You BEST give thanks!

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Today, I am thankful.

I am thankful for another day to breathe in the spring air and take a walk.

I am thankful for the fact that it is Saturday, which means I had the opportunity to sleep in AND have no where specific to be at the moment.

I am thankful for popsicles. They are so, SO good this time of year.

I am thankful that in just a few short days, my feet will be standing on the shores of a Carolina beach.

I am thankful that in just a few short days, my sister will also be getting MARRIED. (Also, incredibly strange that we are so old).

I am thankful that I have been given the privilege of getting older. And eventually I will be thankful for anti-aging products (HAHA, joking. Kinda).

I am thankful for friends. Good ones.

Also, I am thankful for the difficult friendships. They have made me stronger.

I am thankful for the news, as people often bash it for being filled with pain and bad stories, it was full of grateful celebration as Boston slept peacefully last night.

I am thankful for people who are wiling to sacrifice their lives daily so that others may live freely.

I am thankful that the seasons have changed and continue to do so, as it reminds us all that change is a natural part of life.

I am thankful for the recent changes in my own life, as they have forced me to surrender my own direction and realize my Father’s direction is much greater.

I am thankful for the JOY that can be found in all circumstances because it has absolutely nothing to do with circumstances and everything to do with Jesus.

I am thankful for mail. Snail mail. It makes my day, without fail, every single time.

I am thankful for my neighbor’s good taste in music, as it has made our thin walls not such a bad feature after all.

I am thankful for my body and all that it allows me to do.

I am thankful that at some point, my body hits the “reset” button” and I am forced to slow down and rejuvenate myself in the Word.

I am thankful for food, in particular strawberries.  I believe they will be everywhere in Heaven.

I am thankful that because I have the money to feed myself, I can help provide that same nourishment to others who need a little help.

I am thankful for organizations that exist solely to help make other people’s lives a little better, a little easier and a little more comfortable. They will be rewarded.

I am thankful to live in America, where I am able to talk freely, worship joyfully and pray unceasingly. That is not normal compared to the rest of the world.

I am thankful for good friends who believe in me, listen to my struggles and invest in the development of my heart. You are precious to me!

I am thankful for planners. Seriously, I might forget my head in the mornings if I didn’t check that off my daily list of things to do/bring.

I am thankful for dry erase markers. Because with these, I often add things that I have completed to my to-do-list in the mornings, just so I can cross them off. (You do that too, don’t lie).

I am thankful for yoga pants. I believe they are the common ingredient to all happiness (if you’re a female… or not? Won’t go there).

I am thankful for SO many things.

But mostly, I am thankful for Jesus.

I have often heard that if you remain grateful, you will not find the time to complain.

While I think because we are PROFESSIONAL complainers , finding that time to yap our mouths is far too easy for us, I also believe that constantly thanking Him for our blessings is one of the greatest things we can do.

When my mind is focused on what I do have, I am more resourceful. I am more useful. I am more aware.

I SEE what I can do with what I have rather than what I wish I could do with what I don’t have.

I encourage you to find some time in your day where you either keep a verbal log of what you are thankful for or you start a gratitude journal.

Take TEN minutes (that’s nothing so shut it- you can find that time) and thank the good Lord above for all the people, relationships, situations, blessings and undeserved GRACE in your life.

What are you thankful for?

Who are you thankful for?

What situations in your life have helped you, strengthened you, challenged you, encouraged you, witnessed to you, reassured you or influenced you?

THANK HIM for those!

In light of everything that has happened recently, I believe we can all agree that we have a lot to be thankful for. 

You best give thanks! FOR REAL.

I’ll help you start…

Hey Jesus! Lord above! Lort almighty! (however you say it)

THANK YOU so much for… 🙂 

Now your turn.

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” -1 Thessalonians 5:18

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What’s your story?

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Every Tuesday night, I go to a service called “The Porch” for young adults at Watermark Church in Dallas.

This past week started a movement called “my story”,  (see examples of #mystory on twitter).

This is not a shameless self-promotion for The porch, but rather a plea that you would take the time, even three minutes, to read a few of these stories of grace.

Everything from lying to cheating to sex to drug addiction to abortion to alcoholism to materialism to anxiety to suicide to depression to everything else: there is no issue or struggle that is too deep or dark to expose.

As I listened to the stories shared on the stage that night and continue to read the stories shared on twitter- which stretch from Norway to California- I am absolutely blown away by God’s grace and redemption in our lives.

But not just that, I am deeply encouraged that people are willing to be so vulnerable with a very judgemental world.

