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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Being His Eyes

I've continued to face a series of challenges for the last few months. Many of you have noticed that I'm not posting as often as I normally do. To be perfectly honest, I'm tired. I feel depleted physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You've known me to always be the girl to put on a good face and be strong and power through any and every obstacle that may come. That's not where I'm at. 

I'm in the process of packing up my life in Pennsylvania to move back home. I will be in New Mexico with my family until we can get my pressing health issues sorted out. I've never been a fan of transition or change. Saying goodbye to friends and those who have become like family is not an easy thing to do. My house is sold and boxes are the only thing that now decorate the living room. Once again, I have no idea what God is doing or why. All I know is that He is good. All the time. 

Already tired and emotionally numb, one more thing was added to my plate this week. 

 Jackson puppy has been more than my best friend for the last eight years. He's traveled with me from NM, to TX, to PA and even New Jersey. He's licked more tears than one can imagine and is never more than three feet from my side. "Man's Best Friend" hardly does our relationship justice. More than once in the last few years, Jack has been all I've had - the only constant. 

I sat down to eat breakfast last week and saved the last bite of my waffle for my furry friend. I placed it in front of his nose. It took him a good ten seconds to find it. I thought it was odd, but didn't read into it. Maybe it was the lighting or he was just being super patient? 

As the week went on, I began to wonder what was happening. His behavior had changed, his demeanor, it was as if he couldn't see me. After watching him begin to run into walls, we went to the vet. She confirmed his eyesight was gone. In a matter of five days, Jackson became blind. While the cause still remains uncertain; he and I have both had to learn to adapt. 

Imagine the fear you'd have if you lost your sight in a matter of days. The vibrant world you once knew now a dark abyss. My heart has broken for him and I've cried trying to get him to walk through the doorway. Life has changed. 

The first couple days were hard. He panicked often and insisted on touching me at all times - even if that meant leaning on my legs as I tried to walk down the hall. He struggled to find his food and water and was fearful to go outside. His toy squirrel lie abandoned on the floor. My mind raced with what to do - how to get us to cope. Everything I read said to maintain consistency - don't move furniture or change his surroundings…. I wept as I read knowing a 2,000 mile cross-country road trip is only days away. How will he do it? Hotels, new smells, strange sounds, other pets. How will I do it? 

For the first time in a very long time, God tangibly broke through my heartbreak. "Heather, that's exactly how I want you to be. Watch Jack and learn." 

In the days that followed I watched my Jackie start to compensate. He and I began coming up with systems that work. I would talk softly to him before touching him. I would clap as I walked so he could follow the sound. His food and water dish became "home base" so when he's disoriented we have a landmark. When he's frightened and panting, I scoop him up and hold him tight until his breathing returns to normal. 

And that's how God wants us to be. 

Jack is 100% dependent on me. He relies on me for his food, water, vet care, love, play, attention, walks, potty breaks… When he lost sight, he didn't run away from me angry at the situation. He did the opposite and clung to me even closer. Now he's looking to me for peace, surety, safety and literal direction. It's like he knows that alone he would die. 

Have you lost your sight? You look around but all you see is black? I've been waiting for sight and direction for some time. God has seen fit right now to keep my eyes closed to what's happening. Maybe he's doing the same to you for your own protection. He's drawing
you closer - desiring to be even more to you than He already is. Don't panic or run into walls; it breaks His heart to watch you do that. Trust His voice and know that if He's leading you over the doorway, it's a safe step, even if you can't see it. His Word is your "home base" the one place you can return to and know where you are. If you begin to fear because you can't find Him, stop and listen for His clapping - He's near. Follow the sound. And if you need to just break down and cry because it's too much - too dark - too sudden - too scary. Let Him scoop you up and rock you. Don't run away from Him because you can't see and don't understand. Stay close. You're still His. 

And yes, while my lovely puppy has taught me this valuable lesson, my heart still hurts wishing there was something I could do to change this for him. Jackson has been incredible in the face of adversity. He still plunges ahead - insisting on his normal walk, regular tricks and treats, and demolishing the new toy I got him. He's the most loyal and faithful creature I've ever known on God's planet. He's showing me how to love life and make the most out of every situation. 

Being his eyes has taught me to see the world with my heart.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Just Standing

"...and after you have done everything, to stand." Ephesians 6:13

Many of you have asked why I haven't posted a blog in quite some time. I have been busy standing. 

