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I Want God More Than Control

I Want God More Than Control

Back when we had permed hair and were twentysomething vibrant, we used to talk about how we hoped God would never send us as missionaries to Africa.

My best friend and I recently revisited this twenty-year-old conversation: how while we walked the halls of a seminary where we studied God, we secretly feared a call on our lives that would make us do something radical and hard. Now, on one hand, we cringe at this. We want to judge it and call it ignorance or selfishness or being really young or thinking life was just up to us, but then we step back, pause, and get honest.

Were we really that different from most believers? We say we want God but sit with fingers crossed behind our backs, hoping He will never ask us to do something too sacrificial.

The truth is that our fear was never really about Africa. Africa just represented something that was unknown. Africa got blamed for what was really a small faith—a mindset whereby we could love God but never let that love interrupt our plan for a beautiful house, a handsome husband, three kids, a dog or two, manicured nails, church on Sunday, and cute jeans. It was never about Africa. It was about wanting life both ways.

Somewhere in the midst of the daily whirlwind of life, we have convinced ourselves that we can live in the in-between when it comes to God. We are convinced we can make our faith what we want it to be— customize it like we do with food at restaurants, ordering faith to fit our tastes. But when we become followers of Christ, we don’t get to make up the script. It’s either all God or no God, He says.

Our desire for control—for logic, for reason, for that which makes sense to us—is one of the biggest factors in why we don’t have more of God. It’s not that God is displeased with our logic or that we shouldn’t seek spiritual understanding through the study of Scripture. In fact, this is the essence of spiritual growth: we want more of God the more we know Him. But if we truly want God, the piece that must be abandoned is our demand for logic. We have to want Him more than what we can understand since intellect gets in the way of unvarnished love. When we demand that God make sense, we overstep our role and show our sense of entitlement. In life, God calls us to scary places we can’t understand, and we must have an open heart of faith to take the leap with Him. We must come as children who know and care nothing of formulas, calculations, and risk. That is faith. That is what makes a Father glad.

Life with God was never meant to be a calculated risk; it was meant to be an illogical surety. Logical people are at risk of stepping in the way of the supernatural. We don’t mean to—it’s just that often there’s a core incompatibility between what is known (tangible, flesh, earth) and the Unknown (God), and when we choose logic, it hinders His work. Don’t misunderstand—God doesn’t need us to understand to do His thing. He can work under any conditions, at any time, in any way. But whether we submit to His working is in our hands.

He wanted us to choose things and see things and experience things from a free will and an open heart. Otherwise, He would have created robots to simply do His bidding. But He didn’t. Because He is God, a part of Him will always be unknown to us as humans with limited minds. Yet so much of Him can be known by way of Scripture, experience, the heart, the mind, and the senses. We don’t need logic and reason to know we love and trust God.

And while logic feels good because it is a controllable entity, God often calls us to illogical and unreasonable places to expose what position control holds in our lives. He calls us to the things we fear because they’re foreign and require sacrifice. The things we don’t want to face because they seem too hard.

I wonder: What is your Africa? It took twenty-five years, but my best friend finally met hers. It started with a simple phone call, a “simple” inquiry about foster children in her county who needed a home, but it really started before that. The heart change had to come first, and did. It started seven years before with a trip to Colorado for couples struggling in their marriage. She went with her husband, fighting long-held private struggles. But she came back herself having changed. My best friend wasn’t the same best friend when she came back. She was a better version of the same one I loved. Something inside of her had met God in a different way in those Colorado mountains— something that made her more God-hungry than ever before. She was just . . . different.

So I wasn’t completely surprised when she called me a few years later to tell me the news. “We’re going to look deeper into foster care, Lisa. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I just feel pulled to do this and I can’t explain why.”

I didn’t need her to explain. I knew from my own life that wanting God means doing things that move His heart—which we want to do. People will no longer have to pitch us on God-causes; our heart for Him compels us to pursue them.

