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The past two months, my mind has been in a sort of fog. The past few months I have been feeling guilty for everything. Sorry that I did not act the way I wanted in certain situations. Sorry that I said such and such. Sorry that I did not get the bathroom cleaned or the laundry finished. Sorry that I failed to do X,Y and Z. Feeling guilty for not measuring up and guilty for every action I make in parenting and friendships and my marriage. That I can do better. And constantly being in battle with doing what I do and then frustrated because I do not want to be frustrated. It is not a fun place to be and some days a prayer for God to push the perfect button on me bounces around my head.

Going in to marriage, I was advised to be careful about preconceived expectations I unknowingly had on my husband and God taught me early on in parenting about the issues with expectations on my child. During this struggle, he revealed the issues with self imposed expectations. This is something I have never thought about or even occurred to me to be an issue.
 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. Romans  7: 15-20
I can SO relate to Paul here. It can sound like a circle when you read it, which is how it feels sometimes. I desire to do good and be a great mother and wife and daughter and friend and do God's will and some days it seems like all I do is fall short but that is not what God is calling me to do or to be. Perhaps you can relate. Hear this truth: God is calling us to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37).  

He does not have expectations. Sin is in the world and we are not perfect There is a constant battle of us verse sin but Christ already won. Satan does not want you to see yourself in that light and when you fall in to the temptation of feeling like a constant failure. you are falling in to sin and not living in the victory that Christ has given us. 

You must focus on him and not your own strength or to do list. Personal expectations make you miss blessings right in front of you because you are too busy focusing on what you want rather than what God has graciously given you. It may also lead to other sin, as a result. 

I pray that God would open your eyes to any unknown expectations of yourself that you have been carrying around. I pray that you would feel the freedom that comes from letting go of your own agenda and to do lists and that you would enjoy his peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).

Rest assured, you are doing the best you can do with the resources you have, with the skill sets that God has given you for this season. Do not fret over the past. Be forgiven. Ask forgiveness where forgiveness is needed and accept it and move on. Christ died for your sins and because he overcame death, hope can be found. Stand firm in the faith and in him and be a witness to how he works out the good for those he loves (Romans 8:28). He loves you despite your expectations, failed or not.  

I love Owl City's rendition of In Christ Alone. Reminiscent of high school days where the anthems of the Postal Service were constantly blaring but that is another story. Have a listen.

In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song; This Cornerstone, this solid Ground, Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My Comforter, my All in All, Here in the love of Christ I stand.
 Here's to less expectations and more lavishing the love of God.  

I have had people ask about God and where to start, so here it is simply put. The thing always I like to clarify first is that God is not a religion. I have a relationship with God, I do not follow religion. Yes, there are rituals and teachings but those are trailing behind the relationship because without it nothing is of importance and becomes just another thing to do.

Like getting to know a person - a friend, coworker, future spouse - you have to spend time with them. You cannot simply hangout with people who know Sally, talk about Sally, explain what she is like, list her characteristics and what she's done for each person and expect to really know Sally at all. You may have a general idea about what to expect when you meet Sally but you have to actually spend time with her to know her. The same is true with God. You have to personally spend time with him in order to know what he is like. To taste and see that he is good (Psalm 34:8).

Church is look like group dating, if you will. This is the part where you may have encountered Jesus for the first time. Perhaps through an invite from a friend or family member or you were brave and just showed up. I met my husband through friends back in junior high, perhaps you can relate. Church is when everyone comes together to worship and get to know God together. You have the opportunity to get to know God through his message from the pastor. Through the people he has strategically placed next to you in your Sunday school class or at the end of the row in service. Through tithes and offering. Through volunteering in various ministries throughout the week and getting involved in God's community and bible studies.

Church may be the part that feels more scripted and you may try to look good and be on your best behavior but just be yourself. You just need to come as you are and realize that you are coming to a place that is filled with others who are imperfect and sinful, too. Not perfect in the slightest. After all, no one is perfect, no not even one (Romans 3:10).  So do not feel like you are an outcast, you fit right in, really. Church is a place filled with people who realize they need a savior and choose not to do life alone anymore because life with God is AMAZING.

When you are dating a new person of interest, a lot of time is generally spent hanging out with him or her, especially one on one. He becomes the thing you cannot stop thinking about. You wonder how you ever were without her. And may even think of ways to impress him.

