Monday, January 15, 2018

Close. A Synonym of Leaning In. And My Word of the Year.

by Heidi Ashe

There’s a buzz around the internet this time of year about choosing a word.  A word for the year.  It overwhelms me in a way.  A word for the whole year.  How do I know what this year is going to hold?  How can I possibly pick one word to describe something that hasn’t happened yet?  It’s like picking out my wedding dishes all over again.

Picture 22 year old me walking through Belk beside my fiancé with the scanner gun, bawling my eyes out because, “How do you choose something you’re going to eat on every single day for the rest of your life?!”  Dear heavens.  I was a mess.  Imagine how liberated I felt just 9 short years later when I packed those dishes up, dropped them off at Goodwill, then went and picked out brand new ones.  FREEDOM!  {It’s a wonder he married me, y’all.}

Back to the word, I might as well be right back in that aisle looking for dishes that were gonna change my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I tried it once, because I love a bandwagon.  My word was REST.  We had just finished building our house, had been moved in less than a month and it really felt like the thing we needed most.  REST.  Ahhh.

A few weeks after picking that word, we signed my son up for a travel baseball team. It was almost like God laughed at me.  I remember about halfway through the season (which lasts from January to November in case you didn’t know) looking over at my husband as we drove home from a tournament late one Sunday evening and him saying, “What did you say that word was for this year?  Rest.  Yeah, you nailed that one!”  {It’s a wonder I married him, y’all.}

When a friend mentioned picking a word to me today, I almost laughed at her.  Then I listened.  Her word was good.  It wasn’t just a word either, it was a plan of intention for the year ahead.  She even prefaced it with, “I don’t do resolutions.” {Which is TOTALLY my jam! Resolutions just seem like something to disappoint myself with sooner or later. More often sooner rather than later.} But a plan of intention for the year.  Hmmm.  I liked the sound of that.  The thought of picking a word and then being intentional about seeking that word throughout the year, being purposeful in choosing that action every time I could throughout the year.  I was intrigued.

I’m a words girl, so immediately I began thinking of some: PRESENCE, PEACE, BREATHE, HOLD, BE, OPEN, PURPOSEFUL….I really do love words.  Then I began to pray (really need to work on that being my FIRST inclination) Lord, what would you have me focus on this year?  What would you have me sit in and wrestle with?

Over the next few days it came to me in different ways.  A magazine article I glanced at while waiting on one of my kids.  A word in a podcast I was listening to as I washed dishes.  A piece of the pastor’s sermon on Sunday morning.  CLOSE.  Not the opposite of open, but a synonym of leaning in.  That’s what I want to put my intention on this year, drawing close to the Word of God.  Closer to Him.

James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you…” That’s what I want.  To draw near, closer, to Him.  To breathe Him in a bit better this year. To listen closely to my family and friends, especially in the big moments, but also in the mundane (and y’all, there can be quite a bit of mundane in the world of a nine year old girl!), but I want to be close to every bit of it.

I pray wherever your year takes you, it first takes you close to Jesus.  This sweet old hymn, sums it up:

Just a closer walk with Thee, Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.
Daily walking close to Thee, Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.



Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas is a Teacher

by Andrea Noles


Here we sit, on the Eve of another Christmas. Maybe you’re reading this, knowing you still have a few more things to accomplish. Maybe you’ve checked your list twice and everything is in its place. Wherever you find yourself tonight, I hope you’ll be blessed by these words in a small way. Christmas is a teacher. If you are paying attention. This year Christmas has taught some beautiful hard lessons. It has revealed so many parts of my wounded heart that still need help, every single day, over and over again. It has reminded me of my need for Jesus and that seeking his face and receiving his grace is the simple gift I need to unwrap on all the days after Christmas. I ask you to stop for a moment and think back to all that has happened since December 1. Ask yourself “What has Christmas taught me this season?” Scroll through the pictures on your phone, look at your Christmas cards, tune your attention to your Christmas tree. Pause and pray, and ask God what he was teaching you through these ever fleeting moments. Here are a few things I’ve learned… 1. Christmas comes whether we are ready or not. You can prepare and plan or embrace it as it comes. Either way, Jesus is still the same. 2. Lights on a tree will simply always bring a peace and stillness to our home. But only He brings a peace that is lasting and true. 3. Glazed Almond Cookies are my new favorite cookie to bake. No spiritual lesson here. 4. The Christmas story is always true, always waiting to be read, and never gets old. 5. When little ones sing, look at them, and listen. They are proclaiming truth joyfully. One early December morning, my five year old asked if he could climb in his brother’s crib and sing to him. “Sure,” I quickly replied, knowing I had to come in and join the party for two reasons. 1. I couldn’t miss the sweet song he was about to share. 2. I had to make sure no one would get hurt, especially this early in the morning. Without hesitation, he broke out into chorus, singing, “Go Tell It on The Mountain.” It was a small, beautiful Christmas moment.
Sometimes we forget that the songs they proclaim when they are small, are actually sinking deeply into their soul and setting the stage for the proclamation of the Gospel. Whatever lessons you’ve learned, let them sit with you tonight. Let them change you. Let them move you closer to the one true God, the giver of the gift. To you, Oh Lord, we lift our souls. We trust you this Christmas Eve. Take us by the hands and lead us in your truth. Teach our souls to rest only in you. For you are the one who sent, who saves, and who sanctifies. Amen.



