A Gift of Love

Written by Maali Padro // Photos by Arianna Taralson

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It’s like a bouquet of flowers, a beautiful array of colors and textures arranged to complement one another. A sweet fragrance that calms the soul when nurtured with love and whose thorns fall off with each kind word. It’s an art, a masterpiece that takes time to perfect, creativity to resolve conflicts, and sometimes just a clean canvas. It is something to be admired and passed on through the ages. It’s like rain, a giver of hope when dry seasons come.

It can be like a bouquet of dried flowers, with time the colors may fade becoming one in the same. The sweet fragrance it once emitted turns bitter and sour causing thorns to sprout up once again. It can be an art piece gone wrong, a disaster that no matter how much time is allotted cannot be perfected, with creativity that is nowhere to be found, and no matter how many redos it just doesn’t quite come together. Something that dies as time flies. It can be like thunder and lightning, as it tries to cover up the hope within the storm. Like the day after it rains, it can leave the air muggy and sticky making it hard to breathe. It can be like summer coming to an end, slowly the sun is covered with clouds and the air becomes cold, filled with tears and sadness from what it once had, but it can also be much more than flowers, art, rain, thunder, lightning, and summer or the end of it. Friendship in its purest form is a gift — a gift from above given to us by the greatest Friend anyone can ever have. How does one obtain such a gift?

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” James 1:17

Friendship is more than the desire and want of companionship inhibited in the human heart. It’s a need rooted in the essence of who we are. To live within our humanity, to our fullest potential, we need each other. The only time when God described His creation as not good was when He realized Adam was alone.

We all need a friend.

Even God Himself wasn’t alone before He spoke the beautiful universe we live in into existence.

In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” John 1:1

Jesus walked among the waters with God. Together, they thought about us and smiled as they sketched a mental image of what we would each look like. They laughed at the humor that some of us would possess and were in awe of the beauty we would hold within our artistry. God, Himself, needs companionship and although Jesus might be His best friend alongside the Holy Spirit, His greatest desire is to have a relationship with His creation as more than Creator and creation. He wants you to know Him like He knows you.

He wants to be your Best Friend.

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There’s a lot of give and take when it comes to friendships. We could even say compromises that a lot of times grow into sacrifices. For example, Jesus dying for all of us. Relationships aren’t easy. I have learned that it takes one person to love but two or more to have a relationship. It’s a multi-way street, a dance of sorts full of stepped on toes when wrong steps are taken, a fall here and there, and with time it becomes a waltz danced by two people in tune with each other’s beats and can grow into something like the Macarena – a party celebrating life. I would say one of the biggest struggles with friendships, in general, is finding the patience to reach that perfect balance. It’s hard to grow a relationship. It involves putting oneself out there, being vulnerable and honest, being selfless, and being intentional to mention a few. To love is hard, but that in itself is the key to maintaining any relationship.

A relationship with Love will flow into every area of your life. It will place your focus on the Giver so that in turn you can see what He sees and give from within yourself. It will replenish your soul with a joy rooted in gratitude that will overflow into the hearts of every person you encounter. It will cover you with peace, and regardless of the conflicts that may arise, you’ll have the clarity of mind to make proper decisions. It will give you the courage you need to take the steps that may need to be taken, and sometimes that means saying “hello” first. It will give you a sensitive Spirit that will keep you in tune with the needs of others and more importantly your own needs. It will create in you a selfless heart — a heart after God’s own heart.

To love someone, one must first love themselves. To befriend someone, one must first befriend themselves.

Out of every struggle faced in a relationship, I believe accepting the flaws first within oneself and then within others is the biggest struggle. Within community and relationships, our flaws — jealousy, pride, selfishness, a judgemental attitude, low self-esteem, etc. — are exposed. Becoming aware of the flaws we have can be daunting and hard to come to terms with. If not in the right mindstate or state of heart, it can overwhelm a person; which is why I also believe that it’s within community and relationship that as we are pruned, we grow the most. Within relationships, we find strength through to face anything. Time and time again, friendships are a reminder that we are not alone in this life. They are a glimpse into the heart of God towards us and a constant reminder that He will never leave us. He finds every way to make Himself known to us; how sweet that He uses the human race as a way. Even when our friends do fail us or we fail them, God is there to catch us as we fall. As He picks up pieces of our broken heart, He begins to craft something new. He gives our brokenness purpose. He restores what we deem as over.

Friendships may not last forever, people change, and life gets hectic; but God and His love are eternal and He is so in love with you. For some, it may feel like you are going through life alone, and, if this is you, I want to encourage you to be the friend you need and to accept the friendship of the one who died (He literally did) to be your friend. Physically you may be alone, but spiritually you are never alone (He rose back to life).

We are only as alone as we want to be.

Sometimes, we need to be the ones to make the first move — say the first “hello” and give the first smile. Other times, we need to step outside our friend group and extend a hand of hope to the person next to us. Friendship boils down to one word, love, and in this is the key ­— to accept love from Love and to live like Love — to obtaining such a good and perfect gift.

Receiving a Restful Burden

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A few months ago, I left my job. I stepped down from all positions of ministry leadership I’d once held. As someone with a high value for productivity, purposeful work, and efficiency, it was an extremely counterintuitive step to take. I had been on staff with a campus ministry for about 5 years and felt that I’d invested all I possibly had to give into the students, the ministry, and the work that God invited me into on campus. Why should I leave now? I’ve already invested all that I have into this ministry, to start over elsewhere would be foolish.

Initially God’s invitation to enter into vocational ministry begun as a life-giving pursuit of partnering with Him to expand His Kingdom on campus. However, as the natural ups and downs of ministry (and let’s be real, life in general) came into play, I found it difficult to experience the same joy and renewed vision He had given me from the start. By year five, I found myself burnt out, jaded by the concept of ministry leadership, and barely able to get out of bed each morning to face what felt like an impossible day ahead. It felt as if I’d lost my purpose in life, as my soul’s tiredness created a barrier in being able to grasp God’s vision for His work on campus. As I’d lost vision, I lost the necessary passion for the day-to-day. As I lost passion, I began losing hope that Jesus was in it with my students and I at all. Before I knew it, my personal sense of value and worth had plummeted as I’d entered into a never-ending downward spiral of exhaustion and feeling that all I had to give was simply not enough.

In Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I’ve heard this scripture quoted time and time again, and in theory love the concept: follow Jesus, let Him take care of you (cue, Jesus Take the Wheel). However, more often than not, I found myself in a regular state of stress and anxiety…Yes, I know that I’m socially exhausted and need space to recharge…but if I could just fit in a couple more coffee meet-ups, perhaps newcomers in our ministry will feel more welcomed. Yes, I know that my schedule is so packed that I’m skipping meals here and there, but if I don’t get tasks A-Z done then everything will fall apart.…the list of self-created obligation goes on and on.

I’ve heard more than a few times that our generation (i.e., millennials) have an ever-increasing likelihood in experiencing mental illness – particularly in the forms of depression and anxiety. I myself have had my own battle with the two over the years, and only recently began seeing a therapist to gain clarity in how to acknowledge and address it.

In John Koessler’s Radical Pursuit of Rest, he claims that anxiety is not a result of misaligned priorities, but misaligned confidence. When we place confidence in ourselves and our ability to manage or control our lives rather than trusting our Creator to lead us through life, we curate anxiety due to the fact that we will never be able to control the outcome of our circumstances.

I’m not trying to make any claims about clinically diagnosed mental illness, and I acknowledge that appropriately addressing mental illness is not as simple as changing one’s spirituality or mindset.  God calls some of us to become therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors for good reason – there are certain situations in which seeking professional help truly is the most appropriate next step.

I am however, wanting to highlight the paradox I find myself in quite often…

If Jesus calls us to trust in Him because His yoke is “easy”, why does life (and even ministry) still feel so draining and impossible? How do we address the disparity between the rest Jesus promises, and the seemingly endless burnout so many of us find ourselves in?

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I’ll find myself reading article after article on social media about the latest local or national tragedy, natural disaster, or current political issue. At the same time, I can’t scroll through my feed without seeing at least half a dozen recommendations regarding the latest “self-care” tip, new experience to try out, or eatery to taste. In the very media I consume, the call to action and engagement is in tension with the rest and pleasure to be had. The concept of balancing “work” and “rest” is confusing, to say the least. It seems that in order to work, one sacrifices rest. In order to rest, one has to set aside work.

But I believe the rest that Jesus refers to in Matthew 11 gives a paradigm to realign our soul such that responsible rest and purposeful work are integrated, going hand-in-hand with one another. That we should not “labor in vain” but take on the yoke of Jesus and partner with him in His good work; all while being in a position to receive His grace.

The rest that Jesus invites us into consists of more than an isolated activity, specific meditation, or even physical sleep. He offers rest that shifts one’s entire soul to orient toward His purposes, His way of pursuing those purposes, and His power fueling that pursuit. When our soul is oriented toward Jesus and His way of life; our mind, body, and heart are able to experience full rest. It is when we pursue purpose without the guidance and empowerment of God’s spirit that we spiral into never-ending discontent and eventual burnout.

I’ve had my own struggle embracing Jesus’ restful yoke, as my meritocracy-based spirituality has led me to burnout time and time again. When I decided to follow Jesus wholeheartedly mid-college, I immediately jumped into every opportunity I could find to “serve” Him. Well-intentioned enough, right? What I didn’t realize was that in the process of doing so, I subconsciously replaced Jesus’ gift of partnership with Him in His work, with my own means to “earning” His love.  I really took to heart the whole “faith without works is dead” concept. In retrospect, I don’t believe that devoting my life to serving Jesus was misaligned. I do however, see how in attempt to serve Jesus primarily through action, I disabled myself from letting Him align my soul in a way that both purposeful work, and responsible rest were integrated.

A meritocracy-based spiritual mindset speaks discontent and discouragement. It perpetuates the need to always be doing. You’re not enough. You need to do more. You need to do better. A spiritual mindset that embraces Jesus’ yoke speaks life. You are enough simply because you are created by God. He is already in control of orchestrating all that needs to be done. You are invited to partner with Him in what He’s already doing to better the world around you.

So where does this leave us? What do we do to position ourselves to give Christ our burdens, and receive His easy yoke?

Perhaps the issue at hand is less about answering this particular question, and more about the belief that there’s something we can do to experience the restful life that Jesus promises. Our culture praises the doers of our society, and it’s no surprise that it has inadvertently become ingrained into our understanding of faith and life with Jesus.

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In Matthew 11 Jesus invites His followers to take His easy yoke, and light burden. This means that though there is certainly work to be done, Jesus invites us to put our confidence in His wisdom, and His power to complete what needs to be accomplished. It means letting go of our ego and self-made yoke of obligation to earthly things, in exchange for the vision and direction that Jesus will regularly renew in us. It’s something we must to choose to do daily and even hourly. It means that rather than starting the day with “Okay Marky, here’s the list of all that you need to get done today,” we begin our day asking, “Okay Jesus, how do you want my soul to focus its attention today?”  We must position ourselves to listen and humble ourselves to respond appropriately. Sometimes response will require action. Sometimes it will require refocusing our thinking. Other times, He may ask us to simply “be still, and know that I am God.”

When God’s spirit stopped me in my tracks halfway through year 5 of campus ministry and encouraged me to leave all positions of ministry leadership I’d held, I was shocked. Why would God ever ask me to stop serving Him? What is faith without works to validate it? I couldn’t fathom a life with Jesus in which He would ask me to stop doing all that I could to “do His kingdom work.” But as I heard His call to step away from “work”, I knew I needed to respond in obedience regardless of how little it made sense to me.

Responding to Jesus may not always be the most productive way of life. It may not be the most efficient. But Jesus prioritizes people over productivity. Unlike the culture around us, He would rather cultivate healthy souls than produce a large volume of church-goers (though I’m sure if the church were consisted of mostly healthy souls, the volume of church-goers would also significantly increase).

In repositioning our purpose to simply being with and responding to God’s spirit, we can experience the rest that Jesus’ yoke is meant to bring. Our value and worth are no longer in what we do or create, but in who we are as the created. As our sense of value and worth shifts, our priorities shift. As our priorities shift, our soul aligns with Jesus and His vision for our lives. As we align more deeply with Jesus’s vision, we experience the integration of purposeful work in Jesus’ yoke and responsible rest for our souls.

In the months following the decision to leave my job, Jesus began doing an incredible work in me as He restored my sense of self-worth, and what it meant to cultivate a healthy spiritual life with Him. Though I wasn’t doing or creating anything that the world might deem as purposeful and productive, He began helping me see the value I had for simply existing as one created by Him. He equipped me with a stronger sense of inherent belovedness, and spiritual disciplines that will be necessary to remain focused and rested, even when life’s busyness inevitably kicks in. As I enter into a season of doing, creating, and producing again, I’m sure that I’ll continue to struggle with prioritizing Jesus’ restful yoke above my self-created one. However, I’m grateful to serve and know the gracious God that I do, and I’m humbled that He will forever value who I am more than what I think I can produce. I trust that despite my own tendency to attempt to “earn” His love through works, He will always bring me back to the easy yoke He has for me to carry.