Your relationship with God needs the same thing, without the impressing part. You need one on one time. It is carving out time to get to know him. Just you and him. Reading your bible. Writing down what speaks to you through it. It's taking down questions about things you do not understand and God leading you to someone who is able to answer them, most likely someone in the group dating part. It is learning to clear yourself from distractions and listen. A relationship without quality one on one time is not going to last or be deep, especially with God. And the best part of a relationship with God is that you just have to come to God as you are, messy parts included.

And just in case you need a nickname for him, (because when you get to know someone a special name is something you share) I thought I would leave you with some compiled from A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. 

Emmanuel: My God with me (Matt. 1:22-23)
El-Channun: The Gracious God (Jonah 4:2)
El Hanne'eman: The Faithful God (Deut. 7:9)
El Roi: The God Who Sees Me (Gen. 16:13-14)
El ha-Gibbor: The Mighty God, God the Hero (Isa. 9:6)
El Shaddai: The All-Sufficient God (Gen. 17:1-2)
El Sali: God of My Strength (Ps. 42:9)
El Olam: The Everlasting God (Gen. 21:32–33)
El Elyon: The Most High God (Dan. 4:34)
Elohim: God, My Mighty Creator (Gen. 1:1)
Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Who Will Provide for Me (Gen. 22:13–14)
Jehovah Rapha: The Lord Who Heals Me (Exod. 15:26)
Jehovah Nissi: The Lord My Banner (Exod. 17:15–16)
Jehovah Shalom: The Lord My Peace (Judg. 6:24)
Yahweh Tsuri: The Lord My Rock (Ps. 144:1)
Jehovah Rohi: The Lord My Shepherd (Ps. 23:1)
Jehovah Shammah: The Lord Is There for Me (Ezek. 48:35)
Abba: My Father (Ps. 68:5–6)

Praying that you will seek God and find him. That he will be the one you run to in joy and heartache. That you would learn to trust him as each of these names is played out over your life tine. Praying that you would enjoy your time spent with God and know that there is nothing sweeter. 

Here's to getting to know God better than anyone you know. Here's to a renewed relationship with the creator of the universe. 

And a little printable, if you need a reminder of his awesomeness. Click to download an 8x10. 

This year is my second year of gardening. I do not have a green thumb in the slightest, where as my grandma and grandpa were exquisite gardeners. I have learned so much this year by just plowing in, along with some advice from experienced gardeners, and lots and lots of prayers. That is how my garden grows, not with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row - but with prayer. Through that, God has taught me more about life than I ever thought would be revealed, as we planted the little patch months earlier. Jesus' parables about seeds and gardening became clearer as the plants grew in front of me.
I started some of the plants I started from seeds. It really was an experiment and I did not think that they would grow but God proved me wrong. The tomato seeds became the biggest plant in the garden and started taking up precious patio space. Despite their big garden presence, they lacked tomatoes. One tomato was harvested and another had begun growing but that was it from them. While watering one day, God revealed this truth: people may have a big influence on others or hold a high position, yet are not bearing fruit.
You were chosen. Jesus picked you out for a purpose and has appointed you to bear fruit - fruit that will last for eternity, not the temporal. You have an influence on people around you, whether you like it or not. Whether it is for better or for worse. You have an influence on your husband, friends, children, neighbors, co-works, the barista at Starbucks. People notice you. Perhaps for your fruit. Perhaps for your lack of it.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15: 1-4
God has appointed you so that you can grow in him and from your growth and overflow of fruit, others will come to know him. You cannot produce fruit without first being centered in Christ. You have to be constantly in his word and growing in your personal relationship with him before you can bear fruit. You can do nothing apart from God or your fruit will be just that - lacking God.
Perhaps you find yourself in this situation now - feeling farther from God than you have ever before. I pray that you do not grow weary of doing good (Galations 6:9) but that you would take time to actively seek God and his direction. Perhaps you have sewn all the fruit in this chapter of ministry or particular friendships or jobs and he has something entirely different in store for you. Perhaps you need a refresher of being still and knowing he is God (Psalm 46:10). I pray that you would listen to his leading and see what other adventure he has planned for you.
I pray that your soul would be renewed and anything in you that is not producing fruit would be transformed. I pray that you be refreshed and open to receiving God's guidance and come alive.

Fall Afresh by Bethel Music seems to fit perfectly here. Have a listen. 

spirit of the living god come fall afresh on me, awake me from my sleep.
Here's to realizing your influence and bearing fruit. Here's to pruning and growing. 

