Strength in our sorrow

For everything there is a season,  a time for every activity under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3:1

We all go through hardships and struggles in this life. Christian or not, we will all experience troubles and sorrow in this life. Jesus never promised that following him would absolve us of our problems. 

I don’t want to ever tell the myth that being a Christian will be the fix-all to all your problems. But I can promise you that God will be right with you through them. It is safe to say that the past year has been tough on us all. The current state of this world has affected us all in some way shape or form, myself included. It’s been almost a year since I had to face the toughest loss I’ve had to experience in life and it is through that sorrow, that I experienced just who Jesus is. 

I cried and have no memories of some days because I was that deep in my grief. I would be fine one minute then sobbing the next. I did not try to hide my pain but let myself feel every bit of it because I knew I was not alone. I knew that God was still holding me close in my sorrow. I felt His presence through the pain. I believed that His strength would come through in my weakness.

That is why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions. And troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

It wasn’t until 8 months later until I was able to see how His strength would be revealed. It was here I was suffering another loss. In watching my cousins struggle with their grief, I recognized myself and my own emotions. Here I was in sorrow with them but I was also at peace. A peace I felt because I knew just as the Lord held me before, He was going to keep me close to Him and carry me through. Not just myself, He would carry my family too. I could with my whole heart promise that though we were going through a painful loss, we were going to be okay. 

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. – 2 Corinthians 1:4

That verse is what came to me when my Aunt passed and gave me the strength to be there for my mom and cousins. I knew that as we cried, Jesus cried with us. I knew that as we hurt, the Lord hurt with us. The Lord shows us compassion in our suffering and will never abandon us in our times of need. I still am grieving for my brother, as well as the cousins and my aunt I lost this past year. I wish I could discuss it more with you to share about the wonderful people they are and how knowing them made me who I am now. But even as I write this, tears are streaming down my face because the pain is still there and that’s ok. The Lord is still with me in the sorrow and I know He will also be with me in the joy. He sent the Holy Spirit to us so that we can always experience His love and presence. 

So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. – John 16:22

So I pray that whenever you are hurting, remember that Your Father is with you all that time and that you may feel His arms wrapped around you and peace in your heart from knowing Him. His love surpasses anything we can fathom and will carry you through. 

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33b

Take me to Church

“Where two or three gather together in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:19

I wasn’t a regular church-goer whenever I began my journey with Christ. I would read and study the Word of God but hadn’t connected my love for Jesus to my lovers yet. Then, I found a church home. A community of believers that came together to worship and bring praise to God and understood why as a follower of Christ, fellowship is so vital. Singing and praising Jesus’ name with others truly brings joy to my heart and makes me feel His presence alive around me. 

Then in March, everything changed. Quarantine happened and churches and other places of worship had to close their doors. Sure, my church held online services and groups to help us stay connected as a community of believers but I still missed being in their presence. I missed my people, my community that I found and felt belonged to. Here I was the same woman that only stepped foot in a church when forced to for the first 27 years of my life longing to be allowed to be there. 

Today, after six months of quarantine, the church doors finally opened. Yes, things did look a little different. Instead of donuts and coffee, there were individually-wrapped crackers and bottles of water. Instead of handshakes and hugs, we were greeted by waves and air fist bumps. The auditorium didn’t look jam-packed with people as I was used to. Rows were blocked off and we were asked to sit 2 seats apart from the next family. But when the music began and worship started, I was back home. All the social distancing and safety measures were in place and Jesus was still present in the room. We sang and worshipped and His Word was the same. He was and always is alive even though things were far from normal.

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. – Psalms 103:1

I don’t know when or if society will get back to what we were accustomed to before the pandemic. But I do know that I am so grateful to be able to worship and praise God with others again. I am thankful to be able to share the love that Christ shared with us to others. Let us remember that no matter what, Jesus’ presence can be felt in our lives because He is alive within us. 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. – Hebrews 13:8

Friday Devotional: Hope for us Today

Happy Friday! I just want to lift you up today and give some encouragement as you wrap up this week and head into a new one. The world is hurting right now, maybe worse than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime. The pandemic, politics, social injustices, wildfires, hurricanes have seemed to consume every news cycle for the past 6 months. Every day, it seems that the world hurts more than it did yesterday. On top of this, we still have problems in our personal lives. How can we endure this? How do we persevere? 

