From Beginning to End

2014 countdown

Photo Credit

Christmas gifts have been opened and enjoyed, cards have been mailed, and the bright, twinkling lights on Christmas trees are starting to wane.  The days are already becoming longer as we’ve just passed the winter solstice and darkest day of the year,  and most radio stations have sadly stopped playing the loops of Christmas songs.   The final countdown to 2014 is on, and even if it will take most of us the first three months of the year to actually remember to write “2014,” the New Year itself will be upon us in just a few short hours!

I finished it.  I chronologically read through the entire Bible…starting on January 1 and ending on December 31.  Some days I had to play “catch up” and read 12 chapters in a day if I missed, but most days I tried to discipline myself to do it as a part of my regular daily devotions.  You can read my thoughts on the first half of the Old Testament HERE and my thoughts on reading the second half of the Old Testament HERE.  The people of Israel had 400 years of silence between God’s last inspired word in the Old Testament and when He spoke again in the New Testament.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait that long because, you see, when you read the Bible in its entirety it reads like a beautifully raw work of art.  You laugh.  You cry.  You quickly turn the page to see what is going to happen next.  You want to shake people…and then you are confronted with the startling realization that you are just like them: sorely in need of a Savior.  And so, by the end of reading the Old Testament, you–just like the people of the world at that day–are longing for a fresh word from the Lord.

And it comes.  Oh, does it come!  As He promised long before…

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they will be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 31:31-34

He came and made His tabernacle among us.  He came and died on the cross to save us.  He came and rose victoriously from the grave so that we could have forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and hope.  He left us with His Word–a perfect, complete, whole letter by which we are to live our lives.

On January 1, I asked the Lord to change me through the reading of His entire Word this year.  And, as I journeyed through the Scriptures…from creation to the fall of man, from the Exodus to the conquest to the exile, from the birth of Christ to His promise to return soon, He was faithful to do it.  I was inspired again by Abraham to live a life of faith, to live a life of integrity like Joseph and Daniel, to trust that God has me where I am at for such a time as this like Esther, and to bravely step out of the boat like Peter.  I’ve been in awe AGAIN and AGAIN at God’s character, majesty, holiness, and power.  And, I’m humbled by His love, grace, and mercy that I do not deserve.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

From beginning to end, God’s word has been about Him.  He pursues us with tenacity and then grafts us in to the beautifully woven tapestry that includes liars, murderers, prostitutes…every day men and women like you and me who grasped a hold of the lifeline of Christ and let Him change them, too.

From beginning to end, my 2013 has been about Him as well.  This year has been the “year of more” as I prayed it would be, and through every celebration, trial, blessing, hard time, I have come to know Him more.  The new year is just around the corner, and I wait for it with a sense of peace, excitement, and faith, knowing that “the one who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

“So then just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” -Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

See you next year! 😉

Experiencing that Christmas Peace and One of My Favorite Christmas Worship Songs!

We are almost at CHRISTMAS!  The day of all days!  Whether you are running around finishing up last minute shopping, busily wrapping presents and preparing for a slew of holiday guests, or excitedly doing some other form of Christmas fun, the name of the game today on this blog and in my life is PEACE.  And that’s the life I want to speak into you on this day before Christmas.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
-Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

How many of us are feeling less than peaceful this Christmas?  How many of us are feeling less than joyful this Christmas?

Can you even be a person of joy and peace when your life isn’t going according to plan?  Or when it downright sucks?  Can you still experience the depths of pain, even while having joy in Christ?

The prophet Habakkuk wondered the same thing.  “How long, oh Lord?” he asked in Habakkuk 1, regarding the desolation of his beloved Israel.  Many of us are asking the same thing this Christmas.  How long, oh Lord, until the mate you have for me comes along?  How long, oh Lord, until there is a cure for this disease?  How long, oh Lord, will innocent children suffer?  How long, oh Lord, until I get a new job and get back on my feet?  How long, oh Lord, until that baby comes?  How long, oh Lord, until You return?  Emotions surrounding unfulfilled longings, wounds from prayers that are not answered in the way we hope, and the disappointing downward spiral of society as we know it run deep in each heart, just as it did in our ancient brother Habakkuk’s heart over two thousand years ago.

And so, like Habakkuk, we watch and wait for the Lord’s word.

