Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Resolutions 2018

It’s customary in our culture to make New Year’s resolutions. In the past I have jumped on that band wagon. I have also fallen off that band wagon. And at times I have completely rejected the idea. Because let’s face it I almost always fail at my attempts to diet, exercise, get better at cleaning, wake up early or ... Gasp! Give up coffee!! Maybe you can relate?

So imagine my elation at the “One Word” trend that took place in the online blogging world several years back. I thought, “Hey! Yes! I can totally accomplish this! I can totally focus on one little word for a year. Easy peasy!” 

I would set aside some time to pray and worship before January 1st to specifically ask God what word He wanted to give me. I would write down that word, usually try to figure out what it meant and then come back to it every so often throughout the year. This worked well for me. 

Then I came across another trend (I was pretty active in the blogging community) of picking a verse for the year. Which was great too! I’d follow a similar pattern and ask God for verse. 

So now I’m up to resolutions, (which eventually morphed into goals) one word and one verse. All of which needed to be ironed out before January 1st of course. 

Now, a short story. The year 2016 happened to be a difficult one for me personally so near the end I needed big changes! There was another trend that had been floating around the online community that I followed. It was something called “power sheets”. It’s a terrific product created by a super talented and encouraging woman. And several other super talented encouraging woman were raving about using these power sheets on social media. So I, of course, needed to have these power sheets so that I could be successful like these other woman. I used some of my Christmas money (power sheets aren’t cheap), got the binder and went to town. I was going to start 2017 right! 

Now don’t get me wrong, for some people, power sheets can be a very useful tool. Except for me, life happened. It was another difficult year with a painful number of changes and I did not keep up. I felt guilty for spending the money, guilty for struggling to come up with goals, guilty for falling behind. Goodness gracious! I was getting caught up in what everyone else was doing, and what I thought I was “supposed to do.” But none of that was what God had for me. 

As it came near to the end of 2017 I felt the pressure to come up with goals or a word or a verse. But I felt God asking me to pause. In all honesty I was too tired not to. So I rested but still sought the Lord. At last, I didn’t feel pressure. I felt peace. 

“Then we will no longer be like immature children.  We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching.” Ephesians 4:14a (NLT)

At West Ridge, during the sermon on New Year’s Eve, Pastor John said something that stuck with me, “You don’t have to be like anybody else.” I believe he was referring to when you pray and his point was that your prayers don’t have to be perfect or sound like anyone else’s prayers. But that night as I thought about goals, AND my one little word, AND my verse, I felt God put on my heart, “You don’t have to be like anyone else.” I felt so much freedom in that. Even now writing about it, I get a little teary eyed as the freedom wells up in me! So I rested in that.

I still like the idea of goals and one little word or a verse but what I realized is it doesn’t have to look like somebody else’s. I could have no goals or carry goals over from the previous year. Even better I could have fun goals! I could keep the same word or verse if it hadn’t sunk in yet. I don’t have to feel pressure to ask for a new word! Or I could do nothing at all if I wanted. No goals, no word, no verse. I could just keep living my life. (But seriously what’s the fun in that?) The pressure was off and freedom took its place! 

So here it is! (Because FUN!) My line up for 2018!
  1. Keep practicing hand lettering 
  2. Learn to weave on a loom
  3. Make some pottery
  4. Always be (okay with being) myself! 

I’m keeping the same verse because sometimes “a new thing” takes time... 

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

And last but not least, in faith, I chose the word “Redemption” because I’m believing God will redeem all of the things lost or stolen over the last two years. He’s in the business of restoration and I’m standing on His promise. 

I’ll leave you with this verse: 
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3 (NIV) 

I pray, sweet sisters, that you can hear the voice of God over your life loud and clear! Above all the noise and chatter of the world. I pray you find rest, redemption, streams of abundance, creativity, peace, and the Joy of Christ over the next year (and every one after). I pray the pressure is off and that freedom has stepped in in its place. Amen! 

Happy New Year! 
With much Love, 

Jimmie Lee 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

It's January... Now What?

I love decorating the Christmas tree and going through all the ornaments.  Unwrapping each handmade one brings back memories of tiny hands and sticky crafts.  But there’s something I love even more...  putting it all away! Lol! I might be a bit weird, but there’s something about getting your house back to normal after the holidays that straight up makes me giddy!  I am all about sweeping up the pine needles and little bits of wrapping paper from under the table.  Tenderly wrapping up the ceramic Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the rest of the gang from the Nativity set in bubble wrap? Yes, please!

