Actions Matter

In my world, when the phone rings at 3 AM, sorrow is guaranteed to be on the other side of the call.  So when my phone startled me awake one October morning, I was hesitant to answer.  But, I am glad I did.  I could barely understand the words coming out of my friend, Sharon’s, mouth.  Her sobs were heavy and I could sense the depth of her sorrow through the phone.  Sharon tried her best to tell me her husband had betrayed her…he had been unfaithful.  I told her I was on my way to her house but she insisted on coming to mine.  She needed to be away.

Through her sobs, Sharon shared with me that for a long time she felt her husband didn’t TRULY love her.  But, she didn’t want to believe it because he was always loving.  After a few hours of reminiscing, Sharon realized that her husband’s actions spoke louder than his words.  While he always had kind words for her, his actions spoke something different.

After Sharon left, my mind fell on my own hypocrisy (my words didn’t align with my actions) and of those around me.  I could see how easy it would be to put more weight on people’s words than their actions.  I once had a manager that was so kind to me in words but he would undermine me and ridicule me in front of others and he never truly supported me.  But, I was convinced he was a friend.  It was hard for me to reconcile that his words didn’t match his actions.  After all, scripture tells us that “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34) and that “death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

But those words are meaningless if they don’t match up with action.  Love, true love, are seen in our actions. Here is what God says on the matter:

  • Action speaks louder than words:
    • My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.  (1 John 3:18-19). 
    • But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (James 1:22).
  • Actions matter:
    • Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:17)
    • Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16)

So who we are and what we are TRULY about is more in our action and the fruits (love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control) our actions yield.  Both Sharon and I know that living in God’s truth and abiding in His word is where we are safe.  In fact, Sharon began dating again and was re-married a few years later.  She harbors no ill will to her ex-husband.  For a while, she was ashamed that she allowed herself to be deceived but eventually allowed that moment in her life to be a blessing and a lesson.

4 Indicators That You May Have Abandoned God

Greetings Love Ann Joy family and HAPPY 2017!! I am excited to be alive and well and look forward to you and I both experiencing many victories this year.  How was your 2016?  Well, mine was a bit challenging.

Sprinkled among my many blessings last year were times of persecution, misunderstanding, set-ups and set-backs.  I spent weeks at a time feeling defeated and knocked down.  It was an unfamiliar place and space and I WANTED OUT!!  So I began to devise a plan to exit my current circumstances and start anew.  I was convinced that God wouldn’t want me in a place where I am lied on, lied to, undermined and ridiculed.  This couldn’t be His will.

Well after doing a heart, mind and Spirit check, I came to realize that while my situation was uncomfortable, it was right where God wanted me as He “refined” me for my next season in life.  I realized that I was trying to define what’s right and just but had not prayed or sought biblical guidance on the matter.  But I know I am not the only one.  Here are four (4) indicators that you, too, may have abandoned God:

  1. Heart Check: If the direction you take or choices you make fail to give God the glory then you may have abandoned God. In the haste of today and the worries about tomorrow, we tend to forget that we are here for God’s glory and all that we do should be for Him.  Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). So when making decisions on what to do or which direction to go, always check your heart for selfish ambitions.  Not our will but God’s!
  1. Heart Check: If the end results or objective does not yield good fruit then you may have abandoned God.  Now more than ever we should check then double check to ensure that the objective and/or end goal of all that we do yields good fruit.  God’s word warns us to “walk in the Spirit so that we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish (Galatians 5: 16-18)”.  The good fruit …the fruit of the Spirit we seek to yield includes love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).    Work of the flesh includes repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; jealousy; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; hatred; an impotence to love or be loved; dissension; divided homes and divided lives; selfish ambitions; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. Have you done a heart check?  Are your actions or choices the work of the flesh or fruit of the Spirit?
  1. Mind Check: If you are leaning on your own understanding and not that of God, then you may have abandoned God. Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.  Run to God! Run from evil! Proverbs 3:5-8
  1. Spirit Check: If it seems right to you but God’s word says otherwise, then you may have abandoned God. Proverbs 14:12 reads, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Satan is notorious for deception (mixing truth with lies) so it’s important that we go to God in prayer and refer to His word for His truth on a matter.

God. Family. Country.

I was asked to create a design that incorporated what is most important to me. So what three things do I consider most important to me in life?  That’s easy.  God.  Family. Country.  But If you know me, you could have guessed my response.  And while there are a lot of people, places and things that I could consider “important” only those three speaks to and nurture the depth of me.  God, family and country is my personal mantra.  It is my mission statement and it defines my purpose in life.

Without a doubt, “the Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not want.”  I’ve had my fair share of “wrong turns” and bad decisions.  If you only knew how many times God has had to intervene and intercede on my behalf.  So, you would be wasting your time and energy to attempt to convince me that:  1) God isn’t real or 2) that He doesn’t care for me.  Needless to say, you won’t find me turning to anything but God for direction and protection.  I am blessed to spend my life doing and being for His glory.

So what about this family thing?  It seems like it is common now to hate your family.  I mean literally hate.  I have spoken to people who openly denigrate their mom, dad, brothers and sisters.  I don’t know that behavior.  And, can’t understand it.  We didn’t bash our family on the phone with our new bestie or post personal affairs on social media.  Nope.  That just wasn’t done.  Growing up, the only people I would share my outrage or anger is with brothers/sisters and sometimes cousins, aunts and uncles.  Don’t get me wrong.  I had disagreements with my family but never have I taken it to the streets to discuss with people I have known for approximately 5 minutes.  But, it appears that is the norm. So many people are opting out of family.  They are just not interested in doing the hard work of relationship building.  They would rather their colleagues, neighbors, passing strangers and friends replace their mother, father, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles.

