I feel like I’m totally acing this school year already!

I shopped Walmart online and they delivered most the school supplies right to my door with no shipping cost, I’ve effectively lowered my kid’s expectations for acquiring a new fall wardrobe, and I’ve got all my books and tuition paid.

Yup. I’m going back to school too! I can’t believe I’m only 6 classes from graduating with my Theology Diploma!!

Of course it will take me almost two more years because I have this very important mom and wife thing that come first. Then there is church. Then there is writing and social media ministry… also I have to workout and eat and sleep at some point.

People often ask how I do it all. I can never say this enough… I try to do God’s will for me. Nothing more. Nothing less. And I utilize LOTS of patience.

So I want to encourage all of you to focus on the same goal this fall. Seek the Lord and His will in every day. Your child’s schedule does not have to dictate your life. Neither does your husband’s or your church’s.

God will show you where He has made room for all these people and activities in your life as you seek Him.

Keep Him first even when life gets busy. Especially when it gets busy. You’ll be surprised at what God can accomplish through you when you stay tuned in for the next direction. Your children will be happier, healthier, and closer to Christ in witnessing how you navigate these times.

If you don’t hear from me much, I may be buried under books and papers but you are all still in my prayers.

Have a blessed school year and don’t ever get so busy that you can’t take time to be loving.

Your sister,

Monica

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If you’ve ever walked into a church you’ve probably been hurt by it.

It’s when the pastor’s son bullies you and no one stops him or corrects his behavior. You’re only 7 years old but you never forget.

This is church hurt; when the place you thought you could find healing brings agony instead.

The kind of pain that lingers deep inside.

It’s when you’re a lonely teenager from a broken home where you never want to be. You happen upon a church function in your neighborhood and you are hesitantly invited… but then overhear, “why is she here.”

It was said in secret so you don’t confront anyone. The pain stays.

It is when you become a teen mother because of the abyss of loneliness in your childhood home, and you overhear the pastor bashing another pregnant teen.

You feel equally shamed. The pastor said it so it must be true.

The pain stays.

But then the REAL church shows up…

The church that is all African American and accepts a young white boy with grace and love… even though he is bald, pierced and has “S-K-I-N-H-E-A-D” tatted across his knuckles.

You regain hope for the church.

The church that throws your lonely-teen-momma-self a baby shower and cooks for you and takes you shopping for appropriate young women’s clothing to wear.

The church that lets you serve in worship and lead even though you told them you’re only a month out of detoxing from a 5 year alcohol relapse/binge.

You begin to heal a little.

The church that shows up to the hospital when your child has a seizure and to your home when your marriage is falling apart.

The church that counsels and prays for that broken marriage instead of condemning you and telling you to submit to an abusive husband.

I have seen both sides of this crisis in the church.

The pain is real but so is the healing.

I have found healing in forgiveness. The same forgiveness that was extended to me, without limitation, by Jesus.

I have also had to ask forgiveness…

The sins I had minimized as “lesser” had actually created the very same deep pain as those perpetrated against me.

That is the point. We were all guilty. That’s why we need Jesus.

He is STILL the answer to all our troubles.

He is STILL our hope and healing.

Even for #churchhurt.

May you be forgiven and extend forgiveness without reservation.

May you love the church, the broken bunch we are, as Christ loves the church.

Your sister,

Monica

Every Christian has something in common. We chose to make the most counter-cultural move anyone could conceive of.. surrender.

This isn’t just any surrender, it is a sacrifice so extreme (a response to Christ’s extreme, loving sacrifice) that it entails becoming “slave” to our fellow man so they can be won to Christ through our example.

We are free in Jesus, but we are freed to do something. That something is to serve!

Unfortunately, many Christians accept salvation but spend the rest of their lives bearing little fruit because they stopped surrendering. That’s not what God intended for us.

How quickly we forget that the washing of feet is a call to servitude and deeper surrender!

We would rather visit Salon De Jesus for a good foot soak after we fall into sin than work out our salvation by serving others and humbling ourselves.

Servitude and surrender are inseparable.

Jesus showed us how to do both well. When we accepted Him as our Savior we were endowed with all the qualities necessary to see the mission through. It is only by serving, however, that we grow in these gifts.

Wouldn’t you love to have a greater portion of any of these?

Love

Joy

Self-control

Kindness

Peace

Patience

Goodness

Gentleness

Faithfulness

Don’t you know that even failing marriages can be restored if only we would open our hearts to serving?

Our families, communities and government are repairable. But we must learn how to serve!

So please, have a heart of humility today?

Do for someone other than your self. Don’t waste the gifting God has placed inside you. I guarantee you will be astounded by the joy and peace it brings. I have seen it! In my next article I’ll share a surrender story of my own with you.

Please share yours in the comments so we can encourage one another?

Your sister,

Monica

Our second daughter, Evelyn, was sent home sick from school yesterday.