We trust that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. We do not let our problems overwhelm us and let them become our idols. We only glance at our problems but keep our eyes set on Jesus Christ.  

Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. – Hebrews 10:23

I pray that this truth holds firm in your heart today that you may be comforted. God is with you. He will never leave or forsake you. I know it may not feel like it sometimes, but God is always working for you. He is a faithful father and the love He has for his children is mighty and immeasurable. 

I strongly believe God uses his people to do his work here on Earth. So let us lift one another up in our troubles. Let us not forget that as we are hurting, so are those around us. As you find strength in the Lord, share that with your neighbor. Let us show Jesus’ love to those around us.

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. – 2 Corinthians 1:4

Grace is All You Need

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9a

Hi, meet imperfect me. I thank God that He has transformed my life and allowed me to grow in Jesus but I am still a sinner. I still struggle with some of the same things I did before I knew Christ. Coming to know Christ wasn’t a fix all for all my problems. The same temptations and habits are still there. 

And God says that is ok. God has given us a grace we do not deserve. He doesn’t call me to be the perfect Ashley everyday. Jesus came and met me right where I was, in desperate need of  His grace. Coming to know Christ has helped to transform my mind and thoughts. I have to constantly remind myself that I let my old self die on that cross with Jesus and rose again in Him. I have to take that cross up every day and rise. To be honest, some days that isn’t always easy, Some days I struggle with not giving in to thinking and acting as I did.

God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. – Ephesians 2:8

That’s why it’s so amazing that God still loves me and shows us all grace. So knowing that motivates me to have more days where I am able to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and remember that He made me new. He loved me enough to die for me so that we can be pure even though we are sinners. We can stand before the Lord one day white as snow because of grace. 

Lord, Thank you so much for your grace and for the sacrifice you made for us. May we remain in you and extend that grace to others. Thank you for removing our sins from us. Holy Spirit, guide our hearts and minds so that our eyes stay fixed on Christ. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

No Excuses

They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken! – Jeremiah 1: 19

When God called Jeremiah to be his prophet, he came up with excuses on why he could not. That sound familiar? How many times have we been asked to do something that we came up with more than one reason why we couldn’t. Jeremiah’s excuses – being too young and not well-spoken, did not deter God from calling him forth to speak to his people. 

Sometimes God calls us to do things in our lives and for others that we don’t want to do. Sometimes, it isn’t that we don’t want to, it may be that we don’t feel worthy enough for the task. We may feel that someone else would be much better suited and do a better job than we can. When God calls us to do something, He isn’t asking us to be perfect. Just like Jeremiah, God will give us everything we need to do His good. Jeremiah was too afraid he wouldn’t know what to say and God put the words right in his mouth (Jeremiah 1:9). 

When the Holy Spirit puts it in your heart to do something, don’t make excuses. Don’t say you aren’t up to the task. God knows what He’s doing and God knows each and every one of us by name. Trust and obey. Trust that God is faithful and will do what He says He will do and obey His call to you that His good may be done. God uses us as his children to show His love to others. No matter what obstacles you face, God will fight with you and for you. 

Lord, let us be bold today. Let us not shy away when we are called to do your good. Let the Holy Spirit guide us and use us as your instruments. Thank you for your faithfulness, Lord, and whatever you have for my life, I know I can do it because you are with me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Clothed as a Child of God

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. – Colossians 3:12

Getting dressed for work is a mundane task for me every day. I don’t have to put any effort into deciding what to wear to work everyday cause it’s decided for me. Every morning, I just go into my closet and pick out a pair of royal blue scrubs. By wearing this uniform, everyone knows what my job is at work. My badge and uniform lets others know what my duty and role is at work without me having to say anything. I don’t have to walk up to everyone and tell them “Hi, my name is Ashley and I’m a registered nurse.” 

