Blessed To Be A Blessing

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Thank you, friends, for reading my humble blog! It is such a blessing to bless others, especially when I hear that a post encouraged someone. It’s why I keep writing.

In preparing this post, a simple thought came to me:

Thanksgiving and Christmas are closely linked – not just because of Black Friday, marking the beginning of the Christmas season – but they are also in the perfect order. One holiday is set aside to give thanks to God for how much we have, and the next is focused on sharing with others from that abundance, because God the Father gave His Son out of His abundance. For those who have gratefully accepted that free gift (Ephesians 2:8), the natural response is to give back to God by paying His grace and love forward to others. At Christmas, and all year long.

Here’s a poem I wrote last year about paying it forward:

“Blessed To Be A Blessing”

Counting blessings is just the start;
our grateful joy should be shared
freely with others, from the heart,
because for us no expense was spared.
God gave Himself through the Son
with a thousand good gifts beside.
Who are we to hoard what’s been done
or to embrace such foolish pride?
All we have, do, or will obtain
is from His endless supply of grace.
Faith in Jesus compels, even through pain
to give with a smile on our face.
For through every trial, His light will glow;
the Hope of our life expressing
His love, so that all may know
that we’re blessed to be a blessing!

5-6-16
©Ladeena Ashley

Although the two holidays seem to get lumped together through countless store sales and online Cyber Monday deals, let’s give Thanksgiving – and the Lord – the time they deserve. If you skip ahead, you may not fully appreciate and remember all you’ve been given. The more thankful our hearts, the deeper the joy in giving! That same cyclical “give and take, and give again” spirit can only grow stronger by maintaining an attitude of gratitude throughout the year; and no matter how hard you try, you can’t out-give God!

As I’ve mentioned before, there are many moments when it’s hard to be thankful. Life in this world seems to get crazier and more polarized by the minute. So instead of focusing on the problems, and what is lacking, I focus on the blessings I do have. Like the rose in my photo above, I find the beauty and blessings in (or after) the rain.

When counting my blessings in prayer each day, I always end up first listing them all out, naturally flowing into praying, “You are so good to me”, which then quickly turns to simply, “You are good”. Every second spent just reveling in God’s goodness uplifts my soul, propelling me to share my blessings with others (2 Corinthians 9:8). May it be the same for you!

“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” Psalm 100:4

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Blessings to you, this day and always!

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

The Pursuit of Peace

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Every day, in our own ways, we all pursue peace. Conflict, uncertainty, worry and fear can easily tear us down and immobilize us if we let it.

As someone with chronic digestive issues and anxiety, peace is essential to my physical, mental and emotional well-being. Yet the peace we all need goes much deeper than simply managing stress or thinking happy thoughts!

The peace I’m referring to is not the kind the world promises, but the peace of God. Jesus said, “My peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) His peace is truly otherworldly! The best way I can describe it is: a deep sense of rightness, of inner calm despite outward circumstances. It is not merely lack of negative thoughts, but a clean sweep of emotions that leaves only a wholeness of spirit with a sparkling sense of absolute confidence in God.

So how do you get that peace? Philippians 4:4-7 shows us one way: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

As a Christ follower, I believe finding peace and discerning the will of God all comes down to these main habits that, when learned and practiced, keep us STABLE in an increasingly uncertain and hostile world:

Seek God – Accept and believe who He is, not merely what He can do for you.
Trust God – Surrender your all to His perfect love, holding nothing back.
Abide in Him – Spend time in praise, prayer, worship and reading His Word.
Be thankful – Count your blessings and thank God for what He is doing in your life.
Love others – Look for ways to encourage and serve others without judgment.
Every day – The more you look to Him in all things, the easier it becomes.

Prayer in particular brings me incredible peace. “On-the-go” prayers are okay, but God really shows up when I stop and find a quiet place (no rush), set aside my desires (no agenda), humbly ask for His will or what I should do (no pride), and trust in His love completely, regardless of the answer (faith).