So, here’s the deal.  God in His infinite wisdom provided me with relatives.  Those relatives are my family.  Yeah, we don’t always agree but who does?  Family, to me, is sacred.  Let’s see what God says about family?

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (I Timothy 5:8).

If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loves God love his brother also (I John 4:20-21)

Country is just an extension of family.  Country isn’t a thing.  I understand it is a land but, in the true sense of the word, it’s a people.  It is you and I.  And, since I love my neighbors and my brothers.  I Love my country.   So, there you have it, GFC:  God, Family, Country.

What are three things you consider to be the most important in your life?

 

Towed Off:What’s A Testimony Without A Test

Tow truck towing a car broken down on the streetYesterday, the day I was scheduled to release the #HeartMatters video, my faith was tested. If you read my “From Fear to Faith” blog, you know that I’m currently job hunting. Yesterday, I had an interview at 3:00 PM. So, I used the small amount of funding I had access to and put a little bit of gas in my tank, just to make it to this interview and back home.

I took off for my interview a few minutes after 2:00 PM, just in time to have to rush to make it according to my GPS. As I approached the exit to get off, there was a split in the road and I heard nothing, no direction to go right or left. My GPS had turned off right before I reached the exit. So, I continued in the left lane as to not panic and cause an accident. In the meantime, I fumbled with my phone to get the GPS back on and hoped that I didn’t make a mistake. I did. A mistake that cost me 15 minutes and 9 miles of traffic to get back on the right course. I was late for an interview with the CEO of the company. That was a blow.

When I arrived at my destination, I parked in the same place that I parked earlier that week for a previous interview with the same company. I hurriedly grabbed my purse and my blazer and set off for the building. I called fifteen minutes before I was officially late to inform the hiring manager of my tardiness and situation. By the tone of the conversation, I felt the interview was redeemable. Thank God! I walked to the lobby and called the hiring manager about my arrival. By the end of that 30 second call, the receptionist asked me, “Do you drive a Mercedes?” I said, “No, I drive a Nissan.” She repeated what I told her to a person she was talking to on the phone. Then, she asked me, “Did you park across the street?” I told her I had and she informed me that I wasn’t permitted to park there because it was 30 minute parking and that I was in danger of being towed. By this time, the hiring manager had arrived to the lobby. I explained to her that my car was in danger of being towed, excused myself and went out to move my car. To my amazement, I came out to an empty space where my car had been. MY CAR WAS TOWED!

I experienced two unfortunate events which had the potential to derail the interview before it even started. But, I put on a good face and went into the interview with my best foot forward. I put aside my feelings and convinced myself, “This is an opportunity to show your resiliency. Use this experience to reply to the question of, ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ This is your time to shine!!” I went.  I saw.  I conquered. I left that interview feeling like it was a success. Now it was time to deal with the damage. Time to get my car back.

So, what the hiring manager and CEO didn’t know was that I was secretly LIVID. I was in the building for less than two minutes before they towed my car. To make matters worse, the receptionist told me that the towing company is infamous for watching people as they leave their car to see what building they go into. So, as I walked that mile to the towing company, I reflected and attempted to calm myself and restore my peace.

I mentally talked to God and asked Him to give me the words to say to convince the towing company of their error and get my car back without giving up $135 that I didn’t have. I started to feel down about the situation, that I yet again have created a burden on myself and my family. “I don’t have any money to give them…I refuse to ask my mom to help me again…I’m tired of being such a burden…why isn’t anything working out for me?”, I thought. So, instead of calling my family, I decided to handle the situation on my own. I was going to convince them to hand over my car. They were wrong for taking it in the first place. So, I went in with that mindset. I was still livid, still stubborn, still depressed, and still not hearing the directions.

So, I arrived at the towing company tucked away in a corner behind a Mercedes car dealership. I saw my car parked in the open unattended lot and thought, “Maybe this is God’s way of giving me my car back. I mean, why would they just leave it here unattended?” I unlocked the door and attempted to get inside when a lady called out, “Hey! You have to come over to this side.” I knew I was wrong, but I was truly in my feelings still. That was the first time it was clearly revealed to me.

I went to the window the lady called from and she asked me for my license. That’s when I attempted to explain that I believe that I was towed in error. She replied very apathetically,”It’s a 30 minute, retail parking spot. We have a video of you going into the building across the street.” That’s when the receptionist’s words rang in my ears, “Yeah, they’re vultures. They just hide away, sit, and wait for people to park and watch where they go.” I was heated. My body tightened, my voice raised, and my words got sharper and tighter. Then, a man that I suppose is one of the tow truck drivers got involved in the conversation and his words where even sharper than mine. I felt like he used his deep masculine voice to talk over me and stop me in my tracks.

I felt angry at what I believed was an injustice. Instead of continuing the conversation, I stopped, turned around, walked down the steps toward the parking lot, took out my keys, got in my car and drove off. Before I reached the gate, another tow truck driver drove his tow truck across the gate (which I believe was broken) and blocked me in the parking lot. They called the police.

Within 5 minutes, two police cars showed up with four officers dressed in bullet proof vests and one with green military-like attire. As I watched the officer walk up to my car, my spirit was stirred. I felt God telling me, “Let this go. Give it to Me.” The officer knocked on my window and asked about what happened. I explained to him the circumstances and that I believed I was wrongfully towed. He went over to the couple that ran the towing company and reviewed their evidence. He returned to the car and explained that I had to pay the fee or leave the car. “Just pay the $135 and file a suit in Civil Claims Court. Hopefully, you’ll get your money back”, he said. That was my breaking point. I broke down and explained to the officer that I didn’t have the money to pay the fine and I felt that it was unjustifiable. I was also still upset because I felt the officer had automatically taken the side of the towing company. After many tears and being told that I absolutely had to pay the fine, I exited the car and called my family. The police officers left and the towing family returned to their trailer and snacks.

