Our Gifts to God

Christmas offers us a chance to reflect on the birth of Jesus. This is largely the focus of our holiday season—praising and thanking God for the gift of His Son. Even outside of Christmas, a lot of the time we focus on what God gives us. Salvation, grace, blessings, favor, provision, faithfulness…the list goes on. All of these things He is worthy to be praised for!

Today, however, I want to explore a different avenue of giving. Instead of looking at what God gives us, I want to share a list of things we can give God, simply by the way we live our lives.  
 
The Gift of Trust
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

When the angel gave word to Mary that she was to become pregnant with Jesus, he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. … Do not be afraid, you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:28, 30)

She may not have understood God’s timing or why her? But she answered with faith and trust in the Lord: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)

This kind of absolute trust is a precious gift to God. It’s okay if we don’t understand our situation or what God is calling us to do—we simply have to have faith that He will make our paths straight when we trust in Him. “For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)
 
The Gift of Obedience
“If you love Me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15

Once Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he had to make a choice: divorce her quietly, or obey the Lord when an angel told him in a dream, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

He could have said no. Although their engagement was legally binding, hence the need for a divorce if he chose to leave, he wasn’t the child’s father. Everyone would view them as scandalous. Yet here was God, telling him that everything would be okay, and to go ahead with their marriage.

Despite his knee-jerk reaction to divorce Mary, Joseph listened to the Lord when He spoke. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Luke 1:24)

Our obedience is evidence of our faith. As James wrote, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:18) In other words, we act out our faith and trust in the Lord by obeying what He says. We cannot say we trust Him and yet turn the other way when He directs us. Our obedience is honoring to the Lord, and a gift to Him. It’s a simple way to show the Lord we love Him.
 
The Gift of Praise
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Psalm 50:6

On the night of Jesus’ birth, angels announced the good news to a group of shepherds, saying “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. … Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:11, 14)

Immediately the shepherds went in search of Jesus. Their joy overflowed and it says, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen…” (Luke 1:20)

The promised Messiah had arrived; their hope, their Savior, their King. How could they do anything but rejoice? As shepherds, the lowest on the social ladder of that time, they had nothing to offer Jesus but their words of praise and thanks.

In Hosea the Lord says, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) More than anything we can give, God wants our hearts. It is the greatest gift we can give to God—our hearts, as well as our praise. 
 
The Gift of Sacrifice
“Therefore, I urge you, bothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

Wise men traveled from the east in search of Jesus, and “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

Their gift of praise was accompanied by a gift of sacrifice: they gave him their treasure, which was of great value. Sacrifice doesn’t always mean we give our money, however. For example, another form of sacrifice would be choosing to spend extra time in prayer or volunteering at a church event, instead of scrolling Pinterest or pleasure shopping. While there is nothing wrong with those things, this gift of sacrifice is another way to express our love for God, and another way to worship Him.
 
The Gift of Dedication
“Jesus answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27

Jesus held nothing back for us. He lived a servant’s life and He died a criminal’s death, despite being sinless. His resurrection defeated death and opened the way for reconciliation and an eternity with God—a priceless gift. In return, God asks us to surrender to Him as King of our lives, and to love Him. After He gave it all for us, how can we do anything but live our lives for Him?

In the mundane and in the everyday, we have an opportunity to live lives dedicated to the Lord. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
           
 
The Gift of Service
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35

Did you know that God rejoices in doing good to you? The Lord says in Jeremiah, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.” (Jeremiah 32:40-41)

Everyone knows how good it feels to give a gift that is enjoyed and treasured by the recipient. Even God! If we are happy when God gives us good things, imagine how happy He is. Making others happy also has a reverse effect—it makes us happy too. In the same way, when we offer a gift of service to God, we are not only pleasing the Lord but are filled with joy.

Serving the Lord can look different for everyone—leading a Bible study, offering encouragement and prayers, helping a friend in need. Yet the result is the same: our service is a gift to God, and giving this gift will produce joy in our hearts as well.
         