No Holding Back
In the book of Psalms, David boldly shared all of his joys, sorrows and frustrations with the Lord in prayer. He didn’t hold back, because he knew God could take it. Yet no matter the situation, sooner or later he circled back to praise, ultimately reaffirming his faith and trust in God.

My prayers are much like David’s: because of my chronic digestive issues, I will sometimes whine about how I feel or what I can’t eat. Yet my discomfort never diminishes the deep sense of peace I have in knowing the Lord. In fact, quite often my prayers switch from complaining to praising God in the same breath, knowing that the Lord is SO very good to me!

Peace in Decisions
Peace for me is also an integral part of decision-making. Much like David did, I inquire of the Lord directly, asking specifically, “Lord, should I…?”, and pause to listen. Listing off each available option one at a time (even those courses of action I don’t really want to take), I keep asking until, with one option, the concern loosens its grip on my heart and the peace of God which passes all understanding gently carries my soul to that place of reassurance.

Lasting Peace
There are many ways to find peace and contentment: meditation, exercise, creative arts, etc, but the best way I’ve found is through my relationship with Christ. Everything else is temporary, and simply scratches the surface.

Are you looking for lasting peace? A hope that endures? If you don’t have a relationship with God through Christ, peace may feel more like a short calm before the storm, shallow contentment or even numbness. If so, you are missing out! Look no further than the great peace and love Jesus offers. Nothing else comes close.

Blessings to you, this day and always!

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

Positively Thankful!

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Today is a milestone: a year ago I followed God’s lead and created this blog. I set out on this electronic journey not knowing exactly what I would write, how many photos I’d take (hint: a LOT), or how long this trail would go. This endeavor has been both a challenge and a joy so far, writing and sharing what God’s been up to in my life.

This day I’m pausing to give special thanks to God for who He is and all He has done. I thank Him for my incredibly supportive friends and family, and I thank Him for all the blessings great and small that He has seen fit to grant me each and every day.

To those of you who follow my humble little blog, whether you’ve recently begun following, or you’ve been reading from the beginning, thank you so much. I have appreciated every “like”, comment and share, and look forward to hearing more.

I don’t know what the next year has in store, but I’m sure it will be good! It makes me smile to think that God is using me to inspire and uplift so many. Unlike some other websites, I’m not selling anything, but I am sold out for Christ! Liberally promoting positivity and kindness with every post, my hope is that my readers will pay it forward!

Looking through my poems, this one seemed to fit my thankful and reflective mood:

“Winding Trail”

Giddy expectation of heavenly reward.
Love follows love – and all from the Lord.
Grateful exultation of Christ my King,
Who alone understands me and gives me everything.
So very thankful, beyond what words express.
I’m loving more deeply, and happier with less.
Trusting God completely – no cause for doubt or fear.
For His promises are true; His mercy draws me near.
Grace propels me onward, great joy lights up my way.
Ever glowing in this valley, with faith as bright as day.
From blessing to blessing, each hour, wisdom grows.
As I walk in hope and peace, I conquer all my foes!
No matter what others say, my strength comes from inside:
For by His Spirit, I am free! Set apart, sanctified!
Traveling with Jesus along this winding trail,
I smile and sing His praises, knowing His love will prevail!

8-11-2015
©Ladeena Ashley

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

Extra Credit
Colossians 3:12-17

Blessings to you, this day and always!

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

Patience or Indifference?

20170406_125109Periwinkle – April 6, 2017

This evening, before eating dinner, it was a challenge for me to focus and pray. For some reason I’ve been in a bit of a funk. (I partially blame the dismal, drizzly weather, though it does make for some gorgeous raindrop-accented photos.) Not depressed, just not sensing God’s presence quite as much as I had been.

For one thing, all this waiting is taking its toll on me. One minute I’m full of faith and hope for reconciliation, and then in the next, I’m tired and ready to throw in the towel. When I last inquired of the Lord about continuing to wait, I sensed that I should indeed stay the course. It was a simple answer, and there’s a reassuring peace in knowing, but it is brutal just the same.

