December Challenge: Generosity

hand-2597795_1920I have a confession to make: Christmas isn’t exactly my most favorite time of year.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love seeing glowing strands of colored light spiral streetlamps and draped around bushes. And sipping hot creamy drinks of sweet caffeine or chocolate from poinsettia red cups. Not to mention, listening to holiday music on the radio is a bonafide mood lifter.

But somewhere, in the past 10 years, my connotation of Christmas went from this lovely scene:giphy

to these not so lovely scenes:

giphy (1) giphy-downsized (1)

 

 

 

 

I’m sure my deteriorating holiday high has a lot to do with age. As an adult, the holiday I adored as a child became unfamiliar. I was suddenly mindful of prices and how much gifts cost and whether I should buy gifts for some people and none for others. Giving became disfigured. It had mutated from being euphoric to being exhausting.

But as I write this, I think about how much it cost God to give Jesus to His beloved but fallen world. He didn’t hesitate. He wasn’t too exhausted or overwhelmed to give Himself. And He didn’t give only to those He deemed worthy or meritorious. He gave His life and continues to offer the gift of new life to all. 

I think about that whenever I begin to feel weary this time of year. How the Lord gives so freely, richly, and without measure. And as His daughter, I should as well.

As we go into December and close out 2017, I challenge you to give to someone who can’t give back, an unlikely recipient. Maybe the next stop you get an Uber, thank the driver with a $5 gift card to Starbucks. Or give a thank you card to your waiter when you go out to eat. Call your local schools and ask to pay off overdue lunch accounts for kids.

We are all unlikely recipients of God’s love and grace. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, let’s spread His love and grace generously this month and beyond.

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Jennifer Jen

Hi, there! My name is Jennifer. I’m 33 and live in the D.C. area. I love Jesus, R & B music, and sugar in all its forms :-).

In June 2016, I married my amazing husband, Calvin.

I was completely single and waiting throughout my entire twenties. So I know the prayers, fears, and tears that come with prolonged singleness very well.

I am excited to share my story and encourage single women who are waiting for God’s best!

 

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Strength in Scripture

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In the past 3 months, I have undergone too many life transitions to even list here. Certain situations in life felt hopeless.  I was unsure if they would ever change; there seemed to be no change to the patterns.

In the midst of my uncertainties and mind battles, the Lord is planting certain Scriptures on my heart. These Scriptures are giving me strength to press on. When I felt hopeless and as if those aspects of my life wouldn’t change, Psalm 118:17 sprang into my heart: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.”

I began to recite the verse to myself often, especially when the difficulties reared their head. No matter how difficult life seemed, I will live through it. Even greater, I will live to testify to God’s great works! Someday, I will be able to tell how God’s mighty hand turned my circumstances around.

This is just one example of God’s Word being strength to me. There are other verses that have been given to me during other difficult situations. God’s Word is “alive and active.” (Hebrews 4:12)  The Word is becoming nourishment for my mind and heart in each circumstance of my life.

I am coming to a greater appreciation of Scripture, especially for life’s difficult situations. If we are rooted in Scripture, we can dig deep and find power in God’s Word when trials come.  It is working for our good and can provide whatever we need. But like any superfood, it can’t take effect unless we have taken it into our body!

At all times, we need to make Scripture reading a priority. In the times when life is great and we believe we’re super successful…To God be the glory! Praise and thank Him, and make sure you’re reading His love letters to you. When difficulties inevitably come, you’ll be able to dig deep into those times of reading Scripture. By God’s grace, you will have a store of spiritual “vitamin C” to keep you strong. Your remembrance and continued reading of Scripture will sustain you.

It’s easy to put off reading the Bible, or to only listen to it at church once a week. But it is strength to our lives. It is a big aspect of what roots us in the Lord. We keep our focus on Christ when we are reading the Word, in both good and bad times. When troubles come, we will find great strength in being rooted. The Word teaches us God’s goodness and faithfulness to us. Make learning and loving Scripture a priority. You won’t regret it.

What passage or verse has helped you in a time of difficulty?

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lianna-headshot Lianna

Hello! My name is Lianna. I am 28 years old and live in Cleveland, Ohio.  I am a Master’s student studying to become a counselor.  My favorite things are traveling, learning other languages, singing, and journeying with others. I blog and hope to inspire others at sunflowersojourn.wordpress.com.