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” -Habakkuk 2:1 (NIV)

Sometimes we watch and wait through grief.  Sometimes we watch and wait through silence.  Sometimes we watch and wait as we continue to live.  The conflict does not rest on the fact of watching and waiting, or our emotions as we do so.  The conflict comes when we expect God, like a mythical genie in a bottle, to give us the exact answer we want to a prayer and base the state of our mind on getting that specific answer.  It’s like how we pray for God’s will in our lives: do we really want God’s will?  Or do we just want what we want, and if God happens to come along for the ride and do what we want, then yay for Him?  True joy and peace in Christ do not come from our surroundings or what is going on in our lives or in the world around us.  They come from an attitude like Habakkuk’s.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the Lord,  I will be joyful in God my Savior.” -Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

This year Seth and I experienced a devastating loss of something that we were CERTAIN was God’s plan and will for our life.  We experienced betrayal from people who we thought would be the first to support us in our time of need.  I experienced backstabbing and persecution of my Christian business in a way that I never imagined would happen.  This year has been hard, and I’m just now reaching the other side of this wilderness season.  And, I am quite certain that there will be other wilderness seasons in my life–times where I’m hurt by the sins of others, seasons where I don’t understand what God is doing and why, moments where my dreams are reduced to ashes, and times where I question over and over again, “How long, oh Lord?”

And it is because I am coming from that place that I can write this to you with full assurance in who God is:  He will not let you fall when you stumble.  In fact, I can even echo what Habakkuk writes in 3:19, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”

When God is for you, no one can be against you.  When God is your strength, you will be enabled to tread on the heights.  When God is tabernacled in your heart, you can live your life with such peace and joy that the rest of the world will be astounded…regardless of your circumstances.

That is why, you see, that I will not often use this blog to write about “the bad things” that happen to me.  This isn’t a place where I will whine when things don’t go my way.  You won’t hear me saying that I’m in a funk, although sometimes I will write when I’m on the other side of one.  Some people might say that I’m not being real, but I see it as me being very real.   This is a place where I will realistically live out my life in such a way that points others to the reason for the peace, joy, and hope that I have: Jesus.

And He issued this creed in Isaiah 55:12 for us all to live by…

You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands. 

Merry Christmas, dear blog readers!

I Heart Ornaments

I had my student leaders over for their annual Christmas party two Fridays ago.  As they arrived and I hugged them and took their coats, I directed them to our downstairs family room where the party was going to be.  As I was uncovering the last of the food goodies, I overheard the following sentence from the group downstairs:

“I love how Miss Kirsten’s house is decorated so pretty and then she has a Big Mac ornament on her tree.”

And then I giggled.  I LOVE Seth’s and my ornament collection.  I love Christmas ornaments in general (a trait that I inherited from my Mom).  We have ornaments that Seth had when he was growing up that his mom sent over when we first got married.  We have ornaments that I had when I was growing up that my mom sent over when we first got married.  I love my dance ornaments that my students have given me over the years.

But, my most favorite ornaments are the ones that Seth and I have gotten together on our travels throughout the years.  Enter the Big Mac.

There it is.  Hanging from our tree in all its glory.

There it is. Hanging from our tree in all its glory.

Seth and I took a long weekend out to Pittsburgh several years ago, and heard about the famed Big Mac Museum in Uniontown, PA.  We like to do things that are off the beaten path together and even though I have never eaten a Big Mac in my life, we had a need to visit this place.  It was hysterical.  When we arrived we found that it was actually in a McDonalds (which makes sense in hindsight), but it was a hilarious and major letdown for my husband.  We got this ornament to commemorate the fun of that little pit stop on our travels.  It is definitely a conversation piece when friends come over!  Grin.

I like to get unique ornaments that represent places that we visit, and then when we hang them on our trees we reminisce about our trips!  It’s a fun tradition that we are building together.

How do you do ornaments on your tree?  Do you the elegant glass ball ornaments, a specific theme each year, or a hodge-podge of creative chaos like us?

A Holiday Heart Check

What is the status of your heart, my friend?  It’s important for you to know….

The holiday season can drudge up a myriad of emotions for every single one of us.  In addition to being thankful for much and celebrating stories from our faith, desiring peace on earth and good will to all, and loving our friends and family with a festive sparkle, we can feel so much more:  Depression.  Anger.  Jealousy.  Sadness.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are linked with some of our most very distinctive memories and we need to be prepared for the emotions that are tied to those memories to return in full force.

The enemy of our souls loves to catch us off guard–it’s one of his favorite schemes!  But, God’s Word tells us to be prepared for what comes (Ephesians 6:13).  How can we be prepared for an onslaught of emotions during the holiday season?

#1: Remember that your emotions can bear good or bad fruit.  Paul describes the acts of the sinful nature in Galations 5:19-21 (envy, hatred, discord, and so much more), and warns us against those emotions.  However, in verses 22 and 23 of that same chapter, he writes about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  As a woman who is incredibly passionate, I constantly have to remind myself to think about what kind of fruit I am bearing through my emotions before I unleash them.

#2:  Let them come, but don’t let them control you.  It is healthy and normal to feel things and to experience emotions.  When we bottle up our emotions and do not allow ourselves to feel, we become angry and tired and hopless.  Our emotions become unhealthy when we allow our them to consume us and influence how we deal with other people.  To be honest with you, this is one of the reasons why I keep a private journal outside of this blog.  There are many things that I think on and go through that are between me and the Lord, and not for public eyes.

