Do You Have a Heart of Love?

Suggested Reading: Ruth 1

The nurse placed my newborn son, Xavier, on my chest. I stared into his dark brown eyes. When His chubby cheek jiggled when I kissed him. At that moment, I began to understand the meaning of unconditional love. Nothing could make me stop loving that tiny human. Nobody mattered more than Xavier.

My doctor was still caring for me when the nurse took Xavier from my arms. I turned toward my husband. “Go with him,” I said. “Don’t let him out of your sight.”

He had stopped at my bedside. “What about you?”

“He’s the only one who matters now,” I said, waving him away. “Go. Please.”

Another nurse helped me until I was ready to join my husband in the nursery.

The moment I first saw Xavier’s beautiful face is seared into my memory. I’d never loved any human as much as I loved Xavier.

That obsessive love led to a child-centered marriage, which was not healthy.

I still remember the day when my husband said, “After Xavier was born, I stopped existing in your world.”

Sadly, he wasn’t wrong. We struggled but agreed to stay together . . . for Xavier.

Marital problems led to a legal separation. For three months, Xavier and I lived over seven-hundred and fifty miles away from my husband and my stepson, AJ.

One night, my sweet boy packed up his toys and a few choice snacks. “I need a ride to the airport, Mommy,” he said. “Daddy needs us to be home.”

After allowing Xavier to talk to his dad, I sang him to sleep. I had an honest conversation with my husband later that night. We agreed some things had to change and decided to work things out . . . mostly for Xavier.

But when Xavier was five years old, I surrendered my life to Jesus.

As I studied God’s Word, I grew closer to Him and began to understand the meaning of selfless love. God has used His Word to help me better understand the way He loves me and the way I need to love Him and others in a healthy and holy way.

When studying the book of Ruth, I naturally gravitated to the main character. I admired Ruth’s strength and her dedication to loving and caring for her mother-in-law.

But sometimes, I wondered why she didn’t want to go home. Why would Ruth leave her family to follow Naomi into a life of struggle and sacrifice that she’d undoubtedly face with Naomi?

As I learned to look closer when studying Scripture, I began to focus on other details that could easily be skimmed over when approaching the Bible with a one-track mind.

During one deep dive into Scripture, I discovered Naomi’s heart of love.

In Ruth 1, Naomi demonstrates what our lives will look like if we have a heart of love.

  1. A Heart of Love remains committed, regardless of how difficult the road ahead may be.

Naomi followed her husband to an unknown country. The famine probably made it easier to leave the familiar place she called home. But what else did she have to leave behind?

Scripture says her husband took his family with him (v. 1). They walked away from everything they knew, everything they depended on, and everything that they had once called home.

“And when they reached Moab they settled there” (v. 2)

Moab means “land beyond the Jordan,” a land “just short of the Promised Land,” or “from the Father.”

In the ten years they stayed in Moab, Naomi experienced great heartache. Scripture affirms her husband died but doesn’t give the ages of her sons when he passed (v. 3).

How long was he alive after they reached Moab? How did this single mom survive in the middle of a land that was historically considered an enemy of Israel? How often was Naomi reminded that the Promised Land was just beyond her reach?

When her sons got married to Moabites, they didn’t have children for about ten years (v. 4). Then, her sons died and “left Naomi alone” (v. 5).

How did Naomi feel when she looked around and realized she was all alone in a land she couldn’t really call her own? Did she want to give up, to run away, to lash out at her daughters-in-law?

While we can’t figure out what Scripture doesn’t share about Naomi, we can see what she did.

  1. A Heart of Love places the needs of others first.

Naomi obviously had a good relationship with her daughters-in-law. They wouldn’t have wanted to leave their homeland if they didn’t trust her love for them.

Though she was alone, a widow with no sons who would have no one to care for her as she grew older, Naomi placed the needs of her daughters-in-law before her own. She urged them to return to their families and acknowledged that they had been good to her, her husband, and their husbands (vv. 6-8).

With a heartbreaking goodbye, Naomi prayed they would find new husbands to care for them (v. 9).

“No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people” (v. 10).