         

Midnight Musings

At some point or another in our lives, I think we’ve all felt the same way as King David of old: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6) The desire to fly away from our problems and simply rest. I know I have! Don’t get me wrong: I love my life, I love where God has me right now, but there are days and months and seasons of life where it’s just hard. And yeah, sometimes I wish I had wings so I could fly away from the chaos and trouble, and return when everything is sunshine and rainbows. Everyone does, at one point or another. (Right?)

If I had to choose one word to sum up this year and what God has been teaching me, it would be focus. What will I choose to focus on?

Years ago I memorized Philippians 4:4-9. It’s a great passage to turn anxious thoughts to the Lord. In summary verse nine says, set your mind on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, excellent, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. What we choose to dwell on has a great impact on our emotional and mental health. I notice the difference in my attitude and my heart if I am thinking about how sucky life is, versus if I am thanking God for His faithfulness and setting my heart on things above, not on earthly things.

Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.

Colossians 3:2

There are many times where I catch myself slipping into a fog of sadness because I’m going “down the rabbit hole” of If Only. If only this were different. If only I could change this. If only I had the wings of a dove, and I could escape. Same as King David, right?

Psalm 55 is a great passage, and you should give it a read. David is crying out to God because he’s in trouble. He knows he can’t fix it on his own, and his thoughts are troubling and distressing; his heart in anguish. (I have definitely felt this way in the last year!) He wants to run, to try and escape.

You know what he does instead?

As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me. … Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:16, 22

He shifts his focus from his turmoil, away from the anxiety wracking his heart and body, and calls to Jesus. And there, in verse 16, it says the Lord saves him.

How encouraged my heart was by this! I don’t need to fly away because my Savior is here, ready to rescue me when I turn my eyes to Him and call upon His name. And then I remind myself of Who my God is: faithful, loving, merciful, counselor, companion, friend, gracious. I call to attention the blessings and works of the Lord: a job I love, a wonderful circle of friends, a beautiful sunset. I trust that the hardships I am experiencing now will grow me as a person and closer to the Lord, and that it will be to His glory. The list goes on.

Over time it gets easier to shift the negative thinking into a positive mindset. An attitude determined to rejoice in the Lord and find joy in the journey. To find that heavenly hope, an expectancy that God will fulfill His promises to me. That His plan for my life is good.

My heart still struggles to understand, but…I think I’m learning that that’s okay. It doesn’t matter if I understand what God is doing in my life. What matters is my focus. Will I dwell on what I don’t understand? Or will I call to the Lord, set my mind on things above, and trust in His love for me?

Anyways, those are my thoughts at this very late–or very early–hour. I hope it encourages you.

xo Emma

O Phone, Wherefore Art Thou?

Losing or misplacing things seems to be a common occurrence in my life. Rings, pens, gloves, phones, scarves, my mother in the produce section of the grocery store…nothing is exempt. In fact, a few of my posts over the years have been about these mishaps, although in most cases I lose things when I’m trying to keep them safe. Figure that one out!

I would say that I am a responsible person and do my best to take care of my possessions. Although I would also say that I tend to be a bit…accident prone. You can be a responsible human being and accident prone at the same time, can’t you? (Please don’t answer that question if your answer is no.)

Well at any rate, I’m sure y’all can guess what this post is about, judging from the title and the first two paragraphs themselves. On Friday I lost something.

I lost my phone.

While my phone is no iPhone 12 Pro, it is nice enough that I worried someone would steal it rather than return it to me. And seeing as how I’d just purchased this phone in August, I really, really, really did not want to buy a new one.

My friend and I had been shopping at the local mall, then gotten food at a fast-casual restaurant. Since I have a propensity to misplace things (and remembering how I’d “lost” my mask that morning, only to find it in my pocket several minutes later), I double checked the table before we left. There was nothing on it but our dishes.

We pulled into the parking lot where we’d left my car hours before and began our goodbyes. I gathered my purse and bag from the mall, then checked my pocket for my phone. Of course it wasn’t there, and we tore apart her car looking for it. I dumped everything out of my purse and turned my pockets inside out.

Bupkis.

My friend called the restaurant we’d just left and asked about it, but they reported that no phones had been found by employees or customers. She went to work, I went home, and prayed that I’d find it. Although buying a new one wouldn’t be the end of the world, unexpected bills are ~ n o t ~ f u n ~ and I like to avoid them whenever possible. I had contemplated going back up to the restaurant myself to have a look-see, but decided against it since I’d be without any means of communication should anything happen.