And I knew this, too—that God doesn’t typically ready us in ways we think work best and look best to others. He readies us on the inside when we can’t see it ourselves. (It’s a myth to think we will ever be ready for anything that is a God-sized undertaking. We can position ourselves but can never fully prepare.) My friend would never be ready to do foster care. But she was already ready to do it because of her desire for Him.

She’d done some form of foster care for many years, but I remember her first two years as a foster mom well. Many phone calls where she cried in frustration because it was hard and heartbreaking. Many moments when she felt like she wasn’t enough. I would tell her I loved her but offered little more than that because I just couldn’t help like God. She was bitten and spat on, and held children deep into the night while they told her they heard voices. She was in way over her head, way “underqualified” for the things she could and would tell me about. My little khaki-wearing friend became a woman who walked in and out of jails and spoke to the courts like an expert, without batting an eye. She loved her foster kids. They loved her. They became family. She cried, even when she knew it was right, the day the baby she’d had since birth left their home. I watched, from afar, as an observer. None of it made sense.

But it was all God. It’s what she could not unknow after she knew it.

We have both learned much since those seminary days. About life, God, and what messy looks like. We have learned that life is not our script to write and God lives in the illogical sureties, which are abundantly superior to the calculated risks.

And there is much more to learn. But some things about God we never will. So we keep going and make peace with the not knowing, understanding it is an important part of wanting Him first and most.

Article adapted from I Want God: How to Love Him with Your Whole Heart and Revive Your Soul by Lisa Whittle. Copyright © 2023. Use by permission of Thomas Nelson.

Lisa Whittle, a bestselling author, speaker, podcast host, and Bible teacher is the author of I Want God: How to Love Him with Your Whole Heart and Revive Your Soul. Lisa is the founder of Ministry Strong and the popular Jesus Over Everything Podcast. www.LisaWhittle.com

The Power of Parenting with Empathy

The Power of Parenting with Empathy

It is so important to let kids know that we value their feelings. This improves their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Dr. Fay clearly remembers one of the many times his dad, Jim, showed that he valued Dr. Fay’s feelings, and it really stuck with him: “I was just 10 years old at the time, and our family was having dinner with Dr. Cline who lived nearby. My dad and Dr. Cline were grousing about how their teachings about limits and accountability only worked in half the kids. They couldn’t figure out why the same strategies didn’t work for the other half of the kids, who basically ended up just disliking their parents more than they already did. All of a sudden, they turned to me and asked, ‘What do you think, Charles?’”

“‘Who, me?” I asked. I didn’t have an answer for them, but the fact that these two grown men with decades of experience wanted my input made me feel special.”

They eventually found the solution they were seeking, and in part, it came from observing the actions of a woman who worked in the school administration office. Mrs. MacLaughlin was a strong but loving woman who was the first person students visited when they had an “emergency” like a forgotten lunch, lost coat, scraped knee, or a hassle with another student. Students in that school believed that all such “crises” required a quick rescue call to one or both of their parents—and these were the days before cell phones.

As they begged to use the office phone, Mrs. MacLaughlin would smile sweetly, look into their eyes as if they were the most precious thing on earth, and say, “Oh honey, what happened?” The kids would describe the problem, she’d listen with great interest, and then she’d respond with empathy by saying:

“Oh, that’s gotta feel so bad. It’s never any fun to have a problem like that. It’s sad, but I can only let you use the phone if there is an emergency. If any kid can handle this, though, you certainly can.”

The kids generally figured out how to solve their problems on their own without using the phone, leaving them full of self-confidence and love for Mrs. MacLaughlin. Jim Fay and Dr. Foster Cline soon discovered the key to making the Love and Logic approach really work: empathy.6 Mrs. Mac always provided a strong dose of this magic before she set a limit or held a student accountable for their actions. This showed the students that she valued their feelings.

Empathy opens a child’s heart and mind to learning, whereas anger shuts the door on learning and relationship.