As I waited for my sister and brother to arrive, I sat on the stairs to the window and texted a friend to pray for me. I explained to her the situation and waited for a reply. As I sat and waited, I heard the Spirit tell me to apologize for my actions. I resisted at first. I thought, “NO!! I’m not doing it. They were completely wrong. They stole my car, called the police on me, laughed at my tears and ate popcorn while they watched the disarray that they caused.” So, I waited outside in the 90 degree weather and I reflected on what just transpired. Then, my mom, whose phone was malfunctioning when I called her during the incident, called in a panic and asked what happened. I explained to her the situation and reassured her that I was okay and safe. She responded inquisitively, “Why is your sister going up there? She doesn’t have any money with her.” Then she said, “Do they accept MasterCard? I can just transfer the money now.” Thank you, God! So, she transferred the money. As I handed the lady my license, I offered a sincere apology for my wrongful behavior. With all of the lumps in my throat and hesitation in my voice, I apologized because God told me to.

Although everything ended with an apology, it still hurt. It burned my flesh to have to apologize, but I knew that it was the right thing to do. As affirmation, as I left the parking lot I looked down at my phone to a reply from my friend saying, “I feel like in this moment God is telling me to tell you to go to those people and apologize…I know it’s not easy to do but do it anyways and watch GOD work!”

|Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.| Gal 5:24

I still cried, heavy, breathless cries after, completely submitting my will to Him and completely handing over my inequities.  As I made my 45 minute journey back home, I thought about the ways in which we as human beings may hurt God everyday if He was like us. How our shortcomings would cause Him to be unforgiving…how we could never be saved if He was more like us.

I also reflected on how God gives us purpose through the pain. I learned a hard lesson about humility, forgiveness, and repentance that day. As I listened to KB’s Undefeated, I gave glory to God and His magnificent plan. Then, I came to a slow down. There was an accident and I thought, “It could’ve been me.”

From Fear to Faith

“So, I’m homeless and I’m going to be broke forever.” This prolific statement should be the running theme of every mid-millennial’s feature drama (not coming to theaters soon, but currently in real life). It’s an unfortunate truth, but I’m guilty of succumbing to this pattern of thought ever too often. You know “THE SKY IS FALLING!!” school of thought, “everything is an emergency” way of life, and “every bad thing happens to me” belief? I think that everyone has their fair share of doubt, depression, and anxiety, but it’s not until recently that I realized that my attitude during these bouts determine the outcome. In fact, Proverbs 18:21 says that the words that I speak about my life are self-fulfilling prophesies.

|The tongue has the power of life and death.. those who love it will eat its fruits| Proverbs 18:21

So, as I mentioned, less than one month ago, this was my narrative, plot and dilemma: “So, I’m homeless and I’m going to be broke forever.” In May, I graduated with a Master of Public Administration (MPA), I was living in California, and I was highly idealistic about my future. In the matter of a few short weeks of continuous, relentless and seemingly fruitless job searching, I was convinced that I just didn’t have what it takes to fulfill my vision of being a leader in the field of education and youth development. So, I brought out the small violins and played myself a little melody.

Hmm HmHm Hmmmmmmmm Hmmmm

“Oh, woah is me!! Why would this happen to me??!”

But really, what was the cause of this misfortune? After a bit of introspection and an overdue break from hosting my very own pity party, I realized that the reason for this terrible misfortune was me. I allowed fear to resonate in my heart and cloud my judgement which stagnated my growth and stole my blessings.

Faithless, Envious, Anxious, and Regretful

I chose the words faithless, envious, anxious, and regretful to describe the state of mind I was in over the past 6 months leading to my graduation and move back home. This acronym perfectly describes my state of hopelessness and desperation. At that time, I wasn’t committed to my faith. I didn’t believe that I would be okay and that my dreams would come true according to God’s will. I had become so reliant on my own strength and will to make it through every struggle. I was failing.

It didn’t help that in my struggle and down-time I would overuse social media, which led to unproductive self-comparison and a vicious case of envy. It seemed that all of my friends and family were moving on and making milestones while I was stuck. This made me feel anxious and restless as if there was something outside of myself that was missing to make my dreams come into fruition. It was as if I believed that God made a mistake and forgot to give me what I needed to succeed. I felt deserted and worthless.

This hopeless despair led to a feeling of indecisiveness about where I was going to live, my career path, and my desires. According to James 1:6-8, the indecisive person doesn’t trust the Lord and is unstable, which is exactly what I’ve been experiencing over these few months.

|But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is….unstable |James 1:6-8

 

From Fear to Faith

For some time, I’ve felt removed from my faith and relationship with God. I felt alone because I was no longer listening to His voice and I was listening to the voices of doubt and earthly desire. In order to build our relationship again, I’ve committed myself to the daily practice of reading scripture. The more I read, the more I am able to clearly hear His voice and move in the direction of His will for my life. I feel stronger and more courageous. I’ve moved past the, “I can’t” and “I’m not good enough to..” to “He told me to so I must” and “I do not lack what I need to get it done.” Now the words I speak bring life and I walk on faith to reap the blessings that He has in store. So in order to move forward from a spirit of fear to a spirit of faith, I use the following scriptures as daily affirmations that God loves me, God is almighty, and His plan is absolute. These affirmations help build self-confidence, encourage trust, and develop certainty in my journey.

