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“Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:17-21).

I tend to be a clumsy sort of gal. Like epic Lucille Ball antics, but not on purpose. It’d be nice if I could get away with blaming circumstances, others, or even inanimate objects for my stumbles. Even if I could pretend some level of temporary comfort with the dishonesty, I’m too obvious a klutz to pull it off.

Excuses amplify the ridiculous, you see.

“The sidewalk jumped up to trip me!”

“Who moved that wall?”

If only my foibles were limited to physical falls. Sin causes deeper bruises and its consequences sting for longer than I’d like to recount. I hate when I’ve created afflictions for myself. No backward movement on the soccer field can be more humiliating than dishonoring the Lord.

I’m so thankful God saves me anyway. Even when I least deserve it. Especially when I’ve run out of ridiculous excuses. I need only cry out to Jesus. In the pit of my deepest failures, my Redeemer never fails to show up.

Whether or not it’s my fault, Jesus lifts me from the darkest distress. He brushes off the dirt of my sin and pours His healing love over my self-inflicted wounds. I get myself into the mess, but the Faithful Savior gets me out of it. I’m so thankful for His unfailing love.

Are you thankful for the Lord’s redeeming love today?

prison

“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering . . .
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds . . .
for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:10-16).

My dad volunteers his time to guide incarcerated people toward transformation. He visits the jail at least once a week, and courthouse staff know him by name. Those who complete the Transformations Program have such a marginal rate of reoffending, judges recommend and celebrate their work. Dad often expresses the immeasurable rewards he experiences through guiding those lost souls to a renewed life. Their freedom extends beyond the removal of bars. Liberty defines their healthy lifestyle, a victorious state of the soul.

Bars and cell walls make some types of imprisonment clear. Whether or not the bars can be touched, other strongholds bind the soul with tenacious chains. Destructive thought cycles. Emotional quicksand. Toxic relationship patterns. We can step inside various spiritual strongholds and feel unable to escape on our own.

All the while, the One Who loves us most stands at the cell door. He extends the key in His nail-scarred hand. Our first step to freedom is reaching out in prayer to accept His help.

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Transformations graduates won’t testify to an effortless escape. Anyone with a life story of empancipation recognizes the journey’s challenges. Spiritual freedom requires us to change, which proves an intense challenge to habit-captives. Though we face tough work, Jesus Christ takes on the heaviest lifting. Soul liberation remains impossible without God’s power.

As the psalmist proclaims, the Lord never ignores a heartfelt cry submitted to Him. When we lay ourselves out in surrender, acknowledging our need for Christ’s transforming power, He shows up. Every time. Regardless of the circumstances, which might not change, Jesus renews, sustains, and frees each soul to the extent of its surrender to Him. The deep chains fall away, and His children celebrate inner victory.

What’s holding you hostage today? Will you consider praying to surrender all before the One Who waits to set you free forever?
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wasteland

“Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    . . . hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord . . .
    and he delivered them . . .
 Let them give thanks to the Lord  . . .
 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:4-9).

Fear clinches her stomach. Emptiness rises like bile to burn in her chest. She staggers through weeks and months as if trudging across endless sand dunes. Daily stress rises to sear her skin like desert sun rays. As she parts her lips, the dry world of her wasteland burns into her throat. With a gasping plea, she at last musters a simple prayer. Help me, Lord.

The blaze persists. Dunes still overwhelm the view. Yet, her escape has begun.

She wriggles outstretched fingers toward the sand-walled horizon, anticipating mist from an unseen waterfall. With a dry, cracked hand, she picks up a branch for a staff. Peace floods into her spirit, soothing away the thirst of emptiness and fear. Her pace quickens. She might not sprint, but she now marches. To the streams she knows from within her. Where answered prayers have begun to lead her onward.

Ever felt lost in the wasteland? Hunger and thirst roil from physical needs, spiritual angst, or both. From health problems or financial devastation to inner storms of depression and stress, life can leave us feeling stranded in a desert-like existence. When despair overwhelms us, we recognize our inability to escape on our own strength. We can either succumb to its ravages or cry to the Lord for help.

