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

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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

Farewell, Fear.

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Fear. It’s like a forest hiding our hearts from the light of Love with all its branches and leaves that make up tall trees. It feels safe, secure but what it doesn’t show is all the lies keeping us captive in a false sense of protection and confidence. Lies that say, “We aren’t good enough; so why bother trying?” Lies that say, “We are better off alone and in our own little cave within that forest.” And it hurts, the deceiving words that convince us to believe “We will always be alone because we aren’t special enough to be loved”, or  “We are too broken to mend.

It’s like a powerful wind howling in our hearts. It has the power to keep us to a halt, and from moving forward as it pushes us down to the ground. It has the power to keep us enslaved to all its lies because the truth may be too much to bare or maybe it seems too far-fetched to even be true. It has the power to keep us from our future as it sweeps away all hope. It has the power to keep us from reaching our dreams as it washes away possibility with a rainfall of impossibility. It has the power to determine how meaningful our short life on earth will be or the lack of meaning it will have as it holds us captive. It has as much power over us as we allow it to, and that’s the thing about fear, it convinces us with one lie that “We are powerless under its power.” And it’s right. On our own, we are powerless, but what fear forgets is that we are not alone.

Love is with us.

Love. It’s like the calm after the storm. After fear is done raging, God’s gentle voice that has been whispering to us in our hearts all along is heard loud and clear. Its truth starts to soothe our soul as its light enters in revealing what is real, what is honest, pure, and true, that He loves us. Those three words break fear apart revealing what it truly is, a lie. His love for us is more powerful than any fear in us. Our God frightens away fear with His love. Yes, fear has its own fears.

There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casts out fear.

1 John 4:18

Love will make all the storms of life with their lightning and thunder and howling winds seem less frightening. It’ll give you the strength and confidence you need to face it all, and remind you that in the end there’s no need to worry, everything is going to be okay— even more than okay. It’ll reveal to you the greater purpose within it all leaving no room for fear because your trust, your faith, your confidence is in the One who is in control of all. Within this confidence is the ability to live life to the fullest. Within this confidence is the strength to shut down the noise of the world and of our own selves, the lies we allow to be fed with and in turn feed ourselves with, and to turn up the voice of our Father telling us that we do fit in, with him, and that we are created in His image, we are more than good enough, but most importantly that we are loved, by Him.

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The only thing between who we know we can be, who we are supposed to be, is ourselves. God has given us the power to tear down those walls that fear has built around our heart and soul with His mighty Word. Word by word, praise by praise, prayer by prayer, with His love the walls can and will be torn down. The question is “Are we willing to uproot the foundation of those walls?” What caused them to be put up in the first place. I don’t think that fear is what we are really afraid of, but the lack of it; we are afraid to be vulnerable. So, we mask the fear we think is keeping us from being vulnerable and protecting us with a false sense of confidence, but fear is not protecting our vulnerability, Love is, God is and He always will. He won’t use our vulnerability to tear us down but to help those who, like we once were, are trapped by fear and to tear down their walls. Love and fear are not the same. Fear likes to make us believe it is, but it’s not. Fear can’t give us the freedom that Love does. The freedom that Love is.

Run past the trees and out of the darkness.

Follow the light, run towards the arms of Love, dance in its freedom, and bid fear a forever farewell because there’s no room for it in your heart.

Love has taken over.

Written by Maali Padro // Photos by Olivia Douglas

Continuing is Harder than Starting

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I started Wildflower Roots jewelry back in 2015, right after I spent a year living in India working for a social enterprise, Purpose Jewelry. That year in India was spent designing jewelry lines for Purpose Jewelry and working alongside women who are survivors of human trafficking. I had never “designed” jewelry or possessed many jewelry making skills when I arrived in India, but when I left I knew this would be a craft I couldn’t give up. Designing jewelry for me was the creative challenge I needed as an artist. I had painted, crafted, sculpted and dabbled in every other artsy category you can think of most of my life. Discovering jewelry design was the greatest by far. Coming home from living abroad, especially India, was an adjustment, but deciding to keep making jewelry by starting Wildflower Roots was my best decision yet.