Faith to Fear Chart

Share Your Testimony (SYT): A Father’s Love


….in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

This testimony is from a reader, like you, who wants to spread the good news of God’s love for us.  God’s love is so deep that some reject it because they are unable to understand it.  But, the author of this testimony has not only accepted God’s love for her but she is willing to share her first hand experience with us all.

My life before I came to Christ.

Friday  morning  March 16, 2012. I was living with my boyfriend at the time, and on probation for possession of methamphetamine. I failed to appear for an appointment, and was in violation. Tired of being on the run, I decided I would return home, pay an attorney, see my children, and get in and out of jail as soon as possible. Well my earthly father, and my Heavenly Father had other plans. When I returned home, my father had me arrested. As I was led off to jail, I spit in my fathers face. The next day, when I sobered up, I realized it was my fathers birthday. How ashamed I was. Still 30 days in jail, and my intentions was to get out, and get high.
How I came to a cognitive knowledge of who Jesus is and what He did for me.
I was hungry. I thought for food. This woman in jail was so nice to me. She fed me, every time I saw her she would smile the biggest smile and say ” how are you today Ms. Christie”. A few days later she went home. I missed her, and thought, I hope she is doing well. I noticed an open book in the book return box. It had her name in it.  I was so disappointed when I closed the cover, and realized it was a Christian book, How  To Grow Your Faith. It meant so much to me, the way she treated me I read it anyway. In fact I read it three times in one afternoon. The book talked about the parable of the mustard seed. My cell mate said ” yes Jennifer if you have faith the grain of a mustard seed, you can move mountains”. I was in church part of my childhood. I didn’t realize people still lived ” knowing” and ” trusting” in Him. I had all forgotten this. My cell mate reminded me. I started talking to God, and reading my bible.
Circumstances surrounding my conversion.
A few days later, one of the girls in jail with me, was sitting at a table crying. I walked over and asked her ” what’s wrong? She replied ” my little girl is having surgery in two days, and she wanted to go home”. I felt so bad for her my heart was breaking. I went upstairs to my room, and prayed. I said
“Lord if you’re real I’m not worthy to ask anything of myself, but that woman is desperate to be with her baby, please let her go home. In Jesus name I pray amen”.
Now this book I had read said you have to admit, believe, and confess with your mouth. I had to go tell her. I thought, if this doesn’t happen these people are going to think I’m crazy. It didn’t matter what they thought of me, my only concern was for the family. I went back down stairs, and said Tammi, ” I just prayed and you’re going home to your daughter”. She said ” thank you they are checking on a furlough”. I then asked “what’s a furlough”? She explained. I told her ” Tammi, I didn’t know about furlough’s, I just asked that you get to go home with your daughter. She again thanked me, and went to her room. Two days later we all finished breakfast, and I hear her name called for court. I asked her cell mate, “did Tammi have court today”? She replied ” no”. I was so excited! She came back after a couple of hours. She started up the stairs, her face was red and soaked from crying. She cried out ” Jennifer you where right I’m going home to be with my baby”!
My spiritual growth from the time I accepted Christ to today.
I “knew” the Lord was real, and realized at that moment, the sacrifice He paid for me, and for all who believe. I know each day is a blessing, I finally found the food, I was so hungry for. The “real bread of life”. I have a peace about me, that people notice, and a sense that as long as He is in control everything will be alright. From an earthly father’s love to put his first born daughter in jail. To a heavenly Father’s love, to bring her out.

A Christian’s Journey: My 8 Part War Strategy

It seems like I’ve been on this Christian journey for as long as I can remember.  The older I have become the more important pleasing Abba (my Heavenly Father) has become to me.  So when I came across Romans 7:15 in my studies I had to pause and shed tears to discover I am not alone in my pursuit to live within His will.  Tell me, does this scripture speak to you?

I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time (Romans 7:15-20 MSG).

It is indeed a powerful testimony and scripture filled with so many truths for many who read it (including me).  Like Paul, the author of this scripture, I have become more and more aware of times of disobedience (sin).  In the past I would hide from God and feel ashamed but that is what Satan wants me to do.  Now I know that hiding in shame is not what God wants (Isaiah 59:1) and not how I will overcome.

I have come to realize that thoughts and temptations that are contrary to my Father’s will and His Word are ever present but the key is to NOT let it take control.  Dr. Joyce Meyers calls it a “battlefield of the mind.”  And, from the way things have been going….I would have to agree.

So, if this is war….war for my heart and mind.  War for my soul.  I intend to fight!!  Fight not in my own might but with the power within me through Christ.  So here’s my war strategy:

  • Know who and whose I am.  Boy do I have an identity crisis.  In my search to know who I was I never took the time to really connect whose I was….Abba’s child.  It was not until I searched beyond the words and religious sentiments that I began to have an awareness of my true identity.
  • Submit myself to God.  All that I am and all that I want to be is in God’s hand.  I am fully devoted to being God’s servant.
  • NEVER stop talking to God.  Can I be really transparent right now?  I am still working on talking to God.  Don’t get me wrong, I talk to him.  I pray.  But, not nearly as much as I should….as I want to.  There’s a peace when I release my heart to Him and I need that peace all day.  Scripture says we should pray without ceasing (I Thessalonian 5:17).  To me, that means always talking to God…when I am happy, grateful, disappointed, angry, hurt.
  • Renew my mind.  Reading scripture, devotionals, scripture inspired motivational books, fellowship, praise and worship are all ways in which I renew my mind.  And, it never ceases to amaze me on the new understandings revealed to me each time I read the bible.
  • Guard my heart and mind.  I have to be careful not to store away all of the hurt and disappointment in life in my heart because out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
  • Keep my mind set on these things.  Scripture says we should “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).  And, that is my exact plan.  Each time my mind falls on something that is NOT true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, I purposefully switch my thoughts.
  • Fall in Love with all things Eternal.  My life as I know it now in this body is temporary but God has an eternal home for me.  I sometimes marvel at some of God’s beautiful creations here on earth; however, I get even more excited at how beautiful my eternal home will be.  Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3:2).  Have you taken a moment to think about it?
  • Have faith in all that God is.  Most importantly, I fully believe that all that God has promised He will fulfill.