I tried to figure out how I could’ve lost it. I was almost 100% positive it’d been in my coat pocket, since I had specifically checked the table. It must have fallen out, probably in the parking lot when I dropped into my friend’s black sedan.

Just over an hour later, my friend called me via my brother’s phone with the exciting news: “Guess what! The manager of the restaurant called and someone turned your phone in! It was found in the parking lot.”

Hallelujah! My boyfriend and I drove up to retrieve it. I was so excited–and disheartened when the girl behind the counter handed it over to me. The bottom right corner of the screen protector was seriously cracked, looking as though it’d been run over while lounging on the asphalt. It wouldn’t turn on, though I felt it vibrate when I took multiple screenshots (to test if it was still awake under the black screen).

My boyfriend was optimistic it could be fixed, I was ~ e x t r e m e l y ~ discouraged. Pop, however, shared my boyfriend’s optimism, and both advised me to bring it somewhere to be looked at before I bought another. To top it off, the top I’d bought at the mall (and wanted to wear that night) was too large and I had to return it for another. Talk about an off night.

The next morning I dragged my brother with me to a smartphone repair shop (and made him do the talking, don’t judge). The guy behind the counter plugged it in, then told us he thought it was only a broken screen. He didn’t think the motherboard was smashed, which, if that were the case, would mean bye-bye-phone. We left it in their authorized service provider hands and ran around on errands, as long as we were in town.

Three hours and a phone call later, we were back at the shop. My phone had awakened from its pressure-induced coma and was happily broadcasting all the messages I’d received in the last twenty-four hours. I swiped my debit card, a receipt was signed, and we were on our way home.

A screen repair at a fraction of the cost of a new phone. I couldn’t help but think of stories Mum has told me from when she was growing up. Payphones were on many a corner, while cell phones were a thing of the future. Now we don’t leave home without them!

My, how things change.

Casting Your Burdens

I was once told that if someone wants to open up to me about a problem, and this problem didn’t directly involve me, it is sometimes better to turn away. Otherwise I could become emotionally burdened over something that isn’t my responsibility to worry about. I should take a step back and not discuss it, rather than run the risk of worrying or growing bitter.

Within the context of how our family works, this didn’t make sense to me. I have a tight knit family and we are all very open and honest with each other. At that time, my parents were seeking God for direction and their decision would effect our whole family. Rather than keep us in the dark about present circumstances, they chose to open up to us.  This is how our family has always worked, and it’s something I’ve always been appreciative and thankful for. It shows me how I can pray for my family. It brings us closer together. And as I watch my parents delve deep into the Bible and draw closer to God in hard times, seeking Him for all they do, it teaches me to do the same.

And yet someone was telling me it wasn’t my responsibility to even know about these things. It wasn’t sitting right in my spirit. In general terms, how could it be better to pretend someone’s problem didn’t exist, because I was afraid of worrying?

The next morning as I was journaling, I  decided to ask God what He thought about it. God, I wrote, do You bury Your head in the sand and ignore a problem because You don’t want to be burdened by it? As soon as I finished the sentence, Jesus’ words from Matthew 11 popped into my mind: “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus invites us to bring all our burdens to God. When we do, He will ease our weary hearts and give us rest.

I don’t want to live my life afraid of people’s problems. Everyone has problems, it comes with being human and it’s a fact of life. Ignoring them won’t make them disappear. I don’t want to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to people who are so desperate for someone to hear them, to listen, to care. Yes, it is true that you can easily become burdened down by the problems of others. But God spoke to me that morning and said Daughter, you don’t have to be.

Crowds of people sought Jesus out for healing. Imagine the stories He must have heard, people with lifelong ailments, people who had been in pain for years…how it must have broken His heart to see these people He loved in such pain and brokenness! Yet instead of shrinking away, Jesus embraced it. Jesus responded in love. With compassion. He prayed.

Following Jesus’ example, we shouldn’t shrink away from the problems of others. We may not be able to offer any help or much advice, but we can be a listening ear. We can pray. We can point people to Christ, remind them of the truth of God’s Word. In turn, we need to follow Matthew 11:28 and hand everything over to God.

