Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Little Wooden Idol

I think my neck is broken.

Oh, my horizontal vision is strong, but my vertical, my ability to gaze upward, is maimed.  I can't seem to move my head to see what I'm made to see.  Lately, I've found myself taking the deepest joy and beauty from things around me rather than things above me.  Placing my faith in fallen man because that's what I can easily see always disappoints.  Yes, God gives such lovely and wonderful gifts to His children, and we are meant to enjoy them of course,  but it becomes too easy for us to idolize them.

And this God of the universe is a jealous God, desiring all of our affection.

I'm a relationship-oriented person.  I thrive when I'm connecting and loving and sharing.  Finding a kindred spirit fuels my heart and gives me such joy.  And so I jump in with both feet, ready to relish what God has blessed me with.

But I've noticed something, and it's taken my thick head awhile to realize it.

I take the very tools and materials God gives me and I build my own little idol.  And while it may seem ridiculous to liken it to the little wooden idols we read about in the Old Testament, that's exactly how ridiculous it is!

My idol is my relationships.

The moment I put more time and effort into strengthening my relationships than I do strengthening my love affair with my Creator, I have fallen on my knees to worship this little wooden Baal.

But y'all, my knees are tired and scraped up.  This worship of what's around me is wearing me out, simply because I'm always left wanting more.  I seek satisfaction that only God can provide in all the wrong places, and when people can't fill that need, I become angry and confused.

And all the effort I'm putting into keeping relationships strong is actually slowly killing them...because I'm focusing on the wrong things, the horizontal things, the things that will easily fall into place when I'm worshipping the giver of all.  When my heart rejoices in only Him, everything else is as it should be (Psalm 33:21).

He's been whispering this truth for awhile, but, as we do so many times, I've been pushing Him aside, hoping for an answer more to my liking.  Something that's easier and won't cost as much!  As connections are strained and friends feel distant, I kick and scream and hold tightly to my idol, unwilling to believe the truth that if I simply toss it into the fire, He will restore my heart's joy.  I do everything I can to make things work, to try to strike the perfect balance, when the only perfect balance is the one He creates.

I just need to look up.

He's calling for my affections.  He's demanding my praise.  He's shouting at the top of His lungs into the deepest caverns of my heart that He is the only satisfaction I should seek.  My desire for connection with Him should trump all desires.

"My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face, Lord, I will seek." (Psalm 27:8 NIV)

How about you, friend?  What is your idol?  What is He calling you to let go of?  What's keeping you from living free?  Ask Him to realign your affections and move your gaze upward.
Linking up today with

Monday, May 28, 2012

Always Be Ready?

I rarely spend time with people who aren't Christians.  My sphere of influence just doesn't include non-Christians.  I grew up attending a Christian school, and now I teach in one.  My friends are Christians, my students are Christians, and I've found quite a comfy couch kind of existence.  But last night I found myself sitting amongst neighbors, and they definitely don't fall into the "Jesus-loving" category.  I sat with these kind, country people, eating a home-cooked dinner and watching tv on the back porch.  We got to know each other, talking for 4 hours about jobs, food, politics, football, and all kinds of other things.  It was really a lot of fun!

But it got me to thinking, what if somebody asked me why I'm a Christian?  And as usual, I carried on a conversation (one that would probably not be anywhere as terrifying as I can imagine it to be) in my head, and it sounded something like this:

"So, you're one of those Christians, huh?
"Hmm, why?"
Why?  WHY?  This should be easy!  After all, I teach kids to defend their faith!  I spend hours encouraging them to be brave and bold and... oh my word, I have no idea what to say?  

Words like sin nature and redemption and even propitiation flutter around in my head, but I know that those words aren't the ones I need.  I need a simple answer that really answers the question!

And I've got nothing.
All I can hear are crickets chirping loud, making the deafening silence painfully obvious.

"Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." (1 Peter 3:15 HCSB)

It's easy to be the strong, bold Christian in an environment where it's accepted and everyone understands words like propitiation, but I'm finding that outside that world, I'm mute!  I have no words, or at least not the right words.

Do I know why I'm a Christian?  Of course!
I am a Christian because God has called me to Himself.
I am a Christian because without him, I am dead in my sin.
I am a Christian because eternal life is the greatest gift ever offered
I am a Christian because for me, there is no other possibility.

But I've honestly never really thought about how to explain it to someone who doesn't already have years of Sunday school and Bible drill behind them.  Yes, I'm ashamed to admit it to you, but I would venture to say that there are some of you, if you really think about it, who would say the same.

We don't venture out because we're afraid.  We're afraid they won't understand us or they will reject us.  So we fool ourselves into thinking that we're called to only be in the Christian environment.  And the enemy likes exactly that.  After all, if we stay safe, we can't share the Gospel with the World.  And that fits oh-so-nicely into his plans.

What's your defense?  What's your answer?


Always counting...
#528 Seeing the graduation of the students in my very first class
#529 Conversations with young women
#530 The last week of school!!!!
#531 Clearing our land

#532 A week at home with hubby
#533 A night with new friends
#534 Pictures with friends

#536 New beginnings
#537 A book in a day

#538 Perfect watermelon
#539 Watching students pray

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Wedding Photographer

Up with the sun, camera charged, I become the wedding photographer.

I become the one who calms nerves,
the one who makes up ridiculous stories to distract a nervous bride,
and the one who braves the men's restroom just to get that perfect shot.

I am the one who eats in the car while traveling from one venue to another,
straightens the carpet runner before the ceremony,
hides the bride when she's not supposed to be seen
and makes the flower girl giggle when she seems unsure.

I'm the girl who drives the couple to a nearby park to get the shots they saw on Pinterest.
I'm the girl who lies on the ground in a skirt while it's sprinkling to achieve the perfect angle.

The girl who stands on her feet for 6 hours, except for the 5 minutes of sitting to eat a banana, and crouches in the middle aisle of the church for 15 minutes.

I'm the one you will hear saying, "Excuse me," about 1,000 times to get to the right spot and follow the happy couple around and I'm the one you'll see gazing at the chocolate fountain with wishful, hungry eyes.

But when all is said and done, I'm the girl who relishes spending a Saturday capturing the beginning of 2 hearts becoming 1, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'm the wedding photographer, and I love every minute of it!
Step on over to my photography page to see more.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

And Each of You is a Part of It

This week was the week most dreaded by students and teachers alike- finals week.  Three days crammed with cramming, since they certainly wouldn't begin studying ahead of time...

So every year, I'm surrounded by tired, cranky, complaining students (and sometimes us teachers, too), and every year we all just try to make it until Friday when we can go home and collapse into oblivion.

But this year something very different happened.  We discovered that one of my students was in danger of not passing for the year.  After looking at things from every possible angle, there just didn't seem to be any hope.  He had to get a 93 on my final in history and literature to advance to the next grade level.  A 93!!!  It seemed impossible, and I resigned myself to the sickening real possibility that I'd be delivering some very bad news soon.
And then God moved...
When his classmates heard about the situation, they looked at me with sad eyes (some with tears) and asked what they could do.  Before I knew it, they'd sprung into action!  A schedule for study sessions was written on the board.  People's homes were promised and coffee shop trips were discussed.  These students who would be making an A (easily) in the class unselfishly gave up their time and energy to come together, lifting up one who'd fallen.  They became encouragers, doled out tough love when necessary, and collectively decided that this friend of theirs would pass...or else.

I watched as all of this happened, from a distance of course, because, after all, they didn't need me anymore.  They'd been taught how to love deeply from the heart for years, and all I had to do was watch the fruits of 11 years of Godly education become real life.