Just like the scrubs I wear lets others know what my job is, what uniform do we wear to let others know we are followers of Christ? Paul tells us exactly that in the third chapter of Colossians. We don’t have a physical uniform like we may wear to our jobs but by expressing these characteristics through our words and actions, we can make Christ known to others. By stripping off the sinful nature we had before knowing Christ (verse 9), we shadow our lives on the example set before us by Jesus Christ. 

Being a follower of Christ means expressing the love and mercy He has shown us while we were still sinners to others. Being merciful, kind, patient, and forgiving to others is our uniform. We don’t have to say “I follow Christ” to make it known to those around us. Let us show we are Christians by how we live and how we love. Live in peace with each other and not let the world distract our hearts from the love Christ has shown us.  Let our actions speak louder than our words. 

Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:14

Where Is Your Treasure Stored?

What is your most prized possession? Is it your car? House? Shoe collection? Is it not a possession at all, but do you value your relationships with others most?

What do you treasure?

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. (Matthew 6:21)

When we value something or someone strongly, we can let it or them control us. We get attached. I, honestly, use to attach myself to things and people very easily. I became devoted to them. I would fear the thought of losing that person or thing. Fear is a powerful emotion and the Enemy knows it all too well. Satan will take that fear and use it to his advantage. Just how far will you go to hold on to your treasure? He will test the lengths you will go to hold onto to your valuables and ultimately,  enslave you to it. 

I focused so much on it that I didn’t see the God who had placed it into my life. Everything is for God. Our money, clothes, houses, careers, people we love, even our very next breath belongs to God. Yes, we belong to God but God loved us so very much that He sent His perfect Son as a sacrifice that we no longer have to be slaves to sin. If we have been freed to sin, why enslave ourselves to our money, possessions and relationships?

God calls us to seek Him first. Seek Him and come to Him with what we desire. He will provide everything we need. Always. God always follows through with His promises. We have to trust in Him completely and allow Him to fulfill them. Treasuring a relationship with God above all else frees us from the fear and sin. 

I pray today that we will trust God completely.  Put 100% of our faith in Him. Thank Him for the blessings He has provided to us and all the good things He will continue to do in our lives. God, please grant your Spirit to us so that we do not become slaves to the things the world has taught us to value. May our true treasure always be in knowing You and Your son, Jesus Christ. 

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:31‭-‬33)

God’s Plan > Ashley’s Plan

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5‭-‬6)

As I was writing my prayers this morning, I came to this verse and it really spoke to me and the ways God has worked in my life recently. God’s plans are so much better than ours and I thought I should share how his plans were far better than my own.

Like many affected by this pandemic, my hours at work were cut….all the way down to 0. Due to the fact that I’m a per diem employee at my job and my hours aren’t guaranteed. I also don’t receive any benefits like PTO so my only source of income was gone. 

I received an opportunity to work in New Orleans to help with Covid. I wasn’t 100% in favor of going but I needed to provide for my family. I signed a contract, headed to New Orleans, and went to work. I did my full day of orientation and training. When I got to the hotel later that evening, I received a call that my contract was canceled along with 4 others. I was devastated.  I had driven 6 hours, left my home and family for this opportunity and I was back at square one. 

I gave myself a moment to cry, then I remembered that whatever God has for me, will be for me and I have to trust in Him – so I did just that. I prayed and finally accepted that I had to let His will be done. I checked out of the hotel and drove back home the next morning.  

So I returned home, back to job searching.  I called agencies everyday trying to find assignments for jobs that would suit me. I’d spend hours doing applications, checklists, and sending documents everyday for three weeks. Then I stopped. I stopped calling and thought, maybe God has given me this time at home for a reason. And what was I doing with that time? I spent more time with my family,  I was able to work on my relationship with God and to take care of myself. I have always worked so much. It had been over a year since I took time off and here was my opportunity to rest. So I rested. 