How?

We read in Matthew 7:24-27 about the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house upon the rock and when the rain came, his house stood firm. The foolish man’s house, which he had built on the sand, was swept away. Why? Because the foolish man hadn’t built his foundation on the solid rock.

Christ is our solid Rock. He needs to be our foundation for everything in life, the One we run to with every trouble and need, the One we praise for every joy. We need to trust Him for every single aspect of our lives, and when we do, we will have peace.

Isaiah 26:3-4 – “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.”

It is the peace of God that guards our hearts and minds, that protects us from being overwhelmed with worry. We don’t need to try to guard ourselves, because God promises to do it for us…when we keep our eyes on Him.

Philippians 4:6-7 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but instead by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Not only does prayer and thanksgiving activate peace as it says above, but we also find peace when we are obedient to God’s commands and do what He says.

Isaiah 48:18 – “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”

Our hearts are burdened and in turmoil when we are not trusting God and trying to figure life out on our own. He is bigger than anything that may come our way. When we pay attention to His commands, our peace will be like a river. Ever-flowing, ever constant. A result of God’s goodness to us, and not our own efforts by trying to find peace in things of this world.

1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

We also shouldn’t forget that Jesus Himself said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus is our peace in a world overflowing with trouble. And we do not have to be afraid.

John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Imagine the possibilities—if we relied on the strength and power and might of our God to face the giants in our lives. If we opened ourselves up to God and let Him use these experiences to teach us more about His character and His ways. When we exchange our worries for His peace and our strength for His, it won’t matter what happens. Whatever trouble befalls us, our family, or a friend, we can stand on Psalm 46:1-2a: “God is our strength, our ever-present help in time of trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”

As a Christian we are a part of a family—God’s family. Other believers, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are instructed in Galatians 6:2 to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.” We were never meant to carry our burdens alone; we need the help of our family. We need them to pray for us and remind us of the goodness of our God, because Satan wants us to forget. The enemy wants us to feel alone.

But together, a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Together, we can lift our burdens to the King of Kings, our Almighty God. As a family, we can learn what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. We draw on the strength of each other and bring praise to God. We take heart, not living in fear but peace, because Jesus has overcome the world.

Eyes on Him

I’m not sure what my voice will add to the many others seeking to encourage and uplift during this time in our country. I just know I want to say something. If anything, this will serve as a reminder for me!

I want to encourage you to persevere. The struggles are real. People are laid off from work, bills need to be paid, stores are empty. And right now, we can’t see an end. Life is hard but God is greater. Press on and fight the good fight of the faith.

“I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Of course it’s not going to be easy! Just yesterday I was frustrated to pieces…and this morning, too. 🤷‍♀️ It happens. Emotions in and of themselves aren’t BAD, but am I going to control my emotions, or am I going to allow my emotions to control me?

This is something I had to train myself to do. When my emotions threatened to get the better of me, I had to follow Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians:

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have the divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension [lie, claim, and barrier] that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

I will encourage you to make the fear-inducing, paralyzing worries obedient to Christ. Combat the problems with the TRUTH of Scripture. THIS is the time to dig DEEP into the Bible and find out what God would have us do in times of trouble.

It is just as Jehoshaphat prayed before the Israelites were attacked in 2 Chronicles 20, verse 12. “For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

I just finished reading a novel where the main character was learning to live by faith. She compared faith to a muscle that needed to be stretched and exercised in order to grow stronger. It goes without saying that exercising isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be difficult as you train and strengthen your muscles. What if we embraced this trial as an opportunity for our faith to grow greater in the goodness and faithfulness of our God?

Paul, in Romans, tells us about the snowball effect sufferings can bring into our lives when put in the hands of God.

Sufferings → Perseverance → Character → Hope → Joy → Patience → Faithful in Prayer (Romans 5:3-4; 12:12)

If we believe God can work all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then let’s believe that for our lives, today.

Like I said, this is an encouragement for me, too. I want to look back on this time and know that I leaned on God’s strength, relied on His promises, and had hope in the future He has for me. Let’s be a light in the darkness, and the reason someone asks us how we can have hope at such a trying time.