Wildflower Roots is simple, everyday jewelry for the everyday woman. The everyday mundane can feel unglamourous at times and yet seasons of life can alter, shift, and change in heartbeat. I live most of my life thinking about what season I am in and miss the unexpected everyday moments of joy, love, and kindness around me. What I love about wildflowers is that they bloom in unexpected seasons, they have roots that are often tough and strong, they are flexible with the wind, populating everywhere. Wildflowers are mainly weeds but they are beautiful ones. My season in India had me clinging to my roots and holding even more tightly to my ultimate root, Christ. During the hard seasons, fun seasons, and seasons of big uprooting change, my roots were what mattered the most. And I can tell you from my professional, plant lady experience (insert sarcasm here) that roots grow inch by inch, steadily and slowly, everyday. I want Wildflower Roots to be a reminder that goes beyond the art of making jewelry and to actively represent the beauty in the mundane of everyday life.

After a couple of years of working part time with Wildflower Roots, I wasn’t able to pay for my bills solely on jewelry sales. I got a full time job working at FLDWRK, a local coworking space in downtown Fullerton. I fell in love my job at FLDWRK and did my best to keep moving WFR forward as much as I could. Last year, I was engaged, planning a November wedding, working a fulltime job and trying to keep up with the demand of WFR. Once December 2017 arrived I was done. I needed a BREAK from WFR. I can’t tell you how guilty I felt. How immediately I felt behind in the jewelry business world, no longer able to keep up with those doing their businesses full time. My husband is my biggest fan and was worried I was quitting, but I felt peace that it was only for a season. The Lord provided a house for us to rent (and we left behind our teeny, tiny one-room backhouse for good). Not only did this new place have all that we had prayed for, but it had one additional blessing. In this house was a spare room and I excitedly began dreaming of creating a new space for Wildflower Roots.

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Over the course of June and July, I created my own little business plan to utilize Instagram in a new way. I turned the spare room into a mini studio and started sketching. Continuing is harder than starting. But I am here showing up as much as I can. Wildflower Roots doesn’t have a website or a Fall/Winter product line, but what Wildflower Roots does have is limited edition jewelry pieces and Instagram Story Pop-Up Shops that happen twice a month. I am so glad to be putting myself out there again designing and making jewelry, all while at my own pace. That break was exactly what I needed in a season where I thought I was done. I’m so glad I stepped back and took a new creative look at my business. In doing this, I realized that instead of trying to keep up with what everyone else is doing, I can go at my own pace, in my own way, and it doesn’t have to be BIG or wow everyone all the time. Whenever, I get caught up in seeing others smashing the jewelry game, I celebrate and admire them all, while reminding myself that I am in a different season. It’s good to feel my roots growing again.

– Meredith Galipault
Founder of Wildflower Roots
(Photos by Kayci Decker)

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.

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.

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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.

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.

Writing Faith

The Bible tells us that the righteous live by faith, not by sight, but that is easier said than done; after all, it’s easier to trust what we can see than what we cannot. Some reference this verse as basis for the claim that faith is blind, but it isn’t! Living by faith, doesn’t mean we close our eyes and minds to what we are able to see and comprehend; it simply means that in addition to acknowledging the visible, we also believe there is more beyond it and choose to live for and according to that larger reality.

img_9542But the truth is that even what we can see isn’t always trustworthy, mainly because we don’t see everything. Sometimes things stay hidden for a while—or forever—and other times we just stop seeing. We can be looking at a deeper truth—be in a face-to-face stare-down with something previously hidden but now revealed—and never see it, because we have allowed ourselves to believe that what is apparent on the surface is all there is to see, and so we simply stop seeing. But faith tells us there is actually more, and living by it requires us to train our mind’s eye not to settle for what is visible, but to go digging for what is hidden behind, beneath, on the periphery, or in any of the minute yet infinite spaces in between.

img_9547Consider those Magic Eye images that were all the rage in the 90s. You remember: the ones that look like random 2D computer patterns but that actually contain 3D images only visible to those who are able to consciously shift how their eyes focus (on the “distance” behind the surface pattern rather than on the pattern itself). The ability to override the eyes’ automatic focus reflexes does not always come easily; in fact, some never master it, mainly because they give up. But that doesn’t mean the hidden images and scenes cease to be there. Because they are there, whether or not we see or acknowledge them. Knowing that and choosing to continue trying to train the brain to take over conscious control of an automatic muscle function—well that is an act of faith, a choice determined by what is unseen rather than what is presented at first sight or first effort.