It can be so easy to clean up the mess the holidays leave behind and simply move on.  Pack it up and put it back in storage.  We can box it all up then set it aside until next December.  And you know, I think we can often do that with the message of this treasured season too. But isn’t that missing the point?  If you are heading into the new year, putting the lessons of the season in a box to collect dust (and stink bugs, ok, maybe that is just at my house) you may want to reconsider...

Let’s take a look at the wise men and follow their example.  “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 and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” Matthew 2:11-12 (NIV)

First we see that the wise men bowed down and worshipped Jesus.  And then as good guests usually do, they presented Him with gifts. But verse 12 is what has been really jumping out at me as 2018 begins.  The wise men were warned not to go back to Herod so they returned to their country by another route. Perhaps taking the backroads as opposed to the interstate? (I’m kidding!)

When we meet with Jesus... When we worship Him, presenting our hearts to Him as our gift...  Do we go back to life as usual? Or do we return to life by another route?

Here’s the thing, if we pack up and put away all this Christmas season has done in our hearts.  If we set it aside and get back to the normal routine – we have missed the point.  We are heading back to Herod so to speak.

I don’t know about you but I want to come away from Christmas changed. My desire is to allow the transformation to take hold and stick with me. I want to carry that sparkle with me year-round!

So let’s break into this new year leaving a trail of glitter behind us!  Let’s carry Christmas in our hearts all year long.  May we all return to our “country” by another route – the Jesus route.  Changed and transformed! Never the same again...

Thank You Jesus for all You have done for us! Because of You, our lives are forever changed! Thank You that we can come into Your Presence.  One encounter with You and everything changes.  May we not return to our broken ways of living life but live life for You “by another route”.  Jesus, it is in Your mighty name we pray... Amen!

Post by: Marcy Gates

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Names of God

When I was a little girl my Pappy would call me his Peach or Peaches. My dad had a nickname for me too, he called me Buckaroo. When I played basketball in middle school my nickname was Little Red. In high school some of the kids called me James. While in college I had a group of friends that would switch the first and last initials and we would all call each other different names. I was, Limmie Jee. I fondly remember all these names. I can remember the person who started the nickname and look back affectionately on those relationships and what they meant to me at the time. 

I met my husband in college and quickly learned that names were also important in his family. The funny and also sweetest thing is how their nicknames for each other would morph. I can’t remember all of them. The best way for me to explain it is that they started out as one name, take Kenyan for example (my husband’s running nickname), and morphed into something completely different, like Yommers. Kenyan to Yommers? See hard to explain. Nonetheless it was an endearing quality I experienced in his family and he somehow now affectionately calls me Bagel. You’ll have to ask him how that started! (Because I can’t remember) He mostly just calls me babe though and rarely calls me by my actual name, Jimmie Lee. 

My oldest calls me “Hey Mom” and my youngest calls me mommy. 

That is approximately 9 different names I have had over my life time, not including my actual name. I have a feeling you might have some nicknames amongst your people too! Now let me tell you why I’m writing about names today...

Way back in October I participated in something called a “Hand Lettering Challenge” on Instagram. This consisted of using hand lettering to create a piece of art for each day’s prompt and then posting a picture. The prompts for that month were some of the names of God. Did you know that God has a whole lot of different names?! 

Each time I would hand letter the name for that day, I would also look up the scripture for that particular name. And it occurred to me that each person God has a relationship with has a different name for him. Many times it came from a promise or God’s faithfulness in that person’s life.  It made me think of all the different names I’ve had and all the different names I’ve had for people in my life and it just clicked and made sense. 

Each name had a special meaning to that person. For Hagar it was El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13) For Abraham it was Jehovah Jireh, God provides (Genesis 22:14). For Jesus it was ABBA, Papa (Galatians 4:6-7).

And of course during this season, it’s no different. He is Jesus, the babe who came through Mary. Emmanuel, God with us. Christ the Messiah. Prince of Peace. Yeshua, Deliverer. And so much more!

I have heard people be confused about how God could have so many different names. But I’m excited that through this hand lettering venture, God taught me a simple explanation that I’m so grateful for! 

Which one of God’s names resonates with you? What promises has He fulfilled in your life that brought you deeper into relationship with Him? How have you seen His faithfulness?