So tonight I thanked the Lord for my job and what I’d accomplished today, and for the meal. Then, out of my mild malaise, I asked Him to show me if there’s something I need to be doing differently, because I don’t want anything holding me back from His will in my life. Sensing that I should let my dinner cool just a few moments more, I opened my devotional book, “My Utmost For His Highest”, and read today’s entry.

God answered using the words of Oswald Chambers, who pointed out that there’s a difference between patience and indifference, and the key is to keep focused on the Lord as our source of inspiration and strength. That there will be seasons when we don’t hear anything (or very little) from the Lord, and we must endure like Jesus did when He was tempted in the wilderness. Thankfully I’m not in a “dry season”, but it does happen.

While waiting, there have been times that I’ve slipped from patience to indifference. Waiting is painful, and I’d rather not think about it! Yet I have all the fortitude I need, and more, in Jesus. Furthermore, there’s actually great value in struggling, for when all is well and I cease striving, it’s all too easy to become complacent in my faith. In fact, faith seems less necessary when life is good. Yes, we should be content with what we have, but there should also be a “holy discontent” that keeps nudging us from the good we enjoy and do, toward the even greater things He has waiting for us in the wings!

Here’s a prose poem about striving for God’s best:

“Greater Blooms”

Dancing in dandelions
Oblivious to roses of promise
Content with what we have.
Yet in the fields, God is calling
to reject the blithe comforts
– to long for greater blooms.
We cannot see for all the ochre
Happily we exist in present blessings.
Beyond the field is danger
Extending our hearts to break
or soar, enfolded in love’s wings
to land amidst magenta petals
yet now out of imagination’s eyes.
But God sees all and waits
to bless us once we’re ready
to take the risk to dream.

12-17-98
©Ladeena Ashley

I don’t know how things will play out, but God does, and therefore I will continue to wait. Not with indifference, but with a joyful expectation that grows as I humbly keep my eyes focused on Him! (Hebrews 12:1-2)

In Closing…
If life is going well for you, thank the Lord but don’t stop striving.

If you’re waiting on God for something, I pray you can wait with joy for His will to work out in His perfect timing.

Whatever you may be going through now, count your blessings you already have, and stay focused on Christ, because your answer is right around the corner!

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Blessings to you, this day and always!

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

Bring Your A Game!

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English Daisy – April 18, 2017

It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well, but a thankful change of attitude is even more necessary in the midst of frustration and struggles. I call it bringing my A game (Always be thankful). Here’s one of my older poems that addresses this need:

“Perfect Praise”

Trusting God is wonderful,
and supplies one with much peace,
for when we look up and praise Him
our inner fears and turmoils cease.
In praise, God has created
the quickest way to liberation:
Humbly trusting, filled with hope,
giving God all our adoration.
Thanking Him comes more easily
through the happiest of our days;
But true communion and joy is found
when we fill every moment with praise.
Though things aren’t always easy,
it will get better along the way,
As we thank God for what He’s done,
resting in His mercies when we pray.
Faith is seeing things unseen,
trusting through all situations.
Praise God in advance for what He will do,
and He’ll surpass all expectations!

11-20-97
©Ladeena Ashley

Work Stress
Recently I was given a special project at work. I had been expecting it, but what I didn’t see coming was the flood of applications that had preceded the project, swiftly overtaking my inbox. Okay, no big deal. After successfully thinning out my regular work a bit, after lunch I turned my attention fully onto the project. That’s when things became super hectic: Cue the phone calls, an important email, and several frustrating design issues. With each interruption my irritation grew; soon I was completely tense and uncharacteristically cranky.

Off My A Game
Even after my workday was done, the tension lingered. During the ten minute walk to my car, the Lord gently whispered to me as I noted the warm afternoon sun and abundant blooms. Yup, the enemy had gotten me off my A game. The Lord pulled me out of my peevish rut as I prayed, asking forgiveness for my unchecked attitude, thanking Him that I have work that keeps me busy, even of it stresses me out at times. Later I sat quietly in the car to decompress for a few minutes before finally driving home.