The answer is simple. It’s a name. It’s Jesus.

How NOT to Identify an Ash Tree

Today the Bro and I went on a hike with a friend. Twenty percent of our hike was through the woods–what I consider actual hiking–and eighty percent was walking on the side of a road as we circled back to where we parked our vehicles. (We don’t believe in backtracking.)  I wondered if the people driving past us thought we were on the hunt for a gas station after our vehicle ran out of gas. 😉

As we walked we exchanged stories, and I debated about sharing one particular story from when my brother Ethan and I went hiking last May. I decided to go ahead, after all, it is rather funny, even if it is only a little embarrassing to me.

Ethan and I were in a state park, bushwhacking through trees and brush to find some land previously unexplored to us. We were on the edge of a swamp when Ethan stopped and evaluated the tree in front of him. He broke a small branch off and looked at it. “This is an ash tree,” he said.

I knew Ethan knew what an ash tree looked like–that information came from working with an arborist who knew his stuff.

“You know how you can tell if this is an ash tree? When you lick it, it tastes like ash from a smoldering fire.” He raised the twig to his lips and it looked to me like he tasted the branch, just as he’d said.

“Really?” I asked, unbelieving yet at the same time trusting, because why would my dear, sweet brother ever steer me wrong?

Ethan tossed another twig my way. It landed on the ground. I picked it up, gave him one last glance of trepidation, and then I licked it.

It tasted like wood. Like I was licking a pencil, or in my case, a plain, old, ordinary stick. Nothing like ash at all.

The look on Ethan’s face was one of unbelief and endless amusement. He doubled over in laughter.

“You’re such a liar!” I attempted to throw the stick back at him, but of course being the tiny twig that it was, didn’t go very far. “I can’t believe I trusted you!”

Ethan, between bursts of laughter, said, “You just licked a stick!”

By this point, our friend who I was telling the story too, was definitely amused. “Everyone does stuff like that when they’re young.” Obviously trying to make me feel better. And under the misconception that I was a little girl when this happened.

I was happy to let him assume this happened years ago, but Ethan was quick to chime in, “This happened last year!

Of course this made the story all that much better, and we all laughed about it. I’ve learned my lesson however–brothers with a reputation for being mischievous are not to be trusted. And wood from an ash tree does not taste like ash! 😉

 

 

A Prayer for the New Year

Seeing as how I kind of already did an end-of-the-year wrap up post, today’s post will be a little bit shorter. At least that’s the game plan, y’all know how I am once I get started talking. Or, in this case, writing.

Sometimes at work I have a hard time focusing. There can be a variety of reasons for this. I could have a lot on my mind, irritating customers, unresolved issues with friends or family… The list goes on, and I’m sure you can fill in the blank with your own answers to the question, “What are things that make you have a hard time focusing?”

And sometimes, to get my mind back away from whatever downward spiral I’m on, I need to stop a quick second and breathe. I need to write something down to get my focus off the problem and back onto God. Written word helps orient me better than if I’d merely pray in my head. I’m not saying that silent prayer is ineffective by any means, but I’ve personally found that if I want to get my head on straight again, it is most effective for me to write because that’s one of the best ways I focus.

I am a writer, after all. 😉

What do I write in these moments of struggle? Many things. Sometimes I write one of God’s names, like Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is Peace) or Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is There). Sometimes it’s a Bible verse, like Philippians 4:6 or John 14:27.

And sometimes, it’s a prayer. I saved one prayer I’d scribbled down at work and taped it to my bedroom wall. I reread it every now and again, and this is the prayer that I’ve decided to take into 2020 with me. It’s a prayer of focus, a prayer of submission, a prayer of open hands.

I don’t know what 2020 brings, but I’m going to hold tight to my Savior’s hand and settle my focus on Him every step of the way.

May my eyes be focused on You as my feet travel Your way and my hands accomplish Your will. For you are my strength and my portion forever, who enables me to rise up on wings like eagles. I pray for Your love to fill me and that I would share the hope we have in Your name. Bind up the brokenhearted, Lord, and anoint them with joy instead of mourning. In Your Name there is freedom. In Your Name there is love. In Your Name alone is there saving grace. May I demonstrate and share these things everyday, loving not only in words or speech but with actions and in truth. Amen.