A heartfelt prayer, no matter how simple or weak, vaults to heaven. God hears. And the escape begins.

The wasteland will not vanish in a moment, but you will gain resources to sustain you. Peace and hope nourish the soul, equipping you to march toward something beyond your view. A fresh draft of God-supplied faith empowers you to take the next steps. The cross beam becomes a staff to steady you on the way to fulfilled hope. God’s answer to your prayer for rescue has come, even as you await the answer of full deliverance.

Our miraculous answer to prayer is thriving, not only after our deliverance from the wasteland, but also during the journey of our escape.

What’s your miraculous answer to prayer today?

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“Suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Magical characters reach from movie screens and beckon me into their world. Theme parks offer fresh visits to childlike wonder. Incredible masterpieces fill museum halls and garden paths. I relish each chance to drink in the inspiration of imagination.

The Father molded each of us in His image. He crafted unique works of art, kissing individual personalities with a different spritz of His creative sparkle. In a delightful chat with a 72 year old Christ-sister yesterday, we explored our different means of reflecting God’s ingenuity. When I shared my work as a writer, she first defined herself as devoid of creativity. Yet, as we talked, her amazing talents with children shone (along with other strengths) as brilliant examples of imaginative gifts. The Lord engineered our differences to glimmer in harmonizing shades as part of His glorious design.

Imagination inspires, motivates, uplifts–a fantastic blessing. My coaching and writing professions require consistent supply of this priceless resource. I cannot inspire unless I drink copious doses of inspiration. My incessant thirst deems me ever thankful for each sip of creative fuel.

While magnificent, imagination fails to bless us as an end unto itself. Creativity must encourage the soul to seek something greater. Inspiration toward anything less than true hope leaves us empty. Our sparkling kisses of ingenuity must reflect the Father’s love to others. Each imaginative work which honors His touch will transform others’ souls.

In the midst of a bleak, discouraging world, we need splashes of inspiration more than ever. God designed us to “poke holes in the darkness until light bleeds through,” as Margaret Feinberg so eloquently put it. Hope must radiate from the edges of all our creative endeavors. Imagination glimmers with us on earth for a season, a beautiful tool to point others toward eternal hope.

What creative works will God use from your spiritual and natural gifts to offer hope? Comment and share with all of us, so we can inspire one another to persevere in His work of providing hope.

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“’Am I only a God nearby,’
declares the Lord,
‘and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?’”

– Jeremiah 23:23-24

Padlocked journals. Receipts tucked into a sock drawer. Deleted files. Disguised flasks. Shredded evidence. What happens in Sin City . . . behind our doors . . . outside the church . . . when we believe no one is watching us . . . allegedly remains our little secret.

Secrets range from embarrassing moments to treachery, from things we’ve done to those we should have. Some hidden facts seem innocuous, like an emotional struggle we’d rather not share. Other mysteries demand cover because we can bet others won’t help us justify the sin. Murderers feverishly cover their evidence, as do tax evaders, addicts, and adulterers.

Camouflage grants us confidence. We convince ourselves that no one sees, that the matter remains of no consequence at all. A cycle of shame and arrogance flips us between insecurity and justifying our cover.

When my boys were tots, they’d press their hands over their faces and declare, “You can’t see me.”

“Yes, my baby. I can still see you,” I’d assure them. I wanted to see their precious, beloved faces.

“No!” They insisted. “You can’t see me!”

Ah, the myth of our powerful hands. We have yet to outgrow the childish idea that we can cover our eyes and become invisible to our Father. While swirling in shame and pride over our sins, we miss the point of our relationship with Him. He adores our precious souls, and enjoys intimate face-time with us. Especially when our cheeks bear stolen cupcake grime and our noses bleed from playing in areas we shouldn’t have.

I resisted sharing my emotional struggles for years, believing they’d make me appear faithless. I didn’t want others to think less of Jesus because of my weaknesses.