Standing is about all I can do. 

The last few months have been especially challenging. Two years ago, my world fell apart, and lately I feel as though I've been watching a replay. My contract with the ministry has ended and after many months of looking, applying and interviewing, God has not allowed any doors for jobs to open here in Pennsylvania. No paycheck = no ability to pay my mortgage. The house I bought with my life's savings now has a 'For Sale' sign in the front yard. 

I'm beginning to understand why the Lord didn't allow a door to open for a job. I haven't felt well for quite some time and since February have seen multiple doctors to learn what is wrong. Having more lab work than my arms would like, we've discovered I have dangerously high levels of cortisol that have been sustained for possibly years. Signs and symptoms as well as doctor's opinions point to having Cushing's Disease which is basically a tumor on the pituitary gland that causes excess production of cortisol. We are seeking out medical teams as we move forward with what to do. 

At this point in time, I feel as though my job is just to rest and get well. Some days, a trip to the grocery store is all I can manage. Extreme weakness, fatigue and dizziness have become a daily way of life in the past couple months. 

The emotions of being jobless, sick and selling my home are compounded with being 2,000 miles from my family. And, while I can't wait to be closer to them, it comes at the cost of leaving my amazing Ohlson family here in PA. 

I have no great spiritual insight or metaphor for you today. No lesson to draw in all of this. No answers to "Why?" I know God will never leave me or forsake me, but never in my life has He been more silent. This season of difficulty certainly rivals the one I weathered two years ago. 

I am thankful though, that after we're given the Armor of God in Ephesians 6, our only command is to stand. We don't have to fight, to strategize; to brainstorm a plan, or rally support. No, all we are asked to do is stand. I'm trying. I am tired and there are days in which I feel as though I can't. Thats when I think of my dear friend, Lauren. The trial she's weathering with impeccable joy and grace far exceeds my own. So, I'm standing - in prayer - in faith - in hope that the promises of God will be proven true in my life. (And yours Lauren!)

Thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement at this time. I am excited to watch God work all of this for His glory. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Lounge Chair Is For Lounging

Life has been complicated as of late. Many doors are closing and none appear to be opening in their place. I’m trying to continue praising in the hallway, yet I’m growing tired. Uncertainties plague my career, my education, my relationships, my future, my finances… I’ve felt as though the last two years have been a continual fight to survive and get back on my feet after the rug was pulled out from under me– I’m tired and am still not where I'd like to be. Anger has been rekindled. Emotions have run high and energy run dry. Thus, I decided to buy a lounge chair.

After our six-month, Pennsylvania winter, the few days we’ve had in the upper 70’s have felt like heaven on earth. I have taken on the task of “New Mexicoifying” my patio. I have terracotta pots with cactus in them (which I have to move inside on a daily basis so they don’t drown in the rain). Southwest pillows adorn my patio chairs and lizards decorate the fence. It’s my little slice of home! 

But, I desired a lawn chair. The kind you lay out by the pool in. I saw an advertisement for a store in town that was going to have a 50% off patio furniture sale.

So, I had one of my “I am woman” moments where I decide I’m perfectly capable of life on my own and don’t need help from anyone. I drove to the store to get the chair.

In the back of the department store, I was eye-level with the stack of loungers. Being determined and stubborn, I hoisted, grunted, lifted, and maneuvered the heavy chair off the stack (I only hit the wind chime display once!)

Now the task was to get it to the front of the store. Mind you, it is not exactly light. I flipped the chair upside down and balanced it on top of the excessively tiny cart. (Get the visual – tiny cart, lounge chair twice the size.) I start rolling it down the narrow aisles, using the legs of the chair to steer with.

The clerk at the checkout counter saw and heard me coming… “Wow. That’s impressive. Do you need help? We could really help you with that.”

“Nope! I got this. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Feeling proud of myself, I wheeled my lounger out to the parking lot. About halfway to my car, I considered that maybe I should have measured things first… 

I clicked open the trunk of my Hyundai Sonata and quickly decide that there was no way the lounger would fit in there. TaDa! The back seat. I threw open the side door and began to manhandle the chair with great determination. Other shoppers walked by – some stared – some laughed – this only fueled my determination. (It is also possible that I was talking to myself.)

Not even exaggerating, after 20 minutes of trying, a sweet old woman with a handicapped tag in her car window pulled up beside me. “Darling, do you need help?” She had to have been over 70. “No, Ma’am. Thank you though! I will get it.” The elderly woman placed the car in park and got out of her vehicle.