Words by Mariko Sandico
Photos by Sarah Mohan

Sharing [Encouragement] Can Be Fun

By Jessica Sauer

IMG-1242One of my favorite books of all time is actually a picture book titled, “I Like Your Buttons.”

In this book, a simple compliment from a student to a teacher – “I like your buttons” – travels far and wide, causing a ripple effect of positivity in the main character’s school and around her neighborhood, brightening the day of more than just the original person. Eventually, the compliment train makes its way back to the original compliment-giver in a sweet ending to the book.

Now, I know that not all compliments have the lifespan of an entire day like in this picture book. But I dare to dream about what if compliments did. What if one, single act of kindness, could change the course of someone’s life? What if one, encouraging complement influenced someone in such a way that they adjusted the trajectory of their future? I understand these are big things to hope for. I also know that from deep within my heart, I believe in the power of encouragement.

“How do you know if someone needs encouragement?
If they are breathing.”
// S. Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A Founder

Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – needs encouragement. Encouragement is something that every single person who is alive and breathing is in need of. From hospital staff to bloggers, from stay-at-home mommas to those in ministry, from personal trainers to horseback riders — if they are breathing, they are in need of encouragement.

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So what exactly is encouragement? What is this thing we’re all craving, the thing that is in such high demand? Encouragement, simply put, is believing truth. This is easier said than done, and usually requires step number one: acknowledging lies. This is a hard step that many skip over, but it is imperative before moving onto step number two: replacing lies with truth. It looks something like this…

LIE: I’m a failure.
TRUTH: I am brave for trying; one mess-up, one mistake, does not define me or my future; I am not a failure.
LIE: I’m unworthy of love.
TRUTH: I am valuable, I am deserving; I am so worth loving.
LIE: I’m not enough.
TRUTH: I am able, I am capable, I am chosen. Because Jesus resides in my heart, and He is Enough, I am therefore enough.

Awareness of the lies that we are believing is a good first step. Lies are sneaky, they slither into your mind and heart in half-truth ways. But half-truths, fears, and lies are not what we are called to live in. No, we are called to live and walk in the freedom that Christ has called us into!

Fear is such a loud liar, but he doesn’t have the final say.

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Philippians 4:8 (NIV) states: “…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.”

These excellent and praiseworthy things are what we as Christians are to focus our minds and hearts on. I’ll be the first to admit, thinking about excellent and praiseworthy things can be challenging. Gossip, sin, and bad influences are just a handful of the many things that tear me away from constantly thinking of excellent and praiseworthy things. I even made it one of my monthly goals, this past spring, to focus on “EAP” things – that is, Excellent And Praiseworthy things! It was an intentional goal that I had to set in order to train my mind and my heart to focus on what Philippians 4:8 discusses. (By no means have I mastered this goal, but I am, with grace, learning to adjust my focus.)

Encouragement that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy is certainly of the Lord. It is my hope that when I encourage others, they don’t see me but, instead, they see the Lord. My prayer is that others will get a glimpse of God through my encouragement. I am simply a vessel of Christ, utilized by Him to share His light and love through my words of encouragement.

Encouragement is important for artists because of how easy it is to believe lies. Earlier, we talked about lies and the importance of acknowledging a lie and replacing it with truth. I want to take a moment and call out a lie most artists (including myself!) believe: the lie of “enough.”

Sometimes I fear that I am not enough (Not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, etc.). Other times, I fear that I am too much (Am I too passionate? Too crazy to believe this idea will actually work? Too forward while marketing my services?). The lie of enough. The truth of the matter, however, is this: I am not too little, and I am not too much. I am enough, because Jesus is Enough, and He abides within me. Hallelujah for His standards, and not my own!

Encouragement is also important for artists to share with others. As creators, it gets us beyond ourselves and out of a self-focused, inward posture. Instead, it fixes our gaze on the good in others in a God-honoring way. This brings about opportunity for collaboration and community, both of which can be done in a Christ-centered way.

Encouragement is not only biblical and important for creatives, but encouragement is valuable for everyone (for the artist and non-artist, for the believer and non-believer).

Encouragement is important because it empowers and inspires in a motivational way, which can, in turn, cause a ripple effect of love, kindness, and joy – just like in the book “I Like Your Buttons.”

Encouragement, when genuine, can change the world. Maybe not the entire world, but someone’s world. And isn’t that worth it?


So who am I, and what is it that I am doing? I’m so glad you asked!

mailbox 1My name is Jess, and, as someone who loves (1) writing, (2) encouraging others, and (3) the lost art of a good, ol’ fashion letter, I wanted to do something that could combine all three of these elements.

I have seen the need for encouragement, especially that of personalized, handwritten notes. A handwritten letter of love and encouragement shows the recipient that time was taken, thought was given, and authentic intentionality was shown. I saw a need, and I had the capacity to fill the need, so I thought to myself, “What am I waiting for?!”

“Say ‘yes’ to what matters.”
– Lara Casey –

I began brainstorming what it would look like to send encouraging snail mail to others – family and friends, yes, but mostly acquaintances and strangers from all over the world. And this is what I came up with:

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Sharing Can Be Fun is a movement started and run by me, Jess! I write and send handwritten letters of encouragement to others, once a month, for the course of 12 months. That’s one year of snail mail encouragement, sent with kindness and love, from me to you!

Individuals can sign up to receive letters for themselves, letters for a friend, or letters for both themself and a friend. Once I have received the mailing address(es), you can let me know if you have any prayer requests you’d like for me to discuss in the letters. It’s no-strings-attached and no cost. Simply snail mail encouragement, from me to you, because Sharing Can Be Fun! And because encouragement is so sparse these days – so needed – and if I can do something about filling that need, then I’m all for it.

So, send in a letter request now for both you and your friends. Even if you’re a tiny bit interested, reach out! Direct message me at @SharingCanBeFun on Instagram, or email me at SharingCanBeFun@gmail.com.

Don’t want to necessarily request a letter, but want to get involved? I’d love for you to reach out and inquire about ways you can support the Sharing Can Be Fun movement. Because your small support can actually become a great act of love when we trust God to multiply our efforts – like bread and fish.