Anger vs. the Power of Empathy

Empathy, when done correctly, sends a message of love and competence. Some parents think that raising their voice or unleashing ultimatums is the way to get kids to toe the line. It might scare kids into submission, but it comes at a price. Kids whose parents routinely lose their temper or yell at them are vulnerable to a host of consequences that rob mental strength, including:

Feeling stressed, which has negative implications for brain development

Blaming themselves for whatever is making their parent mad

Responding to a parent’s anger with aggressive behavior

Having trouble sleeping

Physical ailments, such as stomachaches

Increased risk for mental health issues later in life

Even more concerning, harsh parenting practices also negatively impact how the brain develops and how it functions. A 2021 study found that frequently yelling or getting angry at children is associated with children having a smaller brain in adolescence.7 When it comes to the brain, size matters.

When a parent gets angry, the child’s brain can view it as a threat. This fires up the amygdala, a brain region that is associated with emotions like fear and anxiety and that is linked to the fight, flight, or freeze response. Guess what this does to the thinking regions of the brain in the prefrontal cortex—it shifts activity away from the thinking areas and makes kids more likely to react with heightened emotions.

Of course, all of us lose our temper once in a while, but there are simple strategies you can use to calm anger. For example:

Take a few deep breaths. Gaining control of your breath can help soothe irritability and deliver more oxygen to your brain to help you respond more rationally to a situation. As soon as you begin to feel anger rising, take a deep breath, inhaling for four seconds, hold it for one second, then exhale for eight seconds. Repeat this 10 times, and you’ll feel more at peace.

Know your triggers. Keep track of when you get mad. Is it when you haven’t eaten for too long? Is it when you’ve had a stressful day at work? Is it when you haven’t gotten enough sleep? When you know your vulnerable times, you can make a plan to circumvent anger before it starts.

Take a time-out. If you feel like you’re going to lash out in anger at your kids, simply say, “I need a time-out,” and take a few moments for yourself. Going for a quick walk, doing a few stretches, or listening to some happy tunes for just a few minutes can often be enough to defuse anger.

Empathy, on the other hand, is far more powerful and beneficial than anger. Empathy is our ability to sense what others feel. In dealing with your kids, empathy pays great dividends. Findings from a 2020 study show that parental empathy enhances kids’ social competence, which is associated with reduced risk of emotional and behavioral problems.8 Increased empathy also leads to an important side effect: accountability. Research9 shows that empathy also plays a role in brain function and activates areas involved in cognitive skills,10 learning, and bonding.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Empathy is often confused with sympathy. The two couldn’t be more different. While empathy is being able to understand and share another person’s feelings, sympathy is feeling sorry for someone else. Here are a few examples that show the difference between the two:

Sympathy: “It’s too bad you didn’t get chosen for the dance squad. Maybe if you take more lessons, you can make the squad next year.”

Empathy: “That must feel bad not getting chosen for the dance squad. I’m here for you if you want to talk about it.”

Sympathy: “That’s terrible that your friend said something mean to you. At least you have other friends.”

Empathy: “It’s OK to feel bad when someone says something mean. I get it.”

Each is largely communicated through subtle yet very powerful factors, such as tone of voice, facial expression, and other forms of nonverbal communication. Sympathy creates lack of confidence and fear. Empathy builds confidence and resilience.

When you consistently send messages of love to your child, they grow up self-confident and assured. With the feelings of security and safety that come from these loving messages, you give your child’s brain, sense of self, and mental strength room to develop.

7. Sabrina Suffren et al., “Prefrontal Cortex and Amygdala Anatomy in Youth with Persistent Levels of Harsh Parenting Practices and Subclinical Anxiety Symptoms over Time during Childhood,” Development and Psychopathology 34, no. 3 (August 2022): 957–968, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33745487/.

University of Montreal, “Does ‘Harsh Parenting’ Lead to Smaller Brains?” ScienceDaily, March 22, 2021, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210322085502.htm

8. Kun Meng et al., “Effects of Parental Empathy and Emotion Regulation on Social Competence and Emotional/Behavioral Problems of School-Age Children,” Pediatric Investigation 4, no. 2 (June 2020): 91–98, https://mednexus.org/doi/full/10.1002/ped4.12197.

