And God Sent A Cat

With everything that’s been going on, and all the craziness of the media, it’s natural that our minds and bodies are going to be more anxious, stressed, and tense.

A few weeks ago, I was praying in my bed, and talking to God about that. I wasn’t really sure what specifically I was worrying about, it was more of a generalized sense of anxiety. For context, I had just been on Facebook and y’all the negativity and fear on there is way out of proportion!

Anyway, so I had been praying about that and for the Lord to ease my mind and comfort me.

Literally seconds later my kitten, Ash, walks in my room, jumps on my bed, and curls up beside me. I started stroking his beautiful white and gray fur and found myself marveling at how Jesus works.

In the midst of my worry and needing comfort, He sent a small cat to stay by me and offer that joy and consolation. Even now, I absolutely love how Jesus used my little pet to minister to my heart.

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Examples of this exist in Scripture as well, the most notable of which that comes to mind is Elijah and the ravens, found in 1 Kings 17:2-6

“And the word of the Lord came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.”

Through Elijah, the Lord had just said that there would be a drought – no dew or rain for the next few years unless by His word. Not to mention, that Ahab was king, Jezebel as Queen, and they both were exceedingly evil people who were worshipping other gods and sacrificing their own children.

In the midst of this, the Lord used ravens to provide for Elijah’s physical needs of bread and meat. And I also like to think that He used animals (God could have simply caused it to appear or drop from the sky as He did for Israel in the desert) because He knew that Elijah was going to be lonely. Of course, animals aren’t the same level as human relationships, but how many of us during this pandemic have been grateful for our dogs, cats, birds, horses, etc?

Interestingly enough, in the article, “The Health Benefits of Companion Animals” from nps.gov says,

“Animals have been demonstrated to improve human cardiovascular health, reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression.”

Whether those interactions were passive or active, the article states that benefits of lower anxiety levels were shown, thereby decreasing symptoms of stress.

Isn’t that amazing? As an omniscient God, He knows the benefits of animals even if we don’t recognize it ourselves!

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

As the God of all comfort, He knows exactly the best way to soothe our heart, settle our minds, and calm our spirits. He knows what caused our worry and what’s going on in our world. He might whisper a Scripture verse over our hearts, or send someone to encourage us.

And sometimes? Sometimes, He may send a cat.

~ Southern Dreamer

Resources:

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The Best Sugar Cookies Ever

Who doesn’t love sugar cookies? They’re sweet, soft, delicious and you can decorate them with icing and sprinkles!

I’ve always loved my grandmother’s sugar cookies – I remember on holidays, my cousins and I would decorate Christmas trees, snowmen, and Easter eggs. Vanilla frosting would be mixed with green and red dye, and sprinkles of all colors and hues dashed across the yummy cookie plains made for a brightly colored display.

So one day, I decided I needed the recipe! I called her up and asked her what was the amazing recipe that crafted such a delicate, sweet cookie?

And here it is: she uses “Mo’s Sugar Cookies” recipe from Square Table.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon of almond extract
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

For this recipe, I would highly recommend an electric mixer if you have one. You can absolutely mix it by hand (I’ve done it before!), but the dough does get super thick and sticky, so if you have a standing mixer, use it!

Alright, first step is to cream the butter and sugar together until it is light and fluffy. Make sure your butter is room temperature, otherwise this will not work correctly. An easy weigh to get it to room temperature is to set your butter out on the counter for 30-45 minutes. I also recommend cutting the butter into little slices when you put it in with the sugar.

Add the eggs one at a time, making sure to beat well after each addition. Mix in extracts.

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In another bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until it is well combined. I did this in small doses, instead of all at once, to ensure that the flour was mixed in thoroughly.

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If you have plastic wrap, put that over the bowl (otherwise I just used aluminum foil) and place in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the time is up, grab some of the dough (I rolled mine on a cutting board, doing small batches at a time since I did not have a large one) and roll to about a 1/3 inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters and place onto a greased cookie sheet!

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Ok y’all, here is the thing, these cookies do not look like they are done at 10 minutes, but they are! If you want your cookies to be more chewy/harder, you can cook them a little longer, but I like mine soft so I took them out after 10 minutes.