And somewhere along the way, it hit me.
This is the body of Christ!
These 17 year olds were being the hands and feet!  Without thinking twice, they became Jesus to this young man.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:26-27 NIV)
The day of the exam came, and by this time we'd prayed, we laid hands on him, and we'd spent a lot of time just plain hoping.  Two and half grueling hours later, all of the papers had been turned in.  At this point, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach that there just wasn't anything else I could do.  It was what it was...
And do you know what it was???

Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling... (Jude 1:24 KJV)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Prayers of Rain and Cloudy Skies

"Photo shoot this morning.  Please pray that this rain goes away."

A text message sent to 8 faithful friends.

At first I felt silly, this asking for prayer about rain.  Does God really care about my cap and gown pictures?  Is this even on His radar screen?  Shouldn't I spend my prayer time asking for healing and salvation and, you know, the big spiritual things?
"Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24 ESV)
He doesn't say, "Ask about only the big things; I'm way too busy for the small requests."  He's in everything, every moment, big or small.

And so I prayed, very specifically asking for rain to stop and the clouds to remain.  Those clouds that I knew would create the softest creamy light for faces in front of my lens.

And my tiny request was answered by the God of creation.

For only one hour, I had the most perfect window of rainless cloudy skies.

And that brings me joy.

Always counting...
#516 That she knows something's wrong without me saying anything
#517 Surprise thoughtful gifts
#518 Excitement when they see me
#520 A simply elegant wedding
#521 Capable camera in low light
#524 Window from which to watch rain

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I'm Rising Up to Call her Blessed

When I was in the womb, after years of her prayers for a child, she protected me from harm and trusted God to keep me whole during her unexpected surgery.

When I was young, she bandaged my scrapes and kissed away my tears.  The times when I disobeyed were met with loving discipline, and even though it was hard, she knew it was necessary.

As I grew, she listened to my pain caused by rejection at school, my frustration about teachers, and my perfectionism toward grades.  She always told me how special I was in God's eyes, and she never let me sink into the "teenage girl emotion ocean."

When I left for college, she shed tears in my dorm room and she prayed over me before she drove away.  When I wanted to come home, she encouraged me to stick it out for a little while longer... because she knew that was best.

When I strayed, she was on her knees.  Though I never saw it, I know she was.
When I played the prodigal, she watched and waited with open arms.

When her lifelong love was suddenly taken from her arms, she wept and showed us that true love, given by God, is deep and true and real. When she needed to be strong for us, she mustered the courage to do so, something only possible with the peace and strength of Christ.

When the time came for her to become a mother to her mother, she gave up her own life for months and served faithfully.  

And now, when I call just to chat, she listens intently and lovingly, always asking if there's anything I need.

My mother is my dear friend, and on this Mother's Day, even though she is miles away, I want her to know how very blessed I am that God has given her to me.

Her children rise up and call her blessed...  (Proverbs 31:28 ESV)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Search for Unfading Beauty (Part 2)

Please welcome Meagan as she shares part 2 of her story with you.  (If you missed part 1, read it first.)

Somehow, I convinced my family the weight loss was because of stress. (at this point, it's what I truly believed) Several friends and relatives told my mom I was anorexic. She always denied it.
I cooked breakfast and dinner for my family almost everyday. I was happy with that. I could control my food that way. Anytime we had a change of plans, for example, they spontaneously wanted to go out for dinner, I had a meltdown. I hated going out to eat. Remember, I loved isolation. I couldn't control what they put in the food. It scared me.

We tried a few more doctors and finding no new results, we tried a therapist. He diagnosed me with Anorexia Nervosa. I drove home, relayed the information to my parents and again convinced my parents that this trained professional was wrong. I knew myself. Their precious daughter couldn't be anorexic. She loved food too much!

During this whole time, I had devotion every morning. I loved church. I had been saved at 11 years old. But I knew something was missing.
I sat in my room for hours one morning crying to Jesus. Admitting to myself that I had a huge sin in my life, blocking my personal relationship with Him. I called Mom into the room and confessed all to her. We later told Dad. Mom set up appointments with a counselor at my church. I felt so relieved. Little did I know the battle had just begun.

