You Are Not Alone!

dscn7216

 

God will always “bee” with you! (*Giggle* Couldn’t help myself!)

There are times when we all can feel alone. Sometimes you can even feel lonely in the middle of a crowd! I’ve felt that way more than once, lost in my own musings.

Just a year ago, during what was shaping up to be a prolonged journey, I began a new chapter of my life on my own. A week or two in, I felt quite alone, until the Lord reminded me that He would never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Although at the outset, this reassured me, I thought again that we can’t see God. We can’t simply run up and give Him a hug like we do flesh and blood human beings! The next moment He brought to mind a broader truth: He is not some distant God who watches from afar, sending help and strength in our souls when we need it. On the contrary, the Lord is omnipresent. In other words: everywhere at once. As His child, I am blessed to have God the Father watching and looking for ways to bless me. Christ Jesus the Son walking with me not only as my Savior, but as my Friend and Brother. The Holy Spirit, Who has been indwelling me ever since I made the decision to trust in Jesus for my salvation, and gave Him control of my life.

So God is with me – He is One in essence, expressed in three Persons – therefore I can say that wherever I am, there are actually FOUR of us!

I wrote a poem with this perspective in mind. This may also help those who may not fully understand the Trinity to at least identify how God works in our lives through each of the three Persons.

“Not Alone”

I’m not alone, for You are with me;
even more, it’s not one on One.
There are four of us along life’s path:
Me, God the Father, Spirit and Son.
You’ll never leave me or forsake me
Grace and mercy are new each day.
I’m in awe of Your care and provision;
I love You more than words can say.
Father God, You watch over me,
Jesus, You match every stride.
As I journey, the Spirit indwelling,
You are my peace and my true guide.
In the midst of the uncertainty
on You, three in One, do I rely.
For only by Your strength and wisdom
will I overcome, not merely try.
Powerless and fallen on my own,
I freely offer my all to You.
Thankful You are working for good
everything that I’m going through.
No, I’m not alone, but so very blessed
–Daily You hold my life together
Joined in Your perfect fellowship
You’re with me and I’m Yours forever.

1-23-16
©Ladeena Ashley

A Heartbeat Away
We are not alone. Wherever we are, through Christ we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We can trust that no matter how we feel, nothing will separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39), and He is as close to us as the air we breathe. Perhaps closer. He knows us inside and out, right down to the number of hairs on our heads. (Matthew 10:30). When you stop to ponder further, it’s pretty amazing that He knew what our struggles and failings would be, and He made us anyway.

Sometimes when we don’t sense Him near us, it’s because we’ve strayed or are holding on to something we shouldn’t. But God doesn’t leave us, He’s waiting for us. When we repent and turn it over to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us if we’d only ask (1 John 1:9). Other times He seems distant for no apparent reason – perhaps a test, trial or a dry spell – but even then He’s always a heartbeat away.

Faith Notes
Rest in the knowledge that when you trust in Jesus, you are never alone; and then rejoice in His unfailing love!

Here’s a great song that I sing to myself when I’m tempted to feel lonely, especially in the midst of this season of waiting:
I Am Not Alone – Kari Jobe (Note: Link will open in new window.)

God’s Word on His Presence
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.”Acts 17:24-28a

Psalm 139:1-18
Matthew 28:20
John 14:16-17
Jeremiah 23:23-24
John 10:27-30
1 Corinthians 3:16

One Final Thought (semi-spoiler alert)…

“The Shack”, a movie that will be released in theaters soon, addresses loss and God’s sovereignty and love through a very visual depiction of the Trinity. Though it is seen by many as blasphemous and idolatrous to show Father and Spirit interacting with the main character while in human form, it is a work of fiction, and I believe it should be received as such. I humbly suggest that when and if you watch it, your focus is upon the truths we can glean from it and not the flesh and bone in which they appear. If not kept in perspective, this limitation can serve to diminish the indescribable greatness and all-encompassing power of our God, Whom the intent is to honor through the movie.

Blessings to you, this day and always!

©Ladeena Ashley
All Rights Reserved (blog content and photos)

Grace and Transforming Power

dscn7540

 

I had the distinct pleasure of helping minister to the ladies at Simonka Place last night. Once again, God showed up in a mighty way. I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.

