feel forgotten. Service doesn’t have to require money:

  • Offer an uplifting word when someone is feeling low.
  • Ask someone if they’re okay or how their day is going and actually ACTIVELY listen to their answer.
  • Pray for someone in need – whether for themselves or for another’s situation.
  • BE A LIGHT.

You can serve without changing your daily activities; all you need to change is your attitude and the focus of your day. When you focus on God’s will throughout the day and maintain the positive attitude that comes with trust, others will notice the light shining through you. When you lay yourself open to God daily, you are opening the shutters of your spirit so that His can shine out.

God bless!
Elizabeth

Related:
The Process of Self-Improvement: Learning to Lead By Example
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 1
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 2
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 3

The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 3

Step 3: Pray. Seek. Receive.

PSA: You don’t have to use fancy language in your prayers. They don’t need to be long and drawn out. You don’t need to talk to God like you’re addressing the Queen of England or the President or anything like that. He’s not going to ignore you for not being “formal enough.” Talk to God like you’re talking to a friend, your closest confidante. That’s exactly what He is!

Once I finally realized that, my prayer began to flow in a way I had never experienced. I used to struggle with prayer all the time. Often, I felt like I simply couldn’t pray. I didn’t know the words, and not in such a way that I needed the Spirit to intercede for me. I had this vision of God a huge king sitting on this massive throne that I was kneeling at the bottom of – a tiny ant at the foot of a giant. Let me tell you what: that vision is incredibly restrictive! Because of the way I viewed God, I couldn’t feel comfortable talking to Him. Only when I let go of that rigid, constricting vision of God did I discover how easily I can speak to my Father. My life hasn’t been the same since.

Pray without ceasing. I know that sounds like a daunting task, but it really isn’t as impossible as it seems. Did you know you can “text” with God? Praying isn’t about these big, long, fancy prayers you so often hear in church. You can pray in even the smallest moment in so many ways: thank Him for providing a close parking spot when it’s raining, thank Him for keeping you safe on your way home, ask Him to help you get through a tough day, or simply acknowledge the beauty of His creation. All it takes is a short, “Hey, God, I just wanted to say you’re awesome.” The important thing is to constantly maintain communication between you and the Father. Relationships don’t build in silence.

This is probably where I struggle the most. It is so easy to let life overtake everything. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten so caught up in the stress and chaos of the day that I’ve woken up the next morning to realize I didn’t even speak to my Father once throughout the day. I’ll be the first to tell you that finding the time and making the effort to pray even in the tiniest of moments feels like work at first, but I will also be the first to tell you what an amazing difference keeping that open line of communication makes.

My days, even the worst of them, are so much easier to get through when I’ve spoken to God. My toughest moments are not as tough as they used to be because I’ve built a strong bond between my everyday life and the comfort and peace of Jesus. Once I took the time and made the effort to strengthen my day-to-day relationship with God, I found depending on God for the peace, strength, and comfort He has always promised became significantly easier. Now, where I used to constantly panic in the face of my anxieties, I breathe deeply and remember that all my anxieties are already in His hands; I have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)

Seek God with all of you. Imagine you are in desperate need of a washing machine. You know your friend has one, but you never come over to use it or even bother to ask her if you can use her washer. Imagine that that friend all the while has been sitting next to you virtually yelling, “I have one for you, not just to use but to have! All you need to do is come get it!” And yet, you still don’t come. You just sit and complain about not having a washer and how badly you need one.

Well, that’s how it is with God when we need something but we don’t come to Him – and I don’t mean just saying, “God, I need this. Thanks,” and expecting that to be it. I mean putting forth the effort not only to voice your need to Him but to seek His help with all your heart. God doesn’t work half-heartedly, so we shouldn’t give Him half the attention or the effort. When we fully seek God and His will in our lives, beautiful and amazing things will happen. God has a fantastic plan for each and every one of our lives; we just need to seek Him to find them.

Receive whatever God has for you, even if it’s not what you expected. Prayer is not only about expressing our needs and our voices. It is a two-street of communication between God and us. That means in all our prayers we need to take time to listen for God’s response.

Have you ever someone talk at you instead of talking to you? You know how frustrating that feels? Well, when we forget to listen to God because we spend all our prayer time asking Him for things and telling Him everything that’s wrong with our lives, that’s exactly what we’re doing: talking at Him. I’m pretty sure He doesn’t appreciate it any more than you or I do. Remember to be quiet and listen during your prayers so that you can receive any word the Lord has for you.