Pain To Praise
Just like God can turn good from bad situations (Romans 8:28), we always have to be on guard against the enemy of our souls, who delights in using everything, good or bad, to pull us away from God’s grace any way he can (1 Peter 5:8). When life is a pain in the neck, that discomfort should send us running straight to the Lord, because although not everything in life is a joy, there is strength, comfort and contentment when we trust in and look to Him instead of focusing on our struggles.

Praising God for His goodness, His providence, and of course all the blessings I enjoy lifts me out of any doldrums, worry, and, yes, the occasional frustration. It resets my mind, calms my spirit and keeps me moving!

Whatever may be a source of frustration for you today, if you’re struggling with or stressed out about something in your life, stop and pray. God will renew your mind with His peace as soon as you surrender it to Him. Trust Him with it, thank Him for what He’s already done and for what He will do. Better times are just around the corner, but we must be in the right frame of mind, ready to receive it! So bring your A game!

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
(That’s right! It’s a command! God knows it’s what’s best for us!)

Blessings to you, this day and always!
©Ladeena Ashley
2017 All Rights Reserved (blog content and photo)

Reflections of Growth

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Camera at the ready, I meandered through a nearby park the other day and caught this unique shot of a tree.

My immediate thought, besides how cool it was that its reflection fit so neatly into the sizable puddle covering the pathway below, was the phrase “reflections of growth”.  I thought to myself that it’s good to pause every once in a while to take stock of the positive changes, growth and blessings in our lives.

A long time ago, in a moment of repose beneath a similar tree, I contemplated how complex and messy life is, yet joyfully remembered in Whom my life is rooted:

“The Growing Place”

Tangled, messy
Crazy mass of limbs and branches
Reaching out
in all directions.
Yet all is in order.
Connected to a central support.
Origin of creation.
The growing place
Stronger, knowing
even in perfect chaos
God holds my life together.

5-9-02
© Ladeena Ashley

Patterns of Blessings
Whenever we’re tempted to be discouraged about the future, the best thing to do is look at the patterns of blessings in the past. Not only to reflect on how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown, but more importantly how God has shown Himself faithful time and time again. It’s so encouraging and easier for me to look forward with hope when I recall the various yet specific ways the Lord has blessed, nudged and otherwise spoken powerfully into my life as I sought His will above my own. Those patterns also give clues to how God may direct me through situations to come.

You can likely recall answers to prayers, uncommon strength in hard times and other pivotal moments in your own life when God was there for you, both in mighty ways and in gentle whispers. Yet it’s not always easy to recognize His presence, especially in the “perfect chaos” of our lives. That’s why it’s important to pause and count all those blessings, especially the hidden ones we miss while in the tangled branches, thickets and thorny times of life. As each gift is uncovered, a contagious joy and hope grows anew as we remember God’s faithfulness.

When we remain rooted in God and His love as our central support, staying grounded in His Word with grateful hearts, we will keep right on growing in grace by His power. In fact, we will never stop learning and improving until the day He calls us home.

Final Reflections
Reflect on what God has done in and through you.
Reflect on His faithfulness and love.
Reflect that joy and love into the world.

Make the most of every puddle!

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19

Blessings to you, this day and always!

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

Transformed Through Prayer

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A few more thoughts about the first “R” in my TRANSFORMED acronym: Repent & Pray…

What Is Prayer?

Put simply, prayer is talking with God. A link with the origin of love, and Love itself. A conduit with the Holy Spirit. It is a continual conversation with the Creator of the universe, who intentionally created us out of His unimaginable love and with fellowship in mind. Prayer is our response to that love, and as in any relationship, it’s a combination of both talking and listening. I’ll share more about discerning His voice in another post.