Prep and Prayer
In preparation for my portion of the service, I needed to chose a song and a poem that would fit with the planned message. With so many choices, this is not easy. Even after praying for guidance it still stressed me out because I wanted so badly to be a good witness, and for everything to fit together perfectly. I caught myself acting as if it was up to me to encourage these women! Ultimately, however, I was reminded again that God is working and in control, and my service will accomplish whatever it’s supposed to. I’m simply along for the ride! Eventually I placed a handful of poems in a folder, and settled on one song.

At Simonka
Once at the shelter, we made conversation and I began to get ready. Pulling up the song I’d already chosen, another song kept playing in my head, so I cued up that one on my phone instead. Glancing through the poems in my folder, the first one seemed “right”.

After the opening prayer and an informal introduction, I shared how circumstances and bad choices can lead us away from God, but if we’re honest with ourselves and trust Him with the mess of our lives, He will turn it into something beautiful.

Here is the poem I read:

“Return to the Garden”

I met Jesus in the garden, hope blossoming free.
Lingering near the roses, He walked along with me.
Then I turned one moment – sweet nothings caught my eyes.
I was drawn away; the lion’s roar disguised.
Silently, my Savior reached out, but the wall was built.
Flower beds abandoned, the blooms began to wilt.
Years passed, I settled into a less than joyful haze
Until I realized I was out of His grace.
Through the darkness inside, I heard His quiet call.
Rising softly over the moss-draped wall.
Trusting in His mercy and forgiveness, I fought
Against the steely forces for the peace I sought.
By His Father’s power and love, down the wall came.
Vanquishing the enemy’s lies through Jesus’ name.
Once again among the roses, my heart set free
His gaze and warm embrace are love and life to me.
The fragrance of His holy love fills my weary soul.
As I live for the One who has made me whole.

3-13-02
©Ladeena Ashley

Faith Notes
The song I played for the group was “If We’re Honest” by Francesca Battistelli.
(Note: Link to opens in a new window.)

Though meant as a meditative time to simply listen, many of us sang along. It was so beautiful, softly singing with the music, listening to these souls so battered by life also lifting their voices to sing about the forgiveness and love of Christ! My hope and prayer for everyone I meet is that they each experience it for themselves.

Transformation
My friend’s message theme was: “There is nothing about our yesterday that will wipe out your tomorrow.” Unlike the world’s view that says our past performance is a good indicator of future success or failure, we can change through the transforming power of Jesus. The catch is, we have to let Him change us, because if we keep doing things the same way, we’re going to keep getting the same results.

God Sighting
I love connecting with people through song and word, but this time especially! Not long after the service concluded, one of the ladies came up to say that the song [chosen last-minute] gave her a special confirmation of something earlier that day.

Time and time again, God shows up when I step out in faith and courage, following His will the best I can. His grace is sufficient and His strength is made perfect in my weakness! (2 Corinthians 12:9) In a world so filled with hate and confusion, I pray that you too share with others the hope, love and deep peace that can only be found in Christ!

Blessings to you, this day and always!

©Ladeena Ashley
2017 All Rights Reserved (blog content and photos)

What Does Love Require?

dscn7525b

 

Hot on the heels of the fire storm of comments for and against certain celebrities and their expressed views about President-elect Donald Trump, equality, and a litany of other issues, a good friend of mine recently posed a thought-provoking question on Facebook. He asked if it is possible to make a point without hurting others. At the time, I responded by saying, “Only by making it a point to LOVE them!”.

The next morning, still pondering that idea, the theme of a powerful Bible study video segment by Andy Stanley began repeating in my head: “What does love require of me?” (a link to the video is below). No matter how strongly we feel about a particular subject, as followers of Christ we are called to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). The most important way that obedience and our love for the Lord plays out is by choosing, day in and day out and often moment by moment, that our ultimate response in every situation will come from a place of Godly love and from His perspective.

Here is a new poem that the Lord inspired me to write and which sprang out of those musings. If it speaks to you, please feel free to share this post!

“What Does Love Require?”