Let the cookies cool, and then eat them or if you want to make them more fun, decorate them with icing and sprinkles!

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Y’all these cookies are absolutely delicious! Trust me, they are not going to last long in y’all’s house! 🙂

Do y’all like sugar cookies? Let me know if you try the recipe in the comments below!

~ Southern Dreamer

Who am I?

Between the media, our culture and peer groups, and even family members, we are land blasted on every side by who and what we should be. There’s the crowd that’s constantly telling you to look better, dress nicer, lose more weight. Then you have the people who never think that your best is good enough, and those that find something you do that they don’t like and decide to attack you on it.

And that’s not even counting our own internal struggle on self-worth, insecurity, and if what we’ve done is good enough!

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Whew!

With all that craziness, how in the world are we supposed to decipher what is true and build up a foundation of worth that stands against the fire of culture and condemnation?

How can we learn to drown out the voices of thousands and listen to the only one that truly matters – Jesus’?

The answer, as many things are is simple, but the application can be a lot harder! I know sometimes I can berate myself over something I did wrong, or as my perfectionism likes to remind me, “not good enough or perfectly.”

We need to build our spiritual muscle memory up, so when the voice of condemnation and you-aren’t-good-enough comes, we can rely on that to refute it with a solid, “NOT TRUE” and God’s Word!

So let’s dive right in, what does the Bible say about us?

“So God created mankind in His own image,” ~ Genesis 1:27

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well,” ~ Psalm 149:14

“You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God,” ~ Isaiah 62:3

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory,” ~ Romans 8:17

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” ~ 1 Peter 2:9

This is what He calls us….

  • created in His image
  • fearfully and wonderfully made
  • crown of splendor, royal diadem
  • heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ
  • chosen race
  • royal priesthood
  • holy nation

And that’s not even counting treasured possession (Exodus 19:5), bride of Christ (John 3:29), child of God (1 John 3:1) and countless others!

We are not some run-of-the-mill, made-in-a-factory soul. We aren’t glanced over, pushed to the side, or forgotten in the corner of some dingy pub. God has created us for a specific person, in His image, and there is not another human being alive in the past, present, or future that is exactly like you or I. He has placed aspects of Himself in us – maybe you are creative, God is incredibly creative – look at everything He has made! Are you loyal, have a great sense of humor (talking donkey anyone? check out Numbers 22:20), or love to encourage others? Those are all qualities that God has!

Not only are we a reflection of Him (granted, an imperfect one!), but He refers to those of us who are saved as a crown of splendor…a royal diadem. How amazing is that? The God of the entire universe views His children, even with our mistakes, as someone who He is proud of (side note: this does not mean that He advocates for our sins, but I think that He sees where we are trying and is delighted by our efforts).

Now that we’ve defined who God says we are, what does our relationship look like with God? Is he condemning? Harsh? Let’s see…

“The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness,” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

“He will take great delight in you,” and “will rejoice over you with singing,” ~ Zephaniah 3:17

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,” ~ 1 John 4:10

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” ~ Psalm 34:18

“You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great,” ~ Psalm 18:35

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go,” ~ Joshua 1:9

Wow. Every time I read these verses, especially together, it always amazes me the extent of the Lord’s love and compassion.

As a perfect being, He could easily reject our efforts and remind us of our failings. God is so far above us, and the fact that Jesus still chose to come down to the dust, dirt, pain, and suffering – away from the perfect glory and comfort, is amazing.

FaithInstead of condemnation, He delights and rejoices in us. That blows my mind! I especially love Psalm 18:35, on how God’s gentleness made him [David] great. I don’t know about y’all, but gentleness is not something I normally associate with Jesus.

In “The Complete Word Study Dictionary” by Warren Baker and Dr. Eugene Carpenter, they explain what the word gentleness means in Hebrew – patience and tenderness. What a beautiful picture that is of our Lord!

He treats us with patience, tenderness, love, and compassion. And as Psalm 103:14 states, He remembers that we are dust, that we are human. He knows our shortcomings and weaknesses and still offers to any who accept, a relationship with Him.