It’s about meeting each unique individual where they’re at.
It’s about loving them well.
It’s about no-strings-attached inspiration and motivation.
It’s about discussing the excellent and praiseworthy parts of life.
It’s about complimenting the lovely things about them.
It’s about encouraging them, because they are breathing.

Encouragement is a game-changer. It is something I am so passionate about, because I believe encouragement has so much potential, so much power.

Join the Sharing Can Be Fun movement today!

Connect to the Creator

Written by Maali Padro // Photos by Priscilla Du Preez

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There are many reasons as to why we should read God’s Word, but, first, I want to start off by answering a few questions.

What exactly is God’s Word?

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and
the Word was God” John 1:1

The real question is not “What is God’s Word?”, but “Who is God’s Word?” God’s Word is God. It’s as simple as that. While many of us may already know this, fully grasping the meaning of this gives the Bible a whole new meaning. It gives it life. It’s no longer just a book full of other books, chapters, and words. It’s no longer just a book full of short stories, parables, wisdom, or poetry. It’s no longer an ordinary book from the shelf written by a few men, but it’s an extraordinary book spoken into existence by the breath of the Creator (2 Timothy 3:16).

Fully grasping that shifts the act of reading the Bible being a chore to something we do because we want to know our Creator. The Bible is no longer just a book we read, but a person we can connect with. When we read God’s Word, He gives us a piece of Him. Just like when we speak, people get to know us, we get to know His heart, mind, and spirit. His Word gives us access to Him.

And on a side note:

It’s so beautiful that God chose to use ordinary men to be a part of something extraordinary, and that He still continues to use us as a vessel for His voice to be heard. It’s His breath in us and His essence in all that we do and say in His name. Isn’t that so humbling?

Who is God?

“In the beginning, God created…” Genesis 1:1

God is the Creator, our Creator. He has always been and always will be. He has no origin because He is the origin (Colossians 1:16-17). In the same manner, His Word has always been and always will be. It’s eternal, without end or beginning, because it’s the essence of God. It is God. One might say, “Well, the Bible only has a certain amount of books, it’s only so long. It has a beginning and an end.” Physically, it does, but the Bible isn’t just a physical book. Like God, it surpasses the physical realm and dwells in the spiritual realm, and spiritually it has no end. We can read a passage one day and get something out of it. Read the same passage a few days later, not even days, minutes later, and God will reveal to us something else. God’s Word will never cease to speak to our hearts and souls. It’s an endless fountain of words that bring life to life because it is life. He is life. He is the beginning and the end.

“I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the
Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:13

With that said, here are 5 reasons as to why we should connect to God’s Word, to Him, on a daily basis.

1. It’s through the written Word that we can resist the attacks of Satan and Satan himself.

The truth is that “Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). God’s Word is our weapon. It’s what God has given us to fight this spiritual battle (Hebrews 6:17) because this battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Hebrews 6:12). When Satan went to attack Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus responded to each attack with the phrase “It is written..” and He spoke the Word of truth over the lies of Satan (Matthew 4). Because God’s truth, His Word, pierces with light through the lies that Satan tries to darken our minds with. Satan knows the Word probably better than we do. He was one of God’s angels once (Isaiah 14:12-15).  In fact, He was one of the most important angels. He knows how to switch up just a few words so that it sounds truthful enough to be the truth (Genesis 3:1-4), but if you know the real truth no lie can get pass you. Light shines brighter in the midst of darkness. If God’s Word is in our hearts, when the lies come, the truth will shine brighter in midst of all that darkness trying to creep in.

2. It’s through the Word that our minds are transformed.

God uses His Word to convict us about the matters in our hearts that aren’t right and of the things that we do that don’t please Him.

“For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any
double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul
and spirit, joints and marrows; it judges the thoughts and
attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Without reading His Word we will continue to stay ignorant in the ignorance of our sins. Our minds can’t be transformed without conviction of ourselves and of the things we do that we have deemed as not a big enough sin to bring us down spiritually, but like the saying goes “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). All it takes is a little bit of sin to darken our hearts. His word pierces through our hearts and souls bringing to light all the dark areas and gives us the knowledge our minds need to alter our behavior and to continue on or start walking in the truth and light of His Word.

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living
according to Your Word. Order my steps in Your Word, and let no
iniquity have dominion over me.” Psalm 119:9, 133

If we speak His Word into our lives and declare it over our life each and every day. It’ll transform us inside and out with each passing day. It’ll become a part of us, of who we are.

3. It’s through the Word that God guides us.

God left us His Word as a guide in this life. His Word is as much as a physical guide through life as it is a spiritual one. His Word always has both a physical and spiritual application for our lives. There is no problem that can’t be solved with God’s Word. There is no answer that can’t be found in God’s Word. All we have to do is seek Him with all our hearts, silence our hearts, and we’ll find all our heart, mind, and soul needs in Him, in His Heart (Jeremiah 29:13). His Word is our light when our worlds get dark.

“Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
Psalms 119:105

4. It’s through His Word in us that we will shine and the world will know we are His.

What we put in comes out. Plant an apple tree seed, an apple tree will grow. Our hearts are just the same. If we plant hatred in it, hatred will come out. If we plant love in it, love will come out. By reading God’s Word, we are planting its seed in our hearts, and as we continue to nurture it by spending time with the Source it will sprout from our hearts into everything we do; and everything we do, small and big, will point back to Him and the world will know we are His because His light shines through us. Because He shines in us, we shine over the world. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, creation pointing back to the Creator through its creation.

“…Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you
hold firmly to the Word of life.” Philippians 2:15b-16a

5. It’s through His Word that He directly speaks to us, and He wants to directly speak to you.

This is something that God has heavily been speaking into my heart. It’s so easy to replace God’s Word with Christian blogs, Christian books, Christian podcasts, Christian friends, and other Christian resources. All these things are good, don’t get me wrong. But those things or people should never replace God’s Word in our life. God wants to directly speak to us. For example, if you’re in a relationship with someone you wouldn’t want to communicate with that person through their best friend all the time. Occasionally it’s okay because it’s sometimes hard to get a hold of a person. But there are some things that regardless of how long it’ll take you to reach that person you’ll wait because it needs to be said directly to the other person. My point is there are some things that God wants to speak directly to us, and He can only that through His Word. He wants a direct relationship with us. Tune in and Listen. There’s nothing like listening to the Father’s voice as He whispers into our hearts.

