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

CONSTANTLY His

I am stepping back from a ministry I have, in some form or fashion, been involved in for most of my life … the ministry of worship through music. God is opening up new ministries to me, and after a great deal of prayer, I sense the need to place my time and focus on these new opportunities.

This leaves me wondering though: am I still a vocalist? Am I still a worship leader? Am I still a pianist?

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” So if I am longer “doing” these things, does it change who I am?

I question if Aristotle was correct. Are we what we do? Or do we do the things that we inherently are?

I am still a singer because I am capable of singing, and I love to sing, and God has given me the ability to sing. I am still a pianist because I am capable of playing the piano and will continue to play. I am still a worship leader because my willingness to praise God openly and worship Him fully in front of others allows those around me to feel a freedom to do the same. These are gifts and abilities He has placed in me. My presence on a stage or amidst a crowd does not change any of this. But if I were incapable of doing these things, would that change who I am?

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

psalm 139:13-16

I say no. I am not what I do. I am who I am: a child of the Most High God. Nothing ever can or will change my identity in Christ. I was bought at a price and adopted into the family of God. I am His. He sees me and knows me regardless of my physical location or activity.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

ephesians 1:13-14

The only constant on this earth is change. I love the irony of this statement. No change means no growth. No change means no progress. No change means that God, who is constantly moving, is off somewhere pursuing us and others, and we are stuck in the same place, left behind.

Change is hard, but change is good.

When God first pricked my heart and mind about my need to let go of worship leadership, I felt absolutely heartbroken. I love the people with whom I serve. I love the ministry. God has blessed me with a fire and a passion in this area for so long. I did not immediately welcome this change.

In true God-like fashion though, His kindness slowly brought me to not only a place of peace, but excitement for the future. He is doing something new, and if I am obedient, I get to enjoy a small part of whatever takes place. Nothing brings me greater joy than serving Him and expanding the Kingdom of God.

So, bring on the change! I will rest confidently in the knowledge that I am eternally His, and He is mine.  Thank God (literally) – we are in this together.

CONSTANTLY His,

Nicki

VERBOSELY His

“Sometimes we get to change a broken world with our words.”

Tom Hanks (as Mister Rogers) in “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood”

As a writer, I can’t think of a more inspiring quote than this one. Believing my words somehow matter and that they might affect positive change keeps me – and hundreds of thousands like me – toiling away at the keyboard, struggling to say something profound.

I don’t think this phenomenon is singular to writing though. We all want to make a difference, whether it’s in our own life, the lives of those we love, or the lives of people we’ve never even met. We have an innate need to improve upon the past and bring about a happier, more secure future. Some of us strive to do this through the written word, others through the arts, still others through professions in medicine, education, service, and more.

From where does this need for improvement – this need to fix what is “broken” – emanate?

Like many other struggles, I believe we can trace the origin all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned, the complete, perfect fellowship they had enjoyed with God in His paradise-on-earth ended. A pure and holy God cannot coexist in the same space as sin, so humanity literally fell out of God’s good graces due to their own disobedience.

Thousands of years later, and we (the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve) still yearn for the restoration of that complete unity and peace with God and His creation. We strive within our own means to improve, to repair, to achieve perfection even; but we fail, for it is an impossible task in our damaged state, separated from complete communion with God.

Somewhere deep inside we remember the Garden of Eden and we long for it again … our Paradise Lost.

Christ’s sacrifice bridges that great divide and restores the promise of Heaven for all who believe in Him. And what is Heaven if not renewed rightness and complete fellowship with our Creator?

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time

those who are being sanctified.

hebrews 10:14

I love that the Mister Rogers quote at the beginning of the blog doesn’t say we can “fix” a broken world with our words. Words can’t do that. Even Jesus knew that words alone could not save us; He had to sacrifice His life. But words can make a difference. They can create positive change.

So share the good news – or let me put it this way, the good words – of Christ. Love others as you have been loved by the God of the Universe, and tell others about it. Speak words dripping with kindness and compassion, because we are all struggling to find our way through this defective world and the damage it does to us. At some point, we will all suffer a heart broken by someone or something in this life.

Thankfully for us, as Mister Rogers said, “The kingdom of God is for the broken hearted.” And we can bring a great portion of the Kingdom of God down to earth by living according to Jesus’ example…

…even through our words.

VERBOSELY His,

Nicki

BELIEVINGLY His

My four-year-old ran towards the water of the mall fountain, unable to contain his awe and excitement.

“I want to THROW something!” he exclaimed, bouncing up and down in front of the small spectacle.

His big sister started rummaging around in her tiny, shiny little-girl purse and pulled out a single penny for him.