I want to end this with a beautiful quote by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke in their book “Spoken For.” And as we go about our days, let us remind ourselves that to those who accept His salvation, we are children of God and nothing in this world can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38).

“This is an epic love story that you are part of. You are wanted. Draw in that eternal truth: You. Wanted. Forever.

~ Southern Dreamer

 

 

Hot Chocolate Cake

Who doesn’t love chocolate? It’s sweet, comes in dozens of forms, and tastes amazing with pretty much anything!

When my dad had his birthday earlier this week then, I knew exactly what I should make him: a hot chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.

I found this yummy recipe through Pinterest, and all credit goes to the blogger at I Heart Eating – check that link to see her blog, she has lots of great recipes! – for the recipe for both the cake and buttercream frosting.

To start off with, gather your ingredients! You’ll need…

  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup of hot chocolate (1 cup of water mixed with standard hot chocolate packet)
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup of buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of butter (melted) – I used unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt

NOTE: In order to get the eggs at room temperature, grab a bowl, fill it with warm water (about the temperature you would use if you took a bath) and place the eggs in it for 10 minutes. To get the buttermilk at room temperature, warm it in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Alright! Now that the logistics are out of the way, let’s get started.

IMG_0525Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and go ahead and grease or butter two nine inch cake pans, and then flour them. When you finish, they should look something like this.

If you find yourself with too much flour in the pan, gently tap it against the side of the counter top and the excess flour should separate off. You can then throw that excess out.

Moving along, in a small bowl whisk together the hot chocolate and cocoa powder.

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Then in a larger bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. MAKE SURE your buttermilk and eggs are room temperature. The first time I did this, I got impatient and went ahead and added them to the warm/melted butter…the result was that all the butter clumped together in a huge lump!

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Haha, so yes, room temperature is really important! I also mixed in each ingredient one at a time, before adding the next one.

After all of those are mixed so that they’re well combined, go ahead and whisk in the hot chocolate mixture that you set aside earlier.

Whisk in the flour, baking soda, and salt, and viola! The batter is complete!

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Pour the batter into the pans, and then bake for 20-35 minutes or until a butter knife comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 10 minutes, and afterwards, it’s time for frosting!

Here’s what you need to make chocolate buttercream frosting:

  • 1 cup salted butter (at room temperature)
  • 3 1/2 – 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons of whole milk, half and half, or cream

NOTE: to get butter to room temperature, leave it out of the fridge for 30 minutes. THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT. It makes a huge difference in the frosting!

Using an electric mixer (either hand of standing), beat the butter until it is a pale color, about 3-4 minutes. Scrape down the bowl.

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Add 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of milk.

When I did this, I added each ingredient individual, making sure that it was mixed in thoroughly before adding the next one. Additionally, I add 1/2 a cup of powdered sugar at a time, since I didn’t want it to fly out of the bowl all at once.

Mix on low.

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Now, my family has a sweet tooth, so I added some more powdered sugar. I added about 1/4-1/2 a cup at a time, and then tasted it to see if I liked it. As long as you don’t add huge amounts of sugar at once, you can play around with how sweet you want it and it shouldn’t mess the frosting up!

Once the frosting is finished, go ahead and frost that cake!

After taking one of the cakes out, I placed it on a cake stand and frosted the top of it. Then, I put the other one on top and frosted the entire outside of it. If you have a knife that doesn’t have sharp edges, such as a specialized knife specifically for cutting butter (if you have one specific for frosting and baking, use that! I don’t have one yet so I improvised!), it will make the frosting go on smoother.

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I baked this cake on Tuesday, and let me tell you, this will not last long in your house, especially if you have teenage brothers or sons!

Let me know how it went if you try it, in the comments below! What other kinds of chocolate cakes do you enjoy?

~ Southern Dreamer

Leaving the Noise

Sometimes I find myself in this “all or nothing” mentality. If I can’t do it all at once, then it doesn’t count. If I can’t finish it, then should I even start it?