I met with my counselor weekly. I wouldn't be where I am today without her. At first, there was little improvement. When I actually lost more weight, Dad threatened to send me to a rehab center in Texas. He told me to get serious about my health. Living in Texas would mean losing my job as a pastry chef as well as losing my family. After a few months of weekly weigh-ins and therapy sessions I started gaining weight. It was slow. 1 to 2 pounds every couple of weeks. I cannot describe to you the battles I faced. I can remember falling to my knees one afternoon, my body shaking with sobs because I was so exhausted from fighting the battles in my head. My counselor encouraged me to replace the devil's lies with Christ's truths. I clung to verses for daily support.

Anorexia Nervosa is a true mind disease. The remedy to "just eat" is NOT that simple.

One rainy night, my counselor prayed with me. She prayed Jesus would take the lies and fears from me. She prayed I would give Him total control. We were both weeping. I could physically feel the burden lift from my shoulders. That was my turning point.

I still struggled everyday, but it got easier and easier. I was happier than I had been in a long time. Once I got to a safe, healthy weight, I was allowed to exercise again. My trainer put 20+ pounds on me and I felt great! I fell in love with it and became certified as a personal trainer. I quit my job as a pastry chef so that I could start school to obtain a degree in nutrition.

I have an amazing life. Jesus and I continue to grow closer. I still struggle with my thoughts from time to time, but it is always easy to realize it is just lies. Jesus has completely healed me and I am so thankful for everything he has taught me. I learned to lean on Him each and everyday for everything. My hope is that one day I may be able to help someone because of my experience.

1 Peter 3:3-4 Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

Meagan Cochran is a 20 year old living example of a oxymoron. She is a pastry chef as well as a personal trainer. After becoming a registered dietitian, she plans on tying all three passions together. She loves her family of 8 (2 parents, 5 siblings) and her church. She is excited about Jesus and wants to share the story about his healing power in her life!  You can connect with her on Twitter or at her blog, My Life, My God, My Eats.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I'm a Pharisee. Nice to Meet You! Now How Can I Judge You?

Y'all, I think I'm a Pharisee.  You know, one of those Old Testament guys I used to sing about in Sunday school!  ("I don't wanna be a Pharisee... 'cuz they're not fair-you-see!")  In my seemingly-eternal struggle between law and grace, I find myself settling into the gospels.
"But your disciples do not fast." -Matthew 9:14
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" -Matthew 9:11
"Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -Matthew 12:10
"They don't wash their hands before they eat!" -Matthew 15:2
And I am there, standing among them, shouting in my indignation, appalled that these men who claimed to be religious would dare break the rules!!!

After all, to be "good enough," you have to follow the rules!

Don't wear that. 
Don't listen to that.   
Don't hang out with her!

Trying to please God (and everyone else) by avoiding certain things but never having the right heart only proves one thing- I'm completely missing the point!  What have I done with grace?  Why has following the law overshadowed grace to the point that I have to really work to find it, much less rely upon it?

And since when have I been appointed as everyone else's Holy Spirit??

Somewhere in my first-impression judgments, I have become my own measuring stick.  Spending all my time looking down at others and being glad "I'm not like them" has only caused my heart to stray from what it really means to be a disciple of Christ.  Christ tells us to be holy as HE is holy, not to be holy as Katie is holy.  As much as I might think it's my God-given job to "fix" everybody else, I fail to remember my own need for grace.  Sin plagues us all, and following the rules (an outward doing) does nothing to heal the disease (an inward being).

You see, my sin is easily hidden, for it is one of the heart and spirit.  And so I excuse it, knowing that nobody else can see what's deep inside.

Except for God...

And isn't His opinion the only one that matters?

