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Today I Choose Joy

Today I Choose Joy

About a year and a half ago, I was feeling completely broken and empty on the inside. One morning during this difficult time, I woke up, and for a split second, I actually felt a sense of peace. It was that peace that is felt in the moment you begin to open your eyes. It’s also that peace that disappears as soon as your eyes adjust to the sunlight coming in and reality suddenly sets in. Reality sets in, and you immediately just wish that everything could be a dream. You wish that you could just go back to sleep and never have to face real life. Has anyone else ever had a morning like this before? As I took a moment to face my reality that morning, I decided to scroll through my pinterest to look for a new lock-screen. The first picture I came across read, “Today I choose joy!” For some reason, that picture felt like a message from God. It felt like God was telling me, “Hey! You’re going to be okay! All you have to do is CHOOSE ME!” That morning, through my tears and sobs, I downloaded that picture with the message “Today I Choose Joy” to make it the new lockscreen on my phone, and it is still the same today.

Have you ever considered the possibility that someone can be considered a happy person, yet they may actually be completely empty on the inside? For years, I believed that my ultimate goal in life was to be happy. I set this goal for myself years and years ago after sitting down and writing a letter to my future self. I strived every single day after that to be the happiest person around. It was an everyday battle that I faced until around one year ago. That goal I had set for myself, in completely honest terms, was just setting myself up for complete failure for the next 7 years of my life. I could make sure to smile at every person that glanced in my direction. I could be involved in all of the different social groups. I could attend all of the best parties. I could be dating some of the most popular, best looking guys in town. I could be posting all of the ‘perfect’ posts on instagram. I could even LOOK like the most happy girl around, but the truth is, none of these things ever satisfied and fulfilled my goal to always be “happy.”

The truth is, happiness is just an emotion that is based upon all of the little things that are going well in our lives around us. The hard truth is, it is impossible to feel happy 24/7/365! The smile that I made sure everyone saw when looking at me eventually fell into a dull frown. The social groups that I was a part of eventually came to an end. The parties that I attended always left me feeling more alone than ever before. The boys that I put all of my hope in would eventually let me down. Many of my instagram posts were staged, and reality would hit every time I hit “post.” The truth is, happiness is fleeting. Happiness is an impossible feeling to feel all day everyday! It is the hard truth that I eventually had to come to terms with after years and years of striving for something that can simply never be achieved.

Joy, on the other hand, is not like this. No, Joy found in the Lord is nothing like the happiness that I, along with so many others, search for for so many years. Joy in the Lord remains even in and through the trials that we face. What a difference!!! The happiness that the world tries to hold onto can never even begin to compare to the joy that we can CHOOSE to find in the Lord.

When we look around at the world surrounding us, it is so easy to become caught up in all of the negativity. It is so easy to be distracted and discouraged by the trials and persecutions that take place on a daily basis, but it is in those moments of doubt and distraction that the Lord calls us to cling onto the truth that is only found in Him. The word of God says that God is GOOD and that He works all things together for His divine purpose. (Romans 8:28) I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that I’m 100% sure of, it is God’s word to His people. When you begin choosing to see things in a different perspective, you will also begin to recognize that maybe the trials that we are faced with were never meant to break us. Maybe the trials of this world are given to us as a gift to make us more like Jesus! In James we are told to consider it ALL joy! (James 1: 2-3) This statement made by James is the same truth that helped Jesus face the most cruel and evil, yet equally beautiful and world changing trial to have ever existed, the cross, with a heart of joy. ( Hebrew 12:2) It is when we begin to shift our focus to what God is actually doing through the trials in our lives that we can also begin to see these trials as joy knowing that Jesus ultimately wants good for us!

The truth is, you cannot fake joy. Joy is something that you either have or you don’t have, and I promise you, you can tell a difference! The bible actually tells us throughout scripture that joy is the very essence of who God truly is! (1 Chronicles 16:27) If the Lord is filled with joy, and the Lord is shaping His children to become more and more like Him, why would we not desire to be filled with that same joy? Why should we not recognize the difference between a world that is full of circumstantial happiness and an everlasting joy that is being offered to us?