This can often transition to my perfectionism heaping mounds of rules and extra responsibility onto my faith-filled life and relationship with God. As someone who loves structure and to follow the rules, the concept of freedom and grace is a difficult one to understand, and oftentimes leaves me subconsciously making up rules for myself – sometimes I don’t even realize it until after the fact!

One of these self-imposed “rules” that I’ve recently realized I do to myself, is that my perfectionism whispers, the only way you can spend time with God is if you are by yourself. Being still. And quiet.

See the source imageWhich, for anyone, who like me tends to be anxious, is the worst idea because quietness = my brain overthinking and coming up with a million things to worry about.

But perfectionism is very tricky that way, because it sounds close to the truth, right? We all know that verse that says, “Be still and know that I am God,” – Psalm 46:10.

So here comes perfectionism and legalism using Scripture, but also twisting it, and totally not accounting for God’s grace. In the Complete Word Study Dictionary by Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter, they explain that in Hebrew, these are some of the meanings behind, “be still”:

“to relax, to cease, to let go. The term was also employed to signify the act of ceasing from something, of letting go.”

And Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary by John H. Walton explains this even further.

“The force of this command is probably directed to the worshipping community, which is encouraged to rest in God’s power to save them from warfare (cf. Ps. 37:7).” 

I think it’s really interesting that two of the explanations and meanings for this verse are to relax and to rest in God’s power – to trust that He is going to save us from our enemies. How cool is that? Before researching this, I had never even heard of this verse described in that kind of context, and yet, from reputable commentaries and concordances, who solely research the Scriptures, it is right there!

Other verses that support this are, i will find you in a burning sky

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” ~ Psalm 37:7

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm,” ~ Mark 4:39

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still,” ~ Exodus 14:14

So, what’s the verdict? We’ve gone through the verse, studied what it’s biblical meaning is, and found supporting verses for it. From all of this, the only outcome that I can see is that perfectionism and legalism were wrong.

God is not saying that we have to be completely silent and just sit in quietness all the time – especially for those of us who struggle with overthinking and anxiety (“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” ~ Psalm 86:15).

All He is saying is that He wants us to come before Him, to be still – to rest, to relax, to trust in who He is. And to know that He is God – to remind ourselves of who He is and what He has done.

If you're feeling alone and searching to fill an empty void in your heart, there is a love out there like no other waiting for you to invite it in!And y’all, there is so much flexibility and freedom in that! Under these guidelines of love and grace, we can spend time with Him at a noisy coffee shop, outside in nature, with a friend, at a Bible study, even in the car driving to work or school!

We do not have to feel like there is only one way to spend time with Him (speaking to myself here too! 😉 ). There’s worship, journaling, singing, praising, reading His Word, and just plain ‘ole talking to Him!

Whatever you choose, whether it is in the noise or solitude, remember to trust in God’s grace and His love for you!

~ Southern Dreamer

Victory

In the deep, dark expanse of space, a small group of rag-tag people works together to infiltrate a massive super-weapon. They are massively outnumbered, surrounded by all sides, and the odds of all of them getting out of there alive, are frankly, astronomically small.

You could say the danger radar is going off the charts.

The Life of a Teacher: As Told By Star Wars – Bored Teachers

While we may never experience a rescue mission like Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and the droids, there are plenty of instances in life where our own “danger radar” goes off.

Whether it be something that is physically happening to us – moving to a new location where we know no one, someone we love has a serious illness, doing something outside of our comfort zone; or something more emotional and mental, like overcoming a phobia, losing someone, or just anxiety and fear in general. Any and all of these instances can cause our inner danger meter to skyrocket.

When that happens, our natural instinct can be a variety of reactions from panic, to taking action, to feeling overwhelmed – and at the root of it, a desire to protect ourselves.

Protecting ourselves via feelings of anxiety or fear, can be a good thing. After all, we don’t run into a busy street because anxiety tells us that if we did that, we would get hurt. We don’t touch a hot stove, because fear reminds us that we’ll get burned. Anxiety and fear can be protection mechanisms, given to us by God to make sure we do not do, well, stupid, risky things.

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However, the downside to this can be that in situations in which we really are safe, in which, logically, there is nothing to worry about, anxiety can, for many people, pop up and convince us that something bad is going to happen, that this really is something we need to worry about.