But Naomi knew she had nothing to offer them, so she begged them to leave her (vv. 11-13). Even though she would be left with nothing if her daughters-in-law returned to their homes, Naomi chose to protect them from suffering.

The mutual love seems evident as Naomi begs them to go back to their families and the women weep as they struggle to say goodbye (v. 14-15).

And Ruth outright refuses to leave her mother-in-law (vv. 16-17). This act of devotion is often what seems to stand out when readers first approach. But if we remain focused on Ruth, we miss out on Naomi’s expression of love toward her daughter-in-law.

  1. A Heart of Love has compassion for others and willingly compromises for their good.

“When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more” (v. 18).

No nagging. No “told-you-so” comments when the situations got too hard.

Naomi traveled with Ruth and continued her grieving process with vulnerability and transparency, which seemed to only strengthened their bond (vv. 19-21).

Though Naomi wanted to spare Ruth the suffering she knew single women would have to endure, she showed compassion for her daughter-in-law. She embraced Ruth and compromised so they could move forward.

“So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest” (v. 22).

Naomi had compassion on the young woman and compromised what she wanted for the good of what her beloved daughter-in-law needed.

When they arrived, the harvest was beginning, their new life was unfolding before them as they lived with hearts of love.

As we face changes in our lives, we may have no choice but to process our grief, face our fears, and wrestle with loneliness.

Blaming God and pushing others away, even when we believe it’s for their own good, can keep us from enjoying the harvest of new beginnings within a community.

When we let our guard down and surrender to being loved by God and others, we can experience peace as we walk through trials and victories.

We can’t avoid processing our feelings. But we can avoid doing life on our own.

How has God helped you learn to embrace His love through someone who is relentless in loving you?

Loving God, thanks for reminding us that we can love because You love us first. Please give us Spirit-empowered courage as we shake off anything that hinders us from receiving Your perfect love and loving others in healthy and holy ways. Help us to see others with compassion as we learn to live day-by-day with Hearts of Love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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CELEBRATING GOD’S LOVE THROUGH COMMUNITY

I am excited about the opportunity to celebrate God’s love with three of my fellow 2021 ECPA Christian Book Award Finalists and, Tessa Afshar, the 2021 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner of the Bible Study Category.

Each week in the month of September, I will be sharing a devotion about God’s love and introducing one of these authors with a short introduction to their award-winning book.

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This week, I would like to introduce you to my  friend, award-winning and best-selling author Pam Farrel.

Pam Farrel is the author of 54 books including the 2021 ECPA Finalist for Bible Study of the Year:  Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament: A Creative Bible Study Experience (co-authored with Jean E Jones and Karla Dornacher). Pam is an international speaker and bestselling author. Together with her husband, Bill, they run Love-Wise ministry, helping people with their most vital relationships.

In Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament: A Creative Bible Study Experience, you will discover all God has planned since before the foundation of the earth. Through compelling instruction and motivational devotions, each chapter reveals God’s redemptive plan from the beginning of creation. Explore:

-Timeline icons to help you track God’s plan through the Old Testament.

– Key questions at the beginning of each section to guide your focus.

– Opportunities for creative expression, including full-page graphics and bookmarks to color.

– Sidebars that offer fascinating historical insights.

– Practical application questions to guide and deepen your walk with Christ.

– Online opportunities for connection and interactive community

As you discover new ways to engage with God’s Word through this in-depth approach to studying Scripture, you will gain wisdom and understanding about his incredible, unchanging love for you.

You can also connect with Pam on her website, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Please CLICK HERE to love your neighbors by ordering an extra copies of Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament: A Creative Bible Study Experience (co-authored with Jean E Jones and Karla Dornacher) to share as gifts.

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Earlier this month, I invited you to check out Worship Expressed, our brand-new family ministry. Worship Expressed is an online store where you can purchase Christian apparel and accessories that I have prayed over while designing. We even have a few designs created by our son, Xavier.

WE are adding to our product line and will be working with Christian authors to create a few special collections before the holiday season arrives.

Please help us invite others to worship God through our attitudes, our words, our actions, and the Worship Expressed apparel and accessories we choose to use and wear every day.

How can you partner in ministry with the Worship Expressed family?