She walked toward me and placed her hand on my shoulder. “Sweetheart, I’ve been watching for a while. I know you really want this chair, but it’s just not going to fit.” I was annoyed, but knew she was right. What I really didn’t want to admit was that the chair was now stuck in the backseat.

Voluntarily, the old woman went to the other side of the back seat and began helping me wiggle the lounger out of the car. Once free, I thanked her and she drove away. All pride and power gone, I loaded the lounge chair back on the cart and went back inside to return my purchase. The clerk suggested I just leave it there since it was already paid for and “come back to try again tomorrow.”

I left feeling pretty defeated, frustrated and disappointed. Not to mention, embarrassed, hot, tired and sweaty. The next day I borrowed a friend’s SUV to return for the chair. Customer Service remembered me (after that spectacle, how could they not!) and one gentleman brought the chair out to the car for me. I opened the back of the SUV and the man placed the chair in the back. He closed the door and sent me on my way – a 30 second adventure as opposed to my 30-minute one the day prior.

The ease with which it happened was annoying in its own way – I put up such a great fight the day before! On my way to the house God shared a painful yet powerful truth with me.

We do that with life. (I've been doing it for months.) We want something – we want it now – we want it our way – on our terms – in our timing. So, we force it. We expend time, energy, money, and refuse the assistance and wisdom of others, just because we are determined to make it happen. All we really end up doing is growing frustrated and embarrassing ourselves. 
When, all along, God says, “Yes, you can have it, but let me help you.” When we wait for Him – for His help – His timing – His resources, our struggle becomes His way of blessing us.

I image God in His own lounge chair, sipping lemonade, watching me look like a doofus trying to stuff a giant, metal chair in my tiny back seat. He was inviting me to sit with Him – to sip on His goodness – but I was too busy doing it my way.  And being the gentleman that He is, He didn’t interrupt me.

Surrender it. He knows you heart. What you want, what you need, where you’d like to be. Sit with Him and wait. Allow Him to provide your heart’s desires.

I’ve been marinating on this powerful truth as I sit, wonder, and wait, fighting the lies and insecurities of my past. I’ve found that in my moments of pushing, shoving, twisting and forcing, my emotions and fears take center stage. It’s when I sit down in the lounge chair with the Father that none of the concerns matter. That's when His promises are whispered in my ear, drowning out the lies of the enemy. FYI - a lounge chair is for lounging. 

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jesus Hangs Out At Starbucks

Starbucks. It’s an iconic, global name. Unless you live in the backwoods somewhere,
everyone has at least heard of Starbucks. Some fanatics are fanaticizing about the smell right now! I am a Starbucks lover – my pocket doesn’t allow me to visit as often as I’d like, but it sure is a special treat once in a while!

This week I learned that Jesus likes Starbucks too.

Sometimes I grow complacent of the fact that He’s always with me. I forget He goes where I go and participates in my daily activities. On Tuesday I saw Him – fully present with me as I got coffee.

I’ve been in quite a place lately… Incredibly homesick. Dealing with medical issues. Financial issues. Questions about my future. Tuesday was one of those days that’s just “special.” You know the kind… (My mom taught me to be quiet if I didn’t have anything nice to say.) Those days.

I was irritated that I was on my way to purchase a new washing machine. This is not a fun shopping experience for anyone. Due to my  “special” day and impending large-expense, I decided to treat myself to Starbucks. After all, it was on the way.

I pulled in the drive through and my mind was swirling. "Why me? It’s not fair. Can’t I get a break? What am I going to do?" Each and every situation I’ve been facing began to expand and implode in my mind there in the car as I waited for my tall caramel frapp. I am an overthinker and I had just “overthunk” myself to the point of tears.

I reached the window and began to pass the woman my $5 bill. “It’s free today! The woman in front of you paid for your drink.”

My expression was confused and blank at first. “Did she know me?” “Nope. Said she just felt like you could use a blessing today! Here you go!” She handed me the drink.

I pulled away from the drive through window and straight into a parking space. Tears welled in my eyes.

If you knew what my attitude smelled like at this moment, you would have been shocked that anyone would have come near me – let alone wanted to bless me. I didn’t deserve it. I was operating out of fear, anxiousness, judgement and a super-selfishness.

It was only a four dollar cup of coffee. Yet, as I sat holding it, I began to weep. 