“Make a wish, first!” Rachel instructed.

My boy-child stood still for two whole seconds, then hurled the copper penny into the depths of the fountain with all his might.

The magic moment over, he turned to walk away.

Rachel asked, “Johnathan, what did you wish for?”

He replied, “A dinosaur.”

That’s right, folks. A dinosaur. Not a toy dinosaur, either. A real, live dinosaur. You know, the extinct kind.

All I could say was, “Way to dream big, buddy!”

The whole situation is so telling of my son. He sees no limits. He dreams impossible dreams. He wishes for the moon and stars … and dinosaurs. I love this about him. It makes me question myself:

When did I stop believing that all things are possible?

After decades of living on this earth, we all suffer disappointments. Santa doesn’t bring what we ask for, that crush doesn’t like us in return, our loved one dies, we don’t get that job or promotion we worked towards. We all experience let-downs. If we’re not careful, we can find ourselves disillusioned and – dare I say it ­- disbelieving.

So how do we maintain hope, faith, and optimism in the midst of our hard, everyday lives?

By looking to the very author of our futures.

“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

I can’t say it any better than that. God Himself wants us to prosper and has constructed plans so we will do exactly that.  

We must focus on Him, not our momentary struggles.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

PHILIPPIANS 4:8

When we focus on the eternal things of God, our transitory burdens become lighter and easier to carry. When we focus on a good God in control of the universe, we find goodness everywhere we turn. When we focus on the depth of love in our Savior’s eyes, we see love in those around us. When we focus on His mercy and forgiveness, we sense the great need to offer these to our hurting world.

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
    fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
    and be steadfast in all your ways.

PROVERBS 4:25-26

Ruth Chou Simons, in her book Beholding and Becoming, says “We become what we behold.” Turn and seek the face of God in the midst of your everyday life, then watch as faith, hope, and optimism show up in increasing measure.

Jesus looked at them and said,

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

MARK 10:27

With our faces turned towards our Heavenly Father, our minds fixed on His word, and our hearts aligned with His character, we can once again believe that all things are truly possible. Even dinosaurs.

Believingly His,

Nicki

Wholly His

CRASH!

Sticky coffee spilled onto the stone counter top and tile floor, dripping in streams down the wooden side of the counter. Coffee mug shards littered the hard floor after sliding themselves into haphazard places and corners entire rooms away. I stood perfectly still in my bare feet taking in the mess, not sure where to attack it first. Then it occurred to me which mug I was looking at, broken in pieces before me: my daughter’s confirmation gift from her grandmother.

I snapped a picture of the disaster and got busy cleaning it up. I then sent a text with the picture to my daughter, telling her how sorry I was for the accident. I followed that text with another apology, this time to my mother-in-law.

This is precisely the kind of situation that used to drive me crazy. I would mercilessly ridicule myself for my clumsiness or absent-mindedness. I would hesitate to use a “special” mug in the first place, because of the risk factor.

I’m not sure exactly when I changed, but although I’m sad I broke the mug and had to clean up the mess, I’m not beating myself up about it. Accidents happen. And I’m choosing to appreciate the joy that little mug brought every time we drank some warm goodness from it. It was beautiful and had a verse from Psalms written on the side. It represented a very special moment in my daughter’s faith life and the loving, prayerful support of her grandmother.

But I think that’s the point: it only represented those things. Nothing will erase the memories of her confirmation ceremony. No person nor thing can erase the vows she made that day. Nothing will ever change her grandmother’s love for her.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 

john 10;28-29

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

That pretty little mug may have been one of life’s simple pleasures, but it does not compare to the Kingdom gifts we will enjoy because of Jesus Christ. The here and now is minuscule compared to the expanse of God’s eternity, and our time here is fleeting. Instead of mourning a small loss this morning, I am choosing to be grateful for the experience of the gift itself.

Yesterday while driving through town, the radio played Matthew West’s song “Broken Things,” and I hear it playing on a loop in my head this morning.

“But if it’s true You use broken things,

then here I am Lord, I’m all yours.”

matthew west

Like that coffee mug, I am broken into pieces … by sin, disappointment, loss, health conditions, and an endless list of failures. I eagerly await the Kingdom of Heaven where I will be made new forever. Thank the Lord He loves broken things!