Loving Being in the Word

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Psalm 119:105 (NIV) “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”

Let’s admit it – life is tough and full of uncertainties. It’s a natural tendency that we cling to something (or someone) when we face challenging situations or at crossroads.

Personally, reading the Bible has been a life-transforming experience for me.  From it, I gathered gems of wisdom from the writings of the different authors such as King Solomon the author of the book of Ecclesiastes. Lessons on human behavior, culture revolution and leadership from 1 and 2 Kings to the book of Revelation. From matters regarding finances, to relationships, it all can be found in the Bible.

Does that mean that the Bible is the magical quick fix answer to all our problems? The answer is no. In Psalm 119:105, imagine walking on a path in total darkness holding only a lamp. The light emitted from the lamp enables us to see just a few steps ahead, it doesn’t reveal the point of destination. One thing however is to ensure that the light is always near you to give you clarity on the surrounding nearest to you so that you may walk with confidence avoid potential danger. The principles and wisdom found in the Bible grant us ability to comprehend life, have patience in difficult situations and the grit to persevere.

If you are a Christian reading this and wonder how you can start reading the Bible, I’d encourage you to do the following:

  • Start by determining the specific part of the day that you wish to set apart (the time) to do your reading. For example, it could be every morning after breakfast while finishing a cup of coffee (which is my routine) or for some people who prefer reading the Bible before bedtime. The key is discipline and consistency.

 

  • If you are having difficulty to kick start your daily habit of reading the Bible, allow yourself time to get into the routine. You may want to start with the book of Proverbs from the Old Testament, reading it a chapter a day which takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Alternatively, if you want to start with a book from the New Testament; the book of St. John is a great book to read, also begin with a chapter a day.

 

  • Some of you may have started a routine but find some books such as Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers difficult to read – why not try an audio Bible? Not only that you could download the app for free, with the audio Bible you could listen to the scriptures being read to you whenever and wherever – be it while you are getting ready for work, commuting or winding down for the day.

From biology stand point, a plant can’t grow without water and soil or an individual needs proper nourishment to function efficiently.  The Word of God is the nourishment to our understanding of who God is. There is no short cut to that.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35 (NIV)

Do you struggle with being in the Bible routinely?

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timmie-liew Timmie

Hello, my name is Timmie and I’m from Malaysia. I am a lawyer by profession. I am a charismatic, passionate person and enjoy beautiful things in life such as travelling to different cities to appreciate the culture. I love fashion and appreciate ‘coffee time’ with people to talk about life and build meaningful relationships. I’m passionate about the things of God, the Church and authentic leadership. My deepest desire is to embrace all that God has called me to be and be a blessing to whoever that God has placed in my life past, present and future. Our God is a GREAT God, and the best is yet to come !🙂

The Gift of Encouragement

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Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

If you’ve experienced encouragement at the just the right time, you know the truth of the verse from above. A word of encouragement is truly a grace, giving strength to carry on. Sometimes a simple phrase is what will give somebody the courage to keep moving on. This spiritual gift, sometimes also called “exhortation,” is one that we have the opportunity to practice daily, and we may take for granted how powerful it can be.

From the time a child is young, they need encouragement. Words of encouragement are like building blocks for a child’s self-esteem. Even as adults, we still need to hear encouragement. Especially in times of discouragement, it is so important to offer affirmation to those in our lives. Even if someone appears to be doing well on the surface, you never know if they are ready to throw in the towel. A word of encouragement is like a spark that can set a fire blazing again, giving someone the force to carry on. In the book of James, chapter 3, the tongue is said to be a member that can set fires. I venture that, if used as intended, the tongue can set off sparks in a positive way and spread to others as well.

Your words have the power to build up others every day. Affirm your spouse. Talk to your children about the things they are doing well. At work, find ways to compliment your colleagues. It can be easy to take for granted those in our daily lives, but also remember that we are placed in each other’s lives for a reason. Don’t forget to be mindful of the opportunities that arise to encourage others.  I venture that encouragement can take other forms. For example, a friend buying you a cup of coffee when you’re having a tough day can be a source of encouragement. Lending your ear to listen to someone who is undergoing a hardship or simply needs to talk can also encourage them. Offering to pray for someone (and following through) can also be a huge dose of encouragement.