“Heather, I see you. I will provide for you. I will direct you. I will heap blessings on you when you least expect it. Quit trying to plan, fix, figure, orchestrate… Why do you not trust my ability to know your heart?”

Go figure, God is right again. Crazy isn’t it? Seems like He always is.

I don’t know if I will ever look at a Starbucks Frapp the same way ever again. We serve a God who meets us where we are – even in the stench of our attitude and gore of our heart-condition. He never leaves our side.

It’s easy to become self-focused and get lost in the “Why’s” of life. We ask questions about our circumstances in an attempt to somehow justify why we should be exempt from hardship and trials.

God promised us that we would face trials, persecutions and hardships. It’s a guarantee for the life of any Christian. Even if He told us the answer to all of the “WHY” questions we ask, we probably still wouldn’t be satisfied. Thankfully He is a “HOW” God. He is how. He is how we cope, believe, trust, hope, wait, know.

He knew HOW to change my heart and attitude with a cup of java. Because of that grace encounter, I’ve come to learn HOW to navigate this once-again challenging season of life.

I’m thankful Jesus hangs out at Starbucks. I’m even more thankful for the woman in front of me in the black truck who listened to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. You blessed me with so much more than a cup of coffee.

Regardless of your uncertainties, transitions or fears, God wants you to know He is a HOW kind of Savior. I’m so thankful while hanging on the cross, Jesus never asked the Father "WHY?"Unconditional love and unwavering trust abolish all of the "whys" in the world.

Change your question. He is How. Love is Why. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I Don't Want to Be Associated With Christians

I listened to a sermon by Louie Giglio recently. In it he polled the congregation. "How many of you came to Passion City Church from another church? You grew up in one, moved to this one, etc…" The majority of the audience raised their hand. "Ok. Now, how many of you came to this church because someone showed you the love of Jesus and you came alive in faith?" Only one woman raised her hand in the congregation of nearly 1000. "And that's the sermon!" He concluded. 

This event and many others have made me wonder if I even really want to be called a "Christian." Yes, I am one. Born and raised. I love the Lord with my whole heart. I've given my life to ministry and serving the King. 

This week I've become increasingly convicted. Both personally and for the Church. It seems that every time I would scroll through my Facebook news feed, Christians were applauding one thing while simultaneously condemning another. 

Matthew McConaughey gave a God-honoring Ocsar speech. Christians everywhere went nuts! Some sang his praises. Others claimed that the movie he was nominated for completely went against everything he said on stage; going so far as to call him a hypocrite. This from Bible-believing "Christians."

At work, we have seen the release of Dannah's newest book, Pulling Back the Shades this week.  It's a book written by two Christian women addressing the erotica phenomenon created by the fastest selling book series in the world, 50 Shades of GrayYou can imagine the feedback we've been getting from women across the nation. Some women praise the authors for their boldness to address what the church has turned a blind eye to. Others say they will no longer endorse the authors or their respective ministries because of the book. It is sad to see Christians with such opposing views on such issues. I wonder if it is the cause of confusion for many nonbelievers? 

The homeschool family from Tennessee who is facing deportation at the hands of the Obama administration has warranted the attention of Christians across the nation. You've seen it on your newsfeed I'm sure. A whole bunch of angry believers are now threatening "civil disobedience" if the administration follows through with the process. 

Do I agree with what is happening to the family? Not at all. One would think that you could find room for 8 immigrants who are working to be here legally considering that we have approximately 12 million illegal ones within our borders! But, I recall Jesus taking the ear of the High Priest's assistant as it lay bloody on the ground and placing it back on the man's head. Peter's zeal was not used correctly. I've never seen anyone won to the Lord because of a fight. Attempting to chop up another, even when "justified" was still wrong in the eyes of the Lord. 

Church, is this really the image the world sees of us? Is this how our Savior is being displayed? We so easily become entangled in arguments of right and wrong and whose convictions are correct. (Which Romans 14 tells us not to do.) When we develop such a mind set, it is difficult to see through the barriers and simply love on another as Jesus called us to do.

My heart is aching and desperate to see the church be the Church Jesus established. One that operates in love and grace rather than quick judgements followed by condemnation. In 2014, nothing new is happening. The world is acting like the world!  GASP! It's been happening since the days of Noah, Abraham and Moses. Why do we focus so much effort on talking about them and how what they're doing is so wrong? We waste a lot of time doing that. But, what might cause a spark - a flicker of light in this generation - is if the church began to act like the Bride she was called to be. Being a true light would be far more effective in the Kingdom than pointing out that their darkness is dark. (Captain Obvious!) 

