Faith Filters

Filters serve all kinds of purposes in our world. A filter makes sure air particles are clean when cool air blows through our homes. It makes sure coffee grounds don’t end up in our morning (or afternoon) cup of brew. Colored film over lights on a stage filters the light into different colors or even softens the light that is shining. Children (and some adults) have zero filters when it comes to voicing their opinions about last night’s dinner. Social media filters can alter a person’s appearance, for good or bad.

Sometimes filters aren’t such a good thing. During the pandemic, masks filtered voices and made it much more difficult to communicate. Filters can cause you to not see as clearly, like when pouring rain or fog acts as a filter in your line of vision on the road.

I’ve been thinking a bit about pieces of me that filter my faith when others see me, read my words, or hear me speak. In Matthew 5, Jesus gives a sermon to a crowd, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” A basket isn’t going to completely shut out my light. Baskets have holes and would act as a filter for the light, but the light would be dim and wouldn’t serve a purpose for God. I want everyone to see my light, which is God and all he has done in my life. That is what believers are called to do. But sometimes, I find that in my desire to shine my light, I am actually filtering it.

Sometimes I place a basket over my light that looks like fear. People can’t see me giving my worries to God through my fear. Other times, the filter looks like pride. Others can’t see me trusting God when I am too busy relying on myself and depleting my energy.

Lately, I have found that people can’t see the love of God through my critical spirit. Negative comments about others or to others, even those I disagree with or don’t really like very much, place a filter over my faith. It dims my light and makes it less visible to the world around me.

I know I am not alone. I see the critical spirit all around me, especially…at church and with fellow believers. In a place where we need to be image bearers and gleaming beacons, we throw on baskets that filter our flames so that a city on a hill becomes just as dark as the areas around it. There are no lights of love and hope attracting others to God’s brilliance.

I love church. I love the body of Christ. Just like in any collective body, there are those who shine brighter than others. What would it be like, if we all removed our light filters and became blinding lights for Christ…like the light that actually blinded Paul on the Damascus Road in Acts 9? It was that unfiltered light that turned Paul’s heart. Its Ananias’ unfiltered light that prayed over him, calling him brother, and baptizing him. Ananias didn’t yell at Paul, he didn’t tell him he was wrong, he didn’t tell him he was possessed by a demon. God told Ananias, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Ananias didn’t want to, but he chose to obey God and shine his unfiltered light.

Paul was called by God. The adult or child in front of you that you are speaking harshly to is also called by God, but if your light under a basket doesn’t draw him to Christ, why would he want to step foot in church or your home again?

This morning, during prayer at my church, I prayed and confessed my critical spirit. A few minutes later, a church leader prayed the same thing over the entire room. Clearly, it was something I needed to bring before God.

Ask God to help you remove any filters that may be dampening your light for him. Move into a relationship with others who shine brightly. Knowing scripture doesn’t mean you shine bright. Praying loudly doesn’t mean you shine bright. Singing and listening to worship music doesn’t mean you shine bright. Leading Bible study doesn’t mean you shine bright. Living an unfiltered faith means God’s light radiates through your words and your actions, drawing others to you and to Him.

What filters do you need to ask God to remove today? What words and actions would communicate His love to those around you?

Happy Father’s Day

God didn’t choose the perfect woman to be a mom or the perfect man to be a dad. He didn’t wait until we had arrived at the highest level of wisdom, faith, intelligence, or maturity to create parents. God’s plan is always to help us grow to be more like HIM. For us to have the heart of the Father, we have to be given the chance to be a parent. Only our children can teach us the value of unconditional love. Only our children can show us the very worst parts of us and love us anyway.

The Bible is full of flawed fathers. The first father, Adam…flawed. He allowed sin to enter the world before he even bore a son. One of his sons died at the hands of the other. That one was cast out and sent to wander the earth.

The father of a nation, Abraham, was given the first covenant of God…flawed. He fathered a son that was not part of God’s plan for him.

The father who sought after God’s heart, David…flawed. His first son was born to a woman who was not his wife.

The father who was the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon…flawed. His sons were a whole issue, not following in the path of their father or grandfather, they sought power not God.