  1. Click here to “LIKE” the Worship Expressed with Xochitl Dixon page on Facebook, then “Like” and “Share” some of our posts.
  2. Click here to “Follow” the Worship Expressed page on Instagram, then “Heart” and “Share” some of our posts.
  3. Click here to visit, shop, or join the Worship Expressed family by creating an account.
  4. Take photos of you enjoying your Worship Expressed apparel and accessories and tag us on social media.
  5. Contact us through the Worship Expressed website to share your testimonies about how God used your Worship Expressed apparel and accessories to help you invite people to talk about Him, praise Him, and share the Gospel with others.
  6. Love your neighbors by ordering extra Worship Expressed apparel and accessories to share as gifts.

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Do you need spiritual refreshment today?

If your heart is weary and longing for answers—for healing, for provision, for miracles—Waiting for God renews your hope with strong biblical truth and encouraging Scripture-based prayer. Guided to inhale God’s Word, exhale in prayer, and rest in God’s love, you will be restored, able to worship the Lord even when the wait feels endless.

Love your neighbors by ordering extra copies of Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace today!

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Thanks for being a member of my blog family!

I hope you will connect with me in the comment section under this blog post.

If you are reading this article in your email, you can reply to this email OR join the conversation in the comment section on my website by clicking here, scrolling down to the comment section, and writing your message.

I moderate comments for the safety of our community, so your comment will not show up right away. However, I will read, reply to, and approve every comment that is appropriate to share under my blog articles.

I’m looking forward to growing with you as we remain rooted in God’s Word and growing with God’s people.

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Living Like a Masterpiece

Suggested Reading: Ephesians 2:1-18

As I celebrated my 51st birthday, I reflected on how my life has gone nothing like I’d planned!

I’m also admitting that God’s plan is way better than anything I could have imagined. And I have a pretty active imagination.

Though some seasons have seemed a bit too-stormy and some roads have felt a bit too-long and too-hard, God has always brought me through.

He’s never wasted an experience, good or bad. He’s refined me in ways I never realized I needed. And, oh how He’s blessed me beyond what I dared to dream possible.

Still, sometimes, I don’t live like I believe what He says about me.

If you’ve ever struggled with believing what God says about you, please check out the Worship Expressed God Says I Am . . . Collection today.

Then, check out Ephesians 2, where the apostle Paul explores the benefits of being made alive in Christ.

Paul writes: “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil ̶ the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” (Ephesians 2:1-2, NLT)

I can imagine the apostle grabbing his fellow believers by their shoulders and giving them a good shake.

“Why are you insisting on living as if you’re still dead in your sins?”

Paul reminds us that none of us can escape the reality of being dead in our own muck before Jesus.

All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature” (v. 3, emphasis mine).

Then, Paul uses one of the most powerful declarations in the Bible: But God!

But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved.)” (vv. 4-5, emphasis mine).

Paul reveals the link between life and death is our wholehearted belief in who Jesus was and is and always will be, as well as what Jesus did when He died on the cross and rose from the tomb three days later.

Our complete dependence on God the Father secures our ability to live like we believe the reality of our new-life status through our intimate connection with God the Son, Jesus Christ, which is only possible through God the Spirit.

“For He . . .” signifies a reliance on God, not self.

The pressure to live for God with loving obedience and faith is not on us, in our weakness, but on our willingness to surrender to God and rely on the strength of His Spirit who dwells in us.

Because of God ̶ of who He is and what He accomplished through the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, as well as from before He created the world and into all eternity ̶ Paul’s following statements stand on firmly established truth.

For He raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of His grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all He has done for us who are united in Christ Jesus.” (vv. 6-7)

God’s work is finished.

God’s plan is, always has been, and will always be in motion, but His destination has already been reached.

We already have a secured spot, a place at His table, a guaranteed reservation that impacts our lives on this side of eternity.

The life-transforming power of Paul’s message is clear.

“God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT, emphasis mine)

We received God’s gift of salvation because we are His masterpiece . . . “we” being plural.

In our me-centered world, it’s tempting to take these verses to encourage ourselves, build up our self-esteem, pep-talk our way into not giving up. When we do this, we miss one vital aspect of Paul’s main point.