Over the weeks to come, I will expand on each of the 8 strategies listed above.  As always, it is my prayer that my testimony will bless someone with joy, enlightenment or encouragement.

 

Altogether Beautiful: Part 1 of 4

Ladies - Half Sleeve Heather Raspberry-thumbnailIt was with great excitement that Love Ann Joy released its Altogether Beautiful scripture inspired apparel yesterday.    While it is true that we produce many scripture inspired products, this particular campaign means a lot to everyone who worked on the Altogether Beautiful project….especially me.

I know I am not alone in saying that I have been affected by others’ perception of beauty.  It is indeed an ugly beast to slay.  It was not until I was older, surrounded myself around encouraging people and drew closer to Christ that I began to overcome my desire to mold myself to cultural or worldly perceptions of beauty.   The funny thing is I wasn’t even aware it was something I needed to overcome until I began to learn and embrace how God sees me….how He defines beauty.  It wasn’t until I began to ponder on how I became so broken in my thinking that I realized that the cards began to stack against me much earlier than I realized.

As early as 5 or 6 years old, I can recall one warm spring day my Kindergarten class was in a single file line preparing to go home for the day.  At the doors leading out of the building was a young lady who I believe was a Teacher’s Assistant.  As each of my classmates passed the Teacher Assistant she tapped them on the top of the head and would either say “cute” or “ugly” [Yes, she actually said the words aloud for our young and impressionable ears to hear and digest].  I was old enough to know “cute” was a good thing and “ugly” was a bad thing.  Some of the girls who were in front of me were declared to be “cute” but when I reached the Teacher’s Assistant, I was declared to be “ugly” [Wow….really Lady!].

While I can laugh and joke about it now, I still haven’t forgotten that day.  At five years old, I was left to wonder why this Lady didn’t consider me “cute.”  What was it about my classmates that the Teacher’s Assistant thought made them “cute” but not me? Glory be to God that I didn’t think too long about the matter [come on…I was 5/6 years old with rumbling and tumbling on my mind].  Don’t get me wrong, I thought about it long enough to draw conclusions but not long enough for it to disintegrate my self-esteem.

Now imagine our youth today….with their endless avenues of influence.  When I was 5/6 years old, I didn’t have many avenues of influence.  Let’s see, perhaps school, the “fieldhouse” and home were my avenues of influence.  With the invention of the worldwide web and smartphones, our youth have endless and anonymous avenues of influence.  And, with each avenue of influence comes differing perceptions of beauty.

In fact, an online pharmacy proved how the perception of beauty indeed differs and is in the eye of the beholder.   Huffington Post reported that “UK online pharmacy Superdrug Online Doctors recently created a project called “Perceptions Of Perfection.

“The project featured 18 Photoshopped images of the same woman. Superdrug Online Doctors hired designers from countries around the world to Photoshop a stock image via Shutterstock to reflect the beauty standards of their specific countries.  Out of the 18 designers, 14 were women and four were men, according to Superdrug. In order to highlight a woman’s perception of her culture’s beauty standards, Superdrug asked the four male designers to Photoshop the image based on messages women in their countries receive about what an ideal body should look like.”  Some designers slightly altered the image, while others made the image barely recognizable.

Not only does the perception of beauty differ among cultures, it also differs depending upon time and place.  What was considered beautiful in the 1960’s may not be so beautiful in the 1980’s or 2016.

Youth - Short Sleeve White w Fot Model thumbnailThe truth is the worldly perception of beauty shifts and changes but how God, the ultimate Beholder, defines beauty is consistent and the only true definition of beauty.  The fact is all of God’s children are “altogether beautiful: mind, body and spirit” through Christ.  The more we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12), the better we are able to live in truth and see our true beauty.

It is our prayer here at Love Ann Joy that our Altogether Beautiful campaign will encourage us all to declare beauty over ourselves from the inside out!

In our Altogether Beautiful: Part 2 of 4 blog we will share scriptures about how God sees beauty.  Stay tuned and be sure to tell someone today that they are “Altogether Beautiful.”

God Gets the Glory

HallelujahI woke especially thankful this morning. When I reflect upon my life I think of the many ways God has blessed me. The primary reason I started writing and began this blog is because I was overwhelmed with gratitude for all that I have but don’t deserve. While I am grateful for the tangible things in my life like career, home and other things, I am most grateful that God hears my cries….that He answers my prayers….that he comforts me when I am disappointed….and guides me when I seek His wisdom. Our great and mighty God does that for me…..this nobody. His love empowers me to work for Him….work for His glory!

Hallelujah! Glory to God for His grace and mercy!

From Porn to Purpose 3 Steps to Your Destiny

Pic 12,200. That’s roughly how many times I failed over the course of a 12-year addiction to pornography. It’s critical to note the problem wasn’t porn but the pain I was using it to numb. This article summarizes the principles I use to not only disconnect from self-destructive attitudes and habits but to reconnect with my true self and my divine purpose.