The list can go on and on. Not one father in the Bible was anything less than…flawed.

Our only hope, in a flawed world with flawed fathers, is men who chase after the heart of God. Men who know that in their own weakness, God is their only strength. Men who recognize that humility is not weak, but a symbol of a life surrendered to the only example of a perfect Father we are given. Men who can surrender their pride to the One who can teach them to walk with integrity and honor.

Thank you to the Fathers who do this…you are changing the world, starting with your own homes.

If this type of Father was not modeled for you…you are not alone. He probably didn’t have that modeled for him either. We are all flawed and fall short of the responsibilities given to us. Forgive. I know, it’s easier said than done. Forgiving others and living forgiven draws you closer to the perfect Father’s heart.

Fathers…it’s never too late. There is a child who needs the surrendered heart of a Father. He can take a flawed man and do amazing things within your family.

One of Adam’s sons birthed a man who saved a nation on an ark. Abraham’s grandson became the nation of Israel. David brought us words of lament that showed us how to rejoice, cry, pray, and worship. Solomon built a nation who worshiped the most perfect Father.

And guess what moms, this goes for us too.

They Didn’t Know

Today is Good Friday. 

2000 years ago, Jesus, the son of God, was beaten and nailed to a cross, a punishment reserved for the most dangerous criminals. When he entered Jerusalem on Sunday, there was a great celebration. The people who had seen him raise a man from the dead a few days ago were celebrating the coming of a warrior to save them from the oppression of Rome.

They didn’t know. 

They didn’t know what he had been trying to teach them for three years. They knew what they wanted. They wanted someone to save them from the external oppression of a tyrannical government. They didn’t know that the oppression they needed deliverance from was from themselves. The oppression of sin, the oppression of an enemy greater than they could imagine.

They didn’t know. 

What they knew was what they could see. Taxes were taken from their hands and mouths. They did everything they could to put food on their tables as they watched their oppressors strip them bare. Surely this man who claimed to be the son of God and performed miracles they had never seen would be the man to save them, the chosen people, from their horrific fate. 

They didn’t know. 

Jesus tried to tell them. He tried to help them believe. But their hearts weren’t open, and neither were their eyes. What they saw was external. They didn’t know they had to look within to see what they needed to be saved from. That’s why his life was so dispensable. He allowed himself to be arrested. Surely he isn’t the warrior we thought he would be. Surely he can’t save us now. 

They didn’t know. 

Do you know? Do you know that Jesus came to save you from yourself? He came to free you from the chains of your sin. 

Do I know? Do I fully grasp all that he has saved me from? Am I so focused on my external problems and the conditions of this world that I’m missing the whole point of why Jesus came? 

He came so that no matter what is going on around me in the crazy chaos of this world, I can still live with peace and joy. I can not allow what is going on around me to infiltrate my soul. 

You can walk into a room that is completely filled with darkness and smile and shine because Jesus came to save you from yourself. 

That’s what holy week is. Where we rediscover the holiness of a God who sent his Son to save us from ourselves. We don’t deserve it. Not one of us. None of us deserve freedom, grace, and mercy. But it’s ours anyway. To take as much as we want to the point of abundance. 

Do you know? 

Are you living with just a little bit of joy and peace to get you through the day, or are you living in an abundance of his everlasting peace and eternal joy?

Easter is more than bunnies, eggs, and candy. Through the sacrifice of one man, you can know more peace and joy than you’ve ever experienced, through the sacrifice of one man.

“Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,

to crush him with pain.

The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin

so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.

And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.”

Isaiah 53:10 MSG

Beautifully Worn

Our family recently moved. Moving is exhausting, yet the promise of a fresh start is a great motivator. Every bit of the process is a pain, and I would much rather stay where I am without having to sift through the accumulated junk in my life.

Now that I am in my new home, I am still sifting through the junk. Stuff was thrown into boxes because I didn’t want to take the time to sort it all out. I find myself in desperate need to sift through the emotional junk too. There are years of feelings stuffed down because reaching in and sorting through it all is not an enjoyable place to be. I don’t want to deal with it.

