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shutterstock_168379493Merry Christmas, my fellow December warriors!

Yes, we are indeed warriors because the holiday season is not for the faint of heart—it takes a brave warrior to drag out the dust-filled boxes from storage and thoroughly transform our homes into a Christmas wonderland all the while trying desperately not to get cranky when the brand new pre-lit Christmas tree lights don’t work (yes, this just happened. We spent hours of agony searching for the fuse. Fun times!), to survive the overcrowded malls and grocery stores, to navigate through the endless extra traffic with people angrily honking their horns, to seemlessly manage all the gift-purchasing and the stunning pinterest-worthy gift wrapping (my 8 year-old daughter can wrap better than me so unfortunately it’s gift bags for me), and to attend the countless Christmas gatherings with a platter of home-made holiday treats prepared in the wee hours of the morning.

On and on it goes and regardless of all my good intentions, I can so easily get sucked into the chaos of the season and loose my perspective. But somewhere in the middle of it all, these soft familiar strains quietly stir and beckon my heart:

All is Calm…All is Bright

Joy to the World

Oh, Come all ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Joy…Peace…and Love. Three beautiful words that eloquently sum up the spirit of Christmas, yet three beautiful words that I can wander so far from during this time of year. Oh, the irony of celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, but running and racing so hard that I miss the Joy, the Peace, and the Love of this holy season.

In thinking about this over the last few days, perhaps what has spoken to my heart the most is that when I choose to run ragged and spread myself too thin not only do I miss experiencing the JOY of the season but I also miss experiencing the OPPORTUNITY of the season—the opportunity to be a LIGHT and a source of HOPE to those around me.

If ever our world needed PEACE, JOY, HOPE and LOVE, it is now. Tension is at a fever pitch in our country. We can hardly turn on the news without scenes of bloodshed and terror gripping our hearts. We scroll through social media and see the hatred, divisiveness, and anger so viciously plaguing our land. Fear permeates our lives as we wonder what will happen next in our world.

And in the midst of the brokenness, we long for Emmanuel—God With Us, for He is the only One who can bring HOPE to our hurting world and PEACE to our weary souls.

Last night when the presidential debate ended and I made my way to bed, I couldn’t help but continue to think about the current state of our country and even our world with a heavy heart. All of a sudden, my errands didn’t seem so pressing and my Christmas cards and letter didn’t seem so urgent. What really resonated in my heart is how desperately this world needs Jesus and how vital it is for me to do my part to share His Love, His Joy, and His Peace to those around me.

After a restless night, I woke up this morning with a fresh perspective and a new outlook for the next eight days before Christmas. Instead of frantically preparing FOR Christmas, I will spend each day living the message OF Christmas in the following ways:

  1. Show LOVE. Recently, I purchased a Christmas book for my daughter called The Sparkle Box. The book is all about a family that looked for opportunities to help those in need around them. As they did each act of kindness, they would write it down on a little piece of paper and put it in a sparkle box under the tree. Then, on Christmas morning they would open up the box and read through the pieces of paper and offer it as a Christmas gift to Jesus. The book came with a sparkle box to be used during the Christmas season, and I have to say that seeing that sparkle box under our tree is a great message and reminder to not just see the needs of others but to DO something tangible to show God’s love to those around us.
  2. Spread JOY. With such unrest and negativity in the world right now, I am determined to be a source of joy. Instead of standing in the post office line with frustration written all over my face, I will strive to use it as an opportunity to converse with those around me. Rather than grumbling or complaining on social media, I will spread some joy by sharing what God is teaching me and posting fun stories and pictures of my family. And instead of fretting over all that must be done, I will put the cleaning aside and invite friends and family over to spend quality time together. The bottom line is if I want joy in the world, I must choose to spread it.
  3. Savor PEACE. What good are Christmas lights if we never stop to look? What good are the carols if we never take time to listen? What good is time with family if we are not fully present? What good is the manger if we never kneel and worship? Peace is found when we slow down and quiet our hearts to fully receive the wonder, the splendor, and the life-changing message of Christmas found in Isaiah 9:6:

For unto us a Child is born,

unto us a Son is given; 

And the government shall be upon His shoulder,

And His name shall be called

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father

the Prince of Peace.

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Since I know I am among friends, I will tell you a little secret about me that you may or may not know—I am a hopeless romantic. There’s something about a beautiful love story, a song, a tribute, and, oh my goodness, a wedding that brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart.