About a year and a half ago, the day that I opened my eyes and struggled to face my reality, turned out to be one of the best days of my life. It was that day that I realized that I have a choice to make every single day. I wake up every morning, and have the choice to choose joy that can only be found in the Lord. God has taught me that joy is a gift from Him that cannot be taken away. I do not have to depend on the circumstances of life anymore when I have the joy of the Lord living inside of me. Today, my satisfaction is found in a new life that I have been given in Christ, and my prayer is that everyone can find that same everlasting satisfaction in Him.

This same joy that I have experienced is available to everyone; all you have to do is start by making that choice!

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11

Lydia is a part of Team LO and a 7 on the enneagram. Some of her favorite things include coffee dates, hanging with friends, and spending time with Jesus. She plans to pursue a career in counseling when she graduates in the spring!

Follow Lydia on Instagram @lrdozier

What Black History Month Means to Me

What Black History Month Means to Me

As challenging as this post was to write, so much healing and celebration came from it. I was asked to share “What does black history month mean to me”?

I thought I had something to say right away, but I couldn’t answer. I asked myself “why”? Truth is, up until this year, Black History Month was just another month. Yes, I learned about my history, but it always felt like the world and my community always went through the motions when it came to February. I personally never really felt proud of being “black”. I just existed as a black woman in America.

Yes, I saw myself as beautiful, but I personally never felt understood in my community enough for me to be proud of being a black woman in America. Which, in my early years, had me wishing I was another ethnicity.

Majority of my life I was often told by other black men and women that people that I “acted white”. Which meant, in the black community, that that individual’s vernacular and pronunciation of words was of the Caucasian race. That made me feel like an outsider with my race and I went where I was more accepted.

My mother and father raised my siblings and me to never mumble, enunciate my words, and learn new ones! We looked at it as a form of respect and means to make sure we communicated effectively, but hearing that I “acted white” still made me feel secluded. I just wanted to be accepted and just fit in.

Though I came from a multi-ethnic town, I was bullied by a few classmates. I was called names like “darkie,” “n-word,” and “ugly.” I didn’t understand why that group perceived me as unattractive, but their words unknowingly shaped the perception of my own beauty and increased my wish to fit in and be left alone.

In the year 2000, my family and I moved to Tulsa and since then up to 2020, I’ve learned so much about the black community. I’ve come into contact with incredible women and men, but in those same 20 years, I still only existed. I was still racially bullied, but this time it was indifferent. A guy breaking up with me because his parents gave him an ultimatum. Women saying I’d never have a boyfriend or be married because I’m black to guys rejecting me because their family wouldn’t approve. The only difference is I began my walk with God in 2011 and grew thick skin as I gained understanding in my identity through Christ.

In my walk with God, He has shown me that in my adolescence, I had trained myself to just fit in and go unnoticed. He instilled in me, that:

I am set apart. (Deut 14:2)
I was intentionally created with Love. (Jere 1:5)
I am beautiful and Resilient. ( Ps 139:14, 2 Cor 4:8-9)
I wasn’t alone because He’s been with me. (Heb 13:5)
He accepts me and in Him is my rest/peace. (Matt 11:28)
I am called to carry on the works of Jesus! (John 14:12)

July 2020, I saw a rise of the black community coming together and championing one another in leadership and life. Though summer was highly triggering, God saw an opportunity to heal the broken places, forgive those who hurt me, and rise.

December 2020 at the Live Original retreat, I arrived cautiously, but still eager to meet these other phenomenal women! And I’ve never felt so free to simply be Me. I’ll never forget how 2020 ended. I was fully respected, accepted, heard, loved, and valued…. as a Black Live Original Ambassador.