I am encouraged that slowly but surely, we are reminded that this life was never about us and will never be about us.

The calendar was restarted 2013 years ago because Our savior was born.  Call me crazy, but I am pretty sure since then, our birthdays haven’t had quite the same impact.

We are valuable because of who our Maker is and because of who He is, we are.

Exposing our weaknesses and our struggles, whether that means porn addiction, alcoholism or severe anxiety, does not make us weaker. Or smaller. Or less valuable.

Exposing our weaknesses and our struggles opens the door to God’s faithfulness.  It invites others to experience life with us when we live in the fullness of His grace and the transparency of His unconditional love.

Think about this: Before you buy a product, don’t you like to see the before and after picture so that you know your purchase is worth the money you are spending?

Every infomercial is packed full of transformational pictures that persuades every couch potato that their lives will never be the same once they obtain this product!

While neither Jesus nor living for Him could ever be comparable to a product, I do think that people want to hear the difference He has made.

They want to feel safe and assured that this Jesus guy they are hearing about is who He says He is.

They want to hear your STORY.

Not the boot-legged version that sums up your past as “some incidences that scarred you” but rather the specifics; the exact names of the robbers who stole your joy, no matter how shameful that robber made you feel.

If you’re scared of what someone will think when you tell them the real version of your story, chances are they have a story that might scare some away too.

And the way I see it, if someone runs away from you because of your past, they absolutely do not deserve a role in your future story.

We are instruments here. Vessels. Spokespeople. Disciples. Story-tellers.

We are not weak because of what we have been through but rather we are powerful because of what Jesus has brought us through.

Have you ever told your story?

Not the fake one. The sugar-coated one. The romanticized one.

But the real one, full of raw truth and undeserved grace?

You should. People need to hear it.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16

“A porn addict, alcoholic, narcasistic, materialistic, dead-man-walking who heard good news about a new life in Jesus. NOW I’M FREE! ‪#mystory” @JPokluda

“Molested as a child; and dad died when I was 8. Suicidal porn addict for years, til I found a love in Jesus stronger than my pain! ‪#mystory” @FortodayMattie

“Glory thieving, people pleasing, worshipping all that felt good. Then met Jesus, collided with grace, and have never been the same. ‪#mystory” @JeffersonBethke

“Sought worth & approval from everyone around only to be left feeling empty. Redeemed & saved by Jesus. Only His approval matters. ‪#mystory” @Cleerecherry

Check out the message that started this #mystory trend here:

http://www.watermark.org/media/mystory/2570/

Share your story in 132 characters or less, including the hashtag, “#mystory”, and help us point to the only story that matters: Jesus.

Heroes exist.

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There are certain events that take place that can’t be summed up in human words or understood by human minds.

I think as I was growing up, they felt less common.

The world seemed a little brighter, a little happier and a little safer.

Maybe I was just younger then and a little more sheltered from the “bad news”.

Or maybe this world really is a little darker; a place where another terrorist attack seems like second nature.

As I heard more and more details about the Boston Marathon tragedy yesterday, I felt completely sick to my stomach, much like I felt on September 11th, the day of the Newtown Connecticut shooting or the recent mass stabbing that took place in Texas.

My twitter feed and Facebook timeline began to fill up with feelings of outrage and bitterness towards those who conducted such horrific actions and had the nerve to do something so tragic.

While I am not saying that my spirit did not feel some bitterness and disgust towards those who could ever carry out such intentional harm, I also knew that amongst the tragedy, there was good news.

As I watched more news coverage, I was reminded of something.

There is good in the world, too.

The minute that this event happened, police officers, firemen and army officials ran towards the explosion.

The residents of Boston filled the streets eager to assist all those who needed a helping hand.

The restaurants around the area were offering the runners free food, shelter and a place to charge their phones and call their loved ones.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/gameon/2013/04/15/boston-marathon-blast-help/2086273/

Here is a link that displays so many acts of overwhelming kindness and selflessness.

The immediate response to those around this scene was not hesitation but rather, courage.

Other people’s lives were at stake and that became first priority.

While I feel like such events seem to mark our history more frequently and the value of life seems non-existent to some, I am reminded that to others, it means everything.

Evil has always existed and unfortunately, it always will.

Because we live in a fallen world where people misplace their identities and will do anything to receive the spotlight, there will continue to be tragedy.

However, there will also continue to be heroes.

My heart is still grieving thinking of those who were killed and their families who must move forward, as well as those who are suffering with injuries and wounds because of thoughtless individuals who had and have no concern for humanity.