“Faith (the beginning of our relationship with God) comes from
hearing, and hearing through the Word of God.” Romans 10:17

priscilla-du-preez-638149-unsplashLike any relationship, a relationship with God takes not only time but intentional effort. In a world full of so much distraction and time-consuming things, it’s hard to pull away from it all and make time for the things that really matter. I get it. I find myself wasting time away all the time. And the problem is that a lot of us use our time unintentionally. Living the Christian life requires us to live with intention and purpose. Apart from God, our intention and purpose for doing things will get jumbled up with the intention and purpose of the world. So connect to the Creator. Connect to the One who created you and in whom you’ll find your purpose –His intention for creating you– and the strength and tools to live out that purpose. Most importantly though, connect to the Creator because He’s already connected to you. He knows your heart and thoughts and what makes you you. Don’t you want to know Him too?

Jessica Weaves

Jessica Wilson started weaving in 2014 with a cardboard loom and a pile of yarn. What began as a creative outlet has now become both a passion and a business.

Rediscovering an ancient art for the modern home.

Every fringe and loop she makes tells a story, creating a connection through thousands of years of craft and creativity. Her weavings are a reflection of this rich history, which she hopes, will happily find a place in your home.

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QUESTION & ANSWER WITH JESSICA

Why are you passionate about weaving?
I’ve always really loved history and even have my degree in anthropology. One of the things I love about weaving is that it’s a craft that has existed for thousands of years, that really hasn’t changed that much during all that time. The basic over and under of the weft over the warp is the same, we just add our own personalities and style to it and maybe use different types of looms.

It’s sort of a strange beautiful connection with our ancestors.

When were you introduced to weaving?
My very first attempt at weaving was an art project in a middle school art class. We used cardboard looms and I remember thinking, even then, how much I loved weaving. I was maybe 11 or 12 at the time so while I enjoyed that project I didn’t think it was something I would ever get to do again. I always found myself drawn though to woven goods as I got older. Then a few years ago, I started seeing woven wall hangings by Maryanne Moodie popping up on Pinterest. As soon as I saw them something clicked in my mind and I realized weaving was actually something I could do again. I stubbornly put off learning how to weave for a while because I was afraid I wouldn’t be very good at it. I didn’t like starting projects I might not be good at right away (which is kind of a silly way to live). Thanks to weaving, I’ve gotten over a lot of that fear and I am so much more willing to just try something and then discipline myself to keep trying and learn over time. Weaving has been a really wonderful way for me to express myself and find a creativity in myself that I didn’t know I had.

What inspired you to open shop?
I opened my shop the way I think a lot of creatives do; I realized I was making a ton of woven wall hangings and I needed more room on my walls!

How do you generate new ideas?
One of my biggest inspirations is nature, specifically sunsets and nature photography. I save a lot of photos that inspire me in a collection on Instagram and a board on Pinterest. I regularly go back and look at both of them for inspiration. By doing that I’ve realized which colors I’m drawn to and what kind of shapes I’m inspired by. I also keep a sketchbook with me all the time. I don’t always follow my sketches exactly but it helps me to have my ideas in one place so I can use that as a springboard once I start creating a piece. And that way I don’t forget the idea I had while walking around Target or waiting to get my oil changed.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Sometimes I can tell an idea is worth pushing through even if I get stuck on it. I’ve been really inspired by weavers like Sarah Neubert and Ellen Bruxvoort who talk about “showing up at the loom.” They’ve inspired me to just keep showing up, keep creating, and keep weaving even if I’m not in love with it anymore. After pushing through that process I usually love the wall hanging all over again or at least feel grateful and pleased that it is completed.

I’ve never regretted showing up
and disciplining myself to finish a piece.

There have been a few times where I can just tell that I’m done with an idea and it’s time is up. I’ve only cut a few weavings off my loom, but I think each one was a good choice. Sometimes an idea is just not worth pursuing and it’s better to start fresh. Other times if you sit with it for a while, you can start to feel new inspiration and drive. I think you really just have to feel it out and see what works best in each situation.

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What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
I had to completely restart a piece once because I was struggling so much with creating a circle. I had planned on the weaving being large (at least 2 feet wide) but I was having so much trouble – even after taking out large sections of yarn and reweaving them – that I decided to take everything off that loom and start over on a much smaller scale. It was humbling, but I think a good reminder of how important it is to develop your skills, learn, and know your craft. My smaller attempt turned out really well. It ended up being one of my favorite woven walling hangings that I’ve made so far.

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
My most satisfying business moment so far was probably my very first piece that I sold. It was a commission from an Instagram follower of an earlier space inspired weaving that I made for my sister for Christmas. I felt so excited to know that my work was striking a chord with people and was something they would love to have in their homes. That’s my hope for all my woven wall hangings. I want them to be something that people feel good about having in their home and something that adds beauty to where they live.

What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
One thing that really helps me is learning to rest. I take breaks from social media and try to practice self-care. I’m learning to listen to my body and rest when I need to. I work full time plus I have my weaving and everything that goes with that, like my shop and social media on the side. It gets to be a lot! I remember one blogger’s post that really resonated with me. She was talking about learning to rest and deciding that if she was tired, rather than making herself more tired by pushing herself to complete a task, she took a nap. What a crazy revelation, just take a break, take a nap, get some rest and then try again.

Taking social media breaks is probably the single biggest thing I’ve done that helps me. I find that it alleviates a lot of the self imposed pressure of always wanting to seem like you’re creating and coming up with new and amazing ideas. It also helps me to not compare myself to others online or get into a super competitive mindset. As a creative you want to constantly be creating and showing those creations because that’s part of having an online presence and finding customers. It’s also really exhausting.

I believe in the value of community and community over competition.

There’s enough out there for everyone; we don’t need to knock each other down in order to succeed. It’s lonely enough as a creative and small business owner without pushing away the other people who “get it.”

Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next ten years?
I haven’t thought five or ten years ahead yet, but I do know that this year I want to start challenging myself with my weaving style and see where it takes me. I have some really interesting ideas running around my head (and my sketchbook) that I can’t wait to get out of my head and into the real world.


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Connect with Jessica:
instagram.com/jessica_weaves

Shop her work:
etsy.com/shop/jessicaweaves

See her inspiration:
pinterest.com/jessicaweaves

Hope in the Waiting

Written by Tara Sanders // Photos by Emily Howard

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On Sunday morning, July 8th, it felt like the whole world was holding its breath as 12 members of a Thai soccer team and their assistant coach were being rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped inside for several weeks.

I had heard murmurings about the situation during this time, but the severity of it didn’t hit me until I read about the details.