Paul draws our attention to our union in Christ and with one another when he affirms that we, as the community of believers ̶ the Church ̶ are God’s masterpiece.

Once singular and self-centered, we are now made “anew” as an interdependent body of cherished children. God has entrusted each of us individually and us collectively with gifts intended for us to steward with Spirit-empowered wisdom, courage, and commitment to Kingdom-Building.

God planned our paths long ago and has been guiding our steps, molding us through refining fires, and empowering us to live like a masterpiece ̶ connected to Him and others through Christ’s life and sacrificial love shown on the cross and as He rose from the tomb.

“Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of His death on the cross, and our hostility toward one another was put to death.” (v. 16)

Because the fruit of the Spirit cannot help but be evident in the life of believers in Jesus, those who truly place their faith in Christ simply cannot be hostile toward one another or toward nonbelievers.

“We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.” (v. 21)

We are a masterpiece . . . together.

We can ask God to help us believe what He says about us in the God-breathed words of Scripture.

We can ask God to help us surrender to Him as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is waiting for us to lift our arms high with confidence in His ability to empower us to live like a masterpiece ̶ each one dependent on God and interdependently serving God and others.

As active members of the Church, dedicated to bringing Him glory, we can fulfill His greatest commandment and the great commission.

What can you do this week to live like a masterpiece ̶ as a loving member of the Church God loves and uses for His glory?

How has God changed your perspective on your need for Him and the Church over the last year? 

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Last month, I served alongside three talented Christian Children’s picture book authors to explore why representation in children’s literature matters.

This month I am celebrating God’s love with these wonderful Kingdom-Builders who have been honored, along with me, as 2021 ECPA Children’s Book Award Finalists and a Winner.

This week, I have the privilege of being the highlighted author as these phenomenal women of God lift me up, encourage me, and help me reach more people for Jesus by helping me spread the word about Different Like Me.

I need your help, too.

If you have read Different Like Me, would you please write a short review on Amazon?

Reviews can help Amazon place Different Like Me in front of more readers.

To write an Amazon review, please click here, sign in, and answer the following questions:

  1. Why do you like Different Like Me?
  2. Would you recommend Different Like Me to others?
  3. How have you shared Different Like Me with others?
  4. (Optional) How has God used Different Like Me to encourage you or your little readers?

You can also partner with me in ministry by helping reach readers in your personal sphere of influence in the following ways:

  1. Invite me to an in-person or Zoom author visit, during which I will read Different Like Me and visit with the children at your church, school, homeschool group, afterschool program, and kids’ event (i.e. Vacation Bible School, MOPS meeting or event, AWANA, Harvest Festival, Angel Tree Party, etc).
  2. Connect with me to gather sponsors who will donate signed copies of Different Like Me to give away to all the children who participate in your kids’ event (i.e. Vacation Bible School, MOPS meeting or event, AWANA, Harvest Festival, Angel Tree Party, etc).
  3. Love your neighbors by ordering extra copies of Different Like Me to share as gifts.
  4. Keep an extra copy of Different Like Me in your car and ask God to show you who He wants to receive your gift.
  5. Donate copies of Different Like Me to your local libraries, Little Free Libraries in your community, local churches, local schools, individual classrooms, afterschool programs, foster care centers, children’s hospitals, and more.

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God is working in amazing and surprising ways this year as I team up with more folks who are dedicated to sharing God’s truth and love to the ends of the earth!

My husband, Alan, our youngest son, Xavier, and I have said “yes” to an wonderful outreach ministry opportunity.

In September we launched Worship Expressed, an online store where you can purchase Christian apparel and accessories that I have prayed over while designing. We even have a few designs created by our son, Xavier.

Worship Expressed is adding to our product line and will be working with Christian authors to create a few special collections before the holiday season arrives.

Please help us invite others to worship God through our attitudes, our words, our actions, and the Worship Expressed apparel and accessories we choose to use and wear every day.

How can you partner in ministry with the Worship Expressed family?

