Truer Truth

There is truth (our present circumstance) and there is truer truth (the history of God’s unwavering, faithful, covenant relationship with His people). Call it ‘the grand scheme of things’ if you like, but I believe we make a big mistake when we trust God only based on what He’s done for us today, or even in our lifetime.” – Raechel Myers

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There was a time as a child when I was playing at my friend’s house, and she had one of those huge plastic tubs of Double Bubble. She poured all the gum onto the floor and to my 5 year old eyes, it was purely magnificent. My little heart was overwhelmed with the hundreds of pieces of sugary goodness before me.

As I reached to begin unwrapping a piece, she said, “Actually Casey, you can’t have any of this gum. I’m saving them.” Saving them? I thought. All of them?! That’s ridiculous. That’s rude. That’s unfair. But, being the well-mannered child I was, I smiled and said, “Oh, okay. Sorry.” And then, being the closet cleptomaniac that I was, when she turned around, I stuffed all the gum my little grubby fingers could grasp into the pockets of the outfit that my Build-A-Bear was wearing. You can’t make this stuff up, people.

When my mom picked me up, I very proudly told her what I had done. I truly thought her response would be something along the lines of, “How clever of you, Casey! Your friend not sharing was unfair, and you were totally warranted in what you did. Justice!”

But she did not say that. Before I even knew what was happening, I was back at my friend’s door, crying and having to apologize for stealing, and returning those little means of 10 seconds of sweetness back to their owner.

It was a humbling realization to me when I saw that in many ways, I still function out of the same place 5-year old Double Bubble stealing Casey did.

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If you’re anything like me, you can easily try to rationalize many of the things you do merely as a response to what’s been done. And often, l get stuck in this “that’s just the way the world works” mindset. If someone doesn’t share like they should, I can steal. If someone thinks only of themselves, I can look out for myself. If someone hurts me, I can build walls to protect myself.

And here’s the thing that’s really annoying, it’s not like I’m 100% blind here. My friend not sharing her gum with me was her being selfish. Losing someone you love is unfair. Getting lied to does lower your trust. Someone walking away from you does say, “you’re not good enough.” Feeling rejected does make you insecure.

In a sense, those things are true – I truly feel those emotions and things truly happened that led me there. But in Christ, l find real Truth worth holding onto.

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I recently looked back at Hebrews 11, the chapter that depicts all these heroes of faith in the Bible, and these verses stuck out to me:

“And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40

“All these did not receive what was promised.” Moses never entered the promised land. Abel brought a better sacrifice to God and got murdered. Abraham never actually saw his descendants numbered like the stars.

In each of these people’s perspective, God’s promise seemed left unfulfilled. Truly, in their eyes, it easily could’ve looked like they were forgotten, missed, abandoned. There’s no way on their own accord that they would understand fully what God was doing in real time.

Did God answer those promises? Yes. But in His timing, in His perfect way – so that not only do those promises bless Moses and Abraham, but me and you. That’s insane. That’s wonderful. Abraham could have thrown a fit about God not fulfilling His promise to Him, yet he chose to trust God anyway. There’s a reason the people in this chapter are commended for their faith – they looked beyond their circumstances and believed what God had spoken to be truer than what the world and their own hearts spoke to them.

Because ultimately, our experiences are not the truest truth. God’s story, His character, His promises, His word, His love for us – those are the truer truth.

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The truest truth is that God’s Truth surpasses what I know based on my own experiences. And while what I know based on my experiences isn’t all necessarily wrong, those “truths” are, at the minimum, significantly incomplete and lacking of full perspective, hope and meaning.

I can’t rewrite my life or even what is happening to me right now, as I sit here writing this. But I can choose to believe that God is who He says, and that He loves me the way He says He does.

Learning this is easier said than done, but trusting Him is always worth it. God promises to bless us as we trust in His truth over our own.

Dare to take God at His word, and trust Him beyond what you can see. He loves you and cares for you immeasurably more than what you can fathom. Because believing that without seeing the full picture – that’s real faith, and it’s the truest truth you can find.

Not to mention, it’s better than all the Double Bubble you can get your hands on.

“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD, and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.” Jeremiah 17:7

Written by Casey Cappa // Photos by Olivia McCash

A Lament for Hope

IMG_2148PC: Adam Dahir

The prophet Jeremiah, sometimes known as the weeping prophet, felt deeply, saw clearly, and understood the true context of placing his unreserved hope in Jesus.