No, faith is not blind. It is simply a different kind of vision, one that requires a lot of intense training over the span of a lifetime. That training comes, more often than not, in the form of a choice, forced though it may be: the choice to walk wide-eyed into each moment expectant and in search of the hidden things that will eventually be revealed only after we take the step. It is the choice to say yes to the hard stuff that will be required of us in our search for those hidden things, even when we have no inkling that they even exist, let alone what they may be. Faith understands that first-sight is not only-sight and that it may not even be accurate, and it requires a suspension of judgement and a divine level of patience that bring us face-to-face with our own insufficiency.

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Art challenges our sight, our vision, our paradigms for interpretation. Creating art, on the other hand, challenges our faith. It propels us into the battle for the hidden things in our own lives. At least that has been my experience with the creation process, especially with writing. When I read what others write, I am challenged to reconsider my conclusions about life, my paradigms, and my preconceived notions about the human experience; I am challenged to see what they see. But when I write, I am challenged to see what is still invisible in my internal landscape, and then to make it visible.

Writing is where faith rules and trains my sight to see the truer realities that exist beyond, that inhabit the space underneath, behind, above, on the periphery, and in all those in-betweens.

I could easily accept the surface-level narrative offered to me for what it appears to be, but if I want the real story, then I must go to battle for it on the page. I must fight to get past what I see with my eyes to immerse myself in the vastness beyond the limitations of my human nearsightedness.

I have been told that to be a writer, one just needs to write. Write, write, write! Write what you see; write what you feel; free write, journal, jot down thoughts and half-thoughts. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad or good, just get it on the page or on the screen. Exercising the writing and imaginative muscles is what strengthens them over time and theoretically equips a writer to eventually produce good content. And I agree with that theory. Until it’s time to make myself sit down and actually put it into practice.

img_9541For some, the activity of writing is more enjoyable than for others, and for some, the biggest dilemma is which of their many ideas to explore and flesh out first. I know I’m supposed to write—Pops has made that clear—but it isn’t usually enjoyable for me; it’s more like a battle. And my biggest dilemma hasn’t been that I have too many ideas. In fact, until recent months, it was that I really had no ideas at all. So making myself sit down to do it is really hard, almost scary: What if I really don’t have any ideas, and what if I can’t get any words out? Then suddenly a story appeared in my mind, and it came out fairly easily. Whether or not it is good writing is always debatable, but that isn’t really what’s important to me right now. The important thing is, I wrote something. I walked into the battle being waged between the visible and the invisible, and I won. The words on the screen document that fact, and regardless of what anyone else thinks of that story, I think it’s breathtaking because of what it took to produce it and because of the invisible realities and truths it brings to sight.

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Months passed, and then suddenly another story came—a continuation of the first one, which surprised me, since I believed the first was just a one-off. This new one was shorter, simpler, yet significantly harder to work out. Hard enough to make me cry actual tears, but important enough to the training of my faith that I could not walk away from it. So, once again I went to battle. Wounds were exposed, but safe places were also established. The battle I fought once again lives on the screen in words I can see with my physical eyes, and the victory contained therein astounds me even more than the first did.

img_9558A few more weeks passed, and again, when I was certain this sudden spurt of story-writing was still just an anomaly, Pops said, “There’s more. Go ahead, my daughter.” Only this time, I know it won’t be a one-off, and I know now that what seemed like isolated one-offs were actually parts of something bigger. He has not given me the entire outline, but instead has invited me to journey through it with Him one step, one scene, one battle at a time. And I have a choice to make. I know my heart will bleed, I will shed tears, this will hurt, and it will be hard. Do I run away? Or do I put my hand in His and jump into the vast as-yet unseen?

Writing is becoming my trust fall. It’s where I work out my salvation with fear and trembling. It’s how I learn to walk by eyes-wide-open faith and to defy the limitations of status-quo, surface-level living. Writing is also becoming my fight song. The hardest step to take every time I am beckoned back to the page is saying yes, but every word already birthed is a reminder that the yes is worth it, that choosing faith over sight is worth it.

And so I write. I write to find the life preserver, to cling to my Rescuer, to peer beyond, to defy limitations, to exercise my voice, to walk by faith and not by sight, to uncover the life of freedom I’ve been promised and live it indeed.

Written by Amber Crafton // Photos by Lindsay McMullen