Post by: Jimmie Lee DiIanni

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Should Be...

I should be freaking out right now.  In fact, I should have been freaking out for a month now, at least. 

Business/work pressures.
Unexpected bad news.

The month of November has been full of ups and downs. And there’s every indication that December will be more of the same. But this season has been different for me. It would not be unusual for me to have mini meltdowns silently in my head for weeks, fretting over the things on the list above, only to have it all spill out in a major meltdown with tears and snot bubbles.

But this season, I’m finding myself much less stressed.  Things I used to worry about no longer cause my stomach to clench in knots.  In fact, I’m going to be bold and say that this season has been a season of peace. Now don’t get me wrong, I have shed some tears and had a couple moments of silent panic this month but it has not overtaken me.  

So what is different for me this month than in the past? My thoughts.

Philippians 4:6 instructs us not to be anxious about anything.  We are told to bring our prayers and requests to God with a thankful heart.  And then when we do that, the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.  

But, you might say, “I’ve done that and I am still fearful, worried, stressed, etc....”

Well, let’s keep reading in Philippians, because this is key to moving forward...

“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

After you have prayed, after you have cried out to God – where do your thoughts go? Are they heading back into the mire of worry and stress?  Are they diving deep into the dark unknowns? Are you trying to be two steps ahead of whatever is chasing you down?

As I have navigated this month, I’ve tried to be very careful and purposeful in where my thoughts go.  And I’m not talking about “the power of positive thinking” here.  I’m talking about focusing my thoughts on Christ. After I have prayed and allowed God’s peace to wash over me, I’ve been careful to not let my thoughts wander but to keep them focused on God. My desire is to hold on to the peace He has graciously given me.

“You keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

Where are your thoughts heading today? What’s trying to dominate your mind? May I offer up a bit of direction? Here’s where I have been trying to steer my thoughts to lately... 

Whatever is true – remembering all I know about God from what He has revealed in His Word.
Whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable – focusing in on Jesus and all He has done for me.
Whatever is excellent or praiseworthy – keeping my eyes open for all God is doing right now in front of me and thanking Him for it!

I hope that helps you, sweet friend, as much as it has been helping me!  May we move forward with our thoughts fixed on Christ and resting in the abundant peace that only He can give!

Post by: Marcy Gates

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Whatever They Do...

Recently while I was at work one day, a customer wrote out a check to pay for her purchase. As I wrote down the information from her driver’s license, I noticed that she was born in 1924! My immediate thought was a question, “I wonder what she thinks about our culture today and the way the world has changed?” I kind of wanted to ask her out for a cup of coffee! I had so many questions! But a lot of times, I’m still shy, so I never asked her because I thought she would think I was weird.

The next day while I was counting money in the office, there was a note on her check for me. It read, “Was this woman really 93?!” It made me chuckle a little. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much life this woman has seen. What was it like in 1924? How have things changed for the better? How have things changed for the worse? 

And then I thought about the people in my life who have come before me, my great aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my parents, etc. I thought about the legacy they have left on my life and the legacy they have left on the lives of my children.

Our “Young Fishers of Men” series at West Ridge that Pastor John just took us through also came to mind. And I just felt an overwhelming thankfulness that I’m part of a church community who is passionate about investing in our young people. Another question I wanted to ask that 93-year-old customer was what she thought about this younger generation. As the parent of a teenager, and a leader in our youth group, I must say that I think this new generation gets a bad rap. Much like with anything else, you can’t really know about something unless you spend time learning about it. I have to say the teenagers in my life tend to blow me away over and over again. They struggle with the same things that I struggled with is a teenager and probably the same things that you struggled with as a teenager too. But ultimately the way they think, their heart, their passion, it all just blows me away!

I remember needing somebody in my corner when I was a teenager and young adult. I am proud to be part of a community that is going to stand in the next generation’s corner, cheer them on, and help them rise up to be the individuals that God made them to be. As we talked about in the series, so many young people in the Bible served God and changed the world for His kingdom and for His glory. We learned that age doesn’t matter, God can use anybody for His purposes. It’s with this perspective that we choose to move forward and invest in God’s kids of all ages!

And I just love when God makes these little connections for me whether it is between a sermon series at church, Bible verses in my devotional time, or whatever the case may be.  When these little connections pop up it’s a reminder to me that God cares and that He listens and that He still speaking.

