Equally His

“Tell me all your thoughts on God,

Cause I’d really like to meet her,

And ask her why we’re who we are.”

Counting Blue Cars by Dishwalla—

Who are we? I’ve asked myself this question numerous times lately. As someone who tends to always find and focus on the good in others, I’ve truly struggled recently to reconcile some of the ugliness I’ve witnessed in those around me. I feel guilty for saying “I’m shocked,” because to admit shock is to admit I haven’t truly been listening to cries for help from people of color. I haven’t always believed their side of the story. It was a whole lot more comfortable to think their tales were exaggerated than to look an inconceivable hatred square in the eyes. I am so very sorry and ashamed.

It feels to me like we are living through a very dark time in history. But here’s what I really want us to hear: it’s only through darkness that God can best reveal the redemptive power of His light. And I hope and pray we’re turning on the lights.

Shining light into the darkness is a painful, but necessary, process. Without it, there is no progress. The vile ideas and habits that reside in the shadows scatter like cockroaches when we flip on the light switch. We know the disease-ridden bugs are there, living under the baseboards and inside the cracks in the walls, but when light floods the room, we can no longer pretend to deny their existence or presence. Suddenly we are forced to confront the nastiness of those vile creatures, and we have to take action to get rid of them.

Racism is like those cockroaches, infesting the homes and minds of our families, friends, and neighbors. And it is way past time to turn on the lights and expose them.

Have you ever hosted company at your fine dining table when a roach suddenly scurries across the floor? You pray your friends don’t notice, and your face flushes red while you silently panic about how to best handle the situation. We know roaches exist, and we know we may even play host to some, but unless we see the nasty bugs with our own eyes, we are quite content to claim we are immune to such an awful situation.

But the truth? Roaches are everywhere. But unless I suddenly turn on a light in the middle of the night, or shine a spotlight into the dark corners of the patio, I might never realize I’ve created a hospitable environment for them.

What I’ve recently realized is that it’s not enough to silently endure others’ racism while condemning it in my own head or speaking against it only in “safer” company. Not wanting to “make waves” is no excuse. Being able to see the good in someone does not mean I have to “let slide” that person’s racist remarks. To not call out racism and condemn it is to actually give it my blessing ; I’m creating that “hospitable environment” where people feel those hateful ideas are acceptable.

I would never allow cockroaches to take over my home, so why would I allow racism inside? If I saw cockroaches, I would grab a shoe and start swatting the little suckers, or pick up a can of Raid and drown them in poison; and, you better believe I would call an exterminator to draw a line of protection around my home so they could never return!

Like an exterminator spraying an insecticide barrier around our houses, we need to draw a blood line of Jesus around our homes. We need to refer our spiritual exterminator to everyone we know, because Jesus died for all. He created us different, yet the same. He clearly instructs us to love one another! Once your own home is clear of roaches, grab a shoe and start swatting other peoples’, too. Those insects nest and colonize and infest everywhere they land. Turn on the light and expose them! Root them out of their hiding places in the darkness, and shine the light of Truth. We cannot allow roaches of racism to multiply and take over our homes and communities or, let’s be real, even our newsfeeds.

I’ll say it again: shining light into the darkness is painful, and it’s ugly. It’s really ugly, shining light into the nasty infestation of racism. But if we can get through the painstaking process of exposing it and confronting it, we can then get to work on ending it. After hundreds of years, America still finds itself in the very first stage of simply turning on the lights! It’s shameful. It seems intolerance just keeps finding new ways to hide and proliferate. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I cannot be lackadaisical about racism. Like getting rid of cockroaches, annihilation is the only answer.

At my house, I will not turn a blind eye any longer. To my non-white friends: I believe you. It hurts to admit there is such evil in others, but I will no longer be silent under a misguided attempt to be “non-confrontational,” or to insulate myself from the hatred that exists in our world.

I vow to leave the light on for you.

Equally His,

Nicki

AGREEABLY His

“Johnathan! Why did you just stick your tongue out at me?” Rachel yelled.

“I didn’t!” he replied indignantly. “I was just stretching it!”

And there it is, folks — a disagreement in the Carlson household.

Let’s just admit it and face it: our world is ripe with disagreements these days. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted from it.

Wear a mask; don’t wear a mask. Go to church; don’t go to church. Get tested for COVID-19; don’t get tested. Open up businesses; don’t open up businesses. It’s enough to make our heads spin.