 

Step 1: Embrace Your Pain

Pic 2Society has conditioned us to believe pain is a bad thing to be avoided at all costs. It’s no wonder we use alcohol, drugs, food and sex to escape our painful emotions. I’ve learned the road to divine purpose is called pain, so that to refuse to endure it is to refuse your destiny. I used to believe my “destiny,’ was some arbitrary and boring task assigned to me by an equally arbitrary and boring overlord called “God.” However, pleasure, fun, and passion are all emotions created by God who also created us with our innate preferences and personalities. In short, God knows what’s going to make you the happiest. Each of us was assigned a purpose tailored specifically for us to feel the heights of pleasure while serving God, others and ourselves.

The Connection Blocker
In order to reach your purpose one must endure the pain of self–confrontation or the intense emotional suffering that originates from the destructive beliefs we create from our traumatic experiences. This pain is like a submerged bath toy, it wants to come to the surface but most of us use our compulsive behaviors to submerge our pain and falsely believe the behavior is the problem. For years I thought my addictive porn use was the issue never suspecting that the reason why I needed to look at it was the real source of my pain. To identify your “why,” you must become aware of your flaws, fears and resentments because when we ignore them our focus shifts externally on the wrongs of others and prevents us from discovering our true selves. I used these worksheets (borrowed from an AA 12-step program) to begin the process.

The Healing Process
What if I told you I wanted a master’s degree BUT I refused to go back to school? That would probably sound a little ridiculous because we all know the outcome (the degree) is irrevocably tied to the process (going back to school). Healing works the same way, you can’t be healed without committing to the process. That journey is composed of a drastic shift in your attitudes and your habits.

Step 2: Clarify Your Vision

Pic 3In school most students want to know what they’re being tested on so they can study specific topics. If a professor simply told you the exam would be on “math” and gave no further clarification you’d be a bit frustrated, right? Likewise attempting to overcome a mountain of pain to reach an undefined “dream” is sure to result in failure because the internal motivation isn’t strong enough. Your vision must be passionate, precise and vividly descriptive. Start with your passions; if you could be anything in the world who would you be? If what you come up with doesn’t seem unrealistic or scare you…you’re thinking to small! Through this process I was able to channel my love of travel, the outdoors and innovative emergency equipment into my company Komodo Pera LLC.

Where Passion Meets Pain
Once you have identified your pain and your passion, search for the connecting theme between them. For example, I discovered the pain inducing belief in my life was, “connecting to people will always end in suffering, therefore I will disconnect from people and only trust myself.” Our self-destructive behaviors (porn in my case) block us from seeing our faulty belief(s) by deluding us to think the behavior itself is the problem versus the belief the behavior is covering up. Because I am passionate about reading, writing, speaking, traveling and meeting new people, the area that I thought was the most painful turned out to be the exact area that God was calling me to.

Seek and You Shall Find
Logically, a creation would need to ask the creator to know what it was created for. After you’ve done the work above, I encourage you to ask the God of your understanding what your purpose is. Personally, I found it most helpful to simply ask for His will for my life with an attitude of openness to how, when and what He told me.

Step 3: Do or Die there is no “Try

Pic 4Enduring the path to your purpose requires a powerful and motivating “why.” Porn, like most coping behaviors provides an intense pain-numbing pleasure so don’t expect to “want,” to give them up. Personally, I simply came to a point where the pain of habitually violating my own morals outweighed the pleasure of pornography. That pain prompted me to begin this amazing journey of recovery. Once I began to gain some ground against my porn addiction, my purpose began to slowly present itself followed by fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy and not knowing where to start. The belief that these feelings should dissipate before you take action is probably the number one reason why so many people never reach their full potential. But I encourage you to start walking today in spite of fear and I promise you, you’ll find everything and everyone you need along the way.

Till Death Do Us Part
If you stick to the journey that is overcoming your pain and living your dreams you will reach a point where you can go no further until you commit to your vision 100%. No plan B but absolute commitment to the manifestation of your vision or death in its pursuit.

Worthiness has NO Prerequisites
There has been countless times where I felt I was the lowest piece of “crap” on earth because of my addiction…that no God could possibly love or forgive me…that I was unworthy of success or the greatness that I dreamed of. But I’ve learned my worthiness is not dependent on my actions but my identity. I’m a child of God, prince and heir to a heavenly throne. Therefore, recovery is a process of matching my attitudes and habits with my identity. Most of us were not broken overnight; becoming the best versions of ourselves isn’t an overnight job either. I’m still actively in this recovery process but I’ve glimpsed the Promised Land and I truly believe it’s worth living for.

Pic 5

Julius Q. Holmes IV is the Senior Managing Director & Founder of Komodo Pera LLC an aspiring motivational speaker, author and humanitarian.

For practical tips to freedom in your life follow me on Twitter: Julius@TheShujaa

My Personal Demon: Self-Comparison

Danyelle 2I am about to write about my very personal, intimate thoughts, deepest insecurities and dapple a bit into existentialism. So, as a reader, please suspend all judgment…at least until you’ve read the entire article. By the end, you may find the topic of this article is as much an influential factor on your life as it is mine. Maybe. So, let the games begin and…. MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR!

As a young adult of 23 years of age, I find myself in the midst of a world that is quickly evolving and demanding. This world demands answers from the youth. We are being asked questions like: “ How will you use the scarce resources to meet the demand of a growing population?”, “How will you lead the country, the world to peace?”, “How will you support and take care of the elderly?”, “How will you change the world for the better or at least sustain?”, “Who are you?”, “What will you become?” Meanwhile, we are struggling to answer the call and simultaneously know the answer for ourselves. Who are we? What will we contribute? It seemed that we owed the world before we were even born, but what do we owe ourselves? I believe the answer is simple: knowledge of self. This is our peace of mind AND the answer to all of the questions of the world. But, how do we truly get there. There are so many distractions along the way. We get caught up in the day to day; making sure we have subsistence, dealing with the mini-dramas that life throws us, not to mention the allure of social media. When we take a step back and look at the big picture, we can see that these distractions contribute to our life experiences and even consequently helps us learn about who we are, what we represent and what we value. It all contributes to our quest of knowledge of self.