9. Jean Decety and Meghan Meyer, “From Emotion Resonance to Empathic Understanding: A Social Developmental Neuroscience Account,” Development and Psychopathology 20, no. 4 (Fall 2008): 1053–1080, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18838031/

10. Kamila Jankowiak-Siuda, Krystyna Rymarczyk, and Anna Grabowska, “How We Empathize with Others: A Neurobiological Perspective,” Medical Science Monitor 17, no. 1 (2011): RA18–RA24, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3524680/.

Adapted from Raising Mentally Strong Kids: How to Combine the Power of Neuroscience with Love and Logic to Grow Confident, Kind, Responsible, and Resilient Children and Young Adults by Daniel G. Amen, MD, and Charles Fay, PhD, releasing in March 2024.

God Loves You!

God Loves You!

God loves you. A phrase that some of us might feel numb towards because we have heard so much, a phrase that might feel untrue or unfathomable, a phrase that maybe you are reading for the first time. Regardless of how it lands when you read it, it changes everything if it is true. Personally, I believe that God loves you, and you may like the sound of that, however, it really doesn’t matter what we think or believe as much as why we can believe it to be true. Where is the proof?

The Bible is full to the brim of stories displaying God’s love for His people, so I have condensed those into a few major themes.

He created us, in His image and He didn’t have to. Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” We were made in His image, given dignity from the very beginning. Job 33:4 says “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” God does not need us, but we need Him. Only in Him do we have life, we could not and would not be here without Him. Thankfully, His love and creativity overflowed into His creation of mankind and the world.

Although we separate ourselves from Him, through our sin, He made a way for us to spend eternity with Him. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Not one person on earth could earn the love of the Father, no one is righteous – except one, Jesus. Not only is He righteous, but His righteousness becomes our own when we accept Him. So even though we consistently fall short, because of the fact that He never fell short our lives are changed.

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” His son, His choice, Jesus died for us so that we may live, and for FREE! We did not do anything to merit the gift that is salvation through Christ. In God’s LOVE and generosity and mercy he gifts us righteousness through Christ, all we have to do is accept it.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God loves us so much, He sent his son, while we were still sinners, to die for us, so that we may spend eternity with Him forever. While we were actively running away from Him, He ran toward us. He endured the cross while we mocked Him as our choices put Him there. In His love He stayed, died for us, and made a way to bridge the gap sin created between us and God.

He sacrificed for our benefit, and our eternity can be secure through Christ. John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” I struggle to think of how the Creator of the universe could love us more than by including us in His family, and offering us eternal life with Him.

This is the gospel, this is the GOOD NEWS! We can be coheirs in the kingdom of God! Titus 3:4-7 says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Why does any of this matter?

If it is true that God loves me, why does that change my life?

I would challenge that once you know you are loved by God, everything you do no longer is about you but Him. I can trust Him, He loves me, my life is His! Friendships, relationships, work, hobbies, eating, drinking, exercise, everything is about him. What relief and freedom His love brings to not have to bear the burden of selfishness and control.

I am currently in a post-graduate fellowship program and one of our themes for the year is focusing on our belovedness. The acknowledgement and deep understanding of God’s love for us is what allows us to honor and enjoy Him all the days of our lives. God consistently describes His love as steadfast toward us. It is resolute, unchanging, and steady. It does not waver based upon our actions, it cannot be earned, and it is always consistent. He never leaves or forsakes us. In every season, every mountain and valley, God’s love for us is steadfast. No matter what you may be going through you can rest in God’s love for you. He calls you…

Blessed – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” – Ephesians 1:3

Free – “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”- Romans 6:6-7

Beautiful – “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”- Psalm 139:13-14

Victorious – “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” – Romans 8:37

Chosen – “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love” – Ephesians 1:4

Forgiven – “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” – Ephesians 1:7

Understanding our belovedness changes our identity. We are not defined by who anyone says we are, by our failures or accomplishments, or even who we think we are. We are defined by our Maker, as people created in his likeness, for his glory, out of His love. So if you get anything from reading this blog, I hope it is the simple and complex truth that God loves you.