As Christians, how do we deal with disagreement?

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-3

Humble. Gentle. Patient. Forgiving. Loving. Striving for unity. Could the people you’ve come in contact with in recent days use these words to describe you? Think about that for a moment.

I believe it’s all too fashionable these days to be quickly perturbed or even outraged. The loudest voices are those that scream their discontent, frustration and disgust at us ad nauseum across our plethora of streaming devices. Where have all the moderates gone? Why do cooler heads no longer prevail? Why is anger the emotion du jour?

I dare say this is not the way Jesus would respond if He were still walking in flesh amongst us. Jesus liked to keep it simple, probably because we have simple minds.

This is my commandment,

that you love one another as I have loved you.

john 15:12

That’s it. Love others the way He did. Jesus didn’t agree with much of anyone while He was here on earth. We are a mess, after all. But He also didn’t shout and condemn everyone, and tell them how stupid they all were. He listened. He spoke wisdom in the form of parables they could understand. And then He left them to make up their own minds. He didn’t keep dogging them until they voiced agreement with Him, as many of us are prone to do. He allowed them to make their own choices.

When we insist on our own way and constantly assert our righteousness (read “right-ness”), we push others away.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 

romans 14:13

Let’s stop bickering and sticking our proverbial tongues out at each other. It’s not like any of us have dealt with a pandemic before, anyway. We’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve been given.

May we all strive to show one another the grace and love that Christ shows us.

Agreeably His,

Nicki

IMMOVABLY His

I am experiencing an intense love/hate relationship with cooking right now. I oscillate between the blissful, therapeutic, rhythmic chopping of fresh vegetables and stirring of pots and saucepans, to absolute dread and anguish at the mere thought of planning and preparing one more meal.

I’m reminded of my mixed emotions the time a young Johnathan approached the dinner table and exclaimed, “Hey guys! I like all of you. But I do not like that chicken.” I didn’t know if I should laugh, cry, or scold him. I’m feeling a similar mix of emotions on a daily basis now, courtesy of quarantine.

If you are a hot mess of all the feelings these days like I am, maybe you can find some comfort, as I do, in the following thoughts:

First, this too shall pass. We’ve all heard it and we all know it, but while we remain in isolation as the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, it can’t hurt to remind ourselves that this won’t last forever (unlike laundry … and cooking). History can teach us a great deal about cycles and seasons, if we bother to look. Difficult times – truly bad ones, even – will in fact arrive. But don’t forget, good times will return.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Second, we are not abandoned nor alone. We will face trials, but we will never face them on our own. God is always with us. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf. Jesus is always standing in the gap. Like Daniel in the lions’ den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, God is very present in our times of trouble.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Deuteronomy 31:8

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Third, we can do more than just survive during suffering. We can thrive. I know it seems hard when everyday feels like a struggle, but I promise this is possible. Think about when you start an exercise routine. Man, it’s so hard. You struggle to complete the first few workouts. Your muscles are screaming at you. But you know good stuff is happening inside your body, even if you can’t see it yet. The same can be true for our spiritual lives. Just because we can’t see or understand what God is up to, doesn’t mean He isn’t at work within us and others. In fact, God does His best work in us when we are at our weakest. That’s because when the false veil of self-sufficiency is yanked back, and our false sense of security is stripped away, we realize our very real, very deep need for God, and for a savior. When we turn and seek Him in the midst of suffering, He reveals new depths of comfort, understanding, and love, and we can experience new aspects of His character that lead us to a greater trust in Him.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Fourth, we can find peace in the knowledge that nothing happening in our world today is a surprise to our Heavenly Father. It may surprise the heck out of us, but God sees all and knows all. He has a plan for everything that has ever happened and ever will happen. Our circumstances never shock Him.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, “My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.”

Isaiah 46:9-10

Though the ground beneath us may feel like shifting sand, we ourselves can choose to stand firm, because we serve a God that neither moves nor changes. In all circumstances, with our gaze fixed on Him, we can choose gratitude, kindness, and connection. We can choose faith and trust in our steadfast God.  

IMMOVABLY His,

Nicki

PRESENTLY His

I sit in front of the keyboard today with its blinking cursor and I just cry. Part of me wants to start writing and never stop, to experience some great catharsis. A different part of me wants to avoid writing altogether, and succumb to this numbing experience of quarantine and isolation.