Psalm 32:7 says,

“You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me withLove the silhouette - entrance to cave // I pulled away the ivy, the long strands hid a cave. It sparkled like millions of fireflies. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I could not use words to describe. songs of deliverance.”

When we feel scared, God is saying that He is our hiding place. He is our refuge away from the storm – the one we can run to when our circumstances seem out of control. Even if we feel embarrassed, or feel like He’ll think our fears are silly (I know I have), God still wants us to come to Him.

After all, as our Father, He cares about all aspects of our being – both physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

In Philippians 4:6-7, Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit writes,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I think it’s really interesting that Jesus is saying that we both need to communicate our worries to Him, and praise Him. Expressing gratitude habitually, is actually shown to reduce anxiety (see here), and combat depression, so that’s really cool that God included that in the Scriptures before science ever knew it!

Jumping back to Psalm 32, I love the last part of the verse, “surround me with songs of deliverance.”

At any point when we feel overwhelmed, and like we’re never going to get through ____ (fill in the blank), that everything is done for, God surrounds us and says, no. I have already won the victory at Calvary. You are free! Delivered. Victorious. 

In fact, Elisha and his servant experienced this very thing in 2 Kings 6:11-18. The king of Aram was at war with the king of Israel, and the Arameans king became furious since all of his plans to attack Israel were not working. Demanding his men of which had betrayed them, they answered that none had, but that Elisha, the prophet, told the king of Israel everything that he had planned.

Naturally, the Aramean king was not a happy camper. He found out where Elisha was staying and at night, surrounded the city with chariots, horses, and soldiers.

As most of us would do, Elisha’s servant began panicking.

“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.”

Elisha replied,

““Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

In our day-to-day life, there are going to be times that we feel like there is no hope, that we are surrounded on all sides by enemies – whether literal or figurative. When that happens and our danger meter is off the charts, let us call to mind that the Lord is our protection and refuge, and though we might not be able to see Him physically, He is always with us, at our side.

~ Southern Dreamer

 

 

What if…

What if the sun turned orange? What if the grass was suddenly the sea? What if cotton candy grew on trees, what if money was free?Three Rivers Deep (book series) "A two-souled girl begins a journey of self discovery..." http://threeriversdeep.wordpress.com/

So many questions, and an imagination of endless possibilities!

In many cases, the “what if” questions can be thought-provoking and helpful. For the inventors, the engineers, pioneers of science, technology, and new products, for the artists, dreamers, writers, a world of creativity and new inspiration can result from the “what if.”

See the existence of Microsoft, animation, live-streaming television and current events. Would the iPhone exist without someone asking, “what if?” How about Disney, or Pixar – would they be where they are without someone pushing the boundaries of art and film?

See the source imageSo yes, the “what if” can be a wonderful question to ask in terms of creativity and invention. However, in many cases, the question of “what if” can lead to anxiety, turmoil, and procrastination.

The flip side of “what if” is where anxiety reigns wild. It is the king of its kingdom, fear is the queen, and chaos and pandemonium are its citizens. Their national product is branded uncertainty, and its shipments are made of all the filaments called “causes and effects.”

Have you ever been part of this kingdom? Found yourself captured in the falsely alluring sensation of looking at something from every angle? Caught within the chains, dangling from your hands – placed in front of Anxiety and Fear like a relentless ping-pong match of millions of possibilities?

I know I have.

It can be very easy to get lost in the “what if” of life. What if I fail this test? What if I make the wrong decision? What if I mess it up? What if…what if…what if……

Oftentimes, I turn these “what ifs” towards God. I worry on whether or not I’m taking advantage of His grace, how to know whether He really wants me to do this – is the trial and error too much to risk? I find my mind wondering towards questions like does He really still give grace when I mess up time and again? Does it really never run out?

What if what I’m doing is incorrect? What if in my attempt to figure out the right thing, I go against His will? What if I’m doing this following God life all wrong? What if…what if…what if……

Recently, when talking with a friend about this, they gave me a piece of advice that I wanted to share with all of y’all. I was telling them about how I’m always worried about messing up, and how I struggle with the concept of God’s grace and unconditional love. We talked about the entire “what if” scenario and how anxiety loves to take hold of the reins in those situations and just go crazy.