Twelve young boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped while exploring the caves during rainy season. The caves quickly filled with water and the boys sought higher ground as the water levels began to rise. Stuck in there with nothing more than a bike ride’s worth of supplies, the boys went without food for days and drank water that was dripping off of the limestone rocks.

The threat of death was very real, and logistically it was possible that they may not all make it out alive.

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Thankfully, that deep breath taken around the world was released with a rush as news broke forth on July 10th that all of the boys and their coach made it out alive. Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the last four boys and their coach were led out of the cave. I can imagine the joy and relief that came from groups of friends and family watching on TV and the warm welcome the boys received when they made it back up to the surface.

According to an article written by the Washington Post, journalists began to flood the area as news of the story brought intrigue and watchful eyes from all over the world. It seemed that for a few short weeks the world was united by the hope that these young men would make it out of the cave alive.

While writing this, I’m realizing that there have been so many times when I have felt exactly like those boys-totally stuck. Mind you, I have never been stuck in a cave (though I have been spelunking), but I have been stuck in life in some very difficult circumstances where the chances of coming out of it seemed slim and my hope was waning. It seemed like there was no way out, no way of escape, and nothing to do but pray, hope, and wait.

IMG_1034Can you relate?

There are times when we feel like the water is rising up all around us. We are closed in on every side and unable to make it on our own. Those moments become an opportunity for God to show us how faithful He truly is.

But how do we hold on to hope in the waiting?

One of my favorite scripture verses of all time is Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plan I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It may seem a tad trite to quote that verse right now, but I have held onto these words so many times through so many trials because it’s not simply about God prospering you, it’s about God being aware of our situation and working in the midst of our waiting. Something that tends to get lost when this verse is shared is that this word from the Lord came to the Israelites when they were still in captivity. They hadn’t been freed yet and it wasn’t clear how they would get out. But the Lord said he had an idea, thoughts if you will, and that the plan was a good one.

As those boys sat in that dark cave, not even sure if anyone knew they were there, I’m sure many thoughts and fears arose from the possibility of never getting back out. All the while, there were teams of people on the outside working on their behalf and thousands of people who didn’t even know these boys pitching in to help.

Isn’t that how it is with God sometimes?

A friend once told me that “what we see isn’t really what’s going on.” What she meant was that we see the situation in front of us, but God sees the whole picture.

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This past Sunday, the 12 boys learned that one of the divers, a Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, didn’t make it out of the cave alive during the rescue efforts, when his oxygen supply ran out during his dive. In photos released by the Thai Public Health Ministry, the boys can be seen bowing their heads in prayer and some of them crying as they paid their respects to him.

He took a risk to save a group of boys he didn’t even know. Him, and so many others, selflessly gave of their time and resources to ensure the boys stayed alive, safe, and would eventually make it out of the cave.

Jesus laid down his life for us. He sacrificed it all so that we could have eternal hope. Not a hope that wains with life’s ups and downs, but a sturdy foundation that we can always lean and depend on no matter what our circumstances may be.

Isaiah 43:1-2 says:

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

    he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.”

We have no guarantee that we will not face high waters or even fire, and those things can come in many forms-sickness, grief, shame, worry, anxiety, and troubles of every kind. We are, however, assured that God is aware and cares deeply about our suffering and that He always walks with us.

Desert Sage

IMG_0983Meet Ginny Melby, the owner and artist behind Desert Sage. Desert Sage is a watercolor and calligraphy company that makes elegant, one-of-a-kind pieces for every occasion. Whether you’re in need of envelope addressing, place cards, or handwritten notes, Desert Sage can create it for you. They even offer stunning geodes with individual words written on them, to inspire you or encourage a friend. What started as a way for Ginny to bring color and life out of her darkest days, has turned into a flourishing brand that aims to transform others’ lives through beauty and joy.

Read on as Ginny shares some of her business insights and inspiration.

Q: Why you do what you do?
A:
If God can use my artwork to encourage just one person’s heart, than it has served its purpose. I want to be a good steward of the gifts and passions God has given me. To me, Desert Sage means beauty out of brokenness. A desert sage flower grows in the harshest, driest conditions. Somehow this beautiful purple flower sprouts up from the dry, cracked desert ground. Similarly, the joy and beauty of my artwork surprised me by springing up during the most desolate time of my life, when my father passed away and I started writing and painting as a way to calm my soul. My vision for this business is to plant little seeds of hope and joy in other people’s deserts making their dream art pieces a reality and bringing beauty into their lives and homes.

IMG_0992Q: What’s the biggest mistake you made your first year of business?
A:
I compared my work to others’ constantly. I think this flowed from a feeling that I had no idea what I was doing, an insecurity in my own artwork and a harmless desire for inspiration. But the best advice I ever received was, “Unfollow me and all your favorite artists.” As humans, we tend to compare our creations to the creations of others. It’s good to be inspired by someone else’s work, but don’t fall into the trap of studying it, thus stifling your own creativity and never truly finding your own voice in art. That feels like robbing the world of some unique beauty that can only be found in you.

Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A:
Every time a customer tells me how much my artwork has encouraged them or how much peace/joy/hope it brings them to see my piece in their home everyday. That’s why I do what I do! Also, the moment I finally finish an elaborate piece is SO satisfying. They take so much of my time and concentration, it’s very exciting to see the finished product.

Q: What do you do to recharge when you’re feeling drained?
A:
I get out into nature! Walking and admiring creation is one of the most refreshing things for me. It always seems to give me perspective again, that the success of all my tasks really isn’t on my shoulders…I just get the privilege of playing a part in it all. That frees me to do my best (and have fun!) and leave the rest up to God.

“We may know what we want, but God knows what we need.”

Q: What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
A:
I really admire Ruth Simons of Gracelaced artwork. Apart from her talent as an artist, I love how real she is about life. She doesn’t sugarcoat things or put on a false front for social media. You can tell she doesn’t spend hours trying to formulate a trendy post or make her life seem perfect. She often posts about the hard, sanctifying parts of life, motherhood, marriage…She’s approachable and relatable, and I admire that.

Connect with Ginny and keep up-to-date with her latest creations here or visit her website: desertsagescripts.com

Blog photos by Mary Irene, Taylor Graham, and Graham Johnson.

Fireflies

By Rachel Dowda // Photos by Mollie Trainum

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This morning I spent way too much time on Instagram. It’s all too easy to get sucked into this realm where everyone chooses what they want you to see, and before you know it, you start to believe that everyone is living this perfectly dressed, breakfast in bed life; filled with handsome lovers and airstreams and endless craft supplies. It’s especially easy to get sucked into this world when you don’t want to get up in the morning.