So, What does Black History Month mean to me? This month meant honoring those who paved the way with their very lives to fight for mental, political, social, and spiritual equality. Because of them, I get to stand on their shoulders and represent a new America…and I’m not alone. I have God backing me. Today and forever, I celebrate ALL of me and my ancestors!

Ryanne Gordon is an Oklahoman Native who currently resides in Tulsa. There she designs homes for a new home builder. She also owns her own jewelry line called “RYANNEMARIE”. You can find her enjoying time laughing with her family and friends. Though she’s passionate about a lot of things her goal is to help people know/discover their worth and ultimately point people to Christ in whatever God has her doing in that season.

Follow Ryanne on Instagram @iamryannemarie

The Beautiful Veracity of Vulnerability

The Beautiful Veracity of Vulnerability

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:20-21

Although I never heard “God will be disappointed in you if you don’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps” in a sermon ~ at least not verbatim ~ I’d seen it demonstrated so often by adults around me that by the time I was in the first grade the scaffolding of my budding theology included a misplaced admiration for self-sufficiency and false optimism. I sincerely thought sad = bad. So, I learned how to wear a happy expression and speak with a happy inflection even when sorrow or fear were lurking beneath my emotional surface like Great White sharks in a cold, dark sea.

Of course, sometimes emotional predators aren’t content to slink around without biting. Which happened when I was sophomore in high school and the migraines I’d been having for a year or two worsened to point of causing me to have blackouts and get violently sick every couple of weeks. After I lost consciousness at track practice one afternoon, mom raced me to a neurologist who immediately had me admitted to a hospital because I had multiple symptoms of a brain tumor.

Fortunately, after several days and a battery of tests, I was diagnosed as having a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid behind my optic nerve, not a brain tumor or anything life threatening. Other than dealing with the awkwardness of several relatives sobbing uncontrollably in my hospital room after hovering outside the doorway and talking with mom in hushed tones (my family isn’t always adept at dealing with grief, but we are quite gifted at drama), my teenage medical issues were a minor hiccup.

I’d all but forgotten about that hospital stay until I was in my early forties and my counselor and I were excavating some of the bigger hills of my adolescence when I remembered an alarming, thoroughly-dismissed-at-the-time, symptom from that long ago health scare. I recalled it vividly because I’d heard Mom tell this story numerous times. While I was in the hospital a child psychiatrist met with me ~ as part of their normal protocol at the time when treating a minor ~ to ascertain whether he thought there were any signs of child abuse.

Following our two-hour visit, he sat down with Mom to go over his evaluation. Once he explained that he found no signs of physical abuse or psychosis, he closed my file, took off his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose and said soberly, “Lisa is either the most happy, well-adjusted child I’ve ever met in my life or she’s in deep emotional pain.” Every time my dear mama got to the end of that story at a family gathering or while chatting up a grocery store clerk or a saleslady at the make-up counter in the mall, her voice would rise triumphantly because she regarded the psychiatrist’s statement as proof that I actually was the happiest, most well-adjusted child in the history of the universe.

It took me two and a half decades to realize that compassionate doctor was trying to tell Mom that I was a pretty little liar. That my mirth was mostly a mirage. And while young adulthood brought with it the growing awareness that the painful knots in my soul stemmed from childhood wounds ~ my parents had a very acrimonious divorce, and I was sexually molested by several different men after Dad left our family ~ I had no idea how to deal with them. So, when I graduated from college, took a job in youth ministry and became a “professional” Christian, I felt like I had no choice but to suppress my vulnerability and pretend like everything was okay. Eventually I became a master happy doppelgänger.

You’ve probably heard the platitude “Fake it til’ you make it” and perhaps like me, adopted it as a strategy to survive difficult seasons. But I can promise you from decades of personal experience that the only thing faking makes is more of an emotional mess. Much like that old-school arcade game, Whack-a-Mole, pretending you don’t feel something doesn’t get rid of it. Instead, like those pesky moles, pushing what we perceive to be sad, bad, scary or shameful deeper into the recesses of our hearts and minds causes other problems to pop out. Things like insincerity and isolation and depression and the inability to experience true intimacy with others and with God. Pretense may effectively camouflage our true feelings for a season but ultimately it only serves to exacerbate our ache.