Macy is from Orlando, FL, and currently resides in Nashville, TN. Keep up with Macy on Instagram at @macy_laegeler 🙂

How To Be The Light That Ignites Hope

How To Be The Light That Ignites Hope

Early one sunny spring morning, I went downstairs from my bedroom into our kitchen to make myself some coffee. As I put the grounds in our espresso machine and waited for my milk to froth, I felt defeated. The night before, my husband and I had been lying in bed and I had one of those moments where I should have held my tongue but instead decided to bring up everything he had been doing that bothered me. (If you are engaged or newly married or have even been married forty years, I highly recommend you do not do this).

I knew I had hurt his feelings because the tone of his voice completely changed. I was instantly convicted of what I had done and realized I needed to apologize. After I said I was sorry, we both rolled over and tried to go to sleep. I tossed and turned for hours, replaying what I said over and over, making myself more upset at what I had done. What I said to him was not out of a kind and loving heart but rather came from the stress and bitterness I had been feeling from work, relationships, and the devastating situations I kept seeing on the news. It took me forever to fall asleep because I felt like the worst wife in the world. 

As I waited for my coffee to brew, terrible thoughts played over and over in my mind. How could someone love me when I just pointed out everything that was selfishly bothering me? How do I deserve to be loved by this selfless man? I don’t deserve forgiveness. I feel like a fake in every area in my life. What started as good conviction turned into a big spiral of lies. I know now they were thoughts from the Enemy and completely not true. But they felt so real to me at the time. They ate at me and made me feel like my brokenness was just plain ugly. I felt shame. If only I could take back everything I had said and everything I had made my husband feel. I kept wishing that I could just be a better wife. 

Finally, my coffee was ready. I poured the frothed milk over my iced espresso and prepared to spend some time with Jesus. As I was walking from our kitchen into the living room, I noticed a blue image that was reflected onto the wall behind our front door. As I stared at it, I realized that the rising sun was shining through the blue stained-glass window. The window I always complained about. 

You see, when my husband and I moved into our house, one of the things I really disliked about it was that it had random stained-glass windows. They are not the beautiful modern stained-glass windows. No, these have pink roses on them that make you feel like you are in the movie Beauty and the Beast. Our front door even has a little blue stained-glass window. It made no sense to me and was something I couldn’t wait to replace. In fact, when people came over to the house I would say, “Don’t worry, we’ll eventually be getting rid of these windows.”

But this particular morning, I saw something I had never noticed before. Cast on the wall was a perfect image of the door’s stained-glass window. You could see in detail every broken piece that had been used to make it a true work of art. For the first time, I saw its beauty. And it brought me joy.

As I went to the living room to read my Bible, the Lord interrupted my thoughts. It was as if He said, Allyson, you are just like that window. You are often broken and shattered—too broken to put yourself back together. And yet there is beauty in your broken pieces, and I see the masterpiece that you are. It was a beautiful revelation; I visualized the Lord taking each of my broken pieces and putting them together, binding them with His love and grace. Just like in a stained-glass window, each broken piece is hand-placed into a very specific spot by the Artist Himself. He makes a beautiful masterpiece out of what we thought was a disaster.

I know that all of us have had very hard and painful things in which we have walked through in our lives. Have you had experiences that you feel can never be redeemed or used for good? Do ou feel as if there are things in your life that keep you from fully living in your identity as a child of God? If so, I want to remind you that our God is a redeemer. He takes what the Enemy meant fro evil and turns it into something good. He is not a God who inflicts pain, but rather He takes the pain that we have experienced in this fallen and dark world and shines His light into it. He is a God who is in the business of redemption, of creating beauty, not of shaming and belittling.