“I see you.” The Lord pried up one of my fingers.

“Yes, I know. You must be very disappointed.” I peeked between my digits to glimpse His gentle, loving smile. “Can’t I just keep hiding anyway? It’s more comfortable here behind my hands.”

“Comfortable isn’t always best.” He tugged my pinky. “In order to see more of Me, you have to come out from hiding behind your hands.”

I gradually opened my palms. Transparency wasn’t a comfortable thing, but I offered a little at a time. I knew it would be a challenge, but I really did want to see more of my Father. Peeling back my hands required me to depend on His hands. And God revealed His presence in more ways than I imagined. Not only did the Lord exchange my frailty for healing, but He also used my story to lift others to see Him more clearly.

I had convinced myself of my power to hide, to avoid the risk of disclosure. The true risk, I discovered, was in keeping my secrets. The myth of locking away reality holds its believer in a dangerous lie. Pride and shame wielded authority over my purpose and identity instead of God’s power and grace. Not only could I have remained outside God’s perfect will, but hiding also withheld healing God intended to pour through my story into others’ lives. Darkness of locked boxes could have defined my life instead of God’s glory.

Maybe you have unconfessed secrets, too. Consider extending your confessions to the Father Who adores you. He transforms the darkest moments of life into a more powerful vessel of freedom than you can imagine. It’s hard to expose your heart, but I guarantee that His freedom and love are more than worth it. So are the lives of those who’ll be blessed in the wake of your new life of trust in Christ.

Will you pray with me, to become more yielded and open as He leads us? Let’s take Christ’s hands and encourage one another to become His vessels, bringing others to see Him a bit more each day.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. . .

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. . . 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:11-24).

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“Wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:20-21).

I offered my head to the young apprentice. She needed to practice, so I would become the lab rat of her experiment. Few had seen the procedure and my outcome was difficult to predict. Bowls of gel mixtures littered the small table. Countless paint strokes surrounded me. After an hour, I resembled an alien with head of silver tentacles sprouting hair. A cosmic halo orbited my noggin, projecting heat onto the foils. A tiny flutter stirred in my belly, churning a bit of acid to rise into my throat.

It’s only hair, I told myself. No matter how this turns out, I will be okay.

This year brings a variety of changes for me, all more significant than last fall’s balayage venture (which proved less dramatic than I anticipated, by the way). My son leaves for college. I’m handing off an officer position. At the same time, church and career undergo major transition. I’m not sure how the results will look, but a different world is shaping up around me.

Change shakes up our lives in a myriad of forms, and can often prove refreshing. Some novelty brings joy, hence the constant trend shifts in technology, fashion, and adventurous recreation. New movies rock. Hidden waterfalls delight the soul. Who doesn’t love a fresh outfit?

The transitions we don’t seek will occur, too. We age. People leave us. Security blankets blow away in one strong gust of calamity. Expected or not, certain life-upheavals rattle our roots from their comfortable places. From relocation to chronic health issues to grief, uncomfortable transitions stretch across differing levels of life’s Richter scale. They all begin with a similar emotion, as the first thing felt in an unwanted quake is loss. Pain screams to the forefront of human awareness, blocking other details from our perspective.

The time varies with the impact, but painful aftershocks begin to diminish. The dust settles after a while. If we choose to open our eyes, we can see. Before surveying the land, we know it has changed. We don’t need to look to acknowledge the change affected us. Life shifted, and things are not as they were.

I cannot move on from a state of loss until I open my eyes and accept the new reality. I must survey the landscape to identify my resources. A strange realization dawns in the moment of clarity after the impact has subsided. Despite the change, all is not lost. My greatest resource remained with me even when I could not see Him.

In the tumult of life in this errant world, God remains steadfast. He never leaves us. His love gushes endlessly over us whether we sense it or not. Often, He brings our sweetest blessings in the times we feel most lost and alone. Regardless of the many transitions and losses we experience, God never changes.