Within seconds I start to put pressure on myself, to buy nicer clothes, to lose weight, and somehow meet someone who might fall in love with me so I wouldn’t have to be so damn lonely. And the kicker-I begin to put pressure on myself to find adventure. I need it, I crave it.

Irrational fears parade themselves through my mind; taking turns leading the lineup. A myriad of belly dancers, hairy men, and contortionists; terrifying, but you find yourself unable to look away. Sometimes the bearded lady carries a sign that says, “YOU WILL NEVER FIND ADVENTURE AGAIN. YOU LOST YOUR CHANCE. YOU ARE DESTINED FOR AN AVERAGE LIFE”. I believe her. Because now that I’m living at home with my parents, working an average job and trying to pay all my bills, it’s so easy to believe that my dreams are foolish, and who am I kidding? There are more talented people doing the things that I wish I could do.

But sometimes, just sometimes,
I remember.
And little hints of grace show up, like fireflies in the night,
carrying messages that remind me:

You are designed for greatness.
Jesus is literally obsessed with you. He thinks so many thoughts about you that it adds up to more than all the sand on the beaches.
When you create, the Trinity is dancing through your fingers.
God put these desires in your heart, and He’s not playing games with you.
What you say matters.
You don’t go unnoticed. 

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Sometimes, these fireflies of grace remind me of words people have spoken to me. Words that affirm my identity as a child, an heir, chosen, fully loved, and delighted in. Words that remind me to push through the parade of fears and into the wild lands of fireflies and wildflowers, calling me to go deeper and higher into the wilderness of the Father’s heart towards me. 

I pray that I would see the adventure in my day to day, that I would speak words from my Father, that I would believe truth and have it built deeply in me, instead of escaping my current situation through things like Instagram. I pray that I’d be able to get out of bed with a child-like expectancy. Romans 8:15-16 says,

God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.

I have reason to believe that in a few days, months, or years, I’ll look back and see that this season was possibly the most precious of them all, that my tree rings are multiplying despite the trauma the wood shows. I am a part of a forest, surrounded by trees cheering for me, willing my limbs to grow longer, healing me by placing their palms on my bark, causing my tree rings to multiply.

You Matter

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You matter.

It really pains me to see an extreme lack of purpose in the world today. It seems like left and right, people are taking their own lives or taking the lives of others. It’s really scary stuff, and if I’m being honest I don’t like talking about it, or even writing about it. But, I believe, something needs to be said.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: ‘Be reconciled to God’. He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This is our purpose, friends. We weren’t placed on this broken planet for nothing; we have a task to do. God calls us to be ambassadors of Jesus. In other words, we are called to be the hands and the feet of Christ. So often, I get caught in the lie that I am purposeless. I’m just a useless speck, here to be alone and suffer the consequences of my sins. Oh my, is that far from the truth. JESUS SUFFERED MY CONSEQUENCES. He suffered your consequences too. We don’t have to carry our sins, it’s already been nailed to the cross.

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The second part of the verse is really important: “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us.” God knew that on this Earth, we would be completely incapable of perfection. Thus, He sent Jesus to take our punishment, so that we don’t have to suffer for our mess-ups. God saved us; we can live in the light of grace. We’re free to let go of the weight of our mistakes, so now we can live with freedom and joy! We are still going to be imperfect people, though, because we live inside an imperfect world. So, it’s so important to remember that you are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time. God still uses us in the midst of our brokenness; we don’t need to have it all together! We have purpose in our struggles, not only in our victories.

Exodus 14:14
“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”

Living on a broken planet is really hard. Something I’ve learned to understand, amidst the hopelessness and loneliness, is to lean into the Father when I feel like I cannot hold myself up anymore. Because we live in a corrupt world, the devil is constantly feeding us lies that we aren’t enough. We don’t look good enough, we aren’t smart enough, we aren’t successful enough, we aren’t popular enough, we aren’t fit enough; the list goes on and on. If these were true, God wouldn’t be filling our lungs with air everyday. You don’t have to fight these lies alone, the Lord will fight for you. Rest in Him, and allow Him to create in you a pure heart and a clean mind. Be still, and know, in due time, everything will be good, because He is good.

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Every single morning we wake up, God breathes life into us because He wants us to be here. If He thought we were purposeless or thought our time was done on Earth, He wouldn’t be breathing into us each morning. If you are reading this, you woke up this morning; God is not finished with you yet. God sees something in us that made Him send His only Son to die. We cannot say we have no purpose here.

We are here, we matter.

Written by Sam Burton // Photos by Ben Dulay & 777 Collective


777 Collective

WE GIVE PEOPLE A VOICE THROUGH APPAREL
LOCALLY & GLOBALLY | SAN DIEGO, CA | EST. ’15

We at 777 Collective are committed to pursue the art of storytelling in order to love fearlessly, carry hope, and stoke curiosity. We want to bring it back to the heart of the stories. So we’re tapping into the everyday storyteller and giving them a platform to find their voice—for them to tell their story to the world. Brokenness is made beautiful here. As we crave to bring light to the dark reaches of the world, this is how we do it. We set the stage. All you need to do is step up and share it with us.

P E O P L E  +  S T O R I E S  +  C R E A T I V I T Y  =  V O I C E

IMG_0809We founded our brand upon the belief that everybody is a storyteller and that each story matters. The truth is that God handpicked each person’s narrative for a purpose and it is our desire to not only share our story, but also to create a platform for other people to share theirs. When we choose a life where we share stories, we get to become part of one another’s lives, stepping foot into the chaos and the mess of life. But there is a greater story: a story of hope, redemption, grace, and eternal joy. This story is a free gift, and it is up to us to choose to become a part of it. That is why your voice matters.

— LOVE THE SKIN YOU’RE IN —

What you wear is an extension of self—who you are. In simplest form, it is who you want people to see you as. However, culture can promote an “idealized” or narrow portrayal of appearance. Whether we succumb to it or not, the “sex appeal” of fashion (even moderately) can take precedence in our lives. Yes, clothing is an avenue of expression. But it should express our inward beauty and a comfort of the skin we are in. Our flaws, our blemishes, and our scars make us who we are.

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And so this lifestyle brand is meant to contribute towards this expression. We at 777 Collective don’t want to simply participate in fashion trends. We dream beyond the norm. We want to push for truth and meaning that is timeless. We seek to tap in the lives of real storytellers who are unashamedly raw with their stories. End of story.

Shop 777 Collective here: https://www.777collective.com

It Is For Freedom. . .

