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Pray For Someone

It was a warm, summer evening many years ago when I first went to a live Casting Crowns concert.  I had been listening to their music for years, but had never seen them live.  I was so excited – but I had no idea what was in store for me, or what this concert would begin.

My family set up our lawn chairs at the outdoor venue and waited expectantly to hear my favorite Christian group perform.  And yet, from the first note they struck, it wasn’t a performance – it was worship.

They were leading worship.

Somehow, the stage wasn’t about them.  It was about pointing the crowd to God.  At one point near the end of their set, Mark Hall began singing the worship song We Fall Down.  He asked that we lay all of our burdens down at the feet of Jesus, and that we lift up someone up in prayer that they would do the same.  At that point, I felt moved to walk around a couple of chairs to my younger brother and to lay my hand on him and pray for him, that he would surrender all of his life to the Lord and His leading.

I didn’t think about that concert again until a few years ago, when my brother and I were at another Casting Crowns concert.  He leaned over to me and asked, “Do you remember our first Casting Crowns concert?”

“Vaguely,” I replied.  “It was at Alive, and our whole family was there.”

“And you prayed for me,” he added.

I hadn’t even remembered that until he brought it up again, but that prayer made an impact on him.  He remembers it.  He remembers that his big sister prayed specifically for him.  He remembers more of what I said than I do.  But my measly little prayer that day did more than I ever could have imagined.  We’ve been to many Casting Crowns concerts together since, but none sticks in his head so much as that one.

Pray for someone with them today.  Not just in private.  In person.  Out loud.  And ask the Spirit to lead you.  You never know what God might do with it.

Picture Perfect

By Kristen Mudrack

I’m not a huge fan of pictures of myself.  I tend to want to be the one holding the camera instead of on the other side of it.

You see, I tend to not like the way I look in pictures.  The picture was too posed, or the light wasn’t right, or I look fat, or I’m not smiling, or any other such excuse I can come up with.  But usually it’s because I don’t like the way I look.

I have this image in my head of what I should look like.  In short, perfect.  I should look put together, happy, and healthy, even if that’s not actually true at that moment.  I think I got this notion from looking at social media – where we all put the best of ourselves out there.  The perfect selfies and the happy status updates – they don’t always reflect real life.  When did we become so good at pretending?

Pretending that everything is okay, even when it’s falling apart.

Pretending that we’re always happy, even when we’re struggling.

Pretending that we’re always healthy and flourishing, even when that is the furthest thing from the truth.

In social media today, we put forward the best of ourselves.  We want people to see the best image of us, not the struggling, frazzled, often overextended person that we actually are.  Now, there are things you shouldn’t share on social media.  For example, that you’re angry with your significant other or a confidential matter that has been shared with you.  But neither should we always be the perfect version of ourselves.

Pictures show that more than anything.  I have pictures from college during times that I was on steroids and sicker than ever before.  I can tell, in those pictures, that I wasn’t feeling like myself.  I have pictures from trips with my family and friends that show beautiful landscapes but also dirty, muddy, sweaty, happy faces.  I have pictures from my wedding that show unbridled happiness as never before.

The more I stand on this side of the camera, the more I realize that I love these pictures.  Even the ones where I look terrible.  Because they show the real me.  The messy, dirty, imperfect, happy, sad, healthy, sick, real me.

What do your pictures show?  Do they show the real you?  Or the you that poses for the camera?

Empty

I’ve been searching for inspiration all day.  Something to write about.  And I’ve come up empty.

Although, I guess that is something.

How often do we search and search and search for something, and even when we think we find it, still feel somehow…lacking?  It’s maddening to many people when they try and try to find fulfillment in movies or in fame, in success or in their kids, in how high they can climb at work or how much money they can save.  But none of those things will satisfy us.  None of that will ultimately fill the void in our lives that only Christ can fill.