Monday, May 07, 2012

It Really is Enough

We beg to feel loved by Jesus, to feel something, yet we're always looking for an earthly kind of love.  We want to feel warm and fuzzy, but we're again putting our God in a box.  When we do that, we ignore the cross. How could any warm and fuzzy feeling be better than that, or even come close?  This God box is our self-imposed curse that threatens to choke out a beautiful and pure relationship between us and our Savior.  We can't fully enjoy Him because we're too busy wondering how to squeeze Him into our ideas of what He should be.

Look at the cross, dear friend.  Really look at it.  Is it not enough that He willingly took on our sins so we could be one with our Father?  It's so much more than a ticket to heaven!  It's protection from the wrath of a most holy God.  It's a tearing of the curtain that separates us from Him.  It's a Son drinking the cup of agony so that we don't have to.  It's the making of a way- the only way for us to receive life, for sin equals death, and there is no way we can stand before this righteous God without the cross.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:10 ESV)
"To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (Revelation 1:5-6)
Yet we wonder if He loves us?  We look at our circumstances; they seem bleak; and we shake our fist at heaven, asking God, "Why?!"  Why is this so hard?  Why don't I feel You?  For some reason we've convinced ourselves that being a follower of Christ means everything should always be good and pleasant, and that we're protected from the hard times.  
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." (1 Peter 4:12-14 ESV)
We must know and believe in our deepest soul parts that the Cross really IS enough.   It's enough to prove His love for us and it's enough to give us hope when all seems lost.  There is freedom in the knowing, even when the feeling isn't there. 
He is alive and we are free!  He is alive and we have found our peace.  Our King has come! -Elevation Worship
Always counting...

#506 Voice of the Lord, clear with direction
#507 Cloudy days
#509 Laughter
#510 Enjoyment teaching about Rome
#511 Healing is in Your hands
#512 Prayers for strength, always answered.
#513 Perfect photo shoot
#514 Old friend coming home
#515 Letter in the mail from the sister of my heart

Friday, May 04, 2012

The Search for Unfading Beauty (Part 1)

Please welcome my dear friend Meagan today as she shares her story with us!
Hello fellow Simply His readers! My name is Meagan. I'm here to tell the story of my Healer.

It started in high school, as many stories do. My two best friends were smaller than me. I was constantly aware that I was "heavy" not "fat."  During the middle of high school, I switched schools. It was a huge change for me. I had never attended a public school. I got into sports and lost a couple of pounds. I can remember how good it felt. At the end of my junior year, a boy used sweet words to win my heart. Words, I found two months later, to be untrue. Even though I knew he was a manipulative liar (I'm not bitter, this is simply the truth), I stayed for 1 1/2 years. I didn't like change. I was scared to change that relationship status, so I endured it. That year was filled with constant fighting and stress. I pulled away from family and friends. It took a toll on my appetite. I was barely able to take a few bites of my meal before nausea set in. I lost about 30 pounds. After the relationship finally ended, I felt amazing. I started exercising and lost 15 more pounds. I found a stable guy and enjoyed a great summer before heading off to pastry school.

When I left for pastry school, I was determined not to gain weight like everyone told me I would. In Atlanta, another big change, there was little I could control. I had three crazy (honestly) roommates, and a hot-tempered boyfriend. The only thing I could control-my eating. This is the first time I can remember being scared of getting fat. I was also underweight. My boyfriend would say, "You need to gain X weight, but not anymore than that. You would be perfect at X weight". Needless to say, that didn't help at all.  My thoughts were similar too, "Oh no, if I go past X weight, will he not like me anymore?"

When people asked about my weight loss, I would say "It's stress." or "I have stomach problems." I told myself this over and over until I believed it. Anorexia never entered my mind. Mom took me to doctors who could find nothing but a perfectly healthy stomach. Their solution: Eat more calories. Easy, right?

I left for an internship in Colorado, where my eating disorder went to a whole new level. I got down to a scary strong-wind-could-blow-you-over weight (an event that actually happened). I was promising (lying to) my parents that I was drinking my nutrition shakes with meals. I found myself hating people. Anorexia makes isolating liars.