In his book Lamentations, he withheld nothing from his true sense of being. What he felt and experienced, he wrote down using the rawest form of honesty in doing so. He writes in Lamentations 3, “I am the man who has seen affliction . . . he [God] has made my skin and flesh waste away; he has broken my bones; . . . my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”

Jeremiah feels as though the Lord has saught him out like a bear or lion waits for their prey (vs. 10-11). In this passage, one would notice that the writer does not hold back anything; there is complete vulnerability. He describes this season of his life as a time where he felt abandoned, a slave that could not get away, and utterly bitter. Can you relate to such a time as this; a time where you felt as though a target was on your back and you kept getting pierced in the dead center time and time again?

For some of you, you may read this passage and ask yourself, “Wait, is that even okay to speak about God like that?” I know that I was taken back when I first read Lamentations. It catches most of us off guard because, for our entire lives, we have lived under this expectation that we are not allowed to tell God our true feelings. We are only allowed to praise Him for the good and tell others about the “mountain” moments that He brought us to.  We’re taught that we can’t be truthful in our pain.

This lifestyle has created such an issue for Christians. By not allowing ourselves to grieve over the trials and tribulations we are facing, we miss out on the opportunity to truly experience the greatness of God’s faithfulness even in the face of our darkest days.

We just throw ‘bandaids’ on our deepest hurts and then expect them to heal on their own without any tender care. Friends, consider this, if we continue to just temporarily deal with the hurt we have, we will never be able to have healed ‘scars’ that show of the grace and mercy that got us through the heart-throbbing moments of pain. The hell-like moments are meant for growth, for a strengthening of heart, and ultimately to bring you closer to the Father.

What I love most about this passage in Lamentations is that it does not end with the destruction of Jeremiah, but rather it drastically takes a 360 degreee change.  Lamentations 3: 21-25 says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.”

Jeremiah, even in that moment when he doubted God, was able to call to mind all the times that God had been faithful to provide, deliver, and free him in the past. Friend, the truth is that we are a unfaithful people by nature. BUT, I have some awesome news! Even in the midst of our adulterous hearts, our unfaithness to His love, He is faithful to follow through on His promises to never fail us or never leave us. He hears your cries and he counts your tears as they fall from your cheeks onto your pillow. He knows you and sees you and will not leave you alone. He is with you and He just wants you to be real with Him.

We must deal with our hurt. Let it matter. If your heart is broken, let it shatter, then watch God heal it to where is 110% stronger than it was before.

Not only this, but I urge you, if you are not in a season of lowness, to remember those low moments and let it produce a remembrance, a humility that guides your every day activities and leads to a continuous remembrance of God’s faithfulness and the mercies that are new every morning. He is our hope for tomorrow.

// Written by Joy Payne
Republished from Joyfully Living

Living with the Rug Pulled Out from under my Feet

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My eyes watched the city skyline until it faded from the rearview window. I’m learning to pull on traveling like a necessary coat. It’s my lifeline. I need the detachment. I need the rug of my own head pulled out from under my feet. I need to be drawn into the very alive, very breathing present. Traveling helps me fill my space unapologetically, helps me throw my weight around a little, kind of like a boxer. I’m slowly becoming a little more confident, decisive, known. And when I’m wandering around a new city with no agenda other than to take it all in, I know exactly who I am. I appreciate without comparison, I smile without suspicion, I am without hesitation.

I need the adventure to pull me out of my head and into my body. I need the mental health break. We throw around the words “self-care” a lot these days. For me, self-care is looking a lot like boundaries, like giving both my introversion and extroversion the gift of acceptance, like finding little ways to be brave. Finding little ways to have faith. Finding little ways to reach deep down inside and bring to the surface whatever is there, pretty or not.

I took a trip to Philadelphia last week and I spent every day walking as far as my feet would carry me. I joined a protest. I got lost. I breathed deep. I had aching feet. That trip brought me home with a heck of a lot less anxiety than what I had left at home.

I think we should do that more. I think we should throw ourselves into the things that scare us. American culture has taught us all to be safe, to not take risks. Especially when it comes to our faith. We’re so quick to deny anything that makes us uncomfortable, anything that rebels against the teachings we were taught when we were little. I think sometimes the church itself can become a barrier keeping us from Jesus. I think about my own church upbringing and realize the freedom I have desperately needed, as a twenty-three year old, as a woman, as a wife, has stayed just outside of fingertip reach because of institutions placed around my wandering curiosity. But God loves the person more than the institution. And he isn’t intimidated by our questions.

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I’m disheartened by the American church. We’ve failed each other, other races, women. I grew up in a church where women were not pastors, were not worship leaders, were not teachers. And it’s tired. I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know that the answer is very clear. But I do know this conversation needs to start showing up in big and loud ways.