What is the loving response
– the most positive words to say?
Before opening our mouths to speak,
will it edify in some way?
Is your demeanor that of peace
or is there warfare in your soul?
Is your motive to encourage
or to defend, shame, or control?
Should you tactfully address a group
or just keep it one on one?
When and where and even IF
stops before damage is done.
Perhaps, energy channeled,
we’d do best not talking at all;
Humble actions speak volumes,
but foolish pride precedes a fall.
For the lasting impression
– the Jesus the world will see
are the words, deeds, and attitude
of the followers we claim to be.
The exact methods vary
– God grants wisdom to discern
when to share or hold our tongue
while remaining open to learn.
In each and every encounter
we can choose to hurt or inspire;
the question we should be asking is:
what does love require?

1-10-17
©Ladeena Ashley

I realize that this is all much easier said than done. Yet the Lord knows how hard it is to tame the tongue. In His Word, God tells us that although it is a small part of our body; with it we can share life-giving words but also can inflict great damage. James compares it to a bit in a horse’s mouth, a ship’s rudder, and the spark that has the power to ignite a raging forest fire if left unchecked (James 3:2-11).

However, we are not left to ourselves in this! God has promised that he will grant wisdom to all who ask (James 1:5; Proverbs 2:6), and nothing can separate us from the love we have in Christ (Romans 8:38). We just have to practice the habit of drawing from His bottomless well of wisdom and indescribable wide and deep love (Ephesians 3:16-21) that never fails!

So, what does love require of you? To share it through all situations!
Not just on Sunday, around “churchy people”, or on special occasions, but EVERY DAY!
You and I fail all the time, but He won’t give up on you (Isaiah 41:10), so keep trying!

God’s Word
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” – Galatians 5:14

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” – Luke 6:36

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

Extra Credit
Here is the link to the study I mentioned. It is a 42-minute video, but well worth a listen to delve even deeper into why it’s so often difficult to love others as we should.
Andy Stanley – Brand: New – What Love Requires
(Please note: link will open in new window on YouTube.)
Blessings to you, this day and always!

©Ladeena Ashley
2017 All Rights Reserved (blog content & photos)

The Tapestry of Life

dscn7893j-cropped

 

As we embark on the adventure of another year, it seems fitting to speak again about the future, and how we can trust the Lord to guide us. For one thing, He has an infinitely farther and better view than we could ever imagine! One of my favorite wall decorations features a poem about seeing things from God’s perspective. It speaks of a beautiful tapestry of which we on earth can only see the underside. To us, it is a mess of knotted threads and a chaotic mix of colors, but from His side, it is a beautiful, perfectly formed piece of artwork that powerfully displays His glory and love.

Along those (thread) lines, while writing the poem I shared in my last post, the phrase “heavenly lenses” stuck out to me, and another new poem followed almost immediately about our sight versus how God sees. Though on earth and in our limited human capacity, we cannot bear the fullness of God’s knowledge, it is still something we all should strive for. The more we can glimpse life through His eyes, by the transformation of our minds through prayer and His Word, the happier and more fulfilled our lives will be. More importantly, when we see more often where God is working, joining in what He is doing, our lives will make a greater impact on our world.

In this poem, the Lord brought to mind a lot of verses that speak of sight: seeing, looking and perspective in general. Quite honestly, I initially wrote it without actually cracking open my Bible as I went. It wasn’t until I was in the process of editing that I double-checked the references, finding that God had inspired me to access His Words that I have hidden in my heart (Psalm 119:11) pretty perfectly!

True Sight

We see not as the Father sees
Instead, darkly glimpsed, as through glass.
Distorted and hazy outlook
–yet to God the future is past.
His ways are higher than ours,
our perspective a prism of hues;
Imperfect perception we employ
to interpret life as we choose.
We observe the outward appearance
but the Lord peers into our heart
and by grace we return His gaze,
trusting love will never depart.
For not a sparrow escapes His view,
we’re eternally in God’s sight.
Whether in full brightness of day
or enveloped in shadows of night.
His eyes ever scan the horizon,
finding ways our lives will be blessed,
all the while knowing our mess ups
long before we’ve knelt and confessed.
Reading God’s Word removes the blinders
transforming within, by His power.
Joy revealed not in circumstance,
but by faith, not sight, every hour.
For all that’s seen is temporal
— life a fleeting mist in the air.
Yet what’s unseen and lasts forever
is the light, hope and love we share.