God takes our shattered pieces and creates a marvelous mosaic. I love to picture Jesus gathering all the broken pieces of glass that represent us. He grasps each piece so gently with His loving and careful hands. He speaks life and purpose over each piece. Then He starts creating the masterpiece. He picks up the shiny pink oval representing the traumatic event I saw as a nurse. He then chooses the periwinkle triangle that denotes the anger and bitterness of my heart and places it next to the oval. He picks up your emerald-green hexagon, the one that represents your strained relationship with your mom, and places it next to the cherry-red square that symbolizes the abuse you experienced as a child.

He does this with every shattered part of who we are. God wants us to see the beautiful masterpiece that He sees in each of us. 

God doesn’t stop with the arrangement of our pieces. He then shines His light through us, creating a reflection of His masterpiece through our once-broken fragments, now made whole in Him. And notice this: It isn’t the stained glass itself shining but rather the Light shining through it.

How different God’s view is from that of Satan–who loves to showcase only the individual shattered pieces. I know it is so easy to fixate on the one destructive moment, the mistake we made, or the horrible thing we witnessed. But remember, that one piece doesn’t define us. When it is placed among all the other fragments, it finds its home. It is washed by the grace of the Father. It has a place in the masterpiece of who you are.

In my home that morning I was reminded that the light of the Lord never stops shining, just as the sun never stops shining, even if we can’t always see it. His light is always shining through you, my friend. You, with all of your broken pieces bound together by the grace of the Lord, are a walking reflection of the love and light of Jesus Christ.

Excerpt from Arise and Shine: How To Be The Light That Ignites Hope In A Dark World by Allyson Golden

I Love Breakups!

I Love Breakups!

I read a quote the other day that said, “What if the Lord allows us to experience human failure in heartbreak so that we can better understand His vast love for us?”

Thinking back on my past heartbreak experiences, through different seasons of life, I can confidently say that is the truth! The Lord has allowed me to walk through hard relationships, meet people who I thought was, “the one” and get my heart broken time after time. I was the girl growing up that said, “the first person I date, I want to be the one I marry!” Butttt…the Lord had other plans. Several failed relationships later, I am here, overwhelmingly thankful that was not the case.

I am now the girl that “loves” breakups. Sounds crazy, trust me, I know! But hear me out. The greatest lessons I have learned about my personal relationship with the Father was taught through times of heartbreak. The seasons where I experienced the most growth, refinement, and change, were seasons after that failed relationship with “the one.” The times when I have seen my closest friends flourish were the times after she finally broke up with the guy our friend group knew was not good for her. I love breakups.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).” This verse has often been used to comfort me during times of heartache. However, after I read the quote mentioned earlier, this verse has a whole new meaning.

Perhaps the Lord is near to the brokenhearted because He first allowed us to experience human failure of love to better understand His.

Perhaps the Lord is near to the brokenhearted because we must first be broken to be made new in Him.

Perhaps the Lord is near to the brokenhearted because His heart breaks with us.

Perhaps the Lord is near to the brokenhearted because He is refining our character, our definition of love, and our purpose to better align with His word.

This time last year, I went through a hard breakup. It is wild to be at a place where I can talk about it as part of my testimony and share the beautiful lessons the Lord allowed me to learn through that time. Total transparency though, this is not easy. This relationship was everything from “That’s the Way I Loved You” to “All too Well” (Swifities, you know the references) Over the years of us together, the Lord made it more and more clear that we were not for each other, so we broke up.

At the beginning of 2023, I would have never put on my “resolutions” list for me to go through yet another failed relationship. I thought 2023 was going to be the year I got married, graduated, and settled down. That is what I dreamt for myself.

However, as we know the Lord has plans of His own and man, am I thankful for that!

Instead of those things happening, the Lord took a situation that was destined for heartache, depression, and failure – and completely flipped my world upside down to be the best year of my life. Just to give you a glimpse…I went through heartbreak, got the opportunity to be an LO ambassador (wooohooo!!!), went to Thailand, called into missions, moved out of my childhood home into “the cottage” with my best friends, changed my major from Public Relations to a missions degree, and so much more.

When I say I am thankful that it is His plan and not my own, I mean it!

I share this with you only to say, none of that would have been possible without the first thing on that list; “heartbreak.”