Praying out loud was always awkward for me, even with my husband, and I did not want to budge at first. I was quite content praying by myself. What if I said the wrong thing or it sounded weird? What exactly should I pray for? In-my-head-prayers were easier and I liked it that way but my husband did not. And I had to give in and try it. And then I had to pray out loud each Thursday as an Awana director. The more I prayed out loud, the easier it got and I was able to trust God to guide my prayers. You can semi-prepare for what you think you are going to say but I find when you are praying for someone specifically, the holy spirit takes over and your words are not yours but you have to be willing to speak to be used.
Praying for others is a huge blessing for both parties involved. I am still working on praying for someone the moment they ask for prayer, as opposed to the I will be praying for you this week. Praying in the moment is powerful. I do not know of a place in the bible where Jesus says, "sure, I will pray for you this week." He prayed in the moment. He prayed with power and authority. His prayers were answered.

When you get over yourself and your own insecurities and pray in the moment for someone, you allow God to take control and pour blessings over others who are hurting or need help and over yourself. You allow God to use you to comfort and speak peace and truth and life in to his child. Prayer goes beyond our own infinite minds to the God of the universe. 
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5: 13-16

Scripture tells us to pray for each other and that God will be there among us (Matt 18:20).  Prayer heals. Prayer changes lives. Rejoice with one another when prayers have been answered and pray for needs to be met. When you are praying for someone you do not need to be afraid of whether or not the prayer will be answered. That is not up to you to decide. Yes, you are to have faith (mark 11:24) but God is the one who knows what is best for the situation and works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
I pray that you would be bold in your spirit and listen to God's leading this week as you go about your day. I pray that he would give you opportunity to pray for someone and that you would not worry about words to say or awkwardness but that you would be confident in the Lord and his power, not your own.
I pray that you would witness a renewing of your mind and revival of your prayer life. That you would not be worried about words to speak or the offering to pray but that you would seek out opportunities to intercede for others who are not expecting it. That it would be commonplace to pray for those around you.

Here's to praying and interceding for others. And here's to lives being changed through them.

Do not try to make the bible relevant. It's relevance is axiomatic. Do not defend God's word but testify to it. Trust to the word. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

You can talk until you are blue in the face about the truth of the bible. About how great it is to read. How life changing its text is. Boast of the wisdom sewn in to each page and the lessons that make up the verses. But unless someone actually reads it, your words may be just that. Words.

Your life on the other hand, has mounds to say without ever opening a bible. Your actions and conversations and decisions. Your testimony - the evidence that you are giving about what God had has done, who he is, and claiming the truth of the bible. No one can argue with that. It is yours to claim. Yours to profess. No one can tell you that you have not been changed or transformed. Your constant growing trust in God and the ever growing list of his working on your behalf cannot be argued. 

With the lack of truth in the world today and the move from people knowing they are sinners in need of a savior to not understanding they are caught up in sin, your testimony sets a perfect tone.

You story has power and has been written for such a time as this. Do not let the story God has written through you - your personal story - be down played or make you feel ashamed. Perhaps you feel your past was horrible, scattered with drugs and theft and all sorts of personal trauma. Or perhaps your past was not so dramatic and you came to Christ with what you see as just a small tray of issues but nothing so big and dramatic that God could use. The latter is what I thought. My story is not so impressive and could possibly be viewed as anticlimactic. But every story that has Jesus as a main character has a climax. The part where Jesus showed up and turned your world upside down and started the refining process.

Do not be afraid to share what God has done for you. God has given you life experiences to share of his abundant goodness and faithfulness. He has given you people to profess to and the story to go with it. I pray that you would not be so focused on the day to day and caught up in your own agenda that you lose out on those around you who you can invest in. Those you can share what God has done for you personally.

I pray that if you have never written out your testimony, that you would seek God for the words to do so. That you would be equipped when someone asks you about why you are different. That He would show you how he turned your trials in to victories.

I pray that each chapter in your life that was viewed in shame would be lifted up by the power of God and be transformed in your mind as a victory - through Christ you were able to overcome it. That you would freely share openly what Christ did for you and in doing so that you would give hope to someone going through the same struggle.

We are not perfect. It is through our weaknesses that we are made strong. Our testimonies attest to it. We are sinners. Jesus bridged the gap between God and every person who has walked the earth. 

Jeremy Camp quotes part of Revelation 12:11 in Overcome, which states: They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. We can overcome the darkness with the light of our testimony because of Jesus. Have a listen. 

We will overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. 
Here's to sharing your story and giving God the glory through it all.