Our last home was much newer than this one. Don’t get me wrong there are pros and cons to living in a newer space as with an older home. Everything was updated, with pristine hardwood flooring, cabinets, and fixtures. But a newer home is often built at such a rapid pace that many aspects were overlooked. Windows from floor to ceiling leaked causing peeling paint and mold. Load-bearing floor joists were cut away to make room for pipes. I prayed the floor wouldn’t give way beneath me.

This older home has plenty of work to be done as well, but there is a sturdiness to the structure and the character of a well-loved, lived-in space. There are hardwood floors here too, yet where they lack shine and a smooth surface, there is a rustic look about them. Well worn, not with intention, but with time. The stain is worn in places. Deep grooves are etched into the surface. When I look at them, I feel a sense of belonging. More than any other home we have lived in.

Being worn is beautiful. When the passing of time wears away pieces of you that once were and etches grooves into your soul, you gain wisdom, new perspectives, and learn to be content with the moments of joy God offers. When I watch my children build a fort in their new backyard with fallen branches, excitedly exploring walking paths, and discovering nature around them at the end of the most grueling week, I need no more joy than this.

I may be weary, but I am carried by a God who will set me on my feet again when he knows I am ready. I know I am worn, but He sees the etches into my soul and fills in those crevices with His love so that the depths of my wounds begin to heal.

Friend, those well-worn pieces of your life tell a story. If you look hard enough, they will reflect more than trials and struggles. You can see how you too were carried and loved. You will see how beautifully worn you truly are.

Afraid to Feel

It has been a bit quiet around here. My writing goes through seasons where I have an abundance of words flowing from my fingertips and times where my words have no form as they swirl around the crevices of my heart and mind.

I am told that my writing is like reading my diary. It wasn’t meant to be a compliment. It was a message that implied that I share too much of my thoughts and feelings.

The way I see it, that is the problem with our world. We keep our feelings crammed inside of ourselves. When we are stopped up, we tend to blow up and have no healthy space to show empathy toward anyone else. We don’t know how to effectively handle them so we keep them close.

We are afraid to feel. Our world has this mentality that too much emotion is a bad thing. I am told I am too sensitive. I feel too much. Ironically, I used to have over-active tear ducts and had to have them plugged. Why are we emotionally plugging our tear ducts? Why are we so afraid to feel and show others that we are not robots who move from day to day, maniacally, as if feelings are hot lava underneath our feet? Heaven forbid we stand too long in our feelings and scorch our skin.

While my thoughts and feelings may not be your truth, they are mine. When I share with you, it opens a door for you to share with me. It sends a message that you are not alone.

We were placed on this earth to be in relationships, life-giving relationships. I have people in my life who know what I am feeling in my silence as well as my words. I have deep-rooted relationships with those who fully see me, flaws and all, and love me anyway. These friendships are the result of me being open and honest with those around me.

Some can handle it, others turn away.

I am okay with that. I have lost people dear to me who don’t have the capacity in their lives for what I offer. I do not judge them for that. They have to do what is best for their life in their season.

But I am still going to be me, sensitive and empathetic. I am ready to walk with you in your pain and grief, joy and peace. I am unafraid to sit with you in a pool of feelings that we may not be able to process at the moment.

The words on this page are a part of my healing and processing the abundance of emotions I feel daily. If this is too much for you, feel free to walk away. There may be a time where you need to return, to have someone sit with you and feel what you feel in your silence.

Come on back.

I will be here.

30 Days in Genesis

Today is the release of my two newest Bible studies:

“30 Days in Genesis, Part 1: A Journey from Creation to Covenant”

“30 Days in Genesis, Part 2: A Journey from Patriarchs to Providence”

For the past six months I have researched and studied the lives of the patriarchs of our faith. I have learned an abundance about covenants, birthrights, and blessings. My eyes have been opened to the culture of middle eastern people of that time and how God’s covenant impacted those traditions. My time spent reading about the lives the families who would form the nation of Israel made me grateful to see that in all of the mess, chaos, poor decisions, and sin, God still reigns. His will is fulfilled. His covenant people prevail.

Studying and writing a study on Genesis brought me hope. Hope just happens to be my word for 2021.