Sunday, December 17, 2017

Away in a Manger Baby

by Jennifer Smith

Tomorrow I will be 37. I will not have a party and probably not a cake, either. And that’s okay. This season of my life puts me firmly in the deep throes of motherhood. I’m currently nursing three sick children. There is a shelf in my refrigerator that is entirely devoted to pink medicine for each of my sons. I have cleaned up at least three throw up incidents and have had various bodily fluids dripping down my shirt.

I certainly do not feel precious.

But I remember a time when I was. I was three. I stood up on the stage at my little country church and with a microphone in my chubby little hands sang Away in a Manger for our church Christmas service. 

Would you believe me if I told you I remember it fairly well? I remember exactly where I stood. I remember clearly singing my verse. I remember the director having to take the microphone from said chubby hand because I wouldn’t give it up. I remember feeling loved, cherished, and special.

Completely precious.

I was the Away in a Manger Baby. Dearly and wholly loved in my red tights that could barely conceal the rolls of my fat little legs.

Last week this memory came to mind as I stood in my kitchen pouring coffee. The morning was rushed and I had no time to devote to Jesus and Scripture. (Because, hey, it doesn’t always happen. Guess what? Jesus still loves you.)

But I turned my mind toward Jesus and offered Him a few moments of thought. My thoughts were of worship and I felt compelled, out of the blue, to sing Away in a Manger. I sang the verse that goes:

Be near me, Lord Jesus
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with me there.

The song, the memory, they sting a bit.  Because I’m not that tiny, chubby girl anymore. I think of her and the knocks that will come her way. She’ll endure some hard and terrible things. Like most of us, life will get very scrappy looking. The grown up version of her feels tarnished and cold and worn out and roughed up.

But then, a knock on my heart as Jesus whispers:

You’re still my Away in a Manger Baby. 
You’re still precious in my sight.

Because of course I am.

And, friend, you are, too.

We may not see ourselves as precious and tender and spotless, but Jesus does. We may not see ourselves as lovable or sweet. 

But Jesus does.

In fact, I believe we are all the more precious to Him because of our worn-out-ness. Because of our hard places. I think we are now loved differently by Him. Not more or better, but differently. Because we’ve tried and tested and pleaded and cried. He’s seen the hurts and He’s doctored them. As any long term relationship deepens, so has ours with our Savior.

My three year old, cute as a button self was dearly loved. But she had no idea how much.

This grown up woman does. This woman has walked a road requiring great faith and Jesus has met her every step of the way. He has seen her faith and belief. He knows of her great love for the Baby in the Manger. 

When she sings the song today, it might not look as cute or be on a stage in front of adoring faces, but it is felt and sung to the Manger Baby with as much worship and heart as she can muster. Her song at the coffee pot. 

Friend, just because life has worn us in some places does not make us less lovable. Just because life can make us feel cold does not make our Savior cold toward us. Just because another birthday rolls around does not take away my rank of being His precious child.

Oh, to see how much we are loved, all of us Away in a Manger Babies. So dearly loved by the Baby in the Manger.