We search for that fulfillment in so many ways, every day.  And we search for it in good places.  We want to be fulfilled in our marriages, in our families, in our work.  We are honestly working for good things.  But it’s not enough.

We can strive and strive and strive to be the best wife possible, the best sister imaginable, the best ministry leader that we can – but without God, it is nothing.  Without Christ at the center, it is meaningless.

So I guess that’s my challenge for me and for you today.  Go to God.  Sit at His feet and lay your burdens on Him.  He can handle it, I promise.  Ask Him to fill the void in your life, the places where you feel empty and inadequate, and watch Him work.  And then go do what He’s calling you to do – be a wife, a mom, a friend, a teacher, a sister, a daughter.  Get up and go, having been fulfilled by the only one that can do so.

Hope in the Lord

Of all of the things that God asks of us – faith, prayer, loving our enemies, community, following his will – I think hope can be the hardest.

Hope is the hardest when there is nothing – and I mean nothing – that you can do.

Hope is hard when a friend or family member hours away is diagnosed with cancer, and you can’t go to doctor’s appointments or chemo treatments with them.  You can’t take over dinner or clean up their house for them or watch their dogs or their kids.  You’re far enough away that you feel pretty much helpless.  All you can do is pray.

Hope is hard when you hear of a friend’s marriage falling apart but you aren’t supposed to know – you found out by accident – so you can’t say anything or help in any way.  You can’t prod or pry because then they’ll know you know.  All you can do is pray.

Hope is hard when a friend loses a baby to miscarriage and you can’t be there in person to comfort her.  You can’t hold her hand and cry with her because you live too far away.  All you can do is pray, and call, and pray some more.

So many times we tie hope to what we can do, what we can accomplish to help make something better.  We’re hopeful that it will turn out alright because we can do something to help.  Even if it’s just cooking or cleaning or calling – we can do something, so it will be alright.

But that’s not how hope works.  Hope is so much more than just believing that everything is going to be okay.

Because sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes it’s not okay.

But even in the midst of it not being okay, we still have hope, because our eyes are fixed not on the temporal, but the eternal.  Or, that’s the way it should be.  We’re supposed to live kingdom-focused lives, lives that honor and glorify God, not man.

Hope is still there in the midst of the funeral.  In the operating room six hours after the surgery was supposed to be over.  In the middle of chemo.  In the middle of an ugly divorce after infidelity.

The world doesn’t understand hope, because our hope is in Christ.  Our hope doesn’t fail, doesn’t end, and doesn’t depend on what happens in this life.

When you feel like your hope is fading, or when you can’t do anything to help, turn to the Lord in prayer.  Prayer isn’t nothing.  It’s everything.  And ask God to focus your life and your eyes on the eternal hope, on His faithfulness, and to live in that faith.

Hope in the Lord.

Hills and Valleys

Ever since I heard this song by Tauren Wells, I’ve  listened to it many times.  But I don’t think I really got it until I moved to Tennessee.

We talk about the times in life when we’re in the valleys – when things are tough, when we think we’ll never make it back to the top of the mountain.  You know, those places where it feels like we’re on top of the world and everything is going our way.

What we tend to forget is how much work it takes to make it up the mountain, and how beautiful the valleys can be.

I don’t know if you’ve ever climbed a mountain before – even a marked out trail – but it’s no easy task.  It’s steep and rocky and sometimes a little muddy.  It’s hot and humid and you’re dripping in sweat.  You pause often to take a drink or catch your breath.  Sometimes you lose the path and have to go stomping through the brush to find your way again.  And just as you think it’s not worth it to keep going, just as you want to quit, you get there:

You see it.  That it’s all been worth it.

It’s the same in life.  God brings us to the top of the mountain, but it’s not easy.  It’s a hard climb.  A difficult journey.  But it’s worth it when we get there because it is breathtakingly beautiful.

As much as I love those times on the mountains, I’m learning to love the climb, and even the valleys too.