12-31-16
©Ladeena Ashley

Nearly a week ago, I was given a new perspective on life, one that I would never wish on anyone: the after-effects of a slight concussion from bumping my head. My view of the world has become just a bit skewed; I have less patience for Sudoku, books that don’t completely enthrall me, or other things that I might normally to engage myself in for long periods of time. I’ve seen a doctor, who has said the headaches will eventually dissipate, but for now I am struggling just a bit to concentrate on finishing this post.

I have faith that it will improve and I will return to my fully functioning, upbeat self, soon. Even if I don’t, my life is in God’s capable hands; because even though I don’t always understand what He’s doing, I’m trusting that there’s a gorgeous woven masterpiece, and I’m thankful to be a part of it!

Faith Notes
Here is another of my favorite songs. It fits this post and some of what I’m feeling:
Whatever You’re Doing – Sanctus Real  (Note: Link will open in new window.)

Scripture references: 1 Corinthians 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:11, 15; Isaiah 55:9; 1 Samuel 16:7; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 8:38-39; Matthew 10:29; Psalm 139:1-18; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; James 4:14

Blessings to you, this day and always!

©Ladeena Ashley
2017 All Rights Reserved (blog content & photos)

Moving Forward While Waiting

dscn7621-cropped

 

Happy New Year!
The new year has arrived, and with it a clean slate and the hope that this year we’ll all  finally “get it right”. Or at least be happier, healthier, prosperous….you fill in the rest.

This day is bittersweet for me because an important relationship remains in a state of limbo. In that part of my life, I am poised to…well…continue waiting.

Some seasons of waiting are of longer duration than others; it’s easy to grow discouraged when changes aren’t happening at the speed or in the manner we’d like. We must always remember that God’s ways are higher than ours; He will not be rushed! However, He will be with us, loving us through every second as we trust in Him. My own faith, strength, and courage were certainly tested in 2016, but many joys also lightened the load. I never stop growing and learning.

Here’s a poem I wrote about where my heart and head are at right now:

“Heavenly Lenses”

Pulled up once more by my bootstraps
–the Lord seems slow, but He’s never late.
Uneasy with unresolved issues,
nothing more to do but pray and wait.
Moving forward feels like standing still,
must make better use of my days:
Proactively pursuing God’s will
–surrendered more fully to His ways.
In moments like these, He is my strength,
when discouragement dulls my senses;
I cling to Jesus, reading His Word
to see through heavenly lenses.
For God’s wisdom surpasses all
that my human brain can comprehend.
Not knowing is the hardest part
–when it’s time for this season to end.
Til that day comes, I trust His plan,
lifting my hands in thankful prayer,
for though the future is unclear now,
I know that God is already there!

12-30-16
©Ladeena Ashley

Waiting Wisely and Well
Waiting is never easy. We’ve all been through periods when we’ve done all we can do, and now the ball is in someone else’s court. To keep my faith strong and my sanity (relatively) intact, the Lord has helped me use the time wisely. Proactive waiting, you might say.

Here’s a short list of what I’ve learned, and questions to ask:

  1. God knew this would happen
    (He loves you and you can trust His plan)
  2. It’s okay not knowing what will happen
    (it’s not like you’d predict any other time, either)
  3. What is the Lord teaching you through this?
    (about His character, yourself, and life)
  4. How can you improve yourself while waiting?
  5. How are you preparing for the possible outcomes?
    (pray — this does NOT mean worrying or obsessing)

Waiting doesn’t have to be full of stress, anxiety and discouragement. Use the time to reflect, regroup and, yes, rejoice! Praise God in advance for what He will do. Before you know it, the answer will come, the situation will change or the problem will work out. When the time comes, you can be more ready because you knew how best to wait!

God’s Word About Waiting…

“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him!” Isaiah 30:18, NIV

“We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May Your unfailing love, rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in You.” Psalm 33:20-22, NIV

“The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9, NIV

“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31, ESV

Faith Notes
Here’s an awesome song that my heart sings every day!
Trust In You – Lauren Daigle
(Note: Link will open in new window.)

©Ladeena Ashley
2017 All Rights Reserved (blog content & photos)

Frozen or Free?

dscn7713

 

For some folks, this time of year is difficult. Hearts can feel as frozen and cold as the ground, and the crisp air can easily feel stinging instead of refreshing.