As New Testament believers, why is the history of the Old Testament important? Because, since the Creation of the World and the entrance of sin, God has prepared a way for every single human to be a part of his chosen people. My faith in God and belief that Jesus died for my sins just like he died for every other nation, tribe, and tongue means that I am adopted into the family of God’s chosen people. Since I was a part of this plan, and so were you, I want to study the Old Testament, because it was written with you and me in mind.

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” Ephesians 1:4-5

Today is Launch Day which means all e-mail subscribers will be entered into a drawing for a free Genesis study. Anyone who comments on or shares a Facebook or Instagram post will also be entered into a drawing for a gift card.

I can’t wait to share this day with you. Thank you for your continued love and support! You can purchase the studies in the links at the top of this post as well as in the shop on this site. When you get your book, share a pic and tag me in it. I can’t wait to hear about your journey in Genesis.

Our Mental Health Journey: Q&A with my 16 year-old daughter

To finish out Mental Health Awareness month, my daughter has bravely agreed to allow me to interview her. She is currently a few months shy of seventeen years old. She started experiencing severe anxiety at age twelve. We hope that her story informs and encourages anyone experiencing mental health challenges. She wants to share an honest and real perspective of her mental health journey.

1- When did you first start to feel overwhelming anxiety?

I’ve always felt some level of anxiety. It became more evident when we moved to Louisiana in 2016. I was about to start seventh grade. It was such a huge change, leaving my home in Virginia and all of my friends. I felt like I was mentally suffocating.

The first anxiety attack I remember was when I was sick for a week. I was well enough to return to school but refused to take my antibiotics. Mom took me to the school nurse with my meds and she had to help me take them. I was crying so much I didn’t want mom to leave me at school even though I liked my teachers and classes.

2- What was it like going to the psychologist/therapist for the first time?

I don’t remember feeling anything significant. I was ready to get help for whatever was going on. The therapist and I weren’t a good fit so it made it difficult to go.

Now it is much easier. I like my therapist and look forward to sharing what’s been going on. She helps me process my emotions.

3- What makes your current therapist a good fit for you?

She has a gentle and non-judgmental demeanor that helps me to open up and talk. She asks a lot of questions, then lets me talk. My past therapists were constantly talking and I would just zone out. She listens to me and I don’t feel judged for my feelings and problems.

4- How were you officially diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety?

My first therapist labeled me with anxiety and OCD. Other therapists ruled that out. Finally, I went to get tested by a clinical psychologist to eliminate and clarify the diagnosis. I filled out a long questionnaire. So did my mom. The psychologist had me describe pictures and inkblots. He asked me a lot of questions. It was exhausting and mentally straining, but worth an official diagnosis so we knew what we were dealing with.

5- How did you know you needed to go to a psychiatrist?

We knew I needed medicine to calm my brain down to learn to cope with the anxiety. I was dealing with the physical pain of fibromyalgia, so we decided to tackle helping my body in any way we could. While a psychologist focuses on various therapies to give me tools to work through my anxious episodes and depression, the psychiatrist knows which medicines to prescribe and the science behind how the brain works with those meds. Our first psychiatrist was kind and sincere. She addressed my sleep issues that triggered anxiety and depression. At first, we tried techniques without meds like melatonin and sleep routines. Medicine wasn’t her first tactic. Eventually, we knew medicine was what I needed. I liked her a lot but still struggled with anxiety episodes and skin picking. After a while, she acknowledged that going to a psychiatrist at the children’s hospital may be more beneficial because they had more experience with teen anxiety.

Once we moved to a different psychiatrist, we changed my meds a bit and that has been helpful. They also got me connected with a new therapist who has been the best fit for me.

6- What does an anxiety attack feel like?

Everyone is different in how they experience anxiety attacks. For me, at first, everything is overwhelming. Sounds are louder. My skin is physically more sensitive. Emotionally, everything feels like it’s building up. Breathing gets harder. My chest feels tight.

I self harm like picking my skin, nails, and face. I pull my hair and eyebrows. I hit myself from time to time.

7- What helps you cope in a positive way to get through the attack?