Trusting in God’s compassionate sovereignty means hiking up the hills and down into the valleys of life all while hanging onto the firm belief that ultimately everything will work out for our good and His glory. Faith in the immutable kindness of our Creator Redeemer eliminates the need for a facade. It means that like Job, we learn to shoulder disappointments, grief and loss honestly…with hearts tender enough to be broken and worship pure enough to remain intact. It means realizing that in the economy of Glory, scars can actually become beauty marks.

Speaking of scars, I got to hang out with Wonder Woman recently. Well, not Wonder Woman exactly. Her name is Lori, not Gal Gadot. But she’s incredibly brave despite her lack of knee-high red boots and a cape. Because Lori just passed the three-month mark of being clean from methamphetamines after an eight-year addiction that culminated in a conviction for illegal drug possession and armed robbery charges.

Unlike most of the women I meet at The Next Door (a faith-based program in Nashville that provides recovery support services for women conquering their addictions to alcohol and drugs), Lori looks younger than her age of twenty-three. The first time we met she was wearing a hoodie with a popular logo emblazoned on the front, torn jeans, and metallic nail polish. If I’d seen her strolling through the mall or giggling with her girlfriends at Starbucks, I would’ve assumed she was a happy-go-lucky college student. It wasn’t until she pushed up the sleeves of her sweatshirt, and I noticed the ragged scars from shooting up, that the tragic reality of her former life became apparent.

Because I’ve had the privilege of volunteering with several addiction-recovery programs, much of Lori’s story is sadly familiar. She grew up in a very poor family in a very small town. One of her parents moonlighted as a mean-spirited bully, who claimed to be “knocking the stupid out of her” when smacking Lori around. Of course, she wasn’t stupid at all. Despite the regular beatings she endured at home, Lori excelled in school. She made the honor roll and the cheerleading squad. After putting her hope in the unconditional love of Jesus Christ at a youth rally, she also became an outspoken Christian leader on campus. However, when her parents divorced and she became the sole possession of her abuser, Lori’s world caved in. She eventually ran away from home and moved in with her boyfriend. He introduced her to meth, which numbed the searing pain of the compound fractures in her heart. And the rest, as they say, is history. Horrible, awful, gut-wrenching history.

That is until God intervened with a team of federal agents wearing flak jackets. Lori’s voice brightened when she got to the part in her story where those law enforcement officers burst into her trailer to arrest her. She looked up at me through her bangs and grinned. Then she proclaimed with genuine gratitude, “Miss Lisa, I know God ordained the exact timing of my drug bust, because I’d planned to commit suicide that afternoon. If those cops hadn’t come when they did, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

The older I get the more convinced I am that admittedly flawed sinners are the most credible witnesses of the Gospel, because blemished believers can’t fake moral superiority. Our scars make it glaringly apparent that we couldn’t protect ourselves from harm.

Authentic Christ followers with scabby knees, bruised hearts, and even track-marked arms, who sometimes stumble yet always grab onto the arm of His Spirit in order to stand up again, exemplify the redemptive power of divine grace. We prove how miraculous and restorative the love of God really is. We know we can’t make it by ourselves and can only keep it together because of the amazing grace Jesus provided for us through His sacrificial death and glorious resurrection! And with a Prince like that who needs pretense?

“On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.” Brennan Manning

_______

Lisa Harper is an engaging, hilarious communicator as well as an authentic and substantive Bible teacher that many enjoy hearing in person, or on countless TV and radio platforms. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary, and a doctorate-in-progress at Denver Seminary. She’s been in vocational ministry for thirty years and has written fifteen books and Bible study curriculums but says her greatest accomplishment by far is that of becoming Missy’s (her adopted daughter from Haiti) mama! They live on a hilly farmette south of Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy eating copious amounts of chips, queso, and guacamole.