My mind still does not understand the events that transpired yesterday. After all, I do not believe we are meant to understand such evil.

But I do know that I want my eyes to focus on the heroes rather than the villians.

I do know that in the midst of terror, we do not have to be afraid. We live in the world but we are not of it.

Evil exists, but so does good.

We can not let all our time and energy go towards thoughts of bitterness and confusion, but rather towards gratitude and appreciation for the ones who survived, the heroes who came to their rescue and the God who continues to provide another day for us all.

I will be on my knees praying for the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy, but I will also be raising my hands in praise to a God who always overcomes evil with good.

In honor of those affected by the Boston Marathon events, I say we all run the great race of faith with greater endurance, zest and thankfulness than we ever have before.

To all those who had the courage to even partake in the race, you are our heroes.

To all those who were killed in this tragedy, you are our heroes.

To all the families who are suffering right now, you are our heroes.

To all those courageous individuals who ran towards the smoke and not away from it, you are our heroes.

To all those who lent a helping hand in any way, you are our heroes.

To the civilians and leaders of Boston, you are our heroes.

To those who continue this investigation and seek for justice, you are our heroes.

To those who will have to move forward in the race of life with the past reminders of this tangible race on your minds and hearts, you are our heroes. And we salute you. 

As the news coverage and stories continue, I hope we are all reminded that while tragedy, terror and villains exist, heroes do too.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” –Hebrews 12:1-2

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” –Romans 12:21 

“They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” –John 17:16

Pray in the Pit.

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This morning, I was reading the story of Daniel in the lion’s den.

It’s a popular story and one I think everyone has heard over and over again.

The authorities in Daniel’s region wanted to punish him, but after they reviewed his days and his actions, they had no evidence or grounds to make such a claim.

Stating, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” –Daniel 6:5

The King knew that He would have to make a law that involved this God that Daniel worshipped so continually.

So, he created this law: Any person that was caught praying to anyone besides the King would be immediately thrown into the lion’s den.

Because the entire city knew that Daniel prayed three times a day, the officials knew that this would cause grounds for punishment for him.

When Daniel found out, what do you think he did?

Found a private spot and asked God for help?

Decided to stop praying in efforts to save his own life?

No.

The first thing Daniel did when this law was published was he went to pray in the same spot as he always did.

I am not sure about you, but I know good and well that if Obama issued such a decree and I was under the microscope, I am not sure if this would be my immediate response.

I mean, if you are about to be brutally punished (lions tend to be aggressive…) for being faithful, then wouldn’t you stop being faithful so that you may avoid punishment?

But Daniel’s immediate response was prayer.

So he was thrown into the lion’s den.

Wait….WHAT?

I knew all of these parts of the story before, but studying it this morning, I started to wonder a little bit.

My conversation with God was more of a monologue, as I asked him a few things.

“God, so let me get this straight. One of your most faithful followers, Daniel, was told that he was going to be thrown into the lion’s den if he praised anyone but the King of his city.

Yet he still prayed to you, praised you and was faithful to only you! WHY did you allow Him to go into the den anyway? Doesn’t he deserve to not be punished but rather rewarded?”

In my own conversation, God quickly interrupted my thoughts and reminded me of an important but difficult truth:

Sometimes we are called to be faithful not so that we may avoid the lion’s den but rather so God can declare his faithfulness THROUGH the lion’s den.

If Daniel had not have ever had to enter the lion’s den, then the people of this city would not have known the true rescuing power of Jesus.

Daniel trusted God.

His response from the get-go was to stay faithful.

The very thing he was going to be punished for- prayer- was his exact response to the law- prayer.

You see, it is easy to be faithful in prayer and steadfast in trust when we avoid the lion’s den and are rescued before we actually witness the lion licking his mouth, hungry and ready.

But what about when we must enter the den anyway?

We must remember that sometimes we must enter the pits, the low points, the valleys or the lion’s den in order to be delivered and show of His faithfulness.

If you are feeling as though you are about to enter the lion’s den yourself, or maybe you feel in the heat of it, I challenge you to trust God.

Do not pray to be removed from the pit, but rather pray for greater trust through the pit.

“And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.” –Daniel 6:23

Allow your faith to starve your fears.

Trust God in the lion’s den for it is THEN that others will see your faithfulness.

Not “feelin'” it? Seek His truth.

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Woah, it’s been a while!

Sorry I was out of the loop for a bit; wedding season has me traveling more than Dora the Explorer.