Try to be mindful about the opportunities to encourage others each day. Whether you are married and the parent of many, or a single person enmeshed in your career, opportunities abound. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how you can encourage others. It is often simple words of encouragement that gives someone else the ability to carry on. Exhorting others can also strengthen their faith.  Take the time to build up others. You never know how it will affect them, now and forever.

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lianna-headshot Lianna

Hello! My name is Lianna. I am 28 years old and live in Cleveland, Ohio.  I am a Master’s student studying to become a counselor.  My favorite things are traveling, learning other languages, singing, and journeying with others. I blog and hope to inspire others at sunflowersojourn.wordpress.com.

Gossip Girl

tongue1

Talking had never really been my thing. As a child, whenever a teacher would call on me to speak, my mouth would rapidly coat with the tepid slime of fear. Maybe it was social anxiety or deep over analysis of my own thoughts but I was totally comfortable being silent. At 8 years old, I became a professional at keeping my tongue still.

But while my mouth was inactive, my ears weren’t. I learned the art of eavesdropping and soon discovered gossip. The adults in my family would collect around a crowded dining room table, a bright cozy kitchen, or sizzling barbecue grill to talk. About their spouses. Their children. Friends. Coworkers. Church folk. Other relatives. Celebrities.

When it became aware that I was in earshot, I was quickly shooed out the room. But the rich laughter and vociferous declarations were too full to be contained and always spilled into the other rooms. The conversational crumbs would tumble into my lap, sponge cake-like cubes soaked in innuendo and dusted in opinion. I’d stuff them in my mouth and scarf them down excitedly. Unlike being called upon in school, listening to juicy tidbits about people I knew loosened my tongue. I’d chew happily, surprised at how delicious they tasted and how much I wanted more.

The words of a whisperer (gossip) are like dainty morsels [to be greedily eaten]; They go down into the innermost chambers of the body [to be remembered and mused upon]. –Proverbs 18:8 (AMP)

Gossip is appetizing, there is no doubt about it. But there is equally no doubt about how damaging it is. It wrecks friendships (Proverbs 16:28), destroys trust (Proverbs 20:19), and creates an environment where love is M.I.A. and judgement reigns supreme (Psalm 69).

I wish I could say that that I’ve acquired a more mature palate or an appetite that always craves more graceful conversation. Unfortunately, I can’t yet but I have learned a few ways to keep away from the gossip platter.

  1. Walk away. Simply walk away. When a conversation among friends dives into gossipy terrain, remove yourself. Suddenly become really interested in the view from the window. Or if at a large gathering, get acquainted with people on the other side of the room.
  2. Say something positive. 99% of the time, the subject of a rumor mill is never present to defend or explain themselves. Their absence can give gossipers pretended power to tear down their reputation or even their worth. Saying an encouraging or optimistic word about the person can stop the flow of destructive words. It can remind everyone that gossip affects a real person, not a thing.
  3. Pray. When you feel tempted to gossip, pray. When you are in the midst of a gab session, pray. When someone’s name comes up in conversation, pray for them. And when someone comes to you with a load of gossip about an acquaintance, try saying, “Oh, that’s too bad. How about we pray for her right now?” There’s something about prayer that makes sin no longer as attractive after you’ve talked with God about it.
  4. Don’t talk. Do. Talk is cheap. It is emotionally and physically easy to run our mouths about someone else’s life, misfortunes, choices, and events. But that’s not what we are called to do. 1 John 3:18 says, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” Instead of talking about the person, reach out to them. Inquire genuinely about their life and their situation and offer to do what you can. Then do it.

Like most unhealthy foods, gossip is good to the tongue but injurious to the body. And like all unhealthy habits, God can and will overcome it.

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Jennifer Jen

Hi, there! My name is Jennifer. I’m 32 and live in the D.C. area. I love Jesus, R & B music, and sugar in all its forms :-). In June 2016, I married my amazing husband, Calvin. I was completely single and waiting throughout my entire twenties. So I know the prayers, fears, and tears that come with prolonged singleness very well. I am excited to share my story and encourage single women who are waiting for God’s best!