We are living in an era where information is easier than ever to get. The lives of those we hardly ever get to see if we’ve ever seen them at all are accessible at the click of a button. This makes it verily easy to fall into the habit of self-comparison. If no one else will, I will be the first to admit that I have been there, done that. If you think about it, everyone has. If you’ve ever played a game that had a winner and a loser, you’ve done it! Self-comparison can be explained through social comparison theory. Social comparison theory, proposed by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, states that we determine our individual worth depending on how we compare against others. We constantly evaluate and define ourselves through what others are doing. This can be very dangerous in determining an accurate reflection of self or it could be a source of motivation. Admittedly, I’ve used social comparison in both ways. There have been times I’ve emulated the ways of the rich and famous. I remember a time when I was watching MTV’s “Cribs” when I was 13 years old. I saw a celebrity who owned 400 pairs of shoes and I remembered thinking that’s over the amount that you need in order to wear a different pair each day. I then felt as if I truly needed more than my humble number of 12 pairs of shoes. I pestered my mother to no avail. “Mommy, I need more shoes! I don’t have enough.” My mother’s reply, “ You have money for shoes?? Hmm?” In that instant, I was convinced that I needed to continue my babysitting service (yes, service. I was legit!) in order to support my “needs”. So, when reflecting, yes self-comparison led me to a road (very short lived) of materialism and not having an accurate reflection of self-worth, but it also led me to work harder, get my first job and contributed to some of my best habits/attributes. This leads to the question of, is there a way to define yourself without social comparison?

Comparing myself to others has led me down some very dark roads that I hope to never return to, but has also led me to a road of self-discovery. Still, there has to be a way to cut down all of the competitiveness, jealousy and envy we have with others and remain true to ourselves. Here are 10 tips on self-discovery and knowing your true worth:

  1. Do what you like…. MORE.

 Go out and explore! Try new things! Identify what you like, don’t worry about what you don’t like. Do what you like to do A LOT. You like to dance! Dance! Don’t worry about being a professional. Do what makes you smile. 

  1. Identify your talents….AND your challenges.

 I’ve been told that I’m a very well spoken person who is very friendly and sociable. I also enjoy writing, reading, and speaking. I’ve established that this must be one of my talents and if it isn’t, I’ll work hard to make it one because I like to do it!

It’s very important to know what you are good at and to know what you love to do. The only way to know is to garner as many experiences in a variety of things and just experience life. You’ve experienced a load and still can’t “discover your talents”? Keeping an objective stance also helps. Look at yourself as if you are in your best friends shoes. How would your best friend describe you? This will help you see yourself from a different perspective.

I find that people easily find what they don’t like about themselves and what they can do better. What’s harder for people is finding a way to be okay with that part of themselves. In order to grow, we must accept our greatness and our “not-so greatness”. I’ve noticed that man is kind of paradoxical. We make the bad very apparent, yet ignore it at the same time. We must face ourselves head on. We have to challenge ourselves to do better in the areas that we wish to.

  1. Work HARD!

Life is not easy. Life is not easy. LIFE is not easy. Okay, I think you get it now. Some people make life seem easy. But, even those people work their butt off to get to where they are. Celebrities too? Yes, celebrities too. Do you know how hard celebrities work to stay “relevant”? Their appearance matters all of the time (so does yours in case you didn’t know) and they have to be constantly cognizant of changing trends in fashion and art. When I go home and close my door to my room, I’m constantly cognizant of changing trends in the economy and education. Whatever you value, work hard for it and never forget it.

  1. Study HARD!

 You love something? Study it! Whether you’re an autodidact or formal learning student, pursue what you’re passionate about.

It’s like the stages of falling in love. You take interest in someone and you want to know about them. You learn about them and you continue to want to know more until there’s nothing else to know. Because human beings are evolving creatures, you could never know all there is to know about anyone. It’s the same with learning a subject. Learn until you can’t learn anymore!

  1. Define your values.

 Know what you value. This should be easy to figure out. You start when you’re a kid. “I like that!” vs. “I don’t like that!” You’re an early bird and you like timeliness? That’s a value. You like open-mindedness and dig creativity? That’s a value.

The more you know what you value. The less others and their values can lead you astray.

  1. Know your friends.

 Know your friends and you’ll know yourself. I don’t know about you, but I see little bitty reflections of myself in my friends. My friends and I are not identical, but I see some of the things that I value most in them. The more I learn about them, the more I value them…flaws and all. The more I value my friends, inclusive of their flaws, the easier it is to accept my own.

Also, it is very important to have a strong support system that loves you and is committed to keep learning about you. They help you, be you.

  1. Take care of your health!

 The first rule to loving and appreciating yourself is to take care of your mental, spiritual and physical health. Keep learning, keep searching for peace and keep moving!

When we feel good about ourselves, we are more productive and have a better outlook on life!

  1. Look good….yeah, I’m looking at you 😉

 If you feel good, you look good automatically. Are you taking care of your body (the only one you’re going to get in this life!)? Are you taking care of what you put on your body? Your outward appearance towards the world reflects your emotional state and what you value. It’s your physical testimonial about your life. So, let it be a GOOD one! 😉

  1. Set goals….S.M.A.R.T. goals.

 If you’re not planning for the future, it’s because you don’t believe you have one. Start making specific, measurable, accurate, realistic and timely goals today! These goals will define the type of life you want to lead. Take initiative to lead the life that you want.