When I arrived to pick her up the nurse informed me she was sleeping. However, when I peeked around the curtain I saw Evelyn smiling and rolling over at the sound of my voice. She didn’t seem sick at all with that grin on her face, but I was told that she had gotten physically ill after lunch and barely made it to the trash can.

You wouldn’t know it to look at her lying there full of hope for a day home with mom.

The nurse also informed me that she would be unable to come to school to following day because she has to be 24 hours without a repeat occurrence. I loaded Evelyn up into the truck and we headed home.

I had a hundred things to do including writing a final I had lost the instructions for, laundry, church responsibilities, and all the normal mom stuff.

This morning she came to me with my notepad from the refrigerator requesting to use it. She wanted to make a list of all the things we could do or what we can get from the store “ifwe go,” she said.

The tone of her voice led me to believe she was already convinced that we would be going to said store and purchasing these things she was hoping for.

The cautious mom in me turned to her ready to speak unintentional words of death. Words that would slowly kill off her hopeful spirit over the years to come…

“Don’t get your hopes up.”

I cringe now as I recount my overuse of that phrase throughout the years. Why on earth have I been attempting to convince my children to be less hopeful?!

Perhaps this is why depression is so pervasive in our country. For decades we have been hearing and repeating, “Don’t get your hopes up!”

Can we pretend any longer to be surprised that 3 MILLION people a YEAR struggle with hopelessness, when THESE are the words we choose for our children? Why are the cases happening to younger and younger people?

We blame the schools, the pressures to achieve, bullying… the list goes on. Could it be that we are overlooking the most fundamental aspect of fighting depression?

Hope.

We have lost it and we have been demanding our children lose it as well.

We convince them to leave behind their high, unrealistic hopes and move forward with reason to attainable goals.

Ones that won’t crush their hopes.

The problem is that every goal needs some degree of hope to be achieved. It is not that the pressures of academic achievement are too high but that we are expecting the achievement while depriving our children of vital resources to get there.

I know a fifteen year old who is about to take college courses! She is the norm in her family. I have told her mother I think their basement looks like an academic sweatshop. (It does)

And yet, this girl and her family are some of the most joyful, undepressed people I know.

They smile. ALL. THE. TIME. It’s kind of creepy at first because it’s so odd for our society to see… but it’s really just a heavy dose of (you guessed it),

HOPE!

I have told these young ladies that I am grateful they are a part of our lives and great role models for our young girls. They are the most God-fearing, creative, intelligent, bold young women I have ever met.

I want our kids to be like that!

So, little Eve… dream on about your grocery store trip and whether you will purchase Mad-Libs or a journal if I drag you out of the house in the rain today.

Dream whatever dreams God has put in your heart today!

I promise not to crush them with my logic and desire to keep you safe. Then when you are grown and pursuing your own calling people will not have to tell you to “be yourself” and “dream big“.

You’ll already be doing it in the childlike way God desires for you.

This is my greatest hope for you… That you keep HIGH hopes and ignore the naysayings, even when the person closest to you is speaking death over your dreams.

May we all increase in hope today. May we be hope filled and hope speaking children of the Lord.

Your sister,

Monica

Sometime in our lives we are all the “One.”

The one God came after and left the proverbial ninety-nine in doing so.

But why? Why would He leave His people like that? Does anyone ever consider the inverse of what is happening here???

We cry like babies during Reckless Love because we identify with the one, not the ninety-nine. That group wouldn’t be bawling joyfully because they got “left”… or would they?

Let’s break it down.

A few things are going on in this “leaving” and I believe it is of the utmost importance that we as a church begin to identify with the ninety-nine more than we do with being the “one.”

This is why:

1) The “One” is special… therefore we all want to be this

Reality: if you’ve accepted Jesus as your savior you cannot presently identify as this “one.” It’s great to reflect and show gratitude that God sought you out and brought you that mighty long way, but real gratitude produces action… namely that we do what Jesus has done and go get the next “one”

2) God left the ninety-nine, but He returned

The best description of this “leaving” and what it entails can be found in John 14:23-31. Jesus has to go away. If we love Him we keep His word. We then become a “home” of Jesus and the Father along with our counselor the Holy Spirit. It is not just Christ we have but the entire trinity living with us! Jesus left and it hurt that we were no longer the center of attention but we were ultimately empowered to do what He did and even greater!

3) The Ninety-nines are supposed to leave the ninety-nine and find “ones” that become more ninety-nines

This is basically the same as my first point but necessary to keep repeating. Stop making everything about you! It’s not about (just) you! It’s about the body of believers as a whole and we are still missing body parts because some of our ninety-nine have done nothing more than trade night-clubs for church-clubs.

We are out of order.

The answer to the world’s brokenness lies within the perfect love of Jesus lived out through us. We must go.

Go love each other.

Go love the one.

Go get the one.

Jesus came to seek and save. This isn’t about attraction and marketing. It’s about getting in the trenches with the lost and carrying them out on our backs if that’s what it takes!