  1. Click here to “LIKE” the Worship Expressed with Xochitl Dixon page on Facebook, then “Like” and “Share” some of our posts.
  2. Click here to “Follow” the Worship Expressed page on Instagram, then “Heart” and “Share” some of our posts.
  3. Click here to visit, shop, or join the Worship Expressed family by creating an account.
  4. Take photos of you enjoying your Worship Expressed apparel and accessories and tag us on social media.
  5. Contact us through the Worship Expressed website to share your testimonies about how God used your Worship Expressed apparel and accessories to help you invite people to talk about Him, praise Him, and share the Gospel with others.
  6. Love your neighbors by ordering extra Worship Expressed apparel and accessories to share as gifts.

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Thanks for being a member of my blog family!

I hope you will connect with me in the comment section under this blog post.

If you are reading this article in your email, you can reply to this email OR join the conversation in the comment section on my website by clicking here, scrolling down to the comment section, and writing your message.

I moderate comments for the safety of our community, so your comment will not show up right away. However, I will read, reply to, and approve every comment that is appropriate to share under my blog articles.

I’m looking forward to growing with you as we remain rooted in God’s Word and growing with God’s people.

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How Can We Tell if We’re Loving Like Jesus? (Giveaway Winner Announced, Too!)

Suggested Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

I walked into the senior living center with my son, then a kindergartener. Breathing a prayer, I entered the password that would open the locked door that kept the Alzheimer’s patients safe inside. Visiting my mother-in-love after church had become a regular part of our Sunday schedule.

Xavier didn’t notice his grandmother couldn’t remember his name. He just enjoyed her company. She seemed interested in everything he showed her. She listened to his stories and responded in animated ways. She laughed at his jokes. And she hugged him.

We never stayed long. I didn’t want him to realize that she thought we were just some nice people who had dropped in for a visit.

The weekly trips weren’t always easy or enjoyable for me.

She’d served as an elementary teacher for decades and used to tell me stories about her students. I missed her witty sense of humor, the glint she’d get in her eye when she dropped knowledge to help me navigate life as a wife and mother.

I missed the way she said she was proud of me, that she believed in me when I shared my dream of being a writer one day. I missed hearing her talk about Jesus, even though I’d brushed off her attempts to share the Gospel and rejected her invitations to church. I missed knowing she was praying for me, for years before I surrendered my life to Christ, even though I pretended I didn’t care.

She wouldn’t understand if I told her that God had answered her prayers, that I was finally head over heels in love with Jesus.

She’d faithfully given me copies of the Our Daily Bread quarterly booklets and invited me to church, even though I mocked her and asked her to keep her God out of our relationship.

I often imagine how excited she would be to read my Our Daily Bread devotions, if she was still alive. I imagine how she would tell her friends at church that I was her daughter-in-law, invite me to her church events, and tell everyone to buy my books. I would go.

Alzheimer’s took my mother-in-law away from us years before she entered the loving arms of Jesus.

When I think about those weekly visits, how hard it was for me to go when I knew she wouldn’t remember me . . . how I eventually stopped going every week . . . I wish I would have loved her more like Jesus.

I wish I would have worried more about how hard the situation was for her, instead of griping about how hard the visits were for me.

I wish I would have told her how much I loved her, how much I appreciated her . . . before and after the disease started tugging her away from our family.

I wish I would have known what Jesus-love . . . selfless love . . . really looked like.

The apostle Paul gives us a clear picture of love in 1 Corinthians 13.

Paul tells the church of Corinth that their abilities, their knowledge, their kind deeds or good intentions were worthless if not motivated by, executed in, and saturated with love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

He gave them, and us, a clear and concise definition of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (vv. 4-7, emphasis mine)

The love Paul speaks of in these verses is the kind of love God has for the people He has created, selfless love rooted in choice and commitment not fleeting and unreliable feelings.

Agape love doesn’t demand anything in return, but instead gives generously and sacrificially.

Agape love isn’t conditional or used to manipulate.

Agape love never fails (v. 8a).

Paul affirms the futility of our gifts, talents, and knowledge when they are not firmly established and generously extended toward others as sacrificial expressions of love.

The apostle acknowledges that we can’t possibly understand this depth of love in all its completeness on this side of eternity or while we’re spiritually immature (vv. 8b-10).