They said that when my mind wants to say, “what if” about messing up, failure, grace, God’s love, I need to refute that with “even if.”

Even if…I make a mistake.

Even if…I sin.

Even if…I willingly go against what I know to be right.

Even if…I mess up what God wanted me to do.

Even if…

In whatever the circumstance, as long as we are truly saved and at the heart of it desire to follow and please the Lord, then the “WHAT IF” questions should not be allowed to have any power over us.

Because…even if the worst thing our mind’s can come up with or that we could do comes to pass, even if that happens, God’s love and grace remains.

Romans 8:38-39 says,

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Right here, God says that nothing can take His love away from us. Not our mistakes, not our failures, not our anxiety or what if questions.

Romans 11:6 states,

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”

And then later in Romans, we see grace being addressed. In this short verse, Jesus is saying that His grace is not contingent on our works. It is not determined by what we do, how we do it, or anything in between. God’s grace is purely an unconditional gift that He lavishes on His children. 

When anxiety and fear say “WHAT IF,” the Lord’s grace and love say even if. 

~ Southern Dreamer

Seen

 So I just came back from Passion on Friday and one of the sessions was about letting God have ALL of you, even the parts that are ugly or broken or that you don’t want to show Him. Let Him have 100%, not 99.9%. So basically be seen by God.

As we’re driving home from Passion, I see a huge billboard sign that says, “SEEN.” I was like hmmm ok, might be something *files it away for later.*

Then Friday night, the live action Cinderella was on and I was watching it.

At the very end of the movie, the narrator says, “Was who she was, who she really was, really enough? This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us can ever take, is to be seen as we truly are.”

And I was like LIGHTBULB.

Like that’s me. There’s the prince, who saw her when she was polished and beautiful and together.

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Now, she’s not. Her hair isn’t tidy, there are dirt stains on an old dress, her shoes are worn out. Will the prince still want her, even in this? When she is not put together, not sparkling, where she walks towards him in a dress that has been worn for too many years, mud and mire clinging to it. She doesn’t have ANYTHING to offer him. She has no parents, no dowry, no fancy background, no support. Even her name, has been changed and taken: Cinderella.

“- you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give,” ~ Isaiah 62:2

She has everything against her, and yet, HE came to find her. To seek her out. But now she’s worried, because yeah, sure he liked her before – she was together, beautiful, looking like everyone else he hangs out with, and now? Well, she’s untidy, dirty…locked in the attic of a home with mice for company. Will he still want her?

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Here is the prince’s answer: “Of course I will.”

“And they shall be called The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken,” ~ Isaiah 62:12

No hesitation, no well, I don’t know. You really haven’t got much going for you. She offers him the only thing she can, her heart, and without a second lost, he accepts her.

That’s Jesus.

I know so many times when I mess up, I feel like I can’t go to God then or spend time with Him. I just really screwed up, why would God want me to spend time with Him? My first instinct is to try and “better” myself, to try and make myself look, in analogical terms, prettier.

light and shadow

Do you do this too?

The notion of thinking that if after we mess up, if we can only do some good things then we’ll be able to approach Him.

But that’s not how God works. He doesn’t act like humans and demand distance from us if we mess up, tell us to “go to our room” or slam a door in our face. He doesn’t tell us that we can only approach Him once we’ve done enough good to outweigh the bad.

“And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” ~ Hebrews 4:13-16

Jesus already knows our sin. During Passion 2019, Matt Chandler said, it doesn’t surprise God when we sin. He knows we’re going to fall short – it’s not a matter of if, but when (paraphrasing here).

In Hebrews, it says several things that I think we should pay attention to. One, none of our sin is hidden – God sees everything, even the yucky parts that we want to hide from Him. He already knows. Further, the Scriptures say, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are.”

FaithI love that! After all, who wants to risk something for someone, who you cannot relate to? By experiencing humanity, Jesus truly is our Great Comforter (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). And not only does He comfort us, but it says, he “sympathize(s) with our weaknesses.