#3:  Consider the cost.  We have all said things that we regret.  Think before you allow your emotions to ruin a relationship.  Can you be edifying and uplifting instead of jealous or hurtful?  And, as Thumper says, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  There are times that I have specifically prayed that the Lord would shut my mouth so that I do not say anything that I will regret, and He answers that prayer in a number of creative, ironic ways. :)

#4:  Forgive, forgive, forgive, and move on!  If you have made every effort to reconcile with a person and they do not reciprocate (which happens more often than not), it’s time for you to forgive.  Whenever I was going through a particularly hurtful and challenging time in a relationship, I decided that it was time to get over it and move on.  Even though the person who had hurt me did not ask for forgiveness, I forgave them before the Lord.  Yet, even after that, I felt the seeds of bitterness and anger continuing to take root in my heart.  Well, that’s no good, I thought, Lord, didn’t I pray for forgiveness once already?  And He specifically said, “Daughter, I didn’t ask you to forgive just once.  I asked you to do it seventy times seven.”  After that, whenever I felt those bad seeds starting to sprout, I squelched them with forgiveness.  And then I moved on–even though the person who hurt me did not.

#5:  Fill your heart and your soul with God so that bad fruit cannot take root.  Philippians 4:8 tells us to dwell on whatever is true, right, noble, pure, admirable, and lovely.  When we are feeling down on ourselves or backed into a corner, we are not able to focus on the truth.  God’s truth.

Why in the world am I writing this when ya’ll are focused on turkey, trimmings, and travel?  Because it is important to check in with yourself before the holidays so that you can be full of joy before the Lord regardless of your circumstances, and so that you can be filled to the brim and overflowing with God’s grace and joy and truth towards others.

November Joyful Gifts Challenge: Part 1

Lots of people are doing the “Thankful Challenge” on Facebook.  It’s a great reminder to be thankful for something every day, and I surely am.  I just decided to move mine over to my blog so that I could keep track of it all in one place because, some days, I would forget to eat if Seth didn’t remind me (haha, true story.  Just a few weeks ago I mentioned that I had a headache late one night and that I was going to just crash and Seth goes, “Did you eat today, baby?”  I realized that I had only eaten a grapefruit for breakfast…that was it!  Bad Kirsten!  Not recommended.).  This is a great reminder to stop and enjoy the moment and, as Ann Voskamp writes, “dare to live fully right where you are.”  I’m actually following her prompt for this blog post…

Day 1: 3 Gifts Eaten  :  Lunch with my Dad, Fresh fruit, and Salty Popcorn when I got home from a challenging dance class

Day 2: 3 Gifts Worn : 
My leotard (I love leotards), my hoodie, and my sweatpants that signify a cozy evening in

Day 3: 3 Gifts that Start with N : 
New ministry opportunities, new seasons of life, and the Name of Jesus

Day 4: Gifts Gathered, Given, or Good :  Some encouragement when I really needed it, Our Cute White Pumpkin Crop, and a Peaceful Day to get Lots Done

Day 5: 3 Small Gifts :  Prince Caspian throwing himself in front of me to get a belly rub, Leading the Women in my Bible study in Creative Worship, and People Checking Up On Me…in the good, non-creepy way!

Day 6: 3 Gifts Having to do with Government : 
Our forefathers, the millions of nameless men and women who sacrifice for our country, freedom

Day 7: 3 Gifts from Your Window :  The gorgeous sunrise, the Disney scene of animals that is our yard, all the black cats on our street looking out from their respective home windows (truth: sometimes I imagine that they have their own secret society)

Day 8: Gifts Salty, Sweet, and Sipped :  Chipotle chips and salsa, Chocolate chips, hot chocolate & tea on a cold night

Day 9: 3 Gifts of Harvest :  My Reverence dancers–through Christ they are going forth and changing the world

Day 10: 3 Gifts Found in Bible Reading :  Reading the Bible chronologically in its entirety this year has been such a gift to me (will post more about that in the weeks to come), the message to “be ready” like the wise and faithful servant (Mark 13, Matthew 24), the message to be faithful with the few things that Christ has given me (Matthew 25)

Day 11: 3 Gifts of Remembrance :  The awesome heritage of faith that I have in my family–what a legacy!, what God has done over the past six years, our beautiful, perfect wedding day

Day 12: 3 Gifts at Noon :  A phone call from my man, a beautiful morning at Bible study, snuggles with Prince Caspian when I got home

Day 13: 3 Gifts Behind a Door  :  The gift of a full day’s work, my awesome dance classes, and a cozy home on a chilly day

Day 14: 3 Gifts Silent :  A hush on a cold night, vibrant colors of fall, and snuggling with my fella

Day 15: 3 Gifts Golden :  The sunrise :)

How about you?  What are you thankful for so far this month?