That is why you can only imagine how EXCITED I am about my husband’s niece’s wedding that is coming up in a few weeks. Just seeing the excitement in this young couple’s eyes and hearing all about the sweet details of their upcoming celebration (a Christmas wedding, I might add) has me eagerly counting down the days with them.

Just this past weekend, the wedding festivities were launched with the most beautiful and God-glorifying bridal shower that I think I have ever attended. And on a side note, the amazingly delicious yet exquisite cake pops were out of this world. (Let’s just be honest here, the cake is right up there at the top of the list of my favorite things at showers and weddings.)

I was so humbled and honored to share a devotional at her bridal shower. While I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on love and marriage, I will say that my husband and I will soon celebrate 20 years of marriage together and probably the biggest thing I have learned along the way is that marriage is a journey—a journey on which I am STILL learning and growing on.

In preparing for the bridal shower, I so wanted to offer insight, encouragement, and principles from God’s Word that would not only encourage our niece but would also relate to the 20 or more volleyball girls that she coaches who would also be in attendance. So, as I prayed and prepared, here is what God led me to share:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind, love does not envy; love does not parade itself; is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own,  is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never fails.                          I Corinthians 13:1-9

From this passage, we can see that love is more important than our words, our gifts, our good deeds, and all our actions. Therefore, if we don’t have love, nothing matters.

So if love is without a doubt the most important thing, what does it look like in our relationships? What choices can we make to love well? How can we implement love each day?

Let me be the first to say that I don’t have this completely figured out and I don’t always get it right, but here are 5 practical principles of loving well that I strive to apply in all of my relationships:

  1. Don’t let EXPECTATIONS crowd out the space needed to allow each other to grow and to develop into who God wants you both to be. We all go into relationships especially marriage with expectations. I remember doing so as a new bride, but if we are not careful we can become obsessed with who WE think they should be rather than allowing God to mold and shape them into who HE wants them to be. Philippians 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” It’s always better when we can step back and allow God to do His work rather than us trying to always control and change those around us.
  2. Be a GRACE-GIVER. Marriage can be summed up as two imperfect people coming together as one. It’s important to remember that no one is perfect. We are all flawed and just as God has forgiven us we need to do the same with each other…especially to those we love. Ephesians 4:32 “Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
  3. Choose to RESPOND rather than to REACT. When we react, we just say whatever comes to mind, we spew, we let the chips fall where they may. Responding, however, is when we take the time to think before we speak. The Bible says in James 1:19,20, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Three questions that really help me put things into perspective when I will implement them are: Is this really the end of the world? Will it matter a year from now? Can I let it go? Chances are we can usually let it go or at least step back and think so we can handle it in a more loving and grace-giving way. But perhaps the greatest thing that helps me choose to respond rather than to react is remembering that WORDS ARE FOREVER. We can always apologize, but we can never erase the memory of what we have said.
  4. Don’t hold on to FRUSTRATION and ANGER. Always choose to work it out. Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” I can remember times when I was first married when I would be laying there at night stewing while he was snoring. It wouldn’t take very long before my husband would get a tap on his shoulder because I absolutely couldn’t sleep until we worked it out. And even though it probably wasn’t his favorite thing to be woken up, not letting a day go by without working things out is so important. Life is too short to hold on to anger and bitterness. I can’t help but think of that young pastor in Indianapolis whose wife was killed in her home last week by an intruder. I’m sure when the husband left for the gym that morning he never dreamed it would be the last time he would see his wife alive to talk with, to hold, to share his life with… None of us do, but no one is promised tomorrow that is why when we have conflict we need to do everything in our power to make things right as soon as possible between us and those we love.
  5. Choose LOVE each day. It’s not a feeling, a movie, or a love song— it’s a COMMITMENT. An every day CHOICE to do exactly what I Corinthians 13 says: to bear all things, to believe all things, to hope all things and to never let love fail.

Back when we were first married, I wrote a song for my husband. A song that really ties in with choosing love. A song straight from my heart.  And I think I will dust the 20 years of cobwebs off of it and leave it with you today.

Love’s Not a Song

When I said “I Do” I promised you that I would always be there. And since that day we’ve found a way to show how much we care. We’re at the start of a journey that’s going to last throughout our years. I’ll be with you in the laughter and I’ll be with you in the tears.