In her new devotional, LIFE: An Obsessively Grateful, Undone by Jesus, Genuinely Happy, and not Faking it Through the Hard Stuff Kind of 100-Day Devotional (B&H, Feb. 9, 2021), Lisa provides readers with a deep exploration of Scripture that proves God’s grace is more than sufficient for both the massive and minuscule things in life.

Whether we deal with personal loss, ongoing trauma, global crisis, or simply a super bad hair day, the Gospel is more than enough to handle every single thing. LIFE reminds us that God’s faithfulness really does follow us into all the difficult, painful, crazy, and even humorous moments of our every day.

“Whether you’re having a great day or a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad one, the lavish and always-accessible affection of our Heavenly Father enables us to hang onto authentic peace, hope and joy and rest securely in his embrace!” – Lisa Harper

Visit https://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/life-devotional/ for more information on LIFE!

Amaryllis Prayers

Amaryllis Prayers

One November, I received a very meaningful birthday gift from my sister-in-law Kristin, a trusted soul in my life. She had been walking closely with me during a very difficult winter of my soul that year. It had been a season of great disappointment for me, one that included some heartbreaking hardship in some relationships that were very dear to me. Kristin’s gift to me that day was a potted amaryllis bulb accompanied by a beautiful, life-changing letter which God used in a powerful way to help me see all that He had purposed, even in my pain. Her letter read, in part:

We have this common thread in our family—we’re drawn to the rich symbolism we find in the beauty of God-created things, like trees, vines and blooms. The way that a tree takes root, the way that a branch is nourished from the vine, the way beautiful things need necessary tending to bring forth more beauty.

We love the marking of seasons and how we can trust that God is working in ways we cannot see. We know that every season is named with purpose. A season of sowing brings forth a season of harvest, just as the harsh cold of winter brings a season of dying—a necessary bridge to new life. The winter is beautiful under its blanket of white but it is cold and harsh to the living thing determined to grow. Everyone knows that the season for blooming is in the warmth of spring. Its gentle breezes and warm sun send a message to a sleeping world that all things are becoming new.

It would take great courage to bloom in the bitterness of winter.

But there are the rare and beautiful treasures that choose to grow when the conditions are the darkest. In the bleakness of winter, the Amaryllis will spring up, pushing through the soil, displaying the beauty it was created to share.

Sure, it would be easier to wait until the comfort of spring. But the Amaryllis bulb knows it cannot wait. It does not bloom because the conditions are perfect, in fact, the conditions are counter-intuitive to new life. The Amaryllis blooms in winter, even still. It will not look to the world around it and depend on it for nurturing or care. It will instead, obey the world within it and become exactly what it was created to be. To bear the image of the beauty inside itself, set there by a Creator, not bound by time or season.

The letter went on to tell me that my family would be praying “amaryllis prayers” for me, asking that I, too, would have the courage to bloom in winter. I realized in that moment that I had allowed my frozen, fragile state to render me ineffective. To keep me hiding until warmer, brighter days unfolded. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of God and the kindness of His treasured people to help me remember that stunning beauty can rise from even the most devastating winters of our lives. Even a “winter” as brutal as the year 2020!

I waited with such anticipation for something, anything, to break through the soil of that ceramic pot. Finally, one day a tiny, green shoot pushed up. As I watched it grow taller and taller and gloriously bloom, I found myself pondering Jesus more than ever. He certainly didn’t arrive when conditions were perfect. In fact, He arrived in the midst of a silence and a winter that the world had never known—four hundred years of silence, without a word from God. “And when it seemed like we’d never see Spring, Heaven gave a King.” Yes, He arrived when the world least expected it, pushing through the hardness of “winter” on our behalf. His love broke through so that we, too, could have breakthrough.