I've been convicted. On my face in repentance. How many times was I too quick to assume. Too hasty to arrive at a judgment. Too swift to type that "strongly opinionated" comment. As I've studied the gospels, I've seen my Jesus eat with prostitutes, liars, cheats, fornicators. He didn't point fingers at them. He loved them. (And mind you, he put the disciples and the Pharisees in their place a time or two when they questioned Him.)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12

How do we expect to see the lost saved when as a Church we are so quick to condemn, judge and cast aside? When we argue amongst ourselves and divide into denominational walls? Who have you invited to church lately? Do you live confined within your Christian bubble? I'm challenging you to pop it. Let's drop the religious mask and Get.Off.Facebook. and put our noses in the Word of God. Study the way He ministered. The way He loved. The way he healed the man's ear after one of His nutty disciples got a little too carried away. 

So no, I don't particularly want to be associated with Christians who try to prove how "right" we are.  I don't want the headlines and statistics to be true of me. I simply desire to be a disciple of Jesus. A God-chaser. A Holy Spirit dweller. A lover of the lost. A safe place for the hurting. The arms of Christ to the broken. I would be happy to drop the title of "Christian." In fact, the term Christian is used only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16). Each time it refers to a follower of Jesus who would not acknowledge the emperor of Rome.  Sadly, in today's society, the term "Christian" often brings a negative connotation. I simply want to be called a disciple, a follower of Christ.  

Here's an example of how we can step into the "Follower of Jesus" title: 
I'm sure you saw friends post photos of themselves sporting the red X on themselves in an effort to stop human trafficking recently. This part of the EndIt Movement was a social media campaign to create awareness of the issue. Great cause. Great leadership. It's about time someone stood up and brought attention to an issue that is impacting the entire globe! 

While I didn't sport the Red X that day, another member of my office did. She confessed that it was a struggle. "Do I want to put this photo up just to get 'Likes'?" While it was a mental battle, she did stop and pray that day. Of those who sported a Red X and took the photo that day, how many prayed? How many donated? How many signed up to volunteer? How many fasted? How many interceded for the missionaries who work in the sex trafficking world day-in and day-out?" Or was it just a photo for a good cause? Just a way to look good and get "LIKED"? While a photo spreads awareness, prayers call Heaven into action - demons to flee - freedom to reign. So much more impact comes from being on our knees. 

Let us be the Church that moves. That is the hands and feet of Jesus. The ones who go into all the world and make disciples. The ones who bring the lost to church so when the question is asked, countless hands go up. 

We are followers of Christ. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

When We Call

My "little brother" Judah just turned two. He is the love of my life and I am the love of his. No questions asked! Last week we got spoiled. We spent time together four days in a row!

This week has been a bit stressful to say the least. Work obligations, social commitments, health issues, financial stresses… I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed and buried under the weight of it.

One afternoon at work, I received this in a text message from my host mom. It was Judah:
(Turn your volume on and click play in the top left corner of the photo.)


My heart was rocked! I was ready to leave work, jump in my car and drive to wherever he was. I would be whatever he needed me to be - wherever he needed me to be it. The desperation of "Heatheyyyy" moved my heart to tears yet put a smile on my face to hear his sweet voice cry out for me. It was the most precious thing I've ever heard!

It was days later as the pressure of the week mounted that I was able to see the spiritual parallel. If that little baby moved my heart when he screamed "Heatheyyy," how much more is the Father's heart moved when I cry out for Him? 

Confession: I haven't been doing much of that lately. I've grown frustrated with unchanging circumstances - prayers I don't see answers to. Unfortunately, I've been falling into the "I can do it myself" mindset. Just calling out the name Jesus and expecting Him to arrive in my circumstance and be the I Am was not on my list of things to do - Mainly because of my fleshly pride. 

2 Chronicles 32 tells the story of King Sennacherib of Assyria and his plan to invade and destroy Judah. Upon hearing the plan of the impending siege against Jerusalem, King Hezekiah told his people Be strong and courageous, Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles. The people were encouraged by the words of Hezekiah. What faith did that man have! Would I have been able to say that? Nope. 