At West Ridge, we are in a new series called, “Bless”. When we were discussing this past Sunday’s message in our small group, the end of Psalm 1:3 stood out to me, “...whatever they do, prospers.” (I’ll post the entire verse at the end of my post.) When a person follows the decrees of the Lord, whatever they do prospers.

Immediately my children, and their peers popped into my head! You see God is blessing and His blessing is eternal. Whatever they do, prospers. My children, your children, your neighbor’s children, they are a blessing from God. Much like a tree, children grow, develop, mature... they prosper! You want to see God’s blessing in your life? I challenge you to invest in a young person! Be their cheerleader, their shoulder to cry on, point them to the Word that will root them like a tree planted by the water. (Amen!) I’ll leave you with this key verse from the current West Ridge series“Bless”...

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.”

Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

Post by: Jimmie Lee DiIanni

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Lessons Learned from This Is Us

Pictured: (l-r) Mandy Moore as Rebecca, Milo Ventimiglia as Jack
Ron Batzdorff/NBC | 2016 NBCUniversal Media , LLC

I think half of America has been wondering how exactly Jack Pearson died.  And the other half wants to know who Jack Pearson is and why their wives cry so much on Tuesday nights! Ha! But seriously, the NBC show “This is Us” has captured the attention of so many of us.  It is one of the most highly watched shows on tv right now.

Last fall, NBC was hyping “This is Us” big time. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to get invested in a new show. But after the first 15 minutes, I was hooked.  The characters on this show – the Pearson family, the love they have for each other, their life situations – all of it was so relatable.  So very real.  I watched and cried through the first season.  And I was counting down the days till new episodes began THIS year!  The family portrayed in this story is so endearing.  As you flash back and forth from their present story lines to their childhood memories, you get glimpses of what events occurred in their pasts that have shaped them and how they handle life now.

After the cry fest that was the first episode of this new season a few weeks back, I realized something...  Each one of the characters on this show, they would stick with me for days.  I would think to myself, “Ah if only Kate would do this...” or “Randall is going through this because he never dealt with...”

And that’s when God opened my eyes to this... “They never emptied their hurt pocket.”   

I’m sad to say, the Pearson family is not real.  BUT...  The issues each of the characters struggle with, their ups and downs – this is what makes people want to watch them every Tuesday night.  We can relate to them on some level. And if their story resonates so deeply with us, the viewer, then many of us have probably experienced the same hurts and problems as well.

If you haven’t watched the show, basically, the characters are haunted by the unresolved pain, hurt, and guilt they feel over their father’s (Jack Pearson) untimely death.  Seemingly, every choice they made moving forward in their lives was a result of that initial pain (with a few other childhood hurts thrown in there too).  But the death of their dad is a pain that runs so deep, one of them can’t even bring herself to speak the words to explain to her fiancĂ© just exactly how her dad died! It’s just too gut-wrenching for her.

I know, you may be saying, hold on... Just what is a “hurt pocket”? Well basically, as Jimmy Evans puts it, it’s where we “store” up the pain we have experienced in life.  Often we carry with us hurt, guilt, rejection, and shame.  When we don’t deal with these issues (hello, I’m talking about YOU fictional Pearson family!) they will accumulate within our hearts. Thus, filling up our hurt pocket.

All of those accumulated and unresolved hurts, the build-up of all that pain...  well, we see that played out in “This is Us” for the Big 3, as Jack Pearson affectionately nicknamed his 3 kiddos. Kate struggles with her eating habits, body image, and self-confidence.  Her relationship with her mother is strained and she dreads her visits.  Kevin is an actor in Hollywood, constantly seeking approval and affirmation from others, codependent on his sister, Kate, often feeling like his family is a burden and a blessing all at once. Randall suffers from anxiety, wrestles with his identity as he was adopted into the Pearson family as a baby, deals with perfectionism, and at times is a workaholic.

Oof.  That’s a ton right there.  But it is a lot of stuff so many of us have experienced or are even dealing with this very moment. 

So what can we learn from a fictional family on tv? Plenty. This family is an example of what happens when people neglect dealing with their past hurts.  Listen, unresolved pain and hurt, it’s not good.  These characters show us that our physical, mental, and relational health is compromised when our hurt goes unaddressed.  When we hide it or stuff it down, it manifests itself. As Pastor John mentioned in the “Free Indeed” Series at West Ridge, time does not heal all wounds. 