Finally, the internship ended and I headed home. My family was shocked at my appearance but tried to hide it. All except my outspoken sister who said "You look like you just got out of a concentration camp!" I looked scary. I could feel people's stares when I ventured out into public.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story...

Meagan (right) is a 20 year old living example of a oxymoron. She is a pastry chef as well as a personal trainer. After becoming a registered dietitian, she plans on tying all three passions together. She loves her family of 8 (2 parents, 5 siblings) and her church. She is excited about Jesus and wants to share the story about his healing power in her life!  You can connect with her on Twitter or at her blog, My Life, my God, my Eats.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Treading Through the Dark Places

I see you there, hiding safely behind your computer screen.  You feel comfortable as the observer, but you secretly long for community.  You want to feel like part of the group, but you tell yourself they'd never want you.  You have too many issues.  Fear of rejection sets in and you convince yourself to keep hiding behind the walls you've quietly built over years of pretending to live.
But no one tells you that the shields you carry to keep you safe, become the the steel cages that keep you alone. -Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience
And when no one's looking, you cry out to your Father in pain, longing for someone, just one person who can offer you the friendship you crave.  Your tears are met with silence, and you wonder if you will ever find love and belonging.

I know you because you are me.

Friendships begin and are cut short.  Needs are left unmet.  Walls are put up.  You're left wonder where you went wrong.  Should you have said ____?  What if you'd ____?

Friend, true community lies in the giving up of the notion that to be accepted, I must be perfect.  My true heart cries ignored.  My fears hidden deep.  But it's absurd to assume that everyone else will be authentic while I continue to embody counterfeit.  I cannot hide and expect to truly know love!
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
This God, this Father who loves perfectly and wholly, HE is the provider of community. HIS perfect love takes away our fears.  He is the joiner of souls, the connector of hearts.  When we allow Him to give us wings, we will find such freedom as we open our hearts.  We can bare souls and dig deep, cultivating God-borne sisterhood, and knowing that when we tread through the dark places together, it's always safe.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

At Your Feet

I pass it every time I run, and I always, without fail, notice it.  This beautifully lush clearing in the woods where the lime green grass grows tall and wispy- it always catches my eye and invites me to gaze.  In the morning, rays of sunlight filter through towering pines and I always imagine myself there, pen in hand, words flowing.

But today as I pass, my heart slows and I hear a voice.  My little imagined writing haven has changed.  No longer do I see myself sitting alone for He is there with me.  And I'm sitting at His feet, just gazing into his face, and I'm listening.  We are together and nothing else matters.  I'm not thinking about how to string together the perfect chain of words that will please the masses.  My only thought is Him.

It's calm and peaceful, and there is no one else around, but even if there is, I don't notice.  I'm not looking at creation; I'm fixed on the Creator.

The song that is playing as I run?
Jesus, Jesus, at Your feet.
Oh to dwell and never leave.
Jesus, Jesus, at Your feet.
There is nowhere else for me.
(Casting Crowns)

And suddenly it's clear.  This heart-stirring I've experienced for weeks has led to this- my writing isn't ABOUT Him; it IS Him!  He asks me to let you sit with us in our quiet place and savor His person, His character, and His love.

In all my thinking and wondering about what God wants me to do with my words, I kept coming back to one word- Jesus.  And I pushed it aside, thinking it too simple.  You know, I need a mission statement because "that's how it's done."  And to my surprise, it's been right here all along!  Simply HIS!  That name He gave me months ago after hours of thinking and wrestling- it's perfect!

None of this has to be complicated.  I don't always have to spend hours choosing words and stories.  Sometimes I just need to be still and let Him speak.

My words aren't mine anyway; they're 

And while it may not be the final goal, it's the next step, which is really all He calls us to take, right?

Where are you in your journey?  What do you do when the direction becomes fuzzy and unclear?  What's your next step?

Friends, I've moved to simply[His]! Update your links so we don't lose one another in transition!  I'm so blessed by the encouragement you bring.  You can still find me on facebook and twitter.


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