What I do know is that women’s voices have been hushed for generations. I know Jesus went out of his way to empower women. I know when women were unreliable witnesses in court, he entrusted the proof of his resurrection to a woman. I know in a society where women couldn’t speak to men, he sought one out at a well. I know when a woman chose to sit at his feet and not in the kitchen, she chose the right thing.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to lift our voices too loudly, because somewhere in history we’ve been painted as hysterical, women with uncontrollable emotions. We’ve been painted as witches. We’ve started wars over golden apples. We’ve been the temptress. But freedom demands that we throw those things off. And maybe it’s uncomfortable, maybe even scary. But I think we need the escape, the detachment, the rug of legalism pulled out from under our feet. We need the freedom to fill our space well, wherever that may be, and to box a little with the things that scare us, take a little risk. And I think it’ll feel a lot like traveling. With lots of rest and little anxiety.

“Of course if no one had ever been exposed to dangerous ideas from scandalous women, Christianity itself would not have had its unique beginning nor its glorious history, but whatever.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber

// Words & Photos By Jess Meko
Republished from jessicameko.com

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!

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.

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

Sufficient Grace

In 2 Corinthians 12, we have the glorious opportunity to have truth poured into our hearts through Paul’s testimony. Paul was an incredible man whom I admire greatly and I believe there is much to be learned from him and his life. I also believe there is ample opportunity to relate to him and apply his struggles and his testimony to our own lives.

In this chapter, Paul discusses his weakness and how he will not boast in anything but his weakness. In verse 7, he mentions how a thorn was given to him in the flesh to keep him from becoming conceited. This symbolic thorn weakened him and restricted him in certain areas, perhaps in areas that he would be more likely to rely on himself rather than on God. This thorn was a bothersome thing and a painful thing, it was a weakness.

This thorn ailed him so much that 3 times he pleaded with the Lord asking Him to remove it, but the Lord said to Paul in verse 9, one of my favorite passages in the Bible, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness.” Paul goes on to say that therefore he will boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. Paul’s attitude toward this weakness in his life totally changed after hearing from the Lord. He begins by asking God to be delivered from this thorn, but after hearing from God, no longer was he praying for it to be removed but even goes on to say, “I will boast all the more gladly of it.” God turned the thorn into an instrument to bring Paul to a greater experience of His power working in his life. He learned to boast in that thorn, because through it he came to a deeper relationship with God where he knew more of His power in his life than he’d ever known before.

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I believe we can all relate to Paul and his thorn in the flesh, a thorn that weakened him and caused him pain. We all have something that ails us, something that we have pleaded with God to remove from us, whether that be physical or emotional. We all have setbacks and weaknesses that seem as if they are so out of place and life would be so much better if they were absent from our lives. But how wonderful and comforting it is to rest in the truth and the hope that our Father knows what is best for us and what is required to keep us from becoming conceited.

Paul’s testimony speaks to me and I desire to have the same mindset and attitude he had toward his thorn toward my own weaknesses. There are many days I do not understand the restrictions God has allowed me to have, but I have the assurance that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion (Philippians 1:6). The Holy Spirit comforts my soul day after day and reminds me that His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). I want a kind of faith and humility that says “God, for Your sake, I am content with my weaknesses. If my weakness is bringing you all the more glory and if You are using my setbacks to build Your kingdom all the more, so be it.”

IMG_0426How encouraging it is to hope in the truth that our setbacks and our various weaknesses are not in vain, they are not without purpose. Not only can we rejoice in suffering because it produces perseverance, but we can boast in our setbacks because we have assurance that God’s power is perfected in them and that He is working everything out for the good of those who love Him. Let us take pride in our weakness for the sake of Christ’s name being lifted higher and His power being more evident in our lives.

God’s power is greatest when we are at our weakest and what we need most in our weakness is God’s sufficient grace. His grace is a grace that meets us where we are. It is a grace that deepens our faith and that forces us to trust in God alone. It is a grace that allows us to pour out everything we have in front of Him and bring all of our weariness to His rest. It is a grace that is sufficient to pull us back up and say, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

Paul learned to glory in his thorn because it was an instrument through which the power of God was demonstrated in His life. I pray that our faith is expanded and we are brought to a place of humility that says, “God, I boast in my weakness and I am content in my weakness if it brings your name all the more glory and honor.” No matter what you are going through, His grace is sufficient for you and He will see you through. May the greatest answer to our prayer be not taking us out of the circumstance, but God’s all-sufficient grace taking us through the circumstance with a strengthened faith and a humble spirit. Let us lean on God with all of our weight, for when we are weak, then we are strong.


Written by Kristen Bremner. Photos by Naomi June.