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:32-36 (NIV)

Our pain can only be healed in the presence of God.  Jesus wants us free from the pain of the past. The restoration and freedom we are so desperate for can only be found by bringing our “hurt pocket” to the Lord.  We have to stop hiding and allow Him to gently address these areas and do His healing work in our hearts. And it’s so worth it.  My life – my very real, nonfictional story is a testimony of this. It is worth it ladies. So, so worth it.

How can we, in our real, not made-for-tv lives empty our “hurt pocket”?  The first step requires you bringing all of your stored up hurts to God.  Share your pain with the Lord honestly.  There’s no need to sugar coat it because, my friends, God already knows all the details anyway.  The next step is taking responsibility for your own responses to the hurt and confessing to any sin in your life.  Lastly, allow God’s mercy to flow into your heart so that you can show mercy as well.   This means forgiving yourself and forgiving others.  Sometimes that can be difficult, but if God has forgiven you, shouldn’t YOU forgive YOU too?

Do I think the fictional characters on this secular tv show will bring their “hurt pockets” to Jesus? I’m guessing, probably not.  But you can.  Kate, Kevin, & Randall Pearson will probably continue to move through life carrying pain and allowing the hurts from their past to affect their present.  But for you... Your very real hurt, your very real pain – you can take that to God this instant, this very minute, and allow Him to heal you... That’s my prayer for you today, sweet friend...  If you are struggling, wrestling with old hurt, may you find healing, in Jesus’ name... Amen.

Post by: Marcy Gates

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Little That Things Stick

Posting what I'm about to write actually feels really vulnerable to me. I've written vulnerable things before but typically they are past vulnerabilities not real time, current vulnerable things. So here it goes... A walk through my mind and heart so to speak...

No matter how hard we try, the little things stick. I'm talking about little things that people might say or do to us. Or maybe random things we read. Those little things begin to shape us. Sometimes they can shape us for the better; other times, not so much. And thrown in between can be downright lies. We are not always aware of the lies, or how the little things shape us. 

When I was a preteen I remember reading a devotional. The devotional talked about how the grass isn't always greener on the other side. The context was marriage and the example had to do with laundry. And the only other thing I remember is leaving that devotional time with this thought, "It doesn't really matter how your spouse folds the towels, the important part is that they are folding towels."

I don't know why I remember this. I don't know why my little teen devotional magazine was talking that in depth about marriage. But, I'm glad it did, because I think this concept has helped me in my marriage. A little thing that stuck with me that I didn't put there on purpose. 

When I was about 18 or 19 years old, a co-worker said something to me that shaped the way I thought about myself as a mother. I was going to college full time and I worked part time at a grocery store. My son, would stay with my dad. The grocery store was basically on the same route to and from school. Often times I would stop to get my paycheck either on my way to school or on my way home. A weekly occurrence at the time. But one day a co-worker said something along the lines of, "Geez, what do you do? I never see you with your kid."

I remember feeling shocked, then sad and guilty, then angry. I wanted to explain myself, "Well, you only see me while I'm working or on my way to and from school! I obviously wouldn't have my child with me during those times!" Humpf! But her words stung. And they settled deep. And for a long time, I operated out of that lie. That I somehow wasn't a good enough mom because she never saw me with my son. That I was somehow not spending enough time with him. It was a downright lie. One that I held onto for a long time. At some point I was able to uproot that lie and get free, but that one little thing, it shaped me. 

Fast forward to today. During Pastor John's 'Free Indeed 'series at West Ridge, he talked about lies we believe versus the truth that sets us free. And I realized that there are these little things, lies, which I've let stick and have been operating out of. The vulnerable part here, I don't know what all of them are right now, but I know that they are there. So I'm asking God to show them to me, to reveal them so I can cut them off and move on. It might take some time (mostly because I can be stubborn sometimes) but I know God will continue to set me free. 

I think that's why it's so important to stay "plugged in". Plugged in to church community, small groups, serving, reading God's Word, worshipping. Little by little God's breaking down the little things that stick. And I'm so glad He's not done with me yet! The best is yet to be! 

While reading this were you reminded of little things that stuck with you?  Were there good and/or bad things? How do you combat the lies? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Post by: Jimmie Lee DiIanni