 

Bad Year or Good Year?

2019 – another 365 days filled (mis)adventures, learning, sorrow, joy, and hope. Honestly, friends, it would be easy to say that 2019 was a bad year. Parts of this year have been heartbreaking and tragic. Mum and I were talking about this, however, and she said something that struck me: “I don’t want to focus on the bad things that happened. I want to focus on the good.”

That gave me something to think about. I don’t want the sorrow I went through this year to be the Highlight Reel of 2019. Yes, I will always remember those things as they were big events in my life…but there was so much more to 2019 than the two events that marked my summer.

This year I made new friends and reconnected with old friends. I learned to swing dance, which is so fun and makes Tuesday my new favorite day of the week.  If my count is correct I’ve traveled to eight different states. (Although I only stepped over the Arizona border to say I’d been there, does that still count?) Palm trees were checked off my bucket list in Nevada, and so was the ocean in Maine. Both of which I saw for the first time. (!!!)

I met second-cousins who live out of state when they came up for a family reunion. We had a grand ol’ time, too.  Together a group of us cousins tried eating pig brain, which was my brother’s idea. Is he crazy for coming up with it or are we crazy for following him?

The Bro and I hiked close to 11 miles while on our first trip sans parents this summer. That was the trip we saw more waterfalls (our first being in Maine). It was a learning experience to be sure, but all in all, we had a great time.

Efers and I also stacked four hammocks between two trees, one on top of the either, with some friends. Sadie and I successfully made sweet-and-sour chicken, rice, and crab rangoons…with some help from Mum. 😀 And I tried rice wrapped in grape leaves soaked in olive oil…which was awful.

In March we got a puppy, a Basque Shepherd dog we named Ceder. Let me tell you, this dog has an attitude. He is super cute, but he can be a stinker when he wants to be. We’re still trying to figure out if his cuteness outweighs his sass.

This is the year God taught me about hope. Hope in God is never misplaced. He is a God of hope, and will fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13). When I place my hope in earthly things, I will be disappointed. God has promised that He has a hope and a future for each one of us (Jer. 29:11). Am I going to trust Him, follow Him, believing and expectantly waiting for God to do what He says He will do?

So if someone asked me, “How was your 2019?” I would respond, “It’s been a tough year. But there was a whole lot of good, too. A whole lot of good.”

 

 

Holy and Blameless in His Sight

Last night someone told me that I was “the holy one”. As if I did everything right, never made mistakes, was absolutely, one-hundred percent perfect. All I could think to respond was, “I do plenty of things wrong.” Because that’s the truth–I’ve sinned just like everyone else and am nowhere near perfect. In fact, I deserve to die for them. Holy one? Yeah, right.

But here’s the thing. In Hebrews it says “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9

What a beautiful passage! Jesus tasted death so we wouldn’t have to. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 it says “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

God sent Jesus, the only One to walk the earth and live a perfect life, to bridge the gap between our sin and His holiness. He was the ultimate sacrifice needed to save us from our sin and bring us into right standing with God if we “confess with our mouths ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead”. (Romans 10:9)

No longer am I, a child of God, defined by my mistakes. Jesus’ blood has covered all my sins. I have a new identity.

Therefore since we have been justified [which is to be declared guiltless and innocent] through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Galatians 3:14

And finally…

For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance to His pleasure and will–to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. Ephesians 1:4-6

These verses say that once I give my heart to Jesus, I’ve been adopted into His family. I’m justified. I’m new. I’m redeemed. I’m holy and blameless in His sight, because of His glorious grace. I’m a work in progress and still make mistakes, but God’s grace abounds.

Maybe last night he was right. I am holy, but not for the reason he implied. It’s not my holiness, but Jesus in me. It’s not what I’ve done, but what Jesus has done. On my own, I’m nothing. In Jesus, He’s everything. To God be the glory.

xoxo, Emma

Let’s Kayak! What Could Happen?

“What if we went kayaking tomorrow?” I asked my brother Ethan and our cousin Sadie. Monday promised to be a beautiful day, perfect for an afternoon on the river.