Beloved, I wonder if even now, God is calling out to you to come awake and bloom! To take your place in all that God has prepared for you, and to lead others to awaken too! He has and always will be the life you long for. No matter how dark and bleak your current season may be, you, too, can bloom with the brilliance of summer—right in the middle of winter.

Christy Nockels is a worship leader and singer-songwriter with a passion for writing and speaking. Her podcast, The Glorious in the Mundane, inspires listeners to see both their big dreams and the seemingly small things in a whole different way. The Life You Long For (WaterBrook, Feb. 16, 2021) is Nockel’s debut book. Nockels has released three albums on the independent label Keeper’s Branch Records. Previously, she toured nationwide with her husband, Nathan, as the duo Watermark, recording seven #1 radio singles and five acclaimed albums. The two also have participated in Passion Conferences since their inception.

Adapted from The Life You Long For: Learning to Live from a Heart of Rest. Copyright © 2021 by Christy Nockels. Used by permission of Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. Amaryllis Prayer Letter by Kristin Hill.

About the book:

In The Life You Long For, Christy shows us how to let go of hustle and achievement and instead find our identity in the quiet center of God’s love. As we delight in being with Him, we are filled to overflowing with contentment and love that propel us into an entirely new way of being, one in which every act of service and every encounter with the people around us arise from a heart at rest.

With irresistible warmth and grace, this book calls you to step fully into the life you didn’t even realize you’ve been seeking, as you find your highest calling not in a duty to uphold but in a beautiful identity to live out.

For more information on Christy and her book, please visit www.christynockels.com

To The Girl Just Wanting To Be Married…

To The Girl Just Wanting To Be Married…

When I was 16 I dreamed of owning a brand new Kia Optima. Don’t ask me why, but I thought it was the greatest car ever. When I had finally saved enough money to go buy my first car, it was number one on my list. Out of my price range, I didn’t even torture myself by test driving it. Instead, I left the owner of a 2006 KIA Spectra named Grace Kelley with 100,000 miles under her belt, and a mild feeling of defeat. I told myself one day I would own the car I actually wanted. I knew if I could just have this car, then I would be happy. 

Fast forward five years and I was at a dealership car shopping. The first car on my list? A Kia Optima. I was so excited. I got in the car, I buckled my seatbelt, and I started the test drive. Guess what? I HATED IT. I absolutely hated this car. It wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t like the way it drove, I didn’t like the way it felt, and I didn’t like the features it had or the way it was laid out. This car that I had dreamed of owning for years was absolutely nothing that I had made it in my mind to be. 

I did this with my whole life. I had these wild expectations and fantasies of how things would go and what they would be, of how they would fulfill me, quench my desires, and make me happy. I often found myself with the same sting of defeat as I did leaving the dealership realizing what I thought I wanted didn’t fulfil the expectations I had placed on it, but more than that, that it didn’t fulfill me.

Expectation is a slippery slope. It becomes an idol if we’re not careful. How do we know when something is an idol? It becomes our hope. It becomes the center of our fulfillment. It replaces the rightful place of God. It becomes an “if I have this, get this, do this, look like this, make this much money, gain this status, THEN I’ll be happy, THEN I’ll be satisfied.” And the biggest idol I had? Relationships. 

I sought my worth, value and all my identity in relationships. How guys viewed, treated, and pursued me directly influenced how good or bad I felt about myself. I was a slave to the opinions of the men I looked to for validation. When those opinions were negative, I would do everything I could to manipulate every situation to control every outcome. I did whatever it took to swing the pendulum in my favor.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3

My desire to be loved at any cost took everything from me over and over and over again. I didn’t care what I had to do to get it. Even at the expense of myself, and even worse, other people. Relationships were for my consumption in order to feel good about myself. This is the furthest thing from love, and this isn’t what relationships were created for. So what were they created for? 