It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones. (Psalms 127:2)

Then last week as I was cooking breakfast I received a call for the job that I wanted the most and, honestly, had given up on. On what  would’ve been the last day of my contract in New Orleans, I got on a plane and flew to Connecticut to help those affected by Covid. The company and position have more benefits than the prior and my time here has been so rewarding thus far. I feel so honored to be on the frontlines doing what God has blessed me with the ability to do. I pray everyday that God uses me to extend His healing power and I’m so thankful for this opportunity to provide for my family and grow closer to Him.

Now this is just one of the many times that God has worked in my life. I just think it’s so amazing how things worked out. How I was so let down when things didn’t go the initial way I planned and yet, His plans were far better. As much as we want to be in control, God always is. When we learn to surrender to that, God will never fail us. 

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Struggling with Envy

God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. (1 Corinthians 12:6)

Praise be to God for this day. Today, I pray the Spirit helps free us from a sin that I’ve struggled with time and time again – envy. I’ve seen others and thought, if only I looked like that or had that family or had that opportunity,  I’d be so much better off. Struggled with focusing on what I saw God was doing in another person’s life that I saw right past the blessings He was giving me. 

God is present in all our lives but His presence won’t be the same as your neighbors. It’s not for our minds to know or understand the plans God has in place for our lives. Trust in Him. That’s what our jobs are. Trust that the God who sent His Son to free us from sin loves you enough to fulfill all the promises He has made. 

I pray that we can all appreciate the lives God has given us and stop wondering why someone else might seem to be better off than us. May we focus on the blessings we have been given and trust that God will gift us a beautiful future. 

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord . “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Fruits of the Holy Spirit – Self-Control

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:22

Looking at this verse and seeing what the fruits of the Holy Spirit are, one seems a little out of place for me. Sure, love, patience, gentleness, all those make sense but self control? What does self control have to do with the Holy Spirit?

Well, turns out it has plenty to do with the Spirit. I have to ask the Spirit for it every day. God loved us so much that He set us free. Freedom to make our own choices and decisions and even the freedom to decide if we will love God back. That freedom is a beautiful gift but that freedom also opened the door to sin being brought into the world. 

So God gave us this freedom to do whatever we want, but should we? I can choose whether or not to follow Christ and I’ve not always chosen Christ over the world. And choosing the world and choosing to do what Ashley wanted to do just for Ashley hasn’t always turned out well. I lived for this world, and living for this world didn’t bring me a fraction of the joy and peace (we’ll cover those fruits later) that I’ve found in Jesus. 

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. (1 Peter 1:14)

Following Jesus is a choice that I didn’t make one day and it became automatic from then on out. I have to choose Jesus every moment of every day. I have to choose Jesus when someone hurts me. I have to choose Jesus when things don’t go my way. I have to choose Jesus when I’m angry and frustrated and tired and think why me? Why isn’t this easier? 

I have to control all those emotions that so easily can take over and turn me away just like that. You may think well I can’t control my thoughts. But yes, you can. God has given us the strength and the tools we need to control our thoughts and minds. He gave us the Holy Spirit so that we can have Self-control over our minds and actions.  

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)

And I know, for myself,  I definitely need to pray and ask the Spirit for self-control every single day. Doing the right thing is often so much harder than doing the wrong thing.  But if living right was easy, we’d all be doing it right? I think it’s especially hard because I used to live how the world lived. I was caught up in it. So sometimes, situations occur and it is so easy to just slip right back into the wrong thing. 

God gave us the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and confidence to choose Jesus over the world. The Holy Spirit helps us to strengthen our minds and the confidence of knowing God is always in control. 

I pray you take the peace knowing that always, in everything, God is in control and always will be and because He loves us, He set us free. It is up to us to accept that freedom or not. We can use His power to control our choices and to not be slaves of this world and sin. Living for ourselves can bring us happy moments, but it is only in accepting our salvation, we receive eternal joy. 

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. (1 Peter 1:13)