But he gives us hope in our ability to grow in the way we experience and express sacrificial love (v. 11). With a bold confidence, the apostle proclaims we will know agape love when we “see face to face” . . . when Jesus returns or calls us home (v. 12).

Agape love can be seen and felt on this side of eternity when we look at Jesus and use the love-barometer found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

So, how can we tell if we’re loving like Jesus?

Are we patient?

Are we kind?

Are we free of envy?

Do we refuse to boast?

Do we live without pride?

Do we avoid dishonoring others?

Do we serve others selflessly instead of being self-seeking?

Do we avoid being easily angered?

Do we refuse to keep a record of wrongs?

Do we refuse to delight in evil?

Do we rejoice with the truth?

Do our attitudes, words, and actions always protect?

Do we always trust, always hope, always persevere?

Can we answer “yes” to all of these questions when we’re giving generously and getting nothing in return, when someone is gossiping about us, when someone betrays us, when someone reject us?

Love does.

The apostle John reminds us that we cannot love this perfectly on this side of eternity without the supernatural power of God in us, without constant and intimate connection with God.

“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. God is love and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John 4:16)

John is speaking of an ongoing relationship, a never-ceasing acknowledging of God, dependence on God, a living and breathing intimacy that transforms the way we think, the way we speak, the way we interact with God and others.

Agape love cannot be contained or experienced apart from community.

Agape love cannot help but overflow into our relationships.

Agape love doesn’t demand or even consider deserving accolades or reciprocation.

What would happen if all of God’s people loved all of our neighbors, all those God created, loved, and died for on the cross at Calvary with agape love?

 How does knowing God loves us with agape love change us and inspire us to love Him and others?

God, thanks for loving us, for loving the world, so much that You sent Your one and only Son, Jesus, to save us. Thanks for loving us so much that You gave us the Holy Spirit, who loves us as we are but loves us too much to allow us to remain the same after we experience the transforming power of agape love. Help us love like Jesus every day because we are loved every day in every way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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I hope you enjoyed the Representation Matters blog series.

Congratulations to Rachel Cho, who will be receiving a copy of Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina Gilmore-Young, My Breakfast with Jesus by Tina M. Cho, The Celebration Place by Dorena Williamson, and Different Like Me by me (Xochitl Dixon).

We appreciate every person who entered by following our pages on Instagram.

If you haven’t connected with us on Instagram, I hope you will do so today. We all have some great books already out and some wonderful projects to be released soon.

If you don’t want to miss the book updates and any other giveaways we’ll be hosting, please connect with us by clicking the following links to our websites and Instagram pages.

Dorina Gilmore-Young @dorinagilmore

Dorena Williamson @dorenawilliamson

Tina M. Cho @tinamcho

Xochitl Dixon @xochitl.e.dixon

AND if you want to enjoy lots of adorable service dog photos, please follow Callie on Instagram @callie.the.service.dog today

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ANOTHER GREAT SERIES?

I am excited about the opportunity to celebrate God’s love with three of my fellow 2021 ECPA Christian Book Award Finalists and, Tessa Afshar, the 2021 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner of the Bible Study Category.

Each week in the month of September, I will be sharing a devotion about God’s love and introducing one of these authors with a short introduction to their award-winning book.

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This week, I would like to introduce you to my mentor and friend, award-winning and best-selling author Crystal Bowman.

Crystal Bowman is a bestselling, award-winning author of more than 100 books for children and families. She is the creator and co-author of Our Daily Bread for Kids, M is for Manger, and the 2021 ECPA Christian Book Award Finalist I Love You to the Stars—When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembers. She is also a conference speaker, freelance editor, and contributor to several blogs.

More than 3 million copies of her books have sold internationally, and her books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She is a regular contributor to Clubhouse Jr. Magazine and writes lyrics for children’s piano music. She and her husband enjoy spending time with their grown children and seven huggable grandkids.

In I Love You to the Stars ̶ When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembers, a young boy is happy when his grandma comes to live with them, but when she starts forgetting things and acts differently, she needs to move to another home. The boy learns that their love continues even though her memory is fading.