But of course, when we lay our faith out on the line as King Hezekiah did, that's when the enemy likes to sneak in and rattle us even more. And that's exactly what happened. King Sennacherib began to blaspheme the God of Judah and Jerusalem. He mocked the people, their God and their king. He even went so far as writing hate-mail to them, mocking in writing all of their beliefs and trying to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the people. 

Then Hezekiah…prayed because of all this and cried out to heaven. v.20 

Cried out. In his position, knowing the ability of and history of the Assyrians, I imagine King Hezekiah was in a place of desperation. There was no way out - other than by the hand of God. He prayed and cried out. Two different actions. 

His faith and posture of prayer - crying out, desperate for intervention - solicited the favor of God. The Lord sent an angel who took out the Assyrian army. 

Did Hezekiah's cry for the Lord sound anything like Judah's cry for me? Luke 18:17 tells us that we must receive the kingdom of God like a child. Maybe it did… Maybe it was short and simple. Maybe it was just the name of the Lord. Maybe he was only capable of groans and tears. 

What do you do when a Sennacherib shows up in your life to taunt you, instill fear and mock the God you serve? Hezekiah could have tried to develop an amazing battle strategy. He could have figured out a plan of retreat or the details of surrender. He could have tried to escape and left his people vulnerable. But he let go of his own strength and laid it out before the Lord. He didn't just pray. He cried out. 

Was your heart moved by hearing my little brother's yell? How much more is your Heavenly Father's heart moved to run to you; to be what you need when you cry out for Him? 

So, my knees hit the floor and I cried out. Angrily at first, like Judah did. "God… where are you?" Then quietly and softly, "God, I need you." And a peace rushed over my heart. Did my circumstances magically change? No. But my heart did. 

You don't need to explain the situation to Him. He knows who/what your Sennacherib is. He already promised you and I He would fight for us and perfect all that concerns us. We just need to cry out. Void of pride, ultimatums, and fear. He will show up. He is moved by your voice. 

But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I cried to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry reached his ears. 2 Samuel 22:7 

But in my distress I cried out to the Lord; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears. Psalm 18:6

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Difference Between Dormant and Dead

Dormant: having normal physical functions suspended or slowed down for a period of time; in or as if in a deep sleep; resting

Dead: no longer alive; departed; gone

Before I explain my definitions, let me give you a recap. (I didn’t realize so many of you actually read this until you started asking why I haven’t posted in ages!) This month has been very busy!

I was blessed to spend Christmas break on the Carnival Pride cruise ship with my best friend, Leslie. We both opted for something really different for the holiday and skipped heading home in exchange for the Bahamas. On Christmas Day we docked in Port Canaveral and headed to spend the day at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. It.was.amazing. It’s been a dream of mine to be there on Christmas day and it far exceeded any expectations I might have had! The following morning we woke in Nassau and went to Atlantis to swim with dolphins. As if I haven’t totally made you jealous, we ended our fun in Freeport snorkeling off a catamaran.

Our time on the boat was so special. The trip was healing and empowering for both of us. We met amazing people who have become dear friends and were able to be lights on what we both agree was a very dark boat. Let me just say, the people who sail at Christmas are the ones who don’t celebrate the holiday.

But of course, the parents weren’t going to let me skip out on the holidays all together! So straight off the boat and onto a plane, I found myself in Roswell hours later. Lots of laughter and family game nights led up to the ringing in of 2014.  I loved being home with my family – especially with my new sister-in-love!

Note: one week on a cruise ship stopped in the Bahamas, one week in the desert. I returned to Pennsylvania with a wind chill of -36 degrees. I strongly questioned my life and why God thought that would be funny. Only days later we packed up and took Secret Keeper Girl to the Brooklyn Tabernacle for a free outreach event. Over 600 moms and daughters attended. Forty-four girls and moms made first-time decisions to follow Christ that night. It was such a beautiful time of ministry. 

Now I’m taking a big, deep breath from this marathon month and settling back into the routine of work, teaching and helping Jackson puppy cope with the never-ending snow.

For those readers here on the East Coast, this won’t have quite the same meaning to you. Friends from home – you will understand me. I come from the land of sunshine, warmth, heat, dryness. I moved to State College (which is only second to Seattle in terms of dreary days). It’s not uncommon to go weeks at a time during the winter and not see the sun or even blue sky for that matter. It’s grey – every day. It’s cold – every day. As in, we’ve been in the negatives for weeks and forecasters say we won’t be above freezing again until well into February. 