As my maturing sons depart and work and worship landscapes transform, these changes occur on the temporary plane of my existence. Even if I lose all I hold dear, the Lord will sustain me with His precious loving presence to the end of mortality. And then, all be restored. Adonai, Whose every work surpasses excellence, revitalizes life with extra gobs of glory lavished on top. Eternity will gather my entire spiritual family to worship and serve together. Ultimately, nothing will be lost forever. I will be better than okay.

What changes are you experiencing today? Try offering a prayer of trust and praise with me. Choose to believe in God’s steadfast nature, despite the shuddering earth. Let’s cling with all our faith to the Rock in the midst of life’s quake.

  “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:6).

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the skies.
Your righteousness is like the highest mountains,
    your justice like the great deep” (Psalm 36:5-6).

He rescues me unharmed
    from the battle waged against me,
    even though many oppose me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
    who does not change” (Psalm 55:18-19).

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“Sacrifice thank offerings to God . . . and call on me in the day of trouble;

    I will deliver you, and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:14-15).

Heels bouncing. Arms upraised. Palms waving. I did the happy dance today. Full-on, Snoopy-style. A long wait sweetens good news, and I had waited over a year for an acceptance letter. Could’ve sworn I tasted chocolate while reading.

I love champagne truffles as much as any girl, but I’m more thankful for achievements. Success and answered prayers fire up my worship to a near-charismatic levels. Hand-raising tends to linger outside my comfort zone. When gratitude for provision and healing bubbles up from my soul like a wellspring, I can hardly help myself.

Christ receives my best praise when things go well. Do I offer the same level of gratitude during tough times? I pour out passionate prayers, declaring the power and perfect nature of God. I cry out, reach out, and plead. But days of trouble don’t bring out my Snoopy-style, charismatic thankful dance.

Eternal, indefatigable blessings remain with me at all times, bright or dark. The Holy Spirit promises never to leave me. Christ redeemed my soul and declares me an heir to heaven. The All-Powerful Creator adores me as a Father. Whether I see circumstances working out in my current moment or not, the Lord assures me of His presence. God promises to work out the big picture for my good, and I can trust Him with the immediate details. His goodness never fluctuates. Christ’s most significant blessing remains with me always. Jesus deserves my happy dance every day.

In Psalm 50:14-15, the Lord promises two bonuses if we offer thanks when we’re in trouble. He first assures our deliverance, a cherished gift of His grace. A grateful attitude provides additional perks. Praise shifts our mindset toward hope. Faith grows and strengthens. We secure our footing in the awareness of God’s presence. Thankful prayer offerings sustain and support us through trying circumstances. The privilege of new status gleams on our souls like a crown, for He lifts us up as those who honor Him.

I’m a fan of pleasing my Lord, so I set a new prayer objective. Every day, rejections and life-worries notwithstanding, I plan to fire up some thankful Snoopy waving. I’m working on my “Woot!” Will you join me?

“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving: (Psalm 69:30).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

Afternoon rays highlighted splatter-spots dappling my kitchen window. I corralled piles of dishes toward the sink. The third time since breakfast. My hands trembled as I scrubbed the grimy counter. Why is it always such a mess? Recurring, ugly streaks, just like my failures in business and publishing. I tossed the rag at the sill.

I marched out the front door with an announcement to any ears in range. “I’m going for a walk.”

As I strode under the oak canopy, I grasped the air at my side. “Walk with me, Jesus.”

My morning time of prostrate meditation remains a precious way to center myself before the day’s mission begins. Bedside prayer also offers great benefit, laying all needs and offenses in divine hands. Sometimes, I wrestle with overwhelming angst and need to break out of my conventions to better connect with God. Fresh perspective unstops the ears of my soul.

This common need resounds from world headlines to the soul cries of our neighbors–financial crises, illness, general household chaos. Circumstances shatter our peace. Life whirls around our heads, distracting us from intimacy with the Lord. In this tumultuous life, we need help centering our spirits in prayer.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s new book, Praying Upside Down, offers novel tools to uncork conversations with God. She expands our view of divine interaction beyond the formulaic ideas of conventional prayer. A graphic designer, she crafts an artistic pathway to spiritual intimacy. Her analogies and suggested applications prove easy upon a reader’s eye and attainable to a beginner’s soul.