Love’s not a song but a choice that we make. Love’s not just a feeling but a vow that we take. It’s a promise to be true to the one God’s given you. Love’s not a song but a commitment all life long.

So we can’t give up when times get tough. We got to keep holding on. To win the fight, we have to do what’s right even when we don’t feel strong. Life’s not always easy. Problems come from day to day. We must choose right now to stand our ground. And let nothing stand in our way.

Love’s not a song but a choice that we make. Love’s not just a feeling but a vow that we take. It’s a promise to be true to the one God’s given you. Love’s not a song but a commitment all life long. It’s a promise to be true to the one God’s given you. Love’s not a song but a commitment all life long.

 

 

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It’s been a few days since the weekend but the faces of the girls and some of their stories and questions will be permanently attached to my heart. Over these last few days, I have found myself thinking back and still processing the moments I had with them.

One girl had tears streaming down her cheeks as she told me that her dad had recently died very unexpectedly and not only that but just last week her mother had been admitted to the hospital. My heart instantly broke for this precious girl as I wrapped my arms around her and just held her for a moment. I could only imagine the sadness, the worry, and the fear that must be enveloping her heart. We talked and prayed together and then went our separate ways, but I have found myself thinking of her and asking God to give her the peace, comfort, and strength that only He can give.

Another girl shared that she had just lost her grandmother who was like a mom to her. Yet another young heart hurting and so in need of a touch from God.

Then, there were two girls that came up to me and had questions. Brave questions. Questions like— what do I do when my friends want me to do something that I am not comfortable doing? How do I say no? How do I draw the line? These were all things that God had led me to speak on in our session, and it was exciting to see that they had truly listened and wanted to know more.

All throughout the evening beautiful teenage girls were asking questions and sharing stories. And as I looked into their eyes and listened to their hearts, it was like time stood still because nothing mattered more than what they were sharing and everything within me wanted to encourage their hearts and cheer them on.

One thing that really became clear to me was that young people are searching and hungry for answers and we as adults can help them. We don’t have to be the coolest, trendiest thing out there to connect and make a difference with teens today. In fact, at 43, I’m probably considered “over-the-hill” by many of them. But when we share from our hearts and boldly use God’s Word to show His principles, young people will listen.

As I thought about my time with them, I came to these conclusions :

  1. Young people need to know we truly care. I believe the way to hear their stories is to share our own. When they know that our lives haven’t been perfect and we know what it is like to go through hard times then they will feel comfortable opening up their hearts and sharing their pain which allows us the opportunity to point them to Jesus.
  2. Young people want to know the truth. I think sometimes as adults we can dance around the truth and even become real vague on the issues facing kids today. Perhaps we do that out of fear of turning them away. Perhaps we do that because we have allowed ourselves to be passive and vague in our own lives. But what I experienced with the girls last weekend is that young people are drawn to courage and will respect us when we speak the truth in a loving way.
  3. Young people will take a stand if we will lead the way. A few of the girls asked questions about movies, music, dating standards, alcohol and the pressures in general that they face on a daily basis. They knew my convictions on these things because I expressed them very clearly and candidly throughout the session but what was exciting was that their willingness to ask more questions truly showed their desire to live for Jesus. I again explained to them that when we know Jesus He lives within us, so He hears everything we say and He is with us in EVERYTHING we do. This truth alone can really help us as Believers in knowing where to draw the line. For example, if I am in a movie and I would be embarrassed if Jesus were sitting beside me, then I should probably not be watching that movie and should walk out. Because the truth is—when I have a relationship with Jesus HE IS ALWAYS WITH ME! So, when we start applying that principle to all of these different areas, the gray areas slip away and the answers become very clear.
  4. Young people can make a difference now. If we are honest, every single one of us wants to matter, and kids especially feel this way. Helping them develop their relationship with God and helping them understand that God has a very special plan for them now can be the very thing that plugs them into the dreams and purposes for which they were created. When they realize that they have opportunities to make a difference in the lives of their friends and other kids at school and when they choose to seize their opportunities to make an impact, they will begin to see God using them in ways they never dreamed possible. They will also begin to experience the confidence and fulfillment that comes with walking in the center of God’s plan for our lives.

As for me, perhaps the biggest take away from the weekend was that there is no point challenging these kids to live for Jesus in every area of their lives if I am not willing to do the same. I must choose EVERY day to surrender EVERY area to Him.