Merriam-Webster defines sympathize as, “to share in suffering or grief, to react or respond in sympathy.”

In The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, the word used is sumpathéō, and this means, “to sympathize with, be compassionate, have compassion upon.” Something that I found interesting about this, was one of the synonyms for this word: sullupéomai, meaning “to experience sorrow with, console.”

I think it’s really fascinating how for both of these definitions, similar words like sorrow, grief, and suffering come into play. I don’t know about y’all, but when I think of someone sympathizing, that’s not the first thing that comes to mind.

And yet, this is the context that the Bible uses it in.

Next time we fall short – in whatever way that may be, I hope all of us, myself included, can remember the truth of God, instead of what our perfectionism/fear/performance-based self thinks: that Jesus wants us to come to Him, just as we are – whether that means we’re frustrated, tired, or just screwed up, He wants us to come.

~ Southern Dreamer

 

Sitting By The Fire

See the source imageThe past couple of weeks, I’ve been going through a book called Grace for the Good Girl by Emily P. Freeman. As described in another book, Breaking Up With Perfect by Amy Carroll, there are two different types of perfectionists:

“Some lovers of Perfect live with the Good Girl Syndrome. These women are rule followers by nature and bask in earning the pleasure of the people surrounding them. Others live with the Never Good Enough Syndrome. These women use their flawless exterior to cover the wounds and shame of their pasts. Both kinds of women build an external structure rule by rule and pleasant smile by pleasant smile.”

If you struggle with perfectionism, like I do, then you definitely need to pick up a copy!

Recently, I reached chapter twelve in Grace for the Good Girl, titled “Remain.” Right away, I knew that this chapter was going to be one that spoke to me…since this was the first paragraph in it:

“I’ve never liked the phrase quiet time all that much, but I was a good girl who went to Bible college, so I’ve not always been brave enough to admit it. I never knew what I was supposed to do during a quiet time. Read one verse? Is a chapter enough? Maybe I should memorize the whole book. The list seemed both empty and endless.”

Yep. I can relate to that – not knowing if what you’re doing is “enough” for God, and the overthinking mind and perfectionism only heaping on more confusion and stress.

Do any of y’all see yourself in her description? I do.

It can be hard, for us perfectionists to have to work through this. After all, we aren’t supposed to feel like this, are we? We should be jumping up and down for joy, happiness oozing out of every pore at the thought of getting to spend time with God.

And yet, oftentimes, I find myself doing it out of obligation, duty, or guilt. Then, my mind can’t help but go…

You’re such a hypocrite. 

Not exactly the nicest thought to be thinking.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders,” – Deuteronomy 33:12

While researching, I came across this verse, which I do not think I’ve read before, and knew I had to add in. Sometimes it can be easier to see God as a task master and dictator, than a loving Father.

Rules, justice? I can understand that. It makes sense.

But grace? Upon grace? It befuddles me. And yet, that is what God offers us – free of charge, free of punishment. He wants us to come and rest in Him. Even if that’s just laying in bed in the morning and talking to Jesus, and that’s the only time you have.

I know y’all are probably wondering why I titled this post, “Sitting by the Fire,” when all I’ve talked about so far is grace, perfectionism, etc. So here comes the part where it gets explained 😉

For those of you who have wood-burning fireplaces, don’t you love the crackle of the wood and the smell it gives off? Something dangerous, yet beautiful. Something that puts off heat, that we need, but can also cause damage.

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Emily Freeman, describes this and the analogy from her friend Fil Anderson.

“He likened this fire stoking to time spent with God. He didn’t put the fire out and make a brand-new one every hour. He merely kept the same one going, moving embers and logs around to catch the flame in new ways so the warm kept on warming.”

Then, in the next chapter, she adds this, which connects to her earlier point.

“We breathe in air and breathe out worship. We receive love and extend worship. We embrace children, offering worship. We comfort, we laugh, we mourn, we dance, we read, we dream, we exist – all worship. We pay the bills, we run on the treadmill, we enjoy a good movie, we make dinner, we welcome friends with open arms – worship, all worship. We send money and offer prayer and sit with a lonely neighbor, in Jesus’ name. We wait for love, we long for home, we pour out our hearts and hopes and fears and longing; we create with words and photos and colors and food, all beautiful acts of worship.