Again, it’s different for every person. Headspace, meditation, and deep breathing do not help me.

I used to do grounding techniques like “Name 5 things that you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you Can smell, 1 thing you can taste.”

Currently, having my mom nearby helps the most. My anxiety is the worst at night and she will sit in my room, not talking, just nearby until I feel calm again. Listening to different types of music is also helpful.

8- What does depression feel like?

Again everyone is different. You may be surrounded by people but you feel lonely. I have experienced constant intrusive thoughts: voices in my head telling me to do harmful things, putting disturbing and graphic images in my head out of nowhere. Questioning “what’s the point of life?” There is nothing I want to do, no motivation. I can’t enjoy anything and tend to have bad hygiene.

People with depression can be all smiles and appear happy. I may look depressed with my mom because she is safe for me to be depressed around. With other people, I would force a smile and a happier attitude.

When I was deep in my depression, the song “Migraine” and “Car Radio” by Twenty-one Pilots describe all of my feelings perfectly.

9- What are things you dislike when people say about anxiety and depression?

“What do you have to be sad/anxious about?”

“Why are you lonely, you have plenty of friends/people around you?”

“Anxiety and depression are made up.”

“You’re being lazy.”

“Why don’t you try harder?”

“Have you tried yoga? Meditating? Supplements? Vitamins? Exercising?”

“Stop being sad/depressed! Be happy!”

“Go outside more.”

Also, on social media, people use words like: “wrist reveal” “thigh reveal”. These are used to imply that if you are depressed then show how you are cutting yourself. The words are for trolling on social media or trying to be funny.

10- What are helpful responses for those who struggle with anxiety and depression?

Check on your depressed friend. Not intruding but express that you want to be there for them/hang out with them.

Say: “Is there anything I can do to help you feel better? Do you need to leave? Sit down? What do you need at this moment?”

Be open, let them know you are safe and can be trusted.

Be flexible with your plans. You don’t always have to cater to their needs, but be compassionate and flexible if plans need to change.

Don’t point out self-harm scars, pulled hair spots, etc. This is private and embarrassing.

Don’t react negatively. Trust is built when you can be relaxed about the situation.

Help distract them: music, a movie, crafts, memories, self-care, etc.

Sit with them and listen. My

11- Do you have any advice for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression?

Depression and anxiety are not who you are. You are separate from that. You experience depression and anxiety, but it is not you.

Intrusive thoughts are not who you are either. Don’t let anyone sugarcoat them. They are real and scary, but they are not who you are.

You can find freedom from your mental health struggles. It takes time, the right counseling, and sometimes medication is necessary. It does not mean you lack faith. If you need help, reach out to someone who can help you.

While none of my daughter’s comments specifically discussed her faith, her healing reflects her faith. We are plugged into our local church. She hears God’s truth prayed over her regularly. She knows she is loved by her Creator. This lifestyle we have maintained since birth has given her a healthy foundation and sense of identity. I didn’t preach to her or make her feel less than because she didn’t trust God, read the Bible, or pray enough. She stopped attending church because the people and noise were too much for her. I didn’t get upset with her or make her feel guilty. Eventually, as her anxiety calmed a bit, she began attending youth group again. She has found a way to serve to help her focus her anxious energy.

Parents, don’t stop praying. Don’t stop speaking God’s truth over your child so they will never doubt who they are in Christ. Take care of yourself as you take care of your child. If you need therapy to help you process your child’s journey, do that. If you need a self-care day, do that. Listen to your needs as a parent.

Parents, don’t stop fighting for your child’s physical and mental health. Trust your gut. If you are not at peace with a diagnosis, keep searching and finding doctors to be on your team and help you. For a while, our first psychiatrist was the only doctor that listened and tried to help us find solutions. Keep trying. Keep checking off boxes. Get second opinions, don’t settle. Even if doctors look at you like you don’t know what you are talking about. You know your child better than anyone. Move on and find a doctor who hears you and wants to help you find answers.

I hope this series has been helpful. I can not tell you how proud I am of my daughter for allowing me to share her story. While we kept many private details to ourselves, sharing the journey with you has made us more thankful as we see how far God has brought us. We hope our story brings light and hope to your struggles.