Several days ago, the northern Willamette Valley was graced with several inches of snow. It was beautiful, and still is; however the lingering cold front quickly turned a winter wonderland into dangerous conditions for travelers. It reminds me of a Christmastime in my not-so-distant past.

2003
My husband and I were visiting his family in Washington state for Christmas. It snowed while we were there. In fact, we were having so much fun with family members (some we rarely saw), that the decision was made to stay an extra day to romp in the deep snow. I remember talking with my father on the phone. He’d been especially vocal about wanting us to come back to Oregon and spend more time together. My dad was quite disappointed that we weren’t returning just yet; however we still ended the conversation on good terms.

About an hour into our journey home, Mom had called, asking me to phone when we arrived. We happily discovered that it had also snowed a bit there, so as I stood by our front door, looking at the other-worldly landscape, I called. She let me know that Dad had remained in bed all day, and had passed away peacefully in his sleep a few hours earlier. Mom had checked on him a few times before realizing the final time that he wasn’t breathing. This was three days after Christmas. Sadly, not everyone could make it to the funeral, due mostly to the hardened snow and ice that stubbornly coated the roads that whole week.

Thankfully, my father and I talked and spent time together during the months leading up to Christmas. He’d been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (from inhaling fumes during a truck electrical fire) the previous year, and had been using oxygen for a few months, but it was still somewhat of a shock. Though I sort of regret not returning more quickly to see him for a few more moments, we had already talked things out the best we could, and I had shared my faith with him. We had made peace.

Sadly, some souls may not have had that privilege, and may muddle through the holidays with a palpable emptiness and bitter regrets. Many others try to ignore unresolved differences with estranged family or friends.

The good news is, we don’t have to live like that!

Hope & New Life
The gift of Christmas is for all time! Hope came in a manger, Jesus bore our sin and pain on the cross, and then the promise of a powerful new life sprang from the tomb!
Put another way, if we come to Him with hope and faith like a child, trusting that He knows and has taken on all of our sorrows and mistakes, then He creates beauty out of the ashes of our life!

No matter what you have been through, whom you have lost, or how badly you might feel things are messed up, there is ALWAYS hope, ALWAYS forgiveness and ALWAYS renewal available through Christ!

Forgiveness
If you have been hurt, just remember what Christ did for you. He endured pain and all kinds of temptations, ultimately taking the punishment for all of our screw-ups, on the cross. Our sins did not put Him there, but in awesome love, He willingly gave up His life for ours. Nothing anyone has done or could ever do will come close to that. We have forgiveness through Christ, so we must forgive others. Before we even come to the manger or “go tell it on the mountain” and offer praises, “if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you” (Mark 11:25).

If you get along with all of your family members, count yourself especially blessed! If that is not the case, do what you can to pursue reconciliation and patch things up. Just remember: In the end, you can only do what you can do. The rest is up to the Lord. We are each responsible for our own choices and ultimately accountable to Him.

In Summary…
All of us know folks who have lost loved ones. Show them extra patience and love.
If someone has hurt you, forgive them. (You’re really releasing yourself!)
If you hurt someone, ask for forgiveness. (Humble yourself by taking responsibility for your part.)
Like Jesus, they may reject us. Love them anyway. (1 John 4:11)
They may not accept forgiveness. Forgive them anyway. (Romans 12:20)
Don’t let the winter snow chill your heart. Let His love melt it and make a new start!

The greatest gift of Christmas is love.
Don’t wait! Claim it, embrace it and then double it by sharing it today!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

©Ladeena Ashley
2016 All Rights Reserved (content & blog photos)

More Than A Holiday

20140206_171339

 

As I’m typing this, my heart is light and I still feel absolutely giddy. Why? Because I just returned from serving once again at Simonka House! One of the blessings of Christmas is giving, but I get to give of myself every month! My co-minsters and I are real with our joys and struggles, which blesses the ladies; it is also an honor and blessing to share my poems that minister to their hearts and bolster their faith. It’s like Christmas all year-round!