August Challenge: Taming the Tongue!

tongue

This isn’t my favorite, I’m not gonna lie.

All my life I have struggled with my tongue.  Saying the right thing.  Not saying the wrong thing.  Slipping up and saying the wrong thing anyway.  Half the time purposefully.

In my younger years, I was known for being sarcastic.  Didn’t really care if it was hurtful if I could get some laughs from others.  (Never mind if it was really because I felt insecure myself, putting others down to draw attention away from my own flaws.)

Then I became a Christian.  It was far from an overnight transition, but slowly my words became sweeter.  I would think about the impact on others before I spoke.  I realized that my sarcastic jokes actually hurt my friends and I stopped making them.

This change made a huge difference in my relationships.  In the past, thinking I was oh-so-hilarious, I would make the same sarcastic jokes with guys, and then wonder why they didn’t reciprocate my affections.  Wasn’t I hysterical?  Didn’t they get the joke?  Probably they did.  But they didn’t want to spend time around someone from whom every other word was harsh.

When I met my husband, I knew I needed a different strategy.  He is a sweet guy who, like anyone, appreciates kind words and encouragement, not jokes at his expense.  I try to be his biggest cheerleader and affirm him at every opportunity that I can (full disclosure: he still thinks I’m sarcastic, so I guess I have some ways to go).

Score one for relationships, but oh boy, work is a whole other matter.  I get angry and frustrated.  It rises up within me like a tidal wave and I find myself going from zero to sarcastic in less than 60 seconds.   I am right.  They are wrong.  How can they not see it?  Are they stupid?  Do they just want to make my life difficult?

See, taming the tongue is really an issue with its root in the sin of pride.  It is putting our feelings – our sense of justice or our desire to be seen as “funny,” our belief in our own rightness or our belief that our right to free speech matters more than someone else’s right to not be hurt – ahead of everything else.  We are so wrapped up in our emotions that we can’t see beyond them to someone else’s point of view.

To draw a contrast, Jesus did not get sarcastic.  He got angry, but in His anger, He did not let the sin of pride overwhelm Him.  He did not let emotions get the best of Him, or let his anger become a personal attack on others.  He was controlled and measured in His response, always remembering empathy and caring, even when He was persecuted.

I confess that I am not there.  But I want to be.

End of July Challenge: Making Space

freedom

I quit my job this summer.

It feels crazy to even write that sentence. For years, I felt consumed by my job. I was working in a very high-stress social services position. The sacrifices I made for my job were many: social, time, financial, and (unfortunately) even spiritual. Don’t get me wrong – it was a calling for a certain time. But then the Lord gave me the peace and the wisdom that it was time to let go and hand over the reins to someone else.

By letting go of one thing, I have opened myself to other opportunities.  I’m ready to make space for other aspects of myself that a high-stress, full-time job simply did not leave the time or energy for.

Space is scary. Space means emptiness. Yet that same scary emptiness is bringing me hope. That space can be filled up by my Savior. That space will give me the time to hear the still, small voice. The God I serve can show me new ways to serve with that space. Finally, I can even focus more on my writing! That space and the changes in my life could even allow a special relationship to blossom. Only God knows the great things that could happen, if we would only allow some space in our lives!

Creating space can be difficult. Most of us have a tendency to fill up our time. Like me, we can get so focused on one thing – even one that we see as a calling – that we forget to still give ourselves space to grow in multiple dimensions.

Empty space has a way of forcing us to face ourselves. Empty space brings unknowns. I believe that empty space is necessary as we move onto new steps in our lives and discern what God is asking of us. Space is necessary for growth.

I’m taking the risk and creating space in my life. Yes, it’s scary, but I’m also feeling freedom and new waves of hope in my life. I’m eager to see what God will show me as I create empty space in my life.

Are you ready to see what the Holy Spirit could do in your life, when you allow some empty space?

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lianna-headshot Lianna

Hello! My name is Lianna. I am 28 years old and live in Cleveland, Ohio.  I am a Master’s student studying to become a counselor.  My favorite things are traveling, learning other languages, singing, and journeying with others. I blog and hope to inspire others at sunflowersojourn.wordpress.com.