I was slightly surprised when Ethan agreed right away. My kayaking track record isn’t exactly spotless, as a few months ago I lost my phone (and a pizza). “I don’t want to go kayaking with you again,” he’d told me. But really, how many kayak-related incidents can one girl get herself into?

Sadie thought it sounded fun too. She had to work at night, so we would be on a tight schedule, but if we didn’t dillydally or run into any trouble, we would be fine. So we made plans.

And that was how the three of us ended up paddling down the river early Monday afternoon. The sun was shining, there was a slight breeze to offset the heat, and there were turtles galore. (To prevent a deja vu experience, I had my phone in its dry bag, safely inside the locked compartment in the front of my kayak.)

Everything was going great until we rounded the bend. There, spanning the entire width of the river, was a huge downed tree. We were headed straight for it and had a limited amount of time to come up with a game plan. Sadie was leading, I was behind her, and Ethan was bringing up the rear.

“Get to the side!” Ethan called to us. “Grab something!”

I paddled to the side and grabbed a tree branch. I didn’t know at the time I should have spun my kayak around so I was facing upstream. Water began to come up over the back of my kayak and Ethan issued new orders: “Let go!”

So I let go. And was carried by the current right smack against the tree. Sadie hadn’t been able to get over to the side at all and her kayak was pinned sideways against the trunk. Where I was at, the trunk didn’t touch the water. There was just enough space between the river and the tree for my kayak to fit and I began to tiiiiiiiip–and then I flipped.

I ducked under the tree and stood in four feet of water–thank goodness the current wasn’t too strong for me to stand! I grabbed my kayak before it was swept away and flipped it right side up. But it was too late for my life jacket, water bottle, and paddle. They were continuing down the river without me. My phone, however, was safe and sound.

After I dragged my kayak onto the muddy shore I went to see how I could help, if at all. Ethan was out and helping Sadie climb out of her kayak onto the tree. He pushed her kayak underneath to me, and I dragged that into the mud too. A few minutes later they joined me in the mosquito-infested woods and we had a new problem.

I was up the creek without a paddle. Literally.

Our options were slim. Ethan hopped back in his kayak with the hope of finding my paddle just down the river, but in less than ten minutes he was back. No paddle. Time was running out and we had to keep going, otherwise Sadie would be late for work.

“The only thing we can do,” Ethan said, “is to attach the front of your kayak to the back of mine and I’ll pull you.”

Wonderful. I didn’t like it, but we had no other choice. We pushed off, Ethan pulling me like a tug boat. Paddling upstream had tired him out, and now every time he got some speed he’d jerk to a halt at the extra weight in the back. Did he regret coming? Probably. As for me, well, I chose to look on the bright side of things. Now I could float at leisure while someone else paddled for me.

We kept an eye out for my things: life jacket, water bottle, paddle. Paddle being the top priority. The problem was, there was piles of brush and downed trees all along that section of the river. They could be stuck anywhere, and there was always the possibility that we would miss spotting them. A few minutes later we found my life jacket caught on the branch of a tree limb in the water. Wonderful! One down, two to go.

“If we were going to find it, we would have found it back there,” Ethan said as we rounded the bend. “I’d be very surprised if it made it past all that stuff. We must have missed it.”

Which meant Ethan would have to pull me the remaining two miles of our trip. Other than being out a $20 paddle, I wasn’t super bummed. Ethan was less than thrilled, I’m sure.

Then from behind us Sadie called out, “Guys! I think I found it! It looks too white to be foam–it might be her paddle!”

Sadie paddled to shore and hopped out. Ethan maneuvered us to the edge and went to join her, leaving me to safeguard the kayaks and keep us from floating away. Wouldn’t that be cute?

“We found it!”

Ethan returned a few minutes later, paddle in hand, and a few minutes after that, we were all back on the river, each of us paddling ourselves. Sadie told us she had asked God to help her see my paddle and then she found it. How awesome is that?! God is so good!

Despite that little hiccup, Sadie made it to work on time. Once again I hear from Ethan, “I never want to go kayaking with you again.” It stings a little, but I have a feeling we’ll be kayaking together again soon. Adventure is out there! And really, what could happen?