We pray with expectation that God hears and answers our prayers. We must be careful not to restrict that expectation to mean we expect God to answer prayers exactly the way we want Him to answer them. Our will is not His will, and we should desire His will to be done above all else. Our greater is coming, but we cannot easily receive our greater if we decide we’d rather cling to the mediocre we can already grasp. The easy choice is rarely the best choice for us. In all things, pray for His will to rule over your own that you do not miss out on everything He has prepared for you.

God bless!
Elizabeth

Related:
The Process of Self-Improvement: Learning to Lead By Example
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 1
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 2

The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 2

Step 2: Spend time in His presence and ONLY His presence every day.

This is a BIGGIE. You can only go so far in a relationship if you never spend time with each other, so take a break from your crazy life and look to the one who has allowed you to experience another day, another minute, another breath.

Get rid of the distractions.

Turn off your phone.

Close out Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/etc. – any website that will steal your focus. Turn off your computer completely if you need to.

Remove everything that will keep you from giving all your attention to God.

Set a minimum time.

I usually try to spend at least an hour focusing on nothing but Him, but I will never spend less than 30 minutes. Sometimes I get so lost in His glory that what feels like 30 minutes turns out to be closer to 2 hours. Let the Spirit move in you.

Welcome His Spirit into your space.

Yes, He’s already there because He is always with you, but taking the extra step to specifically welcome His Spirit into your space is an intimate invitation for worship, rest, and communication. It is a way to open yourself up in preparation for what God has for you in that moment. I do it as a way to focus myself on what I’m doing and as a way to say, “God, I’m all yours.”

Have a plan to get you started, but don’t be surprised if that plan goes right out the window when the Spirit starts moving.

I like to start my time with prayer to bring in my focus and to open my heart to God’s guidance and desire initially, but after that I like to use a devotional unless God immediately leads me in a different direction. Lately, I’ve been working through The Message//REMIX: Solo. Every now and then God completely sidetracks me from my plan, and that’s perfectly alright with me. Truly, those are the best moments. There is nothing so sweet as completely surrendering to God’s will.

Keep a Bible Journal.

Your journal can be in whatever form works best for you. I’ve used a regular college-ruled notebook, a binder, a composition book, graph paper, a small spiral notebook, and (finally) a moleskin sketchbook. I just began this most recent journal about two months ago, and it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m taking an entirely new direction in my journaling after I discovered the art of Bible journaling. I’ve always doodled my thoughts, but it had never occurred to me that I could so perfectly incorporate that concept into my faith journey.

This is a journal entry that was inspired by Day 5 of The Message// Remix: Solo.

This is a journal entry that was inspired by Day 5 of The Message// Remix: Solo.

That’s why I finally chose the moleskin sketchbook as the perfect canvas on which to document my walk with God. It fits perfectly in my purse or my Bible case, it’s nicely bound, it lies flat, it has an elastic band to hold it closed, and it has no lines which leaves the layout of each page completely up to my imagination and the leading of God.

I actually ordered a journaling bible to work in alongside my journal when the

Spirit really moves me on a verse. I’ve always been so particular about what marks I put in my Bible, but having a Bible that is specifically for my doodle-like notes that really identify what stands out to me takes that particular weight off my shoulders. Without that weight, my journaling flows, and I am far more comfortable in my exploration of the Word.

Be persistent.

“Old habits die hard,” and new habits don’t come alive much easier. Don’t give up because you forgot to take time one, two, even three days – or weeks or months. It’s never too late to try again. The important thing is to keep doing it. Every time you do it, it’ll get easier, it’ll become more natural, and then you’ll find you can’t wait to spend that time with God and nothing else.

Once you begin to rest daily in the arms of the Father, your life will never be the same.

God bless!
Elizabeth

Related:
The Process of Self-Improvement: Learning to Lead By Example
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 1
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 3

The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 1

Step 1: Wake up early.

I have to be at work by 7:45am. Considering how long it takes me to get ready and how much I love my sleep, I rarely had time to do anything but get ready in the mornings. I never took the time to just focus on God, and my life suffered for it. I was only making it that much more difficult to have the best day possible because I wasn’t dedicating my day to the only one who deserves all of my time.

Now, I’m trying to be awake by 5:30am every day, if not before. It gives me an hour not only to fix a real breakfast and truly enjoy it but also to spend reading and resting in the presence of the Lord. I find those early morning hours to be freeing and incredibly peaceful. The rush of the day hasn’t begun yet, and I feel I can truly rest in His presence before trying to face the chaos of my everyday world. (Trust me – when you spend 8 hours every weekday running around with up to 16 two-year-olds, you enjoy every extra moment of rest and peace you can get!) There’s no better way I can imagine beginning my days than with my devotional, my Bible, and my journal, with my God leading my hand and my heart every step of the way.