My hope and joy comes from my relationship with my Savior who came down to earth, gave His all for me, and died and rose again so I could live. What I share with the women at Simonka springs from that glorious hope, a hope that began in creation and came to life in a lowly manger. If I didn’t believe that, then Christmas would be just another holiday.

Here is a new poem I wrote the other day about the true meaning of Christmas:

“More Than Cheer”

More than just a holiday
with twinkly lights aglow;
Santa, gifts and reindeer,
or the hope of Christmas snow.
Traditions we take part in
have a far deeper, joyful reason:
The origin of the hope and love
we celebrate this season.
Singing carols like the angels,
we’re heralding Christ’s birth;
Each chord once more proclaiming
His humble arrival on earth.
Bulbs and candles shining bright,
Light of Christ, and that of His star
which led the wise men of the East
on their journey from lands afar.
Then bittersweet sacrifice:
Red and white Shepherd’s canes…
His blood cleanses white as snow;
We’re healed by His stripes and stains.
Every brightly wrapped present
like the gift of God’s Son;
The greatest treasure of all:
new life offered to everyone.
Jolly Saint Nick and his sleigh,
reindeer and trusty elves
show teamwork and giving spirit,
serving others above ourselves.
Yes, not just another holiday,
Christmas brings more than cheer:
but abiding hope, deep joy and peace
and love that lasts the whole year.

12-4-16
©Ladeena Ashley

My prayer is that each of you think of the deeper meanings behind so many holiday traditions. Jesus is the Reason for the Season. We must all must honor the true meaning of Christmas and keep Him first in our hearts, because He loved us before we even knew Him! Share the Good News that is found during Christmas and throughout the year!

Note
I may not post much more this month, to give myself a breather (famous last words — the Lord may have other plans).

Faith Notes
Here is one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs: Joy (To the World) – by Avalon

Blessings to you, this day and always!

©Ladeena Ashley
2016 All Rights Reserved (content & blog photos)

The Greatest Gift

dscn7581

 

Thanksgiving is over, and we’ve survived “Black Friday”, “Buy Local Saturday” and “Cyber Monday”. As the Christmas season goes into full swing, everyone continues to shop for those “perfect gifts” for loved ones. I don’t know about you, but the pressure society places on buying and giving Christmas gifts – items that others may or may not even use or want – somewhat diminishes the holiday fun for me.

Those who know me know that I’m no Scrooge or Grinch. I do give gifts (sometimes I even make them), but just not always at Christmastime. My gift radar is active year-round. If I had to find gifts for all of my loved ones within a month, they would not only get less-than-inspiring presents, but I’d go broke in the process. Instead, items come home with me as I happen upon them throughout the year. Occasionally I don’t even wait until Christmas, birthday or some other special occasion. It’s partly out of excitement, but also because tomorrow is not promised, let alone Christmas. (Disheartening thought for a Christmas post, I realize, but there it is.) One of my favorite quotes is: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Though it may not work for everyone, giving as I feel led is a true blessing!

Gift Options
What we give is just as important as when we give. Honestly, however, do we all really need more stuff? (I’m asking myself also.) Friends and family could likely live without some of what is given, thoughtful and useful as it may be. We are all so blessed; our “first world” holiday problems consist of scheduling conflicts, fighting traffic and discovering that “must-have item” has sold out. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to help the growing homeless population, the “working poor” in our communities and the needy abroad. Instead of that game console or gadget, for instance, a more meaningful, inspiring, life-giving gift could be purchased in a loved one’s name. Some ideas: buy a cow or sheep through Heifer International, help sponsor drilling a well in a remote African village, donate to the American Red Cross, or provide meals or socks to the Union Gospel Mission or another organization. Less clutter, no lines, and knowing you’ve helped someone in need…that feeling is priceless!

The Greatest Gift
The greatest gift of all, the One we celebrate this season, is Jesus Christ. He came down from Heaven and wrapped Himself in flesh to live with us – Emmanuel “God with us” – showing us how to love one another. It truly is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but His example goes beyond gift-giving: He gave His ALL for us. We should pass along this gift by giving sacrificially of ourselves: being “present” for others, caring and sharing our time and talents. While opening our pocketbooks is great, opening our hearts is equally or even more important: showing our love for Him by shining His light and hope into the world (Matthew 5:14-16). One should never underestimate the power of a hot meal, a hug or even a smile.