Am I the only one feeling entirely stuck these days? Torn between apparent opposites?

A friend of mine posted yesterday on Facebook that it’s okay to be less productive than normal during this global pandemic. One of my writing groups, on the other hand, is loudly shouting for all to hear that there will never be a better time to brainstorm/write/edit/publish that book; as if not cranking it out right this minute means it will never ever happen.

Like I said, I am firmly stuck between two opposing schools of thought when it comes to writing productivity. Similarly, I seem to oscillate at home between being the master completer of all household projects, and the master completer of TV and puzzle binges.

Time is a tricky concept. Sometimes it feels as if life isn’t really going anywhere right now. Without milestones like graduations, parties, grading periods, and sports championships, every day looks and feels pretty much the same, like time is standing still. It feels as if God pushed the “pause” button on the entire world. Alternatively, the pages are flying off the calendar. How can that be so? What day is it? What month, even? I’ve lost track of the time that is, in fact, passing.

I struggle to look beyond the right here and right now, but I think it’s important that we do. Have you given any thought to the future? When the crisis has passed, how do you want your life to look?

I’ve been pondering this a great deal. We have great clarity right now, in these slowed-down, simpler times. Wildlife is returning to urban areas, marine life is returning closer to the shore, air quality is way up, noise pollution is down. On the other hand, covid-19 has shown us sickness, death, our innate weakness as humans trying to fight disease, poverty, failures in our economy, and hunger.

What do we want to take with us into the future? What do we want to leave behind? Which lessons do we want to learn, to bring about change from, and to always remember?

I encourage you to spend some time in thought and prayer, asking God for wisdom and discernment, questioning how He wants us to eventually move on from this surreal moment in time.

I know I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. I want to do better. To be better. And to live in a better world. I admittedly don’t know exactly how that will look, but I’m taking some time to try and figure it out. After all, what better time than now?

I’m reminded of the story of Mary and Martha. Jesus told Martha that she was worried and busy with many things, but only needed to be concerned with one thing, and that one thing was studying at His feet as her sister Mary had chosen to do.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

Maybe it’s okay to be frustrated … to not be super productive … to feel stuck between opposing forces and ideas. Maybe that’s the point. Discomfort forces us to dig deeper and draw closer to the One who holds the answers to our questions — to the One who can bring us peace beyond our understanding.

If ever we needed to focus on being Marys instead of Marthas, the time is now. If we ever needed Jesus, the time is now.

Take time to draw near to the One.

PRESENTLY His,

Nicki

HOPEFULLY His

My Easter Tree

I finally decorated my Easter tree today. I’ve had a hard time mustering the energy and determination to do it. For me, Easter is about celebration — specifically, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. In light of the current state of our sick and quarantined world, I haven’t felt much like celebrating; therefore, I haven’t felt much like decorating for Easter.

Today, I realized the error of my ways. If there was ever a cause for celebrating, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is it! Despite everything going on around us, we need to remember that we serve a risen Savior. We need to remember that we are sons and daughters of the King. We need to remember that because of Jesus, we, too, can claim ultimate victory over sin and even death.

Today, my sweet Heavenly Father gently reminded me of the following:

  1. Faith, like love, isn’t just about doing what we feel like doing.

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 

Galatians 5:17

2. Faith, like love, is a commitment.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:5-6

Galatians 5:17

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” 

Matthew 22:36-37

3. Faith, like love, is about clinging to a promise, and keeping one’s own promise in return.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

4. Faith, like love, is about holding onto hope when everything may look or feel hopeless.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 

Hebrews 10:23

Jesus Christ is our hope. And He is faithful. And He has risen victoriously over sin and death.

And that, my friends, is worth celebrating.

Hopefully His,

Nicki

POSITIVELY His

Overheard in my house today:

“GET YOUR FINGER OUT OF YOUR NOSE! You’re gonna catch the ‘Rona!”

It reminded me of a time when nose-picking was simply gross, not potentially fatal. My son was six years old at the time, and he asked me out of seemingly nowhere, “Mom, did you pick your nose when you were a kid?”

I responded seriously, “No. I didn’t start picking my nose until I was a grown-up.”

He laughed and gave me a stereotypical, “Moooom!” reply. Then he was silent for a little while, until I heard him mutter under his breath, “I bet Dad picked his … AND ate them.”