I interviewed Crystal for the Pause for Prayer series on my YouTube channel. We laughed. We cried. We praised God. And we prayed together. We discussed selfless love and how God’s love impacts the way we love others. Crystal also shares a story that inspired me to persevere when I was feeling depleted and discouraged. Click here to watch the video.

You can also connect with Crystal on her website, on Facebook, and on Instagram.

Please CLICK HERE to love your neighbors by ordering an extra copy of I Love You to the Stars ̶ When Grandma Forgets, Love Remembers to share as gifts.

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Thanks for celebrating God’s love with me, Blog Family! I am grateful for each and every one of you!

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To join the conversation, please leave a comment below.

If you received this blog post in your email inbox, I would love for you to join the conversation on my website.

Please CLICK HERE and scroll down to the comment section to leave your reply. I am looking forward to connecting with you!

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The Power of Belonging to God

Suggested Reading: Psalm 100

“Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3, ESV

As a teen, I got one pimple on the tip of my nose once a month. Only one. Only once a month.

God had blessed me with a clear complexion, so that one pimple would go away in a few days. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop dreading the arrival of that flaw I was certain everyone would be staring at when talking to me.

Over the years, I learned how to focus on other flaws, other failings, other things that made me feel insecure.

I truly didn’t understand what it meant to feel accepted and acceptable, until I discovered my place in the heart of God.

When I realized I belonged to God, I began to understand and believe that He created me with love, on purpose and with purpose, that I was accepted and acceptable simply because I was His . . . and that He called me good because He made me in His image.

This realization didn’t lead to arrogance. Instead, this truth brought me to my knees in gratitude and taught me how to see others through eyes cleared by God’s grace.

Belonging to God empowered me to love Him, the only perfect One, and to love His imperfect creations ̶ others and myself ̶ with a full appreciation of God’s sovereignty in designing every person, place or thing in His glorious creation.

How did we lose sight of celebrating the creativity of God?

Why did we begin defining normal, determining a standard for beauty, doubting our worth as God’s image-bearers?

As I explored this question, God led me to Psalm 100.

“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.” Psalm 100:1-2

The psalmist invites God’s people to celebrate Him, to worship or serve Him with gladness . . . with contentment.

God is beckoning us to honor and acknowledge Him as we approach Him, draw near to Him, with joy.

This display of closeness hints at an established relationship developed enough to be rooted in trust.

“Know that the LORD is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” Psalm 100:3

The psalmist turns our attention away from self to God and His unchanging character and role as our Creator.

By establishing we are created by the one we belong to, the psalmist declares we are acceptable, valuable, and intimately tended to as followers of God.

After affirming the surety of our belonging, the psalmist reminds us of our purpose, our inherited gift of intimate and mutual relationship.

We can rejoice in all circumstances because we have access to the One True God at all times.

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

Hallelujah!

God gives us an open invitation to a victorious life of celebrating Him with gratitude for who He is and always will be, for all He’s done and will do.

Why?

“For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

God is good and His love, His kindness, His steadfastness lasts beyond our personal space, through the lives of those yet to come.

We are acceptable and accepted simply because we belong to God and have value based on His qualifying traits not our own.

Embracing these truths causes sparks to fly as our love for God is ignited.

Hallelujah!

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Loving God, please help us love You completely and trust You courageously as we settle into our place as Your beloved children.

Help us accept that we are valued because of Your unchanging goodness as our loving Creator.

 Help us see others in the same light of this truth, especially when we struggle with the differences that threaten to divide us as Your precious and purposed family.

 In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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In this week’s article for the Representation Matters Series, Dorena Williamson affirms the power of belonging and realizing the extent of our worth as God’s beloved created ones.

She shares a personal story about her sweet little girl who picked up a book that God used to help her see herself as He saw her . . . likeable, acceptable, purposed and perfectly placed in this world He designed with His limitless creativity.

If you’ve ever doubted your value or struggled with insecurities, if you’ve ever faced others who deemed you as less-than, seen others as inferior or felt unseen or inferior, please take a moment to thank God for creating you and loving you . . . for creating and loving those who are different from you.

When we feel like we belong, we will begin to understand that God intended all of us to belong and to be represented in light of His truth and love.