Previous mental health posts:

Mental Health Myths

The Beginning

Where We Are Now

Our Mental Health Journey: Where we are now

Currently, my daughter’s treatment consists of a pediatric psychiatrist through our local hospital and regular visits with a psychologist. She is on medicine to help calm her brain while she learns the tools to cope with her anxiety. Without the medicine, she would be trying to learn tools with a brain on fire. When her brain is on fire, her body is on fire. Eventually, our goal is for her to be able to cope without her meds, but for now, she needs them and I have to be okay with that.

Traditional school is not an option for my daughter, currently. Our schooling involves life skills and diving into her interests. We have had to let go of formal education restraints and do what best meets her needs. Her mental and physical health are our top priorities. Eliminating the stress of completing a curriculum, homework, and tests have been a huge asset to her healing.

Her siblings have handled the challenges well. We have lots of conversations about what their sister is feeling and what her needs are. There are times when my daughter has to handle the chaos of three siblings the best she can, as long as no one is being unreasonably loud and out of control. “Tiptoeing around” is not a way for anyone to live. We all deserve to feel comfortable in our home. I try to help my younger kids have consideration for my daughter’s feelings, but also allow them some freedom to be within their age and maturity. For example, my daughter’s bedroom is in the basement. She shares the area with our video game system. From time to time, the others want to play a video game. I communicate with her and give her a heads up that they will be coming downstairs in thirty minutes. That way, she doesn’t feel like her siblings are bursting into her space whenever they want.

I hope this gives you some insight into our journey and helps you with any mental health challenges you may be experiencing or with a loved one. Overall, the one thing that has made the difference is simply believing my child, especially when I don’t fully understand what she feels. She questions herself and her mental state constantly. She needs the security of a parent and advocate who believes her 100%. Are there times where I have to push her and make her move out of her level of comfort? Absolutely, but I have also learned when to pull back and know when she has reached her threshold.

We take life day by day, thankful for each milestone. While the details of her future remain uncertain, God has been with us every step of her journey. God promises that He knows the plans he has for her. Plans to prosper her and not harm her. Plans to give her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I must trust that God knows what he is doing on the dark days and the bright days. In the meantime, she is learning perseverance and growing in her faith. God is growing her character to handle whatever life throws at her in her future.

Next week, I will share some words from my daughter about her journey. Let me know if you have any questions for her.

This is the third in a series of posts for Mental Health Awareness Month. To check out the previous posts, see below:

Mental Health Myths

Our Mental Health Journey: The Beginning

New Bible Study Coming June 2021

Hello Blog friends!

I am so excited to show you the cover of my new study. Newsletter recipients got a sneak peek on May 1.

Truthfully, there are actually two new 30-day studies to be released in June. Last year after releasing Acts, God was nudging me toward writing the next study on the book of Genesis. Since Genesis is 50 chapters, I knew there was no way to study the entire book thoroughly in 30 days. That is why I have written Genesis Part One and Part Two!

“30 Days in Genesis, Part One, A Journey: from Creation to Covenant” begins with Creation and ends in Genesis 28 before Jacob travels to meet Rachel.

“30 Days in Genesis, Part Two, A Journey: from Patriarchs to Providence” begins with Jacob, Leah, and Rachel and ending with Joseph and his family in Egypt.

I hope you will consider one or both studies for your summer Bible study. They would make a great addition to your church’s small groups, Sunday School, or Bible studies. As always, the studies are gender-neutral meaning they are not written specifically for women. I will be selling them from my website if you are interested in a bulk discount. They will also be available on Amazon.

My first two studies are appropriate for teens and adults however, Genesis has some sensitive topics (i.e. Dinah in Genesis 34-35 and Tamar in Genesis 38), so you may want to be aware of those stories before studying with your teen.

Look for more information coming out soon! I can’t wait to study Genesis with you.

For the Moms

It is an honor to be featured on the Marked Life Blog today. Head over and check it out! Follow my friend Hannah.

https://markedlifeblog.com/2021/05/14/for-the-moms-bold-brave-with-leah-lively/

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