Here’s a simple poem I wrote about the greatest gift of all, Jesus:

“A Gift to Remember”

The greatest gift ever
was sent from above
Jesus our Savior,
the sacrifice of love.
Power for living
because of the cross.
Reminds the enemy
just Who is boss.
Eternal gift, Jesus
God’s only Son:
Victory is assured
– the battle has been won.
Death is conquered forever,
Hallelujah! Christ is King!
What a gift to remember,
for He gave His everything!

7-17-96
©Ladeena Ashley

Reason for the Season
Without Christ in the center, Christmas can easily become just another few days off from work, and a reason to shop, party and watch cheesy Christmas movies (guilty). I challenge you, even as I challenge myself: step away a bit from the commercialism of the holiday and pray for opportunities to share the true meaning of Christmas with everyone you care about. Let’s keep Christ in Christmas, and may His love shine through us all year!

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV).

Bah Humbug!
Just for fun, here is a brand new song by one of my favorite artists: Owl City
Humbug  (Note: Link will open in new window.)
The singer, Adam Young, has the same struggles with holiday shopping as I do! He has a fun way of expressing it, too.

©Ladeena Ashley
2016 All Rights Reserved (content & blog photos)

Enemy Or Neighbor?

dscn7570
So here we are… it’s Veterans Day, but you almost wouldn’t know it. The day designated to remember those who have served our country – usually brimming with honor, respect & dignity – has been largely overshadowed by the aftermath of a very divisive presidential election. Protesters have filled the streets nationwide. Everywhere, comments filled with disgust, hate and fear are being flung like spears, piercing hearts and wounding the spirits of those we should be caring for.

I choose not to speak of how I voted, or my opinions about any candidate. There’s no point now. The votes have been cast and a new person is poised to take over the helm at the White House. Due process – that has been in place for a long time – has been followed. For better or for worse, Donald Trump is the President-Elect and we should show him the respect that the appointment and position deserves.

Who’s In Control?

Though the hope is that leaders would make decisions I agree with, I know that isn’t always the case. However, I trust in a God who can steer the hearts of kings in whichever way He sees fit (Proverbs 21:1). The outcome of this election was no surprise to Him; in fact He puts authorities in place (Romans 13:1), using them for His purposes. His plans for us are good (Jeremiah 29:11), and they are never thwarted (Psalm 33:11). What some intend for evil will ultimately be used for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

The Real Enemy

One question I have for you is this: Who is the enemy? Is it president-elect Trump or his supporters? No. Is it Hillary Clinton and her following? No. Is it the government? No. Is it your neighbor or coworker, who voted the opposite of you? No. The real enemy is, and has always been, the enemy of our souls: Satan himself. The more we focus on our differences, letting pride, anger, fear and contempt drive our actions, the more he gains ground.

On the historical battlefields of war, it was usually easy to tell who your enemies were. They wore a certain uniform and shot to kill. However, our enemy is sneaky. He cloaks himself in light and good intentions, often convincing us that we’re in the right because it makes sense to us. Yet we are called to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).The only way to win this spiritual war is to surrender to God’s battle plan, which is love.

Love Your Neighbors

Disagreements or not, as believers we’re called to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), and love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:33). Which brings me to my next question: Who are your neighbors? Everyone. That means the opinionated old lady at the store, the snobby couple at the restaurant, the Muslim walking down the street, the gay person you work with, and everyone else whose views may or may not clash with yours. God loved the world that He gave His Son Jesus to die on the cross for them, that they might believe (John 3:16). The “world” means everyone, not just those you like or agree with.

Next Steps

So, what do we do now? We pray, and pray HARD! Pray for changed hearts and attitudes. Pray for unity across our nation. Pray that Trump listens to godly advice and makes good decisions. Pray for his protection. Pray for all of the elected leaders, in city, state and national positions.

Overall, pray against the true enemy, and against his plan to keep us up in arms instead of wrapping our arms around each other. Pray we all stop fighting one another, and that all believers put on His spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:10-18), lifting up our voices to fight through prayer. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Jesus said that everyone will know that you are His disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35). Fight for love! His love wins the day!