Ephesians 5:21-33 lays out the perfect foundation of the purpose of marriage. It says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” 

To make her holy, cleansed, radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, blameless. Paul repeats holy twice. The purpose of relationship is sanctification. To present one another as holy before the Lord. To die to yourself, to love one another as yourself, to take up your cross, to commit to total humility, total self sacrifice, to love without expectation or even a return of love, to be Christ to your spouse and to make their holiness your highest value. If we valued the purpose of marriage as much as we valued the idea of marriage, our relationships would look a lot different, a lot healthier, a lot happier, a lot more fulfilling, a lot more successful.

It’s not what can I get, but what can I give? Not how can I control, but how can I serve? Not love me, but how can I love you best? How can I do relationship with you in a way that my highest goal is to present you holy and blameless before the Lord. How can I love you in such a way that when you stand face to face with Jesus, he will say, “well done my good and faithful servant” because I partnered with you in running the race well? Caring about someone else’s eternity and relationship with the Lord over them pleasing you or fulfilling your every desire, THAT is real love.

Two years ago today, with no sense of identity, with a love for the idea of marriage instead of the purpose of marriage, with no preparation or wisdom about what the covenant of marriage really meant, I walked onto Alys Beach and a man got down on one knee in front of me and asked me to marry him. I said yes. I will never forget looking out into the ocean with a lump in my throat and the same sting of defeat deep in my soul. 

The sting of disappointment wasn’t because the man asking me to spend my life with him wasn’t an amazing man of God. It was because I finally had everything I thought I had ever wanted, someone loved me, someone chose me, I finally had it all, and I stood there feeling the most empty I had ever felt. It didn’t fill me up. It didn’t make me feel secure. I didn’t feel whole because of it. I just felt like the same insecure, broken me. A marriage about me is empty, already dead and gone, over before it even starts, and that’s where I was. Six months later, after a lot of heartbreak, that engagement ended. 

My broken engagement was the greatest gift that the Lord has ever given me, because it forced me to look in the mirror and face the fact that I was a selfish, sinful human being. It forced me to face the fact that I had consumed people and relationships for my own benefit and it wasn’t working. It forced me to true repentance. It forced me to face the lies I believed about myself head on, and it taught me the true source of my identity. Him. 

So this isn’t a blog post on how to find the perfect husband, or how to be patient to wait for God to bring you one, or even how to be what a Godly man wants, but a (hopefully encouraging) cautionary tale for every girl that reads it. Marriage isn’t going to fulfill you and it’s not created to. Marriage isn’t for our consumption, but for our sanctification. And most of all, marriage isn’t going to take away the dark parts of your heart or give you true identity. Only Christ can do that. So when God calls us to seek him first above all things, he really means it for our own good. Marriage is the closest parallel to how Christ loves us and it is an incredible gift, but all gifts of God are best enjoyed within the confines of his boundary lines. 

If I leave you with one thing, I hope it’s that the Lord loves you so much. He created you, chose you, says you are worthy, cherished, valuable. You don’t have to give yourself away in order to receive it because he gave himself away for you to. I pray that we all get to live in the fullness of Christ’s love for us first, so when and if we do get the privilege of a spouse, we would come alongside them and run after the Kingdom together, and that Heaven on earth would start between us.

Samantha Coyle is the writer and encourager behind @heytheresam and HeythereSam.com. Her mission is to share the heart of God and what He’s done for us by bringing real, raw honesty to the table, encouraging vulnerable community rooted in Truth and grace. While normal days look pretty mundane, i.e. drinking matcha, laughing a lot at her own jokes, jamming worship in her car, doing a LOT of laundry and cooking for the family she works for, and hanging with her friends in Nashville, she has big dreams to share the gospel with women all over the world!

Follow her personal account on Insta @heytheresam and also find her on Sadie’s app, LO sister, as an ambassador where she shares even more encouragement and fun!