Written by Amber Crafton // Photos by Ancy Samy

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Freedom. It is the heartbeat of our nation, a heartbeat that began centuries ago and has been maturing and weaving itself into the fabric of modern society ever since. On this day we celebrate the bold and historic declaration by a handful of audacious men and the colonies they represented, the declaration of the self-evident truths that God created all people to be equal and that God created all people to be free. They declared that day that no person or government had the right or authority to oppress equality or freedom, and we have spent the last 242 years fighting, at home and abroad, however imperfectly, to defend that declaration and prove that freedom really can work in this fallen and broken world.

IMG_0755Our founding fathers were not the first to proclaim that self-evident freedom, yet it was no less revolutionary for them than it was at Mount Sinai when God laid the framework for an Israel that was essentially self-governing, or in 1215 when the Magna Carta was signed, or even still today in warring and developing nations around the world, as well as here at home. But if we were created to be free, why is it so revolutionary to declare and defend our freedom? My guess is that it’s simply easier to choose the Lie—a counterfeit freedom—than to choose Truth. You see, the Lie offers us something in exchange for our fealty; it teases us with promises to satisfy that deep-down longing we sense but cannot identify, that longing that tears at our happiness and tells us we are incomplete and not enough. The Lie tells us we will be happy and, by extension, free when we are Number One and have it all. Becoming Number One, however, requires oppression because, by definition, Number One cannot be shared. So we must either trample on others in order to be and have it all or find ourselves trampled upon, damned to being and having nothing at all. According to the Lie, that is.

And it is a lie. Because being and having it all is nothing but a prison, a self-imposed slavery to dissatisfaction, insatiable striving, and isolation. Because there is no Number One, not among humankind, anyway.

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However, that is the Lie we believed all those eons ago, in a garden, by a tree, conversing for a moment with a Deceiver, and it is Truth who has come to us every moment since then and gently but boldly revealed the Lie to us, identifying our chains and naming our longing to be free, not just in body but in spirit. The Old Testament is full of promises from God to send a Messiah, a Liberator who would make His people free indeed, and in Luke 4:18–19 Jesus stood up in the synagogue and declared Himself to be that Liberator as He read from the prophetic text of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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Jesus announced that he was the Messiah, the One they had been waiting for who would come to free them. They expected that freedom would be physical and political, so when it didn’t take that obvious form, the Jewish leaders balked. What they didn’t understand, though, is that physical and political freedom find their roots in freedom of the heart. As Jesus teaches them in Matthew 12:33–35, the fruit we bear in this life is an overflow of what is in our hearts, so that “a good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil.” Jesus came to liberate our hearts first and foremost, freeing us to join Him in His ongoing liberating work on this earth. He knew that as hearts became free, they would eventually overflow with the fruit of freedom—minds, mouths, and bodies free to devise, proclaim, and build, little by little, until one day our own founding fathers would join that work, declaring that it should be the sole aim of Government to protect and defend the equality and freedom we were created for.

Jesus knew what those religious leaders refused to acknowledge: that over time, those who are called by His Name, who have been taught to obey all that He has commanded, would become a liberating people, who out of the overflow of the freedom in their hearts would be the vessels through which freedom could work its way out to physical incarnation in the world:

To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
. . . to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him.
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

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The work of Jesus—and the example He set for us—teaches us that freedom is not a monument. We cannot put it on our shelves like a trophy to remind us of how awesome and special we must be (the Lie). It is a reality we enjoy, certainly, but more than that, it is a movement to be cultivated (Truth). There are still people in this world who are not free; whether in spirit or in body or both, they are not free. And there is no justification in heaven or on earth for hoarding our freedom; we are created to spread freedom, and to be truly free, therefore, we must also be getting our hands dirty in the work of protecting, defending, and spreading freedom for others.

IMG_0774The Lie tells us that sharing our freedom will diminish it, that there is somehow not enough to go around. But Truth proves to us that the experience of freedom is multiplied as we exercise it on behalf of those still enslaved and imprisoned. Consider how much more freedom we enjoy now that slavery has been abolished, all men and women may freely exercise their right to vote, and civil rights continue to advance for those historically, systematically, and illegally oppressed. There is still much work to be done in this country, and around the world, but it is clear, historically and biblically, that we were created to be free together. It is the hoarding of freedom that diminishes it, keeping us enslaved to that insatiable striving and the dissatisfaction and isolation it breeds. The Lie of Number One is the wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, and if we are not careful, it will destroy us, from the inside out, causing us to devour each other until none are left.

And herein lies the difficulty that comes with choosing Truth over the Lie: Truth requires something from us. The truth of freedom is that it exists in Christ alone. It is a reality He invites us into, to dwell in and enjoy safely and completely with Him, but He then calls us to partner with Him as He continues to cultivate it in the world. And God is clear that if we who have been set free indeed insist on hoarding our freedom, setting it on the shelf like a trophy to our greatness, then we are not actually free, but still enslaved to the Lie of Number One, and we should repent quickly and fervently and start getting our hands dirty in the fields.

Sara Groves sings in her arrangement of the folk song and Civil Rights anthem “Eyes on the Prize,”

IMG_0750The way is slow and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

When you see a man walk free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

When you see a child walk free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

When you see a family free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

True freedom is a stunning and powerful prize to strive toward and behold, and our experience of it on this earth pales in comparison to what is promised us when Christ returns. Our freedom here is merely a foretaste of what is to come, and make no mistake: when that day comes we will celebrate an eternal Jubilee like nothing we could possibly imagine. But the work of freedom begins here and now, and it continues until that day comes. As the liberating people of a Liberating God, our hand is on the plow, whether we like it or not, and we must not turn back. For some this work will look like supporting or partnering with governments and organizations that go throughout the world to promote and defend justice, obliterate poverty, and end physical slavery and exploitation; for others it may mean using our own freedom to stand up for those in our own countries who are still being oppressed, whether systematically (policies that negatively affect entire groups of people) or individually (in stores, on the streets, in social groups, etc.).

We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must not grow tired and weary.

As we celebrate our freedom today, let us not take it for granted. The blood of Christ was shed to win us our spiritual Freedom, and the blood of our brothers and sisters past and present has been shed to defend and protect our physical and political freedom on this earth. Let us, then, renew our commitment to the gospel work of cultivating freedom—heart, mind, and body—among those still oppressed and enslaved, both at home and abroad, providing a foretaste of the world to come until Freedom’s work is finally finished and we are living in Jubilee forevermore.