Repent

One component of prayer is repentance. It’s not saying we’re sorry because we feel guilty. True repentance comes when we get honest with ourselves, voice our failings and wholeheartedly seek to change. No holding back or waiting for a sign. No distractions or preoccupations with the frivolities of life. Just us and God. He is the only one to whom we are ultimately accountable. The good news is: All of our sins were paid for by Christ on the cross; the moment we turn from our sins and look to the Lord, He hears, knows our intentions and is quick to forgive (1 John 1:9). However, it isn’t a “one-and-done deal”. We’re not talking about religion, but a growing relationship with the Lord. In order to keep our hearts right and to be effective followers, daily submission is essential. With hearts laid bare before Him, He lavishes His love on us until it overflows, spilling out into the lives of those around us. Daily prayer maintains that flow, keeping our focus outward and honoring to God, living transformed lives as a form of worship (Romans 12:1).

Our Closest Friend

Every moment of our lives we are blessed with the opportunity to converse with the One who is simultaneously our Savior, Almighty God, Father, and closest Friend (John 15:15). God knows all, hears all our thoughts (Psalm 139:1-4), and looks straight into our hearts, so it’s best to just humbly be ourselves. There is no need for special lingo. We can talk with God wherever we are. A great phrase I’ve learned is “Stop and Pray”.  When blessings come, I just look up and say, “Thank You!”. When in need, I often pray, “Lord, I need You!”, and He is right there. In daily struggles, I reaffirm out loud, “I trust You.” In other times, when words escape me and I don’t know what to pray, I lift my troubled soul heavenward, and the Spirit prays on my behalf, pleading for mercy and help on deeper levels than I can comprehend (Romans 8:26-27).

Here’s a poem I wrote about my relationship with Christ, and how prayer time can end up feeling like a spiritual hug:

“The Warmest Embrace”

Whenever I am feeling down
and there’s nobody else around,
there’s one person who holds me tight,
lifting my soul up off the ground.
He’s the one I fully confide in –
and who’s promised to never leave;
His arms are always open
if a hug I will just receive.
He’s a friend unlike all others
with whom I can simply talk,
who speaks directly into my heart
as through life’s valleys I walk.
My friend is never too busy for me
– I won’t ever feel ignored;
For the best and warmest embrace of all
is from Jesus, my Savior and Lord!

6-19-92
©Ladeena Ashley

Attitude Is Everything

That all being said, an undercurrent of reverent awe should always carry every prayer. God is still the Almighty One, no matter how familiar we become with His ways. We should never be flippant with our words or take God for granted, attempting to use Him like a magic genie or personal concierge. That is only asking for trouble; God will not be mocked. Besides, He loves us so much that He doesn’t always give us what we want. Yet He always gives us what we need, as we yield to Him (Matthew 6:25-33).

A Thankful Heart

On that note, I believe every prayer should begin and end with thankfulness. It reminds us that everything we have or enjoy is from God (James 1:17). In addition to thanking Him for family and friends, a job, a vehicle and a roof over my head, I often thank God simply for who He is, and for His love, grace, mercy and patience with me. Then after praying for others’ needs and my own, I also often end prayers with thankful expectancy, praising Him for how He will answer (Mark 11:24). There’s power in proclaiming that trust out loud.

Pray For Our Country

We live in a chaotic, jaded world, to say the least! The enemy is the prince of this world, but God is still in control. Please join me in praying for the nation, and for the election: for all of those who are and who will be in leadership roles, locally, statewide and nationwide. Ask God to intervene on our behalf, that the right people will be elected and the right decisions will be made.

Peace, Hope and Power

No matter what happens, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). He will help us have peace in our souls as long as we stay focused on Him (Isaiah 26:3). We can do that mainly by reading His Word and by praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16:18) as we go about our daily lives. There is forgiveness, hope and transforming power available every day, every hour and every minute, if we’ll just plug in and remain connected to the Source!

Faith Notes

A current song that I love is The God I Know by Love & The Outcome. It touches on many of the points of this post. I invite you to “throw your hands up, worries down” as you listen. (Note: Link opens up in new window.)

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