The Heart Of Valentine’s Day

The Heart Of Valentine’s Day

Urban Dictionary’s definition of valentine’s day is this; “Holiday maliciously created to make lonely people extremely depressed.” And you know what guys, that just makes me really sad. It makes me sad, because I don’t think that is what Valentine’s Day is about at all. I don’t think it is about single people. Nor do I think it is about married people. I don’t think it is about engaged people, or those who are dating. I think Valentine’s day is for all people, because I would like to think that the heart of Valentine’s Day is not relationships, but that the heart of Valentine’s Day is love itself. A day where the whole world acknowledges and is intentional about the way that we love.

However, we cannot change the way that the world thinks. Well, I guess we can because we the people make up the world. But my point is that we do not have to go parading around telling the world to not have such a shallow view of Valentine’s day. Instead of spending our time trying to change the world, let’s just look inside of our own individual hearts and change our heart to get off the Valentine’s Day Sucks campaign and make our heart align with the word of God. The truth is, as a Christian, a day focused on love should be the day that the church and the people who follow Jesus THRIVE – regardless of your dating status.

In Matthew 22 the Pharisees put their heads together to try to ask Jesus a question that would stump him. One of them who was an expert in the law decided to test Jesus with the question, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” I want us to look at what Jesus said, because I am sure that the last thing this expert was thinking Jesus would say as the greatest of all the commandments would be to love.

Jesus replied:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).

If I were to start a new campaign slogan for valentine’s day it would be those words right there listed as the second greatest command – love your neighbor as yourself today. Give your neighbor chocolate, give your neighbor a hug, give your neighbor a letter, show your neighbor you appreciate them, bring your neighbor dinner, and know that by loving your neighbor you’re fulfilling your purpose. Also, it does not actually have to be your next door neighbor – just show love to a friend. And as you start living out your purpose you yourself will start feeling more loved. As you love others you may just also fall in love with who you are, too. What a better day you would have fulfilling purpose, giving love, and receiving love instead of wallowing in the fact that you’re single or the teddy bear your husband got you was not as big as the one you saw on Instagram.

A big thing I see people talking about in religious Christianity is that people fear they are not doing enough for God. That they are not reading their bible enough, giving enough, singing enough, praying enough and so on. The truth is God’s love is not measured on what you can do for him. But if we did look at it as a measure I want you to see that beyond anything you can do for God what He ultimately desires of you is that you have love in your heart – for him and for others. Let’s read in 1 Corinthians 13:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

These words have pierced my soul many times, “If I don’t have love then I am nothing. If I don’t have love I gain nothing.” I do wonder sometimes if the reason we struggle so much as a generation not knowing our purpose and not feeling fulfilled is because we bypass the very thing that would give us our identity and worth, love itself. Christians, you could feed the poor, you could prophecy over thousands, you could have wisdom beyond anyone you know, and you could even have faith big enough that it would move a mountain, but it is nothing without love.

So now that you are challenged and maybe even convicted by the lack of love you have had in your heart you may be wondering where to from here. Well below is a guide for you on how to love well from 1st Corinthians 13. But even the guide could feel overwhelming as you wonder how in your humanity you could muster up the love we have been called to. I want you to know that you by yourself cannot do this perfectly. 1st John 4 tells us that God is love. As you read this description of love instead of reading it as a guide for what you need to be let it be a description of who God is to you. You have to know that the perfect form of this love is who God is. The beauty of it all is that the only way to follow the commands of God is learn from God.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Go out and LOVE today. Find your identity and purpose in that love today. If you don’t know where to start, I wanted to give y’all a practical way you can love today.

I’m excited to share that I’ve team up with Erica Woolston for a very special bracelet for a very special cause this Valentine’s Day.

Together, we’ve created the “Imprint Bracelet” a 14K gold beaded bracelet and with your purchase of the bracelet, we will be donating 50% to the A21 Campaign – a Campaign fighting human trafficking through reach, rescue, and restoration.

To purchase the bracelet, click HERE.

And for more information on this cause, visit A21.org.

May we live in a world where men, women, and children are no longer exploited for their bodies. A world where we are all free. Thank you for making your imprint – one that is helping fight to see the end of modern day slavery.

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