Maybe 5:30 is a little too early for you, but I highly suggest that you try to get up a little early each day so that you can breathe in the glory of God.

God bless!
Elizabeth

Related:
The Process of Self-Improvement: Learning to Lead By Example
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 2
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 3

The Process of Self-Improvement: Learning to Lead by Example

Good mornings start with a good breakfast and an even better cup of tea before the sun’s even come up. Better mornings start with quiet time with the Father and a renewed spirit of joy and peace.

I’m trying to start a new routine to better my days. I want to strive daily to make my life better – to improve myself in such a way that improves the lives of others because the only way I can even begin to be a light to those around me is to take the time and make the effort to cultivate that light in myself. The journey to leadership begins where I begin, and I want my beginning to be in the one who began it all: God.

So, how have I been going about this “self-improvement” with The Father?

Well, for me, it’s a four-step process, which I will be taking you through over the next week. STEP 1 will be posted bright and early tomorrow morning!

God bless!
Elizabeth

Related:
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 1
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 2
The Process of Self-Improvement: STEP 3

God is Great, Even When the Road is Dark.

Y’all, God is just SO good. I’m wrapped palpably in His presence right now. He’s doing some great things in my life. I don’t know where I’m heading, but I know I have a trustworthy guide to lead me to my new destination. There’s a quote by E. L. Doctorow that says, “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” That’s kind of how it is with God. We can’t see the whole plan, but we can see enough to take the next step. All we have to do is trust our road, which is the path God has laid out for us. It’s when we stop following the road that we start wrecking.

I pray guidance and clarity over each and every one of you that you will be able to see the path ahead of you, that you will pay attention when God reveals to you with his light like Moses paid attention to the burning bush. I pray peace and trust into your spirit that you will have no doubt in your steps, even though you can’t see far ahead of you. But, most of all, I pray courage into your hearts that you will keep going when the path gets steep, when the path gets bumpy, and when there are so many twists and turns you think you must be lost. He’s got you! So long as you hold onto Him and keep your eye on His light and His road for you, you will not ever be lost.

God bless!
Elizabeth

Breakthrough Challenge #2: Favorite Verse

My favorite verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9. 2 Cortinthians 12:9
Good gave me this verse a couple of years ago when I was going through one of the toughest times, and its been my verse ever since. This verse verse is a constant reminder that everything I do is by God’s power alone. It reminds me that even (read: especially!) in the times I feel weakest, He is strong. Those life tests and trials are building my testimony and feeding His purpose for my life. Whenever life is trying to knock me down, I remember, “In my weakness…” and my true strength returns.
‪#‎NCBreakthrough2015‬ #‎BreakthroughMovement

What does BREAKTHROUGH mean to me?

This was the question of the night from last week’s weekly devotion. Everyone who shared their answer on the call had fantastic and inspiring answers. I’d like to share mine with you:

To me breakthrough means…

Overcoming: Breaking into:
Fear Freedom
Self-consciousness Joy
Doubt Confidence
Lack of self-worth Strength
Loneliness Protection
Heartbreak Love
Anxiety Peace

Reaching my breakthrough took time and work. For the most part, I didn’t overcome all of these things with one swift movement of God. He worked slowly on me for some of them. That’s the funny thing about breakthroughs: everyone’s (and every one) is different. God may instantly deliver you from what you’re struggling to break through in one miraculous moment, or he may work piece-by-piece, chipping away at the chains holding you down or the walls holding you in. It all depends on what’s best for you.

I’ve had a few of those worked-in-an-instant breakthroughs, but then I squandered my joy when I stopped working in my breakthrough. I took for granted what God had done in me and didn’t change what I as doing that led to the chains and walls to begin with, so I found myself trapped again. That’s why my breakthroughs usually take slow steps of effort to reach that final “I’m free!” moment. I’ve needed the focus of working on myself to fully appreciate the wonders of what he’s doing in my life.

Now, will my breakthroughs always work that way? Not necessarily. It all depends on what God sees in me and what he wants to do for me for my good and for HIS purpose. Every blessing I’ve ever received has been so I could work in line with HIS will. As soon as I start focusing more on what I want to do and not what HE wants me to do, I’m in trouble.

God knows what he’s doing. He knows what works for me, and he knows what will work for you. All we need to do is keep our eyes on him and follow his will above our own. As soon as he’s your focus, amazing things will start happening – I guarantee it!

Now, what does BREAKTHROUGH mean to you?

God bless!
Elizabeth