I shared with a few of the girls how years ago when traveling home from concerts, I would occasionally stumble across a People magazine that someone had left behind on the airplane. As I would pick the magazine up and read it to help pass the time on the flight, it didn’t take long for God to convict me because I knew reading about all the Hollywood stars that were divorcing, having affairs, and getting drunk at parties couldn’t possibly go along with Scripture, for it certainly didn’t align with Philippians 4:8:

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Now let me just say that I assured the girls that reading a People magazine is not the worst thing ever, but here’s what God taught me—if I’m not willing to take a stand with the small things, how will I ever stand for the big things that really do matter? How will I say no when I am pressured to do wrong? How will I courageously turn away from the temptations that surround me?

Ultimately, it comes down to choices every day. It’s really that simple. And my heart rejoices that there was a gymnasium full of girls this past weekend with open hearts that said “Yes, I will CHOOSE JESUS each day!”

And with these girl’s commitment fresh in my heart and mind, I ask you and I ask myself the same question:

Will You Choose Jesus Today?

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This weekend I will be traveling to West Virginia to speak at an event for teenage girls. I have to say that I can hardly wait. There’s something about being in a room full of teenage girls with their laughter, boundless energy, and endless potential that excites me.  What a fun opportunity and what an awesome responsibility that I do not take lightly.

You see, somewhere in that group there may be a girl that needs to know that she is special and that God loves her and believes in her no matter what has happened in her life. Perhaps another girl needs to be reassured that despite the people who may have disappointed and abandoned her, God will always be there. And then there just might be a girl who needs a little encouragement to spread her wings and boldly live out the amazing dreams God has for her.

I don’t know all the details. I don’t even know their names, but God does. And as I sit here praying for each of them, I believe God is preparing their hearts and mine for a divine appointment with destiny. For even before time began, God knew I would have an hour with these precious girls—an hour that I will never have again with them to share my story and my heart.

Over the last few days, I have asked myself where do I even begin in addressing the key truths that these girls with diverse backgrounds and completely different stories so desperately need? And the thing that I keep coming back to is this: if I had one shot at imparting truth into my own daughter’s heart, what would I share? What would I want her to cling to through the triumphs and heartaches she will face on her journey? What would I want her to know that matters most in life?

Once I began pondering this, these 10 principles began to overflow from my heart:

  1. Live for Jesus now. Don’t wait until you’re older (I Timothy 4:12). The Bible says our lives are a vapor and no one is promised tomorrow, so make today count. You can make a difference in the lives of those around you. If you will shine for Jesus and love people, you can make a HUGE impact. James 4:14
  2. Don’t try to imitate others. Be the BEST version of YOU. A dear friend and I were just talking about this recently, and I have to pass it on. God created you so special and unique and no one else can be YOU.  Psalm 139, I Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:4
  3. Don’t look to a guy or a friendship to complete you. Only God can fill that space. Only He can fill the deepest longing of your soul. John 6:35
  4. When you begin to date, only choose guys that have qualities of someone you would marry. Make sure they love Jesus with ALL their heart—not just with their words but with their actions. 2 Corinthians 6:14
  5. When it comes to purity, YOU are the only one responsible for your body and your heart. Guard both of them carefully. I Corinthians 6:19-20, Proverbs 4:23
  6. Find the purpose and dreams God created you for and passionately live them out.  Before the foundation of the earth was made, God chose you and had a special plan for your life. Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 1:4
  7. Keep your eyes on Jesus. People will let you down, but He will ALWAYS be faithful and true.  Hebrews 13:6, Psalm 20:7
  8. Choose to be BRAVE and BOLD. There is nothing attractive about insecurity. We can be confident because it is not about us but about the POWER that is within us when we know Jesus. Ephesians 3:20, Philippians 4:13
  9. Never forget who you are. You were created in the image of God, and you are a DAUGHTER of the KING. Genesis 1:27, I Peter 2:9
  10. Always know that no matter what happens in life, you are NEVER ALONE. God is WITH you, God is FOR you, and He will NEVER LEAVE YOU! Hebrews 13:5b

So in addition to sharing my story this weekend, these are some of the truths that I believe God is speaking into my heart. Would you join me in praying for these girls? Let’s ask God to do exceedingly, abundantly, and above ALL that we could ever ask or think this weekend. Let’s believe Him for lives to be ENCOURAGED, INSPIRED, and CHANGED for God’s glory.