WHOLLY His,

Nicki

Prayerfully HIS

Today, I have a migraine. Actually, let me back that up a bit. Today is actually Day 3 of this particular migraine. It’s a doozy. But praise the Lord, I am able to type right now only because it is lifting. If you suffer from migraines, you know what I mean by “lifting.” It’s like a heavy cloud of pain and sensitive nerves and confusion and emotion just start lifting out of the top of your head. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I just came from the chiropractor’s office. Sometimes – not all the time – my migraines are the result of a misalignment in my spine, often in the head or neck area. Given the softball-sized lump at the base of my cervical spine yesterday, I knew I needed an adjustment. I was sitting in the waiting room looking a frightful mess when a friend from elementary school messaged me. I don’t speak to this friend often, but he has an uncanny knack for messaging me when I’m in need. He randomly says, “Do you need prayer today?” I reply with an enthusiastic “Yes,” and then simply state that I have a migraine. So he types a prayer out for me, and my reading of said prayer is interrupted by the chiropractor coming out to get me. I go into the office and receive an incredibly painful adjustment. It’s just not normally like this. It hurt so much I’m immediately nauseous and almost throw up right there in his office. But by the time I leave, I realize the throbbing in my head is not as severe.

I get in the car, pick up my phone, finish reading my friend’s prayer over me, and then another message from him comes through. It says, “Can you feel it getting better? Did your neck pop?”

Ummmm…. I never told this guy I was at the chiropractor. I never mentioned my neck or that my migraine was stemming from there.

THIS, my friends, is the gift of intercessory prayer. My friend has it in spades. He lives on the other side of the country and we haven’t spoken in months, yet he knew EXACTLY how to pray for me today.

Scripture says that even when we don’t know how or what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

romans 8:27-28

When we go to the Lord in prayer for others, we don’t need fancy words or eloquent speeches. Sometimes we have no words at all, and that’s okay, too. Just invite the Spirit to come and sit with you in your prayer time. He will lead you in what to say or not say. Trust that the Lord knows your heart. Spend some time simply focusing on His holy presence.

And like my friend, don’t hesitate to let others know you are praying for them! When God does miraculous things, it’s not solely for our benefit, but also for the benefit of others. Share what the Lord has done and continues to do for you and those you love.

Prayerfully HIS,

Nicki

Still HIS …

It’s chilly and wet and dark this morning. We don’t get a whole lot of days like this where I live. After all, it’s almost November and we’ve had three total days of below-70-degree highs so far this fall, while most days topped out in the 80s or 90s. Most of us welcome a cold front. We consider it a holiday of sorts if we can wear cute boots and sweaters and drink lattes and not sweat through our clothes.

Dressing for weather in central Texas is an extreme sport in itself, where the challenge of preparing one’s self and one’s children for a 30-degree temperature swing with a feels-like-a-40-degree-swing is all too familiar. We don’t layer here for warmth and insulation. We layer because it may be 30 degrees when your kid leaves for school, but by recess after lunch in full sun it’s 68 and feels like 75, and by after school pickup it will be 75 and feel like 80. Those layers are coming OFF, people.

But this morning feels different, so I’m still enjoying my fuzzy robe and indulging in too many cups of hot, delicious coffee. My beautiful devotional book sits in my lap, and Jesus and my furry pup serve as my companions.

We need to offer ourselves this kind of rest and quiet time of prayer and contemplation with God.

In my younger years, I never would have allowed myself this time. It felt like selfishness and luxury. I still tend to “should” all over myself. I know “self-care” talk is all the rage, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about soul care.

Scripture in Genesis says that even God rested! After six days of productivity creating the universe, God rested. Likewise, Jesus’ disciples say He often went off by himself to pray.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Mark 1:35

If the God of all creation needs a prayer respite, how much more do you and I?

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Luke 5:16

When we create a space in our day and invite God into it, He always, always shows up. You may sense a need to call a friend, to pray for someone, to cook a meal. That’s not distraction – that’s the Holy Spirit guiding you into some Kingdom work! It is all too easy to become so distracted by the busy noise of our lives and our plans that we don’t hear God’s plans for our day or months or even years to come.

Every so often, we need to heed the advice of our Heavenly Father.

He says, “Be still and know that I am God…”

Psalm 46:10 (PARTIAL EXCERPT)

Still HIS,

Nicki

A little about me…

I am a full-time disciple of Jesus, a full-time wife, a full-time Mom to three, a part-time writer and editor, and a part-time worship leader. I am currently working on my first book, and the process has re-ignited a passion within me to write all.the.things.all.the.time. Blogging is a new avenue and outlet for my thoughts and words.

I whole-heartedly believe that God completely transforms our lives when we turn and seek Him in the everyday things. That’s what these blogs will be about … my ordinary life and the extraordinary God in charge of it all!

I love a good discussion and want to know you’re here, so please leave a comment for me!

Expressively HIS,

Nicki

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