       10.  LOVE.

If you forget everything else in this blog, remember to love. Love yourself and love others without expectations or reservations. We are all human and we all fall short of perfection. The most important lesson that we can learn here is to love unconditionally. It not only makes for a more enjoyable life, it makes for a productive and meaningful one too!

God has provided us all very special talents. Jealousy, envy and coveting what our neighbors have are only potential set backs for our own growth. We must remain patient. Love ourselves then others and grow together.

 

Living Your Purpose

Last August, I embarked on a journey to improve the condition and state of education of youth in America, specifically Northeast Philadelphia. As I went along this journey, I had several opportunities to goal-set and reflect. One of the exercises that I had the chance to do was write a letter to myself in the beginning of the year and mid-year. Today, I had the chance to read what I told myself and I would like to share it with you.

*I apologize in advance for the unfamiliar lingo. The organization I worked for had a lot of unique phrases.

Beginning

Mid Year

End of Year

Throughout this year, I have learned a lot of things that I will carry with me forever. Amongst some of the most important lessons are:

1. Let go of your expectations.
There have been times when I tried my hardest to make something work because that’s what I was expecting. I expected my students to get their act together and come to class on time because I told them how important it was and that I “ look forward to seeing you”. I expected my co-workers to know that I needed help on a school-wide project that I was slowly, but surely being overwhelmed with. Until, I let go of my expectations none of the things I wanted happened. When I put that to the side and worked to discover the root of why the things I wanted were not happening, even better things began to happen. The students I struggled with started coaching other students on doing the right thing. When I communicated exactly what I needed to my co-workers, they volunteered to help in unexpected ways and the event was beyond what I had imagined.

2. Communicate clearly.
Sometimes, I found that when I struggled, it was because I was not effectively communicating what I needed or what I wanted. Having fluid conversations with those around you can allow for more understanding and empathy.

3. Plan effectively.
“If you don’t plan for the future, it means you don’t believe you have one.” I heard that on a tv show and it rings true. While it is important to be present in every moment, it is just as important, in this society, to plan for the future.

The most important thing that I’ve become cognizant of is the severity of living life with a purpose. With every single thing that you do, you must be intentional. This is YOUR life. Every moment is unique and fleeting and so are our decisions in them.

 

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Faith and the Fear of Flying

Fear keeps us alive or that is what I thought two years ago. Fear ignites a fight or flight response in your body. It gives you options, and makes you evaluate your situation. I never understood how irrational or debilitating fear could be until my freshman year of college. I was 18, a freshman heading to school. My family and I were flying to Texas for the second time in a row so I could officially move into my dorm. I was unsuspecting as I bordered the plane, thinking it would be a smooth flight. I sat in my assigned seat, watched us take off into the night sky and promptly fell asleep.

When I awoke, the plane was falling, it was shaking and trembling, and luggage was falling out of the overhead compartments. We were experiencing severe turbulence like none I’ve ever experienced before. It was unexpected and frightening. I was afraid. We were falling out of the sky, we were all going to die and all I could think as I clasped my sister’s hand and screamed was “I’m going to die before I go to college. That’s so unfair!” The fear I felt was heart stopping, even as the plane eventually climbed back to its initial elevation and the turbulence ceased the fear remained. I was shaking, alert, afraid and completely helpless but I could not get off the plane. I would have to wait until we landed in two hours. I did not realize in that moment how deep my fear was and how it would affect my life. All I knew was, I wanted to get off that plane.

As an out-of-state student, my opportunities to go home are limited but when they arise, a flight is usually the quickest way home. I did not think flying would be a problem when I chose to go to Baylor but once I got off that plane, I realized it would. Every time I flew, the fear would come back. I would find myself grasping the armrest as if it was my lifeline. All my faith would dissipate as I realized how utterly fragile my life was, how little control I had over everything, and how afraid I was of flying.

I began to avoid flying at all costs. One time I rode the Greyhound for 3 days just to avoid the 3-hour flight. On another occasion, I drove with my mother for 2 days just to avoid that flight. I did not like the way it made me feel, I was being held captive by my fear. However, I began to realize I could not avoid flying forever. I had to face my fears. So, I flew home every couple of weeks. Overtime those flights became a time of mediation. It was in those moments, in the air that I had a glimpse of God’s power over life – over me. I am sure His heart ached when He saw how much I did not trust Him; how much I did not trust His plan for me. I began to pray, read the Bible and listen to gospel music on the flights and soon I looked forward to flying. I stopped checking the weather and turbulence forecaster before the flight and began to leave it all in God’s hands. There are two important lessons I learned from my fear.

1.  Trust God: By trusting God, I am placing my faith in Him and His plan for me. I am letting go and giving him reign over my life. When I trust Him, my problems no longer exist and all fear goes away because it is all for a reason.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

2.  Do not fear:  If you trust God, you should not fear, there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing that can harm you, nothing that can stop you. Fear cripples you, it shakes your faith.

They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, “Where is your faith?”  Luke 8:24-25

Through fear, I learned my faults. I learned that I need to give control to God in all aspects of my life and trust Him. I may not be over my fear of flying completely, but I am slowly getting there. The only way I can ever get better is by facing that fear, by flying and trusting God. While I occasionally reach for my armrest when I feel turbulence, I feel calm a majority of the time. I know that whatever happens on that flight is God’s plan and I trust Him and His plan for me.