Sunday, December 10, 2017

Holiday Striving

by Heidi Ashe

I have this vision of how the holiday season is going to go at my house. Every night my husband and I will cuddle up with our kiddos and read a Bible story from our advent book. We’ll go to the town Christmas parade and enjoy hot chocolate snuggled under blankets. We’ll attend all the church services: plays, cantata, caroling and the candlelit communion on Christmas Eve. We’ll make cookies with the cousins and build a gingerbread house from scratch. It’s a beautiful scene. Then I open my eyes and look down at my calendar. Already we have five parties we HAVE to attend. I forgot my girls are supposed to be IN the parade, I’m pretty sure I got an email about costumes. Oh and my son made the middle school basketball team, so add six ballgames and twelve practices. I close my eyes again. The vision is now replaced with an image of my jam packed schedule and my eyes begin to fill with tears.  
I just want to throw up my hands in defeat. To chalk December up as yet another crazy month that I’m striving to get through. I begin to pray that God would give me the strength to just make it through the month and all the extras it brings. Gently I hear Him, “No, I did not come so that you could simply “get through” life. I came that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.” Uh-oh.  I certainly don’t feel like I have a more abundant life right this minute. I continue with my prayer asking God to show me how. How do I enjoy this abundant life You’ve promised when I feel like I’m constantly running in circles? Being the patient father He is, He leads me to His word and a verse I know by heart.   
John 10:10 says The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
I take a deep breath and realize, there it is, a thief.  But this isn’t a thief in a black ski mask. This thief is all the things on my calendar. All the MUST do’s to make the holidays perfect. It has me striving to do all the things, make all the things, be all the things and this thief is doing just what Jesus said he would; stealing, killing, and destroying. My packed calendar and crazy high expectations for this season are stealing every bit of joy and sanity I have. They’re killing my hopes for a fun holiday season with my family and destroying any chance at my children looking back on the Christmases of their childhood with anything more than exhaustion.
Once again I close my eyes in prayer, Lord, help me to be deliberate in what our family does this holiday season. Guide me to be intentional and hold tight to our time, because I know if I don’t manage it, someone or something else will. Remind me to give myself and those around me grace, Lord, when my plans fall apart. Give me eyes to see You in every moment, for it’s all about You anyway. Help me to slow down and breathe deep. I know this is a time I’ll never get back, help me to live like that. Thank You for Your reminder Lord. You and You alone give life and You long for me to have it abundantly. Help me to live in Your abundance this holiday season and always, Lord. Amen.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Healer and Lifter of Heavy Loads

Everyday, I brush shoulders with nearly 600 bookbags. Each bookbag a physical representation of the burdens my students carry - some burdens light, some heavy, and some much too heavy to bear.

As a school counselor, it is truly an honor to have students unload their “bookbags” in my office - sometimes very slowly and other times dumping it all out at once. At times little pieces of their burdens become my own and I can feel it weigh heavy on my back and in my chest. The need begins to feel overwhelming. I can’t fix broken homes, broken hearts or broken mindsets - some of which don’t even know they need fixin’. So I find myself heavy with others' burdens that become my own and asking, “what do I do with these?”, and the Lord replies, “Take them to the cross. Leave them at the feet of Jesus.” 

Luke 5:17-25 comes to mind. You’ll remember this story - Four men took it upon themselves to carry a paralyzed man to The Healer and Lifter of heavy loads. What a load I am sure it must have been to carry this physical burden. Their faith made them determined to get to Jesus - desperate for his healing power. The crowds surrounding Jesus made Him difficult to reach so they lifted the heavy weight and lowered the man’s body down through the roof and placed him “right in front of Jesus.”

We are called to do the same today - to carry each other’s burdens and to lay them right in front of Jesus. Whose burdens are you carrying today? Do you carry the burdens of a friend, a student, or even a stranger who simply passed by? Do you carry your own burden and feel worn down by the weight of this world? Join me in laying each burden down right in front of Jesus. Jesus himself invited you there - “Come to me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30

Dear Lord,
You know the burdens of my heart. I bring them to you and lay them at your feet. You hear us, see us, and can be trusted. Thank you for taking my cares. Thank you for caring for us. You are good. 
Amen



......

Friends, at Create In Us Collective it is our desire to not only encourage you through writing but to also pray for you. If you have a burden weighing heavy on your heart, we would love to take it to Jesus with you. Feel free to leave a comment stating how we can pray for you. I ask that you join me in praying for the “bookbags” that enter my office. They are desperate for peace and healing. 


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Balsam {When Christmas Is Hard}

By Jennifer Smith

There is a tiny little mountain town in North Carolina called Balsam. Is it even a town? I’m not sure because *blink* and you’ll miss it. If your eyes are open, however,  you’ll see nothing but pines as you pass through, the road curving around the mountainside full of evergreens. There was never a town more aptly named.


To me balsam means green and pine and Christmas and sacred. It’s snow white and wintergreen. It’s past and present. It’s fresh and still. It’s ancient and pure.


Balsam is as old as time. For centuries the world has used this plant for medication to heal and oil to anoint. It was precious to the Hebrew people and it is believed the Queen of Sheba brought the sweet fragrance from its leaves to King Solomon as a luxurious gift.


You may have heard balsam called by another name:  “The Balm of Gilead”.


The Balm of Gilead was prized for its medicinal use and it’s ability to clean and treat wounds.


This sounds like miraculous stuff, yes?


A balm made of balsam to clean and restore and to just smell sweet.


In fact there is an entire hymn devoted to the stuff. Sing along with me:


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole


I’ve got wounds. And it seems that at Christmastime my wounds are more pronounced. The lack of lost loved ones and strained relationships and sorrowful experiences are hot with a white heat this time of year. Why does Christmas, a time of joy, seem to highlight times of sorrow?