It was not the relationship itself keeping me from experiencing these things, it was my lack of keeping my priorities in line to truly see what all the Lord had in store for me. The opportunities were there all along, I just needed to fix my heart, mind, and soul on Him to see them. I was too focused on the relationship I was in and not my relationship with the Father, everything was clouded and blurred. I was letting a human relationship that was inevitably going to fail me, define love for me and was not relying on God’s perfect, unfailing love.

It is evident when it is not from God. I mean how confusing would it be if God gave us peace about every relationship we got into? When we finally meet the one He has set apart for us, it will all make sense. We will have an undeniable peace that this is the one that will be an addition to my walk with the Lord. We will see how that person is better for us and for the greater good of His kingdom. It will be peace upon peace, no convincing necessary.

But sometimes, unfortunately, it takes going through the first thing on that list, to truly know it when we see it. Because of heartbreak, I better know the character and love of God.

I have seen human love fail me, and that is ok! It is part of it. But because of His word, His love letter written from His heart to ours, we know His love will never fail us.

Psalm 73:26,” My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

So, friend, this Valentine’s season, whether you are single, dating, heartbroken, engaged, or miss independent – I hope you can look back on the heartache and be thankful. Be thankful that the Lord allowed you to experience human failure so that you could better know His love for you. Be thankful it took a few failed relationships so that you could better recognize true love when it came into your life. Be thankful you have learned to guard your heart. Be thankful that you have gone through tough times so that way you can better relate and help others. Be thankful that each time you have gotten your heartbroken, the Lord has used that to redefine your definition of love to align with what it says in His word.

Because of heartache, we better know His love.

So, when I say I love breakups, it is because I have seen the Lord turn it around for good, time and time again!

Hey hey LO fam! My name is Raylee Evans and it is a joy to be here with you! I am a Senior Public Relations major at Lee University, which happens to be right in my hometown, Cleveland, TN! I am the second oldest of six in my family, which makes life so fun – never a dull moment! You can either find me on the pickleball courts, drinking coffee, or planning a last-minute trip. I currently work at Ever After Bridal as a bridal consultant, give campus tours at Lee to upcoming students, and I also have a little photography business on the side as well. I am a multi-passionate gal with a lotta dreams, 27 to be exact! My biggest prayer is that whatever dream I am pursing, that I am spreading His love, His joy, and His truth with everyone I come into contact with. Again, it is a joy to be here so thanks for being apart of one of those 27 dreams!

3 Things to Know Before Marriage

3 Things to Know Before Marriage

If you’re like us, at some point in your life, you wish you could go back in time and have a re-do at something you completely flopped in with your spouse. There are several moments that hop into memory that make us say, “Wow, if only we’d known this before we got married”.

When we got engaged, we both took marriage seriously and invested in preparing, but marriage is an ongoing process. No matter how much we studied the map of marriage, we still had the journey ahead of us with so much to learn.

As we look back on the path we’ve walked so far, here are three things we wished we knew before we got married.

1) Mutually agreed-upon boundaries with family and friends.

In the early days of our marriage, Meg would sometimes go to her parents for comfort and guidance, instead of me. One thing that caught me off guard was the way I felt when Meg sought help or comfort from her parents before turning to me. It hit me in a way I hadn’t expected. It really hurt. I found myself questioning my role and importance in Meg’s life.

At first, I struggled with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. I wondered if I was failing in some way as her partner if she felt the need to seek help elsewhere. But as I got deeper into understanding her perspective, I came to see that it wasn’t about me lacking something, but rather about her seeking comfort in a way that felt most natural to her.

Meg wasn’t intentionally sidelining me; she was merely navigating our new dynamic as a married couple while going to the support structures that had always been there for her– I mean, her parents raised her.

After a few conversations on how those relationships need to change (at least a little) as your spouse becomes a higher priority, I realized that Meg’s actions weren’t meant to exclude or devalue me. She was simply leaning on the familiar support system she had always turned to. It was a natural instinct for her, rooted in years of trust and familiarity.