Because the valleys have their own beauty, their own majesty.  The valleys are the places where we see things like this, that you’d never be able to see from the top of the mountain:

Even though the valleys may be hard, and we may not understand why things are the way they are – a difficult diagnosis, an unexpected loss, a troubled marriage – there is still beauty, purpose.  God is still there.  With us.

I’ve always loved the view from the top of the mountain, but I’m learning to love the valleys, too.  There are still tears, still hurt, still fears.  Still unknowns and unanswered questions.  Still difficult circumstances.  But I’m seeing things in the valleys that I can’t see from the mountaintop.

And it’s beautiful.

Seasons

The unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having this winter has been making me think about seasons.  Seasons of life, to be exact.

Seasons change.  They don’t last forever.  They always come back around.  And so it is with seasons of life – seasons of difficulty, change, loss, grief, love, joy, peace…

And what’s sometimes frustrating is that we never seem to be in the same season at the same time as those around us.

When our world is falling apart, theirs is perfect.  When our lives are in flux, theirs are stable.  When they are rejoicing, we are grieving.

One grieving an unexpected miscarriage, while three are happily pregnant.

Three married and building families, while one is single and alone.

One struggling financially after having lost their job, while one is in line for a promotion and two are happily stay-at-home moms.

It’s hard to be the odd one out.  The one who really wants to be happy for everyone else, but is silently suffering in our own grief or sickness or pain.

But maybe the reason that we’re not all happy or all grieving or all rejoicing or all going through change at the same time is to remind us that seasons change but God remains the same.

When we can see others around us in different seasons of life, we are reminded that although seasons come and seasons go, while grief lasts for the night, joy comes in the morning.  We are reminded that God does not change when the ground beneath our feet is shaking.  Our Rock does not fail.  Our God does not change.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard to be the only one in a group who is grieving the loss of a child, a friend, a parent.  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be seasons of grief, pain, loss, or hardship.

What it means is that God has given us people who can help share the load.  When others are happy and we are grieving, we are called to share with them our burdens.  Rejoice with them in their triumphs, and they to weep with you in your grief.  As seasons change, your roles will be reversed.  You will be the comforter to the hurting, while you are rejoicing.

So take heart, if you are in a difficult season.  Share your season with those around you, and rejoice with them in their joy.  Your season will change.

If you are in a good season, and someone around you is not, grieve with them, love them, pray with them, be a shoulder for them to cry on.  Your season will change, too.

You both serve a God who will never change.  Take heart, for He has overcome the world.

Faith over Fear

By Kristen Entwistle

We’re all afraid of something.

The dark.  Water.   Falling.  Public speaking.  Looking like a fool.  Spiders.

Disappointing our friends or family.  Fear of what others will think.  Fear of loss.  Fear of failure.

Fear can be a powerful motivator – one that keeps us trapped in awful situations with no escape.  One that keeps us from doing something outside our comfort zone.

Fear can keep us from living life to the fullest.

Fear can keep us from following the will of God.

Fear is a natural human emotion.  “Do not fear”  or “Do not be afraid” appear not once, not twice, but 365 times in Scripture.  It’s something that we need to hear, apparently.  And we need to hear it a lot.

It’s scary to step out of your comfort zone.  It’s scary to move away from everything you know for school or a job.  It’s terrifying to be the only one who will stand up for Who they believe in.  Stepping out in faith usually starts with fear.

Fear can enslave us, keep us from ever moving forward.  Fear can paralyze us, keeping us from spreading God’s love and Truth.  Fear can root itself in our lives and keep us trapped in abusive relationships, dead end jobs, and bad situations.

But faith is bigger than fear.

Our God is bigger than any fear that stands in our way.  Our God is stronger than any wave that threatens to knock us down.