Here’s a new poem I wrote about our true leader…

“Commander In Chief”

Stand with hearts and hands raised
in devotion to the sovereign King
The Lord alone deserves our praise
and He works through everything.
Good or bad decisions aside,
the vote was cast, the race won.
Now we must lay down our pride,
pray for wisdom and follow the Son.
Loving each other, grace glowing bright
with hope shining through the dark;
Each of us, a candle in the night
–love’s revival begins with a spark.
So lift up your eyes to He
whose platform is beyond belief.
All glory to God, who’ll always be
our true Commander In Chief!

11-10-16
©Ladeena Ashley

As you take time to honor and remember veterans today, also give thanks for Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for us, so we could have new life with His love in our hearts and the hope of heaven in our souls!

“No greater love has anyone than this: he who would lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

©Ladeena Ashley
2016 All Rights Reserved (content & blog photos)

Transformed Through Service

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Lately I’ve been thinking: why must there even be “the least of these”? While I understand it in the practical sense (being socially, emotionally or monetarily limited), something in me has always cringed a bit about that verse. Not so much out of regret – but because it’s just sad that in teaching His followers to serve others, Jesus had to acknowledge that such distinctions, labels or classes existed.

For myself, I’ve never subscribed to the hierarchical mentality, if you will. No one deserves to be pigeonholed, categorized or judged by their current station in life. It’s not only a waste of time, but also far too easy to make the wrong assumptions, which only lead to misunderstanding and dissension. Instead I simply respond to words, actions, and attitude; treating everyone as the souls they are: cherished and loved by their Creator. I ask questions and listen. While I may not fully understand what someone is going through, or where they’re coming from, God does. My job is to trust that He will lead me and give me the words to speak, sharing the hope I have in Him with all who ask (1 Peter 3:15).

Here’s a prose poem I wrote a long time ago, thinking about the needy among us…

“The Least of These”

They wipe off the food with
careful touches
Embarrassed to be seen with a
smudge
on their faces.
But I rub my coat sleeve
across my dirty face
Unable to find enough food to feed
my angry stomach.
I shuffle past the lively eateries
— The smell of a thousand herbs
fills my nostrils
If only someone would give me
something to
revive
my aching feet
Someone please care, give me
and others
something to hope for
something to live for.

5-12-94
©Ladeena Bell

True Service

We are all beloved souls wrapped in flesh, looking for love, hope and acceptance. In serving, we aren’t merely providing resources and help. On deeper levels, we are sharing our relationship with Christ through relationships with others: His hope shining into the darkest despair, His love healing broken hearts, and His truth exposing the lies that the enemy uses to keep the “least of these” believing that they are the “least of these”, and not the precious sons and daughters they truly are.

JOY

We all know: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but I’m here to tell you that JOY (Jesus Others Yourself) itself indeed comes to vivid life when I serve! As I mentioned in my TRANSFORMED post, one of the ways I serve is by attending and helping facilitate the chapel time at Simonka House (women & children’s homeless shelter) once a month. There’s a song or two, a message, and a couple times I’ve shared my poems aloud. After our Spirit-filled time together, I feel positively giddy! As our group leaves, the guests and staff are always so appreciative, thanking us with frequent hugs that send us off with grins on our faces and thankful joy in our hearts.

The Bigger Picture

It truly is both humbling and invigorating to be used by God to bless others. Setting aside our own concerns to focus on the needs of others blesses us and helps keep life in perspective. In the bigger picture, serving also broadens and enriches our experience; building relationships that help pave the way for future ministry opportunities we can’t even imagine now. It’s a win-win-win!

Gifted To Serve

God has endowed each of us with a unique set of talents, skills, interests, and of course, material things, and He has a plan and purpose for them all. In fact every day should be lived to His glory as a form of worship, regarding ourselves as no better than anyone else (Romans 12:1,3). Some are called to distant countries, but most of us can love and serve wherever we are. God says in His Word that we should use what we’ve been given and network (Luke 16:9); leveraging it for the kingdom. It’s the best investment we can make. The best part is: we can’t out-give God. The more we give, the more His Spirit flows and we are transformed – and the world along with us.

Faith Notes

Here’s a “classic” song by Audio Adrenaline…
may we all be His Hands And Feet wherever we go.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23

©Ladeena Ashley
2016 All Rights Reserved (blog content & photos)