The prophet Jeremiah cries out in Jeremiah 8:22, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.


Yes, Jeremiah, there is a Healer.


The balsam is green with Christmas, dear reader, but the Balm glows brighter with healing.


Lean in and listen as our hymn continues:


There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.
Sometimes I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again

You don’t have to live this Christmas with your wounds of sin and sorrow overtaking ideas like joy and hope and comfort. There is a Balm that can tend to your wounds.


A Healer, a Physician. He is Jesus.


This morning some of my wounds came to mind. I felt the pinch of anger rise up inside my chest. I felt the tears form. But then…


But then I remembered what I just wrote to you. I thought of my Jesus and suddenly the anger subsided and the tears receded. I am wounded, but He makes me whole. Moment to moment I ask for the sweet medicine that is Him and He gladly attends to my hurts.


So today, as we begin this Christmas season, let’s remember the Balm of Gilead and how He makes the wounded whole:


His presence comforts (The LORD is close the the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18)
His promises sustain (You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. James 5:8)
His sacrifice saves (Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. Mark 16:16)


I think God felt great delight when His very own Son was compared to a Christmas tree. Because as sure as the balsam is fresh and sweet and good, so is the presence of Jesus.





Sunday, November 19, 2017

pa·tience

by Andrea Noles
pa·tience
ˈpāSHəns/
the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.


Silently now, we wait for thee.
We surrender our impatience, our hurry, our desire to do.
Father, we ask for your truth to fall upon us.
May your goodness and your glory impact us today.
We are slow learners and you teach us with your perfect patience.
Amen.


Isn’t she beautiful? Perfect shape, fun design, and home for the world’s finest drink.


My patience mug, made by Rae Dunn, has a story to tell. A story of patience, pride, and a few sips of peace.  You may want to settle in a bit for this one. Grab a blanket and a warm drink. This is not for the faint-hearted.


My husband and I began graciously passing the mug back and forth, joking that whomever drank from the mug, would be granted a day full of endless opportunities to taste the most trying fruit of all the spirit… patience.


The mug quickly made its way to the dark side of the cabinet, was pushed behind the popular  “blessed mug". Cause don’t we all just want a fresh cup of blessings. They are so much easier to manage.


I have a sweet teacher friend who pours her heart and soul into her work. We often pass each other in the hallway, shine our “I’m makin’ it” face, and wish one another well. Two weeks ago, our paths crossed, and she whispered, “don’t pray for patience, don’t pray for patience.” CAUSE DON’T WE ALL HAVE ENOUGH WISDOM BY NOW NOT TO INVITE PATIENCE TO OUR TABLE.


Shortly after, I heard another whisper. Not from a teacher, or a student, but from the beautiful voice of the Spirit.


“Andrea, patience is exactly what you need to pray for right now.”
“Take your mug with you, wherever you go, and take me too.”




So I listened.
I pulled my mug from the darkness, washed her off and...
I asked for it, and boy did it come.
Overflowing, to the brim, caffeinated tests of pure patience.

Opportunity started knockin’.


Every stoplight- Opportunity
Literacy students- Opportunity
Family- Opportunity
Appointments- Opportunity
Technology- Opportunity
People reminding me of things I’ve forgotten- Opportunity


Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.


Yes, Lord, this verse is true.


But I felt like it should read, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock and the door will fling wide open and hit ya when you walk through it."


As I struggled through a few days, I asked various friends what “patience” meant to them.


No one answered too quickly. Most stared at the sky and said they needed a minute.
I heard…


It’s a virtue.
It’s an art.
It’s steadiness.
It’s waiting.
It’s pausing
It’s a song by Guns N Roses.
It’s a fruit.


Technically, it’s the ability to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering, without getting angry or upset.


I asked God if I could really do this? All day, everyday?
And what I’ve learned is… is that I can’t.


But.


He can.
When I am patient, I am choosing to respond like Jesus.
When I am patient, I am displaying the joy that Jesus brought.
When I am patient, I spread peace like a river, just like Jesus did.


When I choose patience, I choose Jesus.
When I choose Jesus, I choose patience.


Oh Lord, help me choose you.
Let’s pause for a moment and turn to a story in scripture that reflects the heart of Jesus.




Luke 10:38-42.


Listen and read this aloud.


Now as they went on their way, Jesus[a] entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,42 but one thing is necessary.[b] Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”


Do you see?
The good portion was presence. The good portion was patience. The good portion was Jesus.
I want this for us, friends.
I want the Mary life.
The life that lets the Master lead.
I want to sit and listen. I want to remember what is necessary.
Father, make us willing to walk the patient path.
Turn down the worry and hurry in our hearts, and replace it with your patience.
May our mugs be filled with better responses, soft answers, and a willingness to wait.


Teach us Lord.