Please share love today. Put as much effort into loving your neighbor as you do into serving abroad in missions.

Pray for people out loud. Pray for people in public. Pray for eyes to see the brokenness on their faces.

It will haunt you and bless you, but it is our calling.

With a heavy heart for the lost I’m begging you to courage-up and get your hands moving on the plow today. I want my Sunday morning to be filled with praise reports and new faces, not the ninety-nine still trying to be the “one.”

I love you all dearly.

Your sister,

Monica

Last night I realized that my current favorite worship song requires only 4 chords on the guitar!!! Needless to say I spent some time worshipping and crying my eyes out because, let’s be honest… who doesn’t cry when Reckless Love comes on?!

(Unless of course you have defense mechanisms against the “feels” )

I stayed up late enough to find this out because I was having trouble sleeping. My heart was full and a bit broken at the same time (a common paradox for anyone in ministry.)

I was rejoicing in the fact that our oldest daughter and our niece were just baptized!

Rochelle’s baptism:

Jayla’s baptism:

Praise the Lord!

On the other hand, I have had some very real, very constant let downs.

I’m not one to get crushed by the big stuff. It’s the little every day battles that eventually wear me down.

Last night was one of those nights. I was depleted.

So I went to my prayer room, plugged in my phone (that was almost dead from overuse playing meaningless game apps that brought me absolutely NO peace), and proceeded to search up guitar chords so I could get right in the presence of my Savior.

Amid my sobbing a certain line stuck out to me. “When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me. You have been so, so good to me.”

Instantly I remembered that this reckless love holds a unique answer to my heartache. Not only did Jesus pursue me in a way that could not be defeated even by my worst sins, but we are to pursue others the same.

It is by loving like Him that I walk in freedom.

I must love in a way that is unrestrained and is not limited by sin or emotions or even real, unjust events that occur. Absolutely NOTHING can take precedent over the love of Christ flowing unhindered through me and into this hurting world.

This is what God calls “good.”

Still, I don’t like it.

I don’t prefer to be “the one” who is “always” patient and feeling let down. I want relief. But I’ll tell you this:

The Lord has also shown me some deep truths about Him that I may have never learned if I were not experiencing what He goes through while loving us.

“When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me.”

And THAT is the real goal in life. To know God and be known by Him.

We do this by following Jesus.

Becoming Christlike is a journey that is full of pain at times. The reality is that we are going to have pain in this world regardless of our beliefs. But, when we are redeemed and have hope in the Lord, His Spirit can meet us right in the middle of despair and comfort can begin to flow in and from that wound.

When you deny the Lord access to these places, you deny Him the canvas upon which He would display your miracle.

You may not be able to handle the darkness but He can. Open up today. Call on Jesus who is your truest friend. Pour your heart out. You won’t regret it!

Maybe you’ll end up like me… starting with agony and ending in authentic smiles of gratitude and joy.

May He heal all your wounds, even now. Even today!

Your sister,

Monica

This weekend hundreds of families will dress up, head to church services, argue with toddlers about how much candy they are allowed to eat, and check off the obligatory bi-annual religious activity until Christmas rolls around.

We tend to blame these casual church-goers as if this is all their fault.

It’s not. Jesus has made it very clear in His revelation to John (the book of Revelation) that the church will be judged first.

We have the responsibility to be active ministers of reconciliation. What this does not mean is inviting people to church services and then lamenting when they fail to connect with the gospel our pastor preached.

It does mean that we are to preach the gospel.

Sound weighty? It is. Glad we are on the same page… or did you think that Christ gave His life just for you?

I grew up hearing that Jesus died for me. That if I were the only person in the world who needed saving, He still would have given His life as a sacrifice for my sin. I believe that it true. However, I am not the only person in the world.

I have the personal responsibility (which is a joy) to share that forgiveness with the world.

It is unfair and downright disorderly that our apathetic behavior as Christians must be addressed so often from the pulpit.

Our leaders should have the freedom to preach the word and instead they are trying to rally us to do what Christ already commissioned.

When Jesus shows up and shows out we don’t need to be told to “tell it on the mountain”. In fact He told people not to speak and they STILL couldn’t hold in the good news!

This makes me question if the church at large is really walking with Christ like we claim or if we are no different than “Easter Episcopals” and “Christmas Catholics” (as I have heard these seekers called).

So my question for you is this:

Where do you fit into this story of salvation? Will you simply place yourself next to the “sinner” in the pew and hope for the best? Or worse; will you see yourself as inconvenienced instead of blessed by their presence because they’re sitting in “your” seat? (yes, Baptists I’m talking to you)

How about we all resolve now to risk the ego and live the dangerous grace that Jesus exemplified? Surely we can sacrifice our comfort zone in response to a sacrificed life.

My prayers are with you as you live boldly for the Lord as a powerful witness of His presence and live this Easter.

Your sister,

Monica