The thoughts that come out of this kid’s mouth never fail to amuse me.

We are living through a pandemic where simple things like touching your own face are discouraged. We don masks if we have to venture out in public. We maintain six feet of distance from others. We worry about getting sick. We worry if we will get the healthcare we need if we do get sick. We worry about being able to get groceries for our families. The schools are empty. The playgrounds are empty. The restaurants are empty. The offices are empty.

It’s like we’re living in a dystopian novel.

We know we need to turn to God in the midst of this storm. We know we need to put our trust in Him and have faith. That’s not what this blog is about. What God impressed upon me today is the wonderful, kind and compassionate ways the world is responding to this crisis.

I watched an old episode of “7th Heaven” this morning with my son. Titled “I hate you,” the story centered on a Holocaust survivor sharing her story with a classroom full of young students, and the past and current ways we vilify others and unite in our disdain for them.

I started thinking about how it is times of trauma, crises, need, and shortage that often result in power-hungry and bigoted leaders rising up to power. As humans, we instinctively draw near to those who promise us safety, protection, and abundance, and particularly so in times of uncertainty. We need to guard ourselves against turning to false idols when we are afraid.

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m seeing a lot more support, kindness, and compassion in my corner of the world as we fight this unseen virus enemy. I pray it continues. Neighbors helping neighbors, parents spending quality time with their children, communities working together to feed those in need, the vast majority of us trying to protect the most vulnerable. Gratitude abounds for educators, healthcare workers, grocery store workers, and first responders.

I think we will look back at this time in history and see that we chose to appreciate life’s simple pleasures, and slowed down long enough to focus on what’s most important: relationships.

It’s ironic that it took governments forcing us to physically distance ourselves for us to utilize the technology we’ve had at our fingertips for years to truly connect with one another. It took not being able to spend time physically close to friends and family for us to take the time to reach out and have meaningful conversations with them. It took not having the option of going to church for millions of people to seek out worship online.

If we look, we will see a whole lot more going right than wrong.

So be encouraged. This, too, will pass. (But for the love, STAY HOME so it will pass quickly.) In the meantime, draw near to God, draw near to those He’s given into your care, and look for the many ways others are expressing His love all around you. Know that you can express that love, too, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Galations 5:22-23
(THE MESSAGE TRANSLATION)

Stay home. Be blessed. And be a blessing to others.

POSITIVELY His,

Nicki

AUTHENTICALLY His

My four-year-old son sat at the kitchen table eating his dinner of fish sticks and green beans, wearing a pair of underwear on his head, one of his sister’s purple sequined cardigan sweaters, and sporting no pants and no shirt.

Grace said, “Why are you wearing my purple sweater?”

I said, “Where are your pants?”

Rachel said, “Are those underwear clean?!”

To which my son replied indignantly, “They’re clean! The dirty ones are still on my bottom!”

We all broke into fits of laughter at the adorable spectacle sitting beside us, contentedly dipping his frozen fish into a smear of red ketchup.

Why can’t we all live our lives the way we did when we were children, completely unaware or uncaring about our outward appearance?

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gently and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

Vanity is a struggle for many of us, especially in this current time of manipulated pictures, filters, and constant dissemination of images of ourselves. I am certainly not immune to it.

For example, my sister put a pair of readers in my Christmas stocking a year ago. I have never in my life worn any kind of glasses, ever. She’s worn them for a few years now. When I was at her house that Thanksgiving, she noticed me holding a piece of paper at a distance in order to see it more clearly. I tried her readers on, and for the first time ever, they made things appear clearer instead of fuzzier. Whoa. So, with a gentle nudge from my big sis, I entered the world of age-induced corrected vision.

This realization about my changing eyes brought about other realizations. For one, I really am getting older. Second, I’m noticing all the ways I am a slave to an inner voice that tells me everything  I need to cover up and hide from the world … so that I can be seen the way I WANT to be seen, instead of as I truly am. Fat, short, greying, aging eyes, wrinkles, insecurity … oh, the ugly truth of it all.

I’m also finding beauty in the midst of this aging journey, though. Instead of fighting this progression towards the latter part of my life, I’m trying to embrace it. I’ve earned these crow’s feet and laugh lines. I may fight them tooth and nail with wrinkle cream, but when I see them, I realize I am fulfilling a treasured dream: to grow old.