Oh, and by the way, I will do my very best to give you all an update on Facebook right after the event on Saturday night, so we can celebrate together what God has done.

Many blessings to you all, Paula

 

 

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As wonderful and as joyous as life can be, there are also times when heartache and heaviness sets in. This week was one such week.

My heart is hurting for a friend whose closest childhood friend has a little girl fighting for her life with cancer. Our family is praying fervently for our daughter’s former Sunday School teacher who has an 11 year-old daughter now battling a serious illness. Our hearts are heavy for our Pastor and his dear family as they laid his mom to rest yesterday. And we continue to deal with our own sadness as we watch my mom’s decline with the merciless disease of Alzheimer’s.

So many burdens. So many heartaches. So many broken dreams.

But it’s amazing how God will reach down and help us put things into perspective when we need it most.

This past week my daughter was relating to me that everyone in her Sunday School class had made a card for Pastor Jonathan. I couldn’t imagine what an eight year-old would write as words of sympathy, so I asked her about it. She quickly responded that she put a Bible verse in her card and then changed the subject. However, I immediately became even more curious and wondered what verse came to her little heart, so being the nosy mom that I am I continued my questioning. Then in her ever so matter-of-fact way she stated, “Well, obviously I put John 3:16.”

I smiled thinking that she probably used that verse because it was the one that she was most familiar with but something inside of me made me probe further. Upon doing so, she looked at me with a look like “Mom, don’t you get it?” and proceeded to tell me that she chose John 3:16 because she thought it would make Pastor Jonathan feel good to be reminded that his mom had everlasting life now and was doing great.

Wow. I have to admit I have never thought of using John 3:16 during a time of mourning but what an incredible verse it is to encourage our hearts that this life is only temporary and that is why Jesus came so that we could have our sins paid for and spend eternity in Heaven with Him when we die.

Suddenly, the suffocating grip of the concerns on my heart began to ease as I began to focus on this hope of eternal life.

I think it’s so easy to lose sight of eternity when we grovel through the hard times in this life, but that is when we need God’s promises the most. We need to cling to the fact that this is not our home. This is only temporary. Heaven is what is forever.

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I once heard a powerful message by Francis Chan entitled “What Are You Living For?” In it, he used an illustration that I have never forgotten. He took a very large rope and with it outlined the edges of the entire auditorium. He showed the audience the very end of the rope which was spray painted red and explained that the inch of rope that was spray painted represented our life here on this earth while the rest of the rope that lined the auditorium represented all of eternity. He then concluded with the question—what are you living for? The temporal or the eternal? That which fades away or that which lasts forever?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

I’m finding that this is such an important key to working through our pain because when we focus on the here and now it is absolutely devastating, but when we place all our hope in Jesus and know that our eternity is with Him we find the PEACE, COMFORT, and STRENGTH to carry on. Yes, we still hurt and we still face grief, but we do not grieve as those without hope (I Thessalonians 4:14b)—and what a difference hope makes.

I’m so thankful for the hope that Heaven holds. The Bible says in Revelation 21:4-5, 23-27 that in Heaven:

  • There will be no more sickness.
  • There will be no more death.
  • There will be no more crying for He will wipe every tear from our eyes.
  • There will be no more hunger or thirst. (Revelation 7:16)
  • There will be no more evil.
  • There will be no more night.
  • We will be present with the Lord and will worship Him forever.

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. ~2 Corinthians 2:9

What a HOPE, what a PROMISE, what a FUTURE that we can cling to during the difficult moments here on this earth.

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At the funeral service we attended yesterday, there was a song that the family chose that was most eloquently sung and is still echoing in my mind and ministering to my heart. I leave these words of hope with you and pray that it can be an encouragement to you today:

No More Night

The timeless theme, Earth and Heaven will pass away
It’s not a dream, God will make all things new that day
Gone is the curse from which I stumbled and fell
Evil is banished to eternal hell

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See all around, now the nations bow down to sing
The only sound is the praises to Christ, our King
Slowly the names from the book are read
I know the King, so there’s no need to dread

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

See over there, there’s a mansion that’s prepared just for me
Where I will live with my Savior eternally

No more night, no more pain
No more tears, never crying again
And praises to the great, “I AM”
We will live in the light of the risen Lamb

All praises to the great, “I AM”
We’re gonna live in the light of the risen Lamb

by Walter S. Harrah

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