Seasonal affective disorder is real, and I have it. My mood is bad… I’m grumpy.  My hip is stiff. The dog tracks snow and mud through the house. I get to scrape my car free of ice and snow far more than I ever desire to. I have the privilege of dragging the trashcan to the curb in six inches of snow. Shoveling the driveway is not one of my favorite pastimes. And I complain. Every day I complain. It doesn’t matter if I’m just talking to the steering wheel. I have something to say about how much I dislike this place – this cold- the snow. (For native New Mexicans this is especially cold and shocking). 

Living in the desert, I’ve never experienced “the four seasons” before. We have hot and cool. Out here I find myself seeking for – praying for – anxiously awaiting spring. When will there be warmth again? Life again? I wonder daily how much longer this could possibly go on.

Solomon got it right in Ecclesiastes when he suggests, “There is a season for everything.” Who hasn’t experienced a winter in their lifetime? It’s that season when it’s cold, uncomfortable, dark, dangerous. When you wonder if life will ever come again. If things will ever change.

I’ve been in a long spell of winter. The last six years have just been especially challenging. The loss of four loved ones, two surgeries, a broken heart, family health issues, moving… As soon as one “snow storm” passed another was in it’s wake ready to dump more upon the already frozen ground of my heart.

No one really knows exactly what the recipe for spring is. Warmer temps? Maybe.  I choose to believe it’s God’s hand waking up the ground and the trees telling them “Wake up! Live! Shine for me.” The Lord has done that ever so slowly and gently in my heart. “Come on my beautiful daughter, it’s time to live again. Rejoice again. Love again.”

And suddenly, one day you see it. Poking up out of the snow. A tiny sign of life. Of the beauty that is to come. Its beauty is inconceivable as it is contrasted with the bleak, lifelessness of its surroundings.

I was given a bouquet of tulips recently. They were colorful and stunning and brightened up my kitchen table. Did you know that tulips require vernalization to bloom? That means the bulbs need to be exposed to a prolonged period of cold before they will flower. Many types of tulips can even be "forced" into blooming by placing them in a cold place for two weeks - aka your refrigerator. Because of their ability (necessity) to withstand cold, tulips are one of the first flowers that bloom each spring.  

Has it been winter for a long time in your heart and soul? It has been for me. I’m ready to bloom again. The cold is necessary to make me ready – rather than despise the process or complain about the surroundings, I can wait patiently as the Master Gardner prepares to wake up my heart.

“Fueled by a thousand man-made wings of fire,
The rocket tore a tunnel through the sky. Everybody cheered.
Fueled by only a thought from God,
The tiny seedling urged it’s way through the thickness of black,
And as it pierced the heavenly ceiling of the soil, no one even clapped.”

I am determined to rise out of the winter. The cold is only the beginning of my growth. Your heart will awaken again, love again, laugh again. After a long, cold, dark winter, the hope that a tulip places in one’s heart is beyond words. Don’t become a snowman. Let God bring you up through the snow.

And if you feel as if you’re too far frozen. That God can’t possibly cause anything in you to bloom again. If you think that people just walk over you and past you without a notice or a care, let me leave you with this:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Luke 12:6

In the Jewish marketplace, sparrows were basically the cheapest thing you could buy. “Two for a penny” in today’s currency. They had little value. Sparrows were sold in twos. Their little legs were tied together with a piece of string or twine and given to the customer “two for one.” Most commonly, people would purchase four at a time.

If the shopkeeper really wanted to make a raving fan and secure future transactions, he would sometimes throw in a fifth bird – FREE. Five birds – two pennies. While the sparrows had little value as it was, the fifth had none. He came free.

Jesus’ language in this passage would have caught the disciples’ attention. The fifth sparrow – the free one – even he mattered? Yes. Number five was not forgotten.

You may feel overlooked.

You are seen.

You may feel undervalued – not appreciated – taken for granted – used.

You are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 12:7b

You will not stay in this season of winter forever. You will not be forgotten. Your Father sees you and values you more than you could even begin to comprehend. You will bloom again and when you do, you will put Solomon and his splendor to shame.

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Luke 12:27

Dare to let the Gardener draw you out of this winter. You're not dead. Maybe dormant, but if you have air provided by the Creator of the Universe in the lungs He gave you, you're not dead. You are seen. You’re noticed. You’re valued. You are deeply loved. Now live.