Today, we aim to be intentional about:

1. Setting aside time to talk, bringing a welcoming heart for conversation

2. Creating mutually agreed boundaries that we follow in Christ’s love.

Though we made a plan, we’ve found that setting boundaries can be tough. But the struggle to become unified in Jesus is so worth it. Trust us, God sees your effort to honor Him and each other.

3. Our marriage can change the world.

Before we got married, we don’t think we really thought that much on how our marriage could change the world. Honestly, we wish we reflected more on how God had drawn us together, understanding we would be a part of a design way bigger than ourselves.

Whether you’re single or married, your life matters in showing who God is to others today. Now, He’s painted every aspect of your life and your spouse’s life – your surroundings, relatable memories, passions, differences, sense of humor – to draw you together toward Him and serve and love people around you (check out Acts 17:26-27).

Knowing this deeply ahead of time that our marriage will have power for its mission as we learned to listen and respond to the Holy Spirit would have allowed us both to quickly pursue God for a specific direction. We would’ve been more curiously early on on how He’d like us to impact the world in our little corner of life as newlyweds and every season after.

Today, we embrace the truth that our marriage is more than just two people making each other happy. We’re not perfect at it, but when we both sense the opportunity and call to represent God, we outwardly share it with others we encounter whether we’re on a walk in our neighborhood, the stairwell at the office, or our kids sporting events.

One new way we’re excited to be impacting other couples for Christ is in sharing more of our story in FamilyLife’s new Art of Marriage small group study. We get pretty open there about our day to day and also give others couples a way to easily impact those around them.

To build a marriage according to His design, we cannot ignore its potential to spiritually impact the world inside and outside our home for showing others who God is.

3) Conversations about our past can bring us together in incredible ways.

Engagement is a critical time to continue learning each other’s backstories. And if you’re dreading that sentence, we did too.

It was intimidating for us to share the depths of our pasts. But truthfully, we wish we knew early on, that on the other side of Christ centered conversation, was love and safety – for the both of us. We talk about this more in our book Preparing For Marriage, but we can say each time we’ve allowed God to lead us in peeling layers we may prefer to hide, the more we get to experience the masterpiece of closeness that God designed for us to have in marriage.

With a trail of almost two decades of marriage behind us, we have found it’s essential to approach these conversations with grace and understanding. We both work at this today in any tough conversation, committing to active listening to foster an atmosphere of empathy and Christ’s love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), for better or worse.

Recognizing and addressing our past sins, hurts, and misconceptions about marriage lays a foundation for a healthy today and future together.

Here’s the thing

There’s honestly a good chunk of knowledge we wish we knew that isn’t general but more specific to each other and our marriage. We say that as encouragement – marriage is a journey not only with each other, but Jesus. There’s lots of learning ahead.

Truthfully we foresee a ton more learning to come for years ahead of our marriage – even after two decades. And even so, our marriage rests in the fact that if dependence on Jesus is the goal, every weakness of ours is an advantage. If you’re looking for a realistic plan for marriage, find an Art of Marriage small group near you. It’s a great place to join other couples pursuing the Lord with their togetherness, even in the middle of every weakness they carry.

Looking at the mural of marriage, we find God to be the ultimate artist, skillfully crafting each piece and detail of our journey together. As we navigate the intricacies of His ways, may we all continually lean on His divine craftsmanship, trusting in His guidance and wisdom to shape each of our marriages into a masterpiece of love, grace, and lasting significance.

David and Meg Robbins are passionate about helping people integrate faith and family and equipping them to make a difference in their local communities. David became the President of FamilyLife in 2017. The Robbins have served together in a variety of ministry roles through the years, working primarily with the rising generation in Western Europe, Atlanta, and New York City. David and Meg, married in 2001, currently live in Orlando, Florida, with their four children. They are contributors to FamilyLife’s new edition of the Art of Marriage™ study that is available nationwide. This new resource is designed to help couples explore new levels of intimacy, communication, and connection with their spouse.

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