Abram was certainly afraid when God called him to leave everything he knew and pick up and move.  Noah was certainly afraid when God told him to build a boat.  Moses was afraid when God called him to deliver the Israelites from Egypt.  The prophets feared for their lives as they spread the words of the Lord.  Mary was afraid when the angel told her that she would give birth to the Christ.  Paul was certainly afraid on many occasions during his ministry.  John must have been terrified when he received the vision of Revelation.

If these men and women could place their faith in God, a God many of them had never seen, how much more should we, who have seen death defeated by Christ, the curtain torn in two, and Christ raised, put our faith in Him?

He has called us His children, His people, His chosen, His beloved.  He has called us to be free.  We are no longer slaves to fear.  It doesn’t rule our lives.  It doesn’t trap us, consume us, or dictate our actions.  If we place our faith in the One who has conquered death, we have no reason to fear.  He will not let us fall.  He will not fail us.

Fear will always be a part of our lives.  But we are not slave to it anymore.  Praise God.

They Were The First

By Kristen Entwistle

Thirteen weeks ago I taught my first college class.  “Dr. E” they called me – a name I grew up hearing, but it didn’t refer to me.  It was my dad.

Thirteen weeks ago I stood in front of 31 students and told them that we were going to make it through this semester of organic chemistry together.  “Yeah, right,” they told me.  “We’ll never get this.  It’s too hard.”

Thirteen weeks ago, I stood in front of 15 other students and told them that we were going to cover all of biochemistry in one semester, because that’s what the course catalog said.  “You’re kidding,” they said to me.  “You’ve got to be kidding.”

As I look out now over my class, I can see how far they’ve come.  How much more they know now than they did before.  How proud I am of them.  How grateful I am that they were my first.

My first classes, my first students.  The first ones to laugh at me and with me, the first ones to point out the carbon I was missing on the board, or that I had assigned the wrong chapter’s homework.  The first ones to cut their finger in the lab and have to go to the ER.  The first ones to break glassware and try to pick it up with their bare hands.  The first ones to tell me that the instrument is broken or that something I said I put on the course website wasn’t there.  The first ones to roll their eyes at me when I told a bad joke, the first ones to ask for points back on tests and quizzes and papers, the first ones to cry in my office, the first ones to smile when they got something right.

I will always remember these students, the ones who taught me more about myself than I think I taught them.  I may forget their names, and definitely their grades.  But I will never forget them, because they were my first.

students

These students have taught me how to laugh at my own mistakes, and to move on with grace, humility and laughter.  They have taught me how to be a better teacher, a better mentor, a better friend.  They have taught me what it means to be vulnerable and honest, even when it seems impossible and impractical.  They have encouraged me and challenged me every day – and they’ve likely given me a few gray hairs, too.

There will be other classes, more students.  But there will never be another first.  And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

There’s A First Time For Everything

By Kristen Entwistle

Growing up, I always had a thought in the back of my mind that I might not live long enough to do what I envisioned myself doing.  I always wondered if I’d be able to do what everyone told me I could do.

Tomorrow, I get to do just that for the first time.

Tomorrow, I get to walk into that classroom not as student, but as professor.  With as much responsibility as that comes with, I am so excited, and also so grateful.  I can’t imagine a better place to be starting my teaching career, alongside some pretty incredible men and women of God.

I don’t think I ever really let myself imagine that this could be possible, even after I signed the paperwork that said I really was a professor of chemistry.  It didn’t really become real until now – 12 hours before I teach my first class for the first time.

I am so incredibly blessed to be this healthy, to have this job, to be doing and teaching what I love.  I have been given more than I ever could have asked or imagined, just as He has promised.  How amazing that He could use me, a broken, imperfect child of God in His perfect plan, His infinite wisdom.

When I walk into that classroom tomorrow, it will be with an attitude of thankfulness, excitement, and a little bit of apprehension.  Somehow, by the grace of God, I will make it through my first day as a professor, and so will my students.  And I will continue to be ever thankful that God has brought me here, to a place where I never really thought I’d come.

Thanks be to God.

first time