In this time of traveling and reflecting, God has really been working in my heart about a number of things.

One in particular has been the importance of “feelings” versus “truth”. 

In our society, I think we are taught that they are one in the same.

If we feel rejected, then we were definitely rejected in a situation or by someone.

If we feel unloved, then someone has made us feel that way.

If we feel as though our lives and our days are without purpose, then we must exist for no reason and no one would notice our disappearance.

Right?

We are taught to be led by our emotion.

Guided by our strong, independent spirits.

But I am being reminded more and more that while our feelings are legitimate and they are real to us, they are often times not rooted in His truth.

I want to make a very clear distinction: Feelings are real to our hearts but they are not always true of our spirits.

In other words, you can FEEL as though you are unloved because a circumstance has made you feel that way, but that is not the TRUTH.

Because we are taught that they are one in the same, we accept our own feelings and others’ feelings as truth.

We give them value in our heads, therefore allowing them to determine our heart’s direction.

Now I am not saying that the feelings we feel are not real.

Nor am I saying that people do not make mistakes that put them in situations to cause feelings of rejection, insecurity, lonliness, etc. or that they are not put in situations beyond their control that lead them to have such feelings.

We are human.

We are weak.

We are flimsy.

We are unreliable.

We are fragile.

We are unstable.

We are FULL of emotions.

And that is okay!!!!!!

Wanna know why?

Because it always reminds of who determines our truth, who gives us our purpose and whose thoughts of us should be the only one that holds value in our lives: Jesus.

Think about a time when you felt pain; a time when you felt rejected or sad; maybe disappointed or lonely or just all together without purpose.

Were those feelings true?

NO!

You are never alone.  You are highly favored and deeply loved. Your purpose is to glorify Your maker. He will never reject you.

However, those feelings were real.

They hurt.

They kept you up at night.

They stung.

But what gave you renewed joy?

What reminded you that you should be full of gratitude every morning?

What filled your heart?

TRUTH.

His truth pierces through our feelings and reminds us of our significance.

I am not sure what you might be going through or what you might be “feeling” tonight, but no matter what it is, I encourage you to seek His truth.

Remind yourself of the Maker’s plans for your life.

Make Him your focus and allow thankfulness to flow from your mouth.

You will be surprised how much better you sleep 🙂

So when you’re not “feelin” it, just remember that His truth determines your day.

Refrigerator Picasso.

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I absolutely love this painting.

Everytime I look at it, I smile and think of it’s artist.

The paint is a little outside the lines (maybe more than a little) but personally, I think it looks better than if everything was painted in cookie-cutter format.

As cliché as it sounds, the imperfections of this painting, or what seem to be imperfections, are my absolute favorite part.

They are what give the painting its’ character.

Actually, when we were painting this, I helped my little artist, Ashton, paint a sun in the right hand corner.

So, I painted a nice little, circle-shaped sun with yellow rays and told Ash to just paint AROUND the sun or on the car so “the weather would stay warm” in his painting.

Naturally, he headed straight for the sun.

He dipped his tiny paintbrush in the bright yellow paint and got the biggest dallop known to man and plopped it on the sunshine.

He giggled, looked up at me (knowing I had just painted that) and said, “See, Cleere! Now it’s even brighter!”

Seriously, I could eat this child.

But truly, he made the picture even BETTER!

It was his thought process behind his colors and where he placed them.

It was his excitement, focus and joy as he painted.

It was his beaming face at the end when he could hardly stand it he was so excited!

I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to say that this is exactly how God is with us.

Could he paint a more accurate, more legible, more understandable and graceful picture?

Duh.

But he lets us use the paintbrush and give it a whirl instead.

He delights in our use of colors and our bright, eager imaginations.

He is thrilled at our joy as we paint what we know as a masterpiece on the canvas.

He constructed the lines, knowing that we might veer off course a bit, but that is okay.

Because in our imperfections lies our beauty.

God doesn’t so much care about the tangible painting afterwards, as he does the name on the bottom of the masterpiece.

He is a proud father who hangs each and every painting on his refrigerator, where He admires the work of His children.

I think, if He were sitting beside us (which He is) while painting, He would say “Go on! It looks PERFECT.

Keep painting.

Do not be afraid to travel outside of the lines.

I will wash your brush when it needs to be cleaned and provide new colors when necessary.

But for now- PAINT! My refrigerator is waiting for you.” 🙂

So, go on, Picasso! Give it a whirl.

“For the Lord, your God, is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” -Zephaniah 3:17

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” -Proverbs 16:3