Have you ever struggled to focus? Railed at the ceiling as if it were a blockade? Or felt your heart too overwhelmed to summon a prayer? Upside down experiences might just refresh your mind and reveal the path to renew your weary soul.

If you’re interested in Praying Upside Down, find out more information from Tyndale or check out Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s website http://www.prayingupsidedown.com/

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“The heavens are telling the glory of God; they are a marvelous display of his craftsmanship. Day and night they keep on telling about God” (Psalm 19:1-2).

Tender grass bursts from the earth. Glimmering beetles scurry up to lily pinnacles and raise their antennae. My favorite gnarled oak ascends from a velvety ring of petunias. Its branches wield leafy poufs as live, rain-guzzling, sun-swallowing pom-poms.

Meanwhile, a masterpiece rolls overhead.

Coral rays claim the heavens, staking dawn’s entry. Glorious brilliance floods the earth with awesome energy, both life-sustaining  and requiring the respect rather than scrutiny of mortal eyes. The light reigns undaunted, despite the morphing hues of its backdrop and fleeting clouds to veil its position. Ten thousand bird species laud the majesty in song and aerial dance. Crimson explodes across the skies as the sun descends to meet the edge of our perspective. The world blackens against a fabulous gleam of twilight. Predators crawl out into the shadows, anticipating easy prey in the sun’s absence. The light never abandons us. A silver orb rises against the darkness to reflect the sun’s continued presence. Crickets and cicadas praise its faithfulness. It continues to guide and shine upon us in this new form as we hope for the new dawn.

Before a single word of Scripture inked the ancient papyrus, God authored creation as a living testament. The Bible anoints modern Christians with immeasurable benefits and deepens our understanding of God, but He foresaw those without access to the written word. The Father did not leave anyone bereft of His message. Creation’s magnificent design proves His sovereignty. He reveals Himself and His attention to us in the artistic, majestic, and whimsical elements of nature. The progress of each day reflects the gospel, a Son who remains with us and bestows His life upon us that we might represent Him to the world.

As we continue to cherish Scripture, let us also remain aware of its earliest writing–God’s love letter crafted upon the world around us. The story nature has read aloud since the dawn of creation.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Refugees abandon homes in pursuit of it. Defendants empty bank accounts to negotiate it. Acquisition offers empty promises of it. Anesthesia poisons the flesh with temporary illusions of it. A mother of toddlers looks for it in the bathroom.

Peace lingers in the desperate pleas of souls worldwide. From those enduring brutal oppression to those overwhelmed with daily stress, a valid strain proves critical within each experience. Humanity cries for an end to war with one another, heart-breaking circumstances, and ourselves. We struggle to cope and survive. A greater need pervades and exceeds all others. And it has already been offered to us at the grantor’s expense.

No change of address. No attorney fees. Debt-free and without side-effects. Not even confined to the powder room.

Peace with God provides hope beyond this heart-wrenching world. While refugees flee torment to dwell as outsiders in poverty, we leave behind a broken mortality and return home to the splendor for which we were created. Jesus, having paid our expenses with His suffering, also serves as our advocate to free us from judgment. We can trust His sufficient payment and negotiation has secured a brilliant future.

Our hope isn’t limited to the future.  Though salvation doesn’t eliminate earthly challenges, peace with God equips us to cope with our current struggles. Acceptance of Christ into our hearts brings His presence into our daily lives. We can neither survive this mortal life nor cope with it on our own. Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to. His indwelling Spirit offers a constant resource of divine wisdom and strength, awaiting our requests for support.

Paul reminded early Christians of this, since they endured severe trials.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Will you take a moment today and thank God with me for His beautiful gift of peace?

Thank You, Jesus. For Your grace which secures our hope. For Your reliable presence that sustains us with precious, incomparable peace.