But we don’t call it that.

We call those things living. But when the Spirit of the living God lives inside of you, then your living is also your worship.”

Y’all, when I read this I was like WOAH. I have always put my time with God in a category, separate from everything else, and if I didn’t get to it that day, well, I wasn’t a very good Christian then, was I?

I had never thought of it like that before, even so, it made complete sense! Of course everything we do is an act of worship! Our bodies are His temple.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies,” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

There are so many things in life that we have to do – school, work, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, visiting friends, etc. As life happens, some days are going to be so busy that we aren’t going to have time to sit down and completely devote fifteen or thirty minutes to God.

In those times, I believe Jesus wants us to just rest in Him. He knows how busy and stressful life can be, and knows that there are some seasons in life that are going to be crazier than others.

Now, that doesn’t mean this is a free-pass-never-read-the-Bible-again-ticket. That’s not what I’m saying. There’s a difference in giving yourself grace, resting in God, and completely and blatantly taking advantage of it and making a consistent pattern of not spending time with the Lord.

In the end, as we learn to walk in grace, it’s less about performance, and more about expanding our definition of what it means to be in the presence of the Father – every breathe in worship.

~ Southern Dreamer

God’s Promise

The rainbow. God’s promise.

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” – Genesis 9:8-16

In our world today, the rainbow has become the symbol for the LGBT movement. The real message of the rainbow, however, has existed for centuries.

After the flood, recorded in Genesis, the first rainbow appeared.

Can you imagine? Having never seen a rainbow before, and suddenly there is this sheer, sparkling magnitude of light over the horizon? The reds, the blues, the yellows! The purples, the oranges, the greens!

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It must have been absolutely stunning.

Rainbows…God’s promise to us.

Placed in the sky as a declaration of His covenant with mankind.

For me, the rainbow has an even more personal note. If you’ve read my story, then you may remember that I was diagnosed with narcolepsy and cataplexy at a very young age.

When I had first gotten sick, at six years old, God told my family something. I’m not going to disclose it right now, but it was important for us personally. And not long after that happened, there was a huge double rainbow over the sky.

A few years later, my family and I were driving to North Carolina and stopped on the way to take a picture. My dad had the camera, while my mom, brother, and I smiled.

Snap!

The crazy thing is though, upon looking at the picture, we noticed something pretty amazing. There was a rainbow cascading over us. It was as if God was enveloping us in the words He had given just a few years before. My mom said, “I was basking in His glory.”

rainbow3

That array of color was not there before.

Totally God.

Last month, my family and I went to visit my grandparents in Mississippi. Our first night there, we all went to a restaurant downtown at the square. The food was delicious, and the restaurant was lovely, but for me, the highlight of the night came after.

We exited the restaurant. I looked up at the sky, and guess what I saw?

A rainbow.

I was so excited, and instantly called everyone else’s attention to the awesome phenomenon.

“We have to get a picture!” I exclaimed, yanking my phone out of my purse. Once my family realized, my mom came over and my dad snapped a picture. My brother, being the free-spirited person he is, decided to photobomb one of the photos.

rainbow

At first, I was kind of annoyed. We were trying to take a picture. But then my mom reminded me, that Brayden was in the original one too.. No accident, of course; Brayden has been such an instrumental prayer, part of God’s promise to me. He has faithfully gone before God on my behalf. He has walked every step of the way with me.

It’s so crazy looking back now, at the first picture with the rainbow, and then this one recently. Through all those turbulent times, God has continued to be faithful. Even during the times where it didn’t feel like it, when I had doubts, or during those seasons of silence, He has not left.

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I love the rainbow, not only because of its beauty, but when I see it, I’m reminded of God’s promise. His promise to me…personally. I am hanging on to it.

Whatever God has promised you, don’t lose hope.

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory,” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:20

He is faithful and His word is trustworthy.

~ Southern Dreamer