I am at the age now that my mother was when she passed away. She didn’t get to grow old with the love of her life, my father. My husband’s father also died young. So, when we stand in the bathroom getting ready for bed, and notice out loud the changing parts of our bodies, we smile and say, “Honey, I love it. We’re growing old together!” We recognize that aging is a privilege and blessing that not everyone gets to experience.

Even to your old age and gray hairs,
    I am he. I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Isaiah 46:4

I’m currently working on projecting a more authentic version of my inner self to the outside world. So, for transparency and authenticity’s sake: I am 45 years old. I have three kids and an amazing husband. I’ve had more than my share of health problems. And a whole lot of loss. I don’t believe I can take a single breath without God giving it to me. My faith in God is the single most important thing in my life.

Here I am, world. This is me. God’s not finished with me yet. And He’s not finished with you, either. Let’s seek Him together, just as we are. Just as He created us.

Authentically His,

Nicki

REPEATEDLY His

Don’t cry over spilled coffee.

Unless you’re sick. And running late. And barely pull yourself together so you can pick your child up from school and take your sick self to your child’s well-child appointment (irony) where you don a mask to protect others … only to find out the appointment was canceled and rescheduled and you forgot to erase this original appointment from your calendar. And the doctor is not in the office at all, so you can’t get the prescription order your child needs before the rescheduled appointment, so you’ll have to come back tomorrow just to pick it up. But you’re dressed, so then you trudge through HEB because you need supper for your family and hot tea and throat lozenges for yourself. You *thought* you were a coffee drinker, but last week you also thought you had breast cancer, but an ultrasound said “No, it’s cycsts,” and the doctor said “Watch your caffeine intake.” So, now sore throat=herbal tea. And you get home and open your child’s folder to see his behavior clip got moved twice because twice LAST week you forgot to sign his folder, maybe due to a preoccupation with a cancer scare? Likely. So, your son is paying for YOUR mistakes last week, THIS week.

So yeah … you’re allowed a few tears when the coffee tumbler explodes all over your floor. Especially since it was the only cup you’re allowed to have today.

I wrote this a year ago and came across it again today. For the sake of irony, I should tell you that yesterday was incredibly similar, as I once again donned a surgical mask while sick so I could take my healthy child to a well-child appointment, and drug my sick self through HEB to obtain herbal tea and coffee drops. A year to the day, ya’ll. Which brings me to my point:

History repeats itself.

One need look no further than fashion to see this truth. Fads come, they die, they’re shunned for the horror they once were, and they return 30 years later. If you doubt this, simply google the current revival of hair scrunchies and “mom” jeans! (Oh, the Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel of it all.)

I guess the world has run out of new ideas, or just maybe everything is cyclical after all.

Think about it. Even down the microscopic cellular level, our bodies are constantly dying and regenerating. And time? It never stops. Seconds turn, then minutes, hours, days, and so forth. The seasons change. The earth itself rotates. The planets revolve around the sun. Cycle after cycle after cycle.

It makes me wonder: if creation exists in this never-ending loop, then how are we simultaneously running in circles AND slowly ending/dying from the moment of our creation?

I think the answer lies in the question itself. Creation, life, decay, and death … everything exists in a continuum.

I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. 

He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

It’s a mystery beyond our comprehension.

What we can fathom is this: life on earth ebbs and flows. We will face emotional, physical, and spiritual seasons just like the earth does — of winter, spring, summer, and fall. And it won’t just happen once, but over and over again. Understanding the transience of these seasons helps us to both endure and appreciate them.

For example, as a mom, I feel like every age my children reach is “the best.” I love whatever stage they are currently in, and I don’t want it to change; yet, they’re constantly growing and evolving, and the next stage is always as good or better than the previous one. All these stages are also simultaneously difficult and challenging, or as I like to say, “a different kind of hard.”

Knowing the next stage is now, evolving in this very minute, keeps me grounded, and also keeps me aware of each moment’s blessings.

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Joel 2:12

Every moment is God’s. Whether in feast or famine, life or death, weeping or celebration … or more accurately, a combination of them all, simultaneously. Turn to Him, time and time again. He holds every bit of ALL of this in His capable hands, eternally.

Repeatedly His,

Nicki

NEARLY His

I wrote a humorous post on my personal Facebook page a month or so ago about how everything in my life is “book fodder” these days. I had no idea how quickly I would look back at that statement and say, “Well that was strangely prophetic!”

Since writing those words, God has taken me to some difficult and dark places in this book-writing journey. I thought I would be writing this book about things God has revealed to me in my life up until this point, but I think God sensed my openness and desire to draw nearer to Him; in response, He rolled up His sleeves and said, “No, honey, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this! Buckle up, and let’s get to work.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a journey of de-programming. It’s as if God starts digging into a deeply-held part of me that I didn’t even know was there, and the more we begin to dig, the more fallacies He begins to unearth. It’s a painful process, unraveling these messy thoughts and memories, and speaking His truth over lies I have believed for so long, that they feel as if they are a part of my DNA.

The beautiful part is when I begin to feel Him whispering “This isn’t right” or “This isn’t true,” and I’m newly awash in His Truth once again. It never feels like condemnation. Only love.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

1 Corinthians 13:6

I continuously ask God what He wants me to say and what He wants people to know. The difficult part is that He only seems to answer my questions with real-life personal experiences and lessons. I can confidently say these devotionals are much more about the “ministry of struggle” than any kind of victory.

Choosing to draw ever-nearer to God isn’t easy. Perhaps that’s because most of us, like me, are so far removed from holiness, that it takes a great deal of “stripping away” to take even one step towards our perfect God. I’m so thankful that Jesus bridges that gap for me, because I would never get there on my own. None of us would.

I love to imagine being in Heaven, and as I sit at my Father’s feet, He shows me all the ways He pursued me here on earth without me even knowing it. I revel in the knowledge that He is before me, beside me, and behind me with every step I take. He faithfully pursues us no matter where we end up, and beckons us to draw near to Him with words of truth and love.

I encourage you to take a step nearer to Him today.

NEARLY His,

Nicki

BEHOLDENLY His

Unexpected tears dropped down onto the freshly-written gift tag with the Santa Claus face on it, smearing the words: To j4, From Mom and Dad.

“j4” is the abbreviation I use for my youngest child, my son, John Wallace Carlson, IVth. We still call him “Johnathan,” but years ago, exactly like his Daddy did before him, Johnathan started a new schoolyear by correcting a teacher and asking to be called “John.” It broke my heart a little bit at the time, but I was also proud that he chose to use his Daddy’s name, and the name of the two Dads that came before him.

Today, writing that simple gift tag, my heart was heavily weighted with remembrance and a debt of gratitude … for how I prayed for this child and for a simple moment just like this one.

Johnathan was our first and only foster child. We wanted him in our forever family before he ever arrived in our home. We bathed him, fed him, doctored him, taught him, did therapy with him, loved him and disciplined him for a year before the legal adoption was finalized. During that year, I prayed until my knees were worn out that God would protect him, strengthen and heal him, and fulfill His perfect will for Johnathan’s life. My deepest heartfelt prayer was that, if it be God’s will, He would allow us the privilege of watching Johnathan grow up – of loving him up close instead of from afar.

I earnestly prayed over Johnathan a familiar verse from Jeremiah.

“For I know the plans I have for you,”

declares the Lord,

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope and a future.”

jeremiah 29:11

Here I am, years later, and a gift tag to my son from Mom and Dad, completely undid me. He’s my son. We’re his Mom and Dad. And we get to share this Christmas together with his sisters and our extended family members.

I suddenly thought of Hannah, mother of Samuel, in the Bible, and how she poured out her soul to the Lord in prayer, pleading for a son (1 Samuel 1:15). She vowed to dedicate that son to the Lord, and she did not fail to keep her promise. She delivered him to the priest Eli, saying:

“Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who

stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and

the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to

the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

And he worshiped the Lord there.

1 samuel 1:26-28

I don’t ever want to take for granted the blessings God has granted me, especially when those blessings come in the form of answered prayers.

Like Hannah, I want to remember.

I encourage you to take a moment today and simply look around you. Where do you see evidence of answered prayers? When was the last time you thanked God for those blessings?

Hannah worded her prayer of thanksgiving like this:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
    in the Lord my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
    for I delight in your deliverance.

There is no one holy like the Lord;
    there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.”

1 samuel 2:1-2

Amen, Hannah. And above all, God, thank you.

Thank you for the gift of my son.

And thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus.

BEHOLDENLY His,

Nicki

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