ColorFull, GraceFull, and ThoughtFull are three of Dorena’s first children’s picture books that celebrate diversity through inclusion and positive representation.

In October, Dorena will be releasing The Celebration Place, a story that will “give children a window into the beauty of diversity in our church experiences.”

To check out Dorena’s article, “The Impact of Representation,” and to subscribe to her blog, please click here. To connect with Dorena on Instagram, please click here.

The Representation Matters writers will be sharing a special announcement and hosting a giveaway at the end of this August series, so please stay in touch.

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I’m looking forward to growing with you, Blog Family!

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Seeing My Neighbor (Anniversary Book Giveaway Recipients Announced)

Suggested Reading: Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-37

 

When the pandemic started, someone asked if I thought God was testing the Church.

 

I smiled. “No,” I said. “I think He’s dispersing the Church.”

 

During our conversation I explained how God had equipped the Church to fulfill His mission. In the New Testament, the Greek word for Church (ekklesia) means “an assembly,” “to call out,” or “the called ones.”

 

“Church” was never intended to be defined as a meeting place or time.

 

The Church is a living organism made up of living organisms ̶ God’s image-bearers, believers in Jesus who are commanded to love God and love people.

 

Though I didn’t attend a service in-person during the pandemic, God provided plenty of opportunities to assemble with His people online.

 

He also presented me with opportunities to talk to people in person, as we honored the social distancing boundaries and wore masks as an expression of love toward our neighbors.

 

As the Lord called me out, I spoke to my neighbors, the people God loves who lived in my neighborhood, the people I’d only waved at in the past . . . sometimes as I rushed to worship Him with other believers at Sunday service.

 

I slowed down and saw my neighbors as I walked to the park, shopped at the grocery store, smiled with my eyes, and sent air-hugs as we stood six-feet-apart.

 

I saw my neighbors as they walked or drove by our home.

 

Seeing my neighbors led to praying for my neighbors, as God taught me to truly love my neighbors as He loved them and me . . . selflessly and sacrificially.

 

How had I lost sight of my mission as a disciple of Christ who desired to be obedient to His calling?

 

I found answers by reflecting on the responses of two men, one in Mark 12:28-34 and the other in Luke 10:25-37.

 

In Mark 10, a teacher of the law approached Jesus and asked which commandment was the “most important” (v. 28).

 

Without missing a beat, Jesus said:

 

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (vv. 30-31).

 

This man answered wisely, knowing Jesus had simply affirmed what was written in the Scriptures (what we now know as the Old Testament). The Bible doesn’t tell us what that man did after his conversation with Jesus. I like to think that he went out and fulfilled his calling, to love God and people.

 

In Luke 10, another man approached Jesus. This expert in the law wanted to “test Jesus” (v. 25).

 

When he asked what he needed to do to inherit “eternal life” (v. 25), Jesus asked him to interpret the law (v. 26).

 

Correctly, the man repeated what we have come to know as the Greatest Commandment (v. 27).

 

Jesus called the man to fulfill his mission: “Do this and you will live” (v. 28).

 

Sadly, this expert of the law seemed to be looking for a loophole in Jesus’ command. I sense a hint of sarcasm when I read the man’s response in verse 29: “And who is my neighbor?”

 

Jesus gives the man a clear image of how to love God and people when He shares the Parable of the Good Samaritan (vv. 30-35). He then asks the expert in the law to identify which person in the parable reflected the heart of a neighbor toward the injured Samaritan (v. 36).

 

“The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him’” (v. 37).

 

“Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise’” (v. 37).

 

Like this man, we are called out of our comfort zones to go and do likewise. We are called out of our self-centered pits of despair and discontent. We are called out of everything that hinders us from loving God by loving our neighbors selflessly and sacrificially.

 

God calls us to Him, to be transformed by His unconditional love.

 

He calls us to love our neighbors by turning away from everything that distracts us from seeing our neighbors, especially those who are different from us, less privileged than us, or carefully shoved out of our field of vision so we can forget about the things that make us feel uncomfortable or don’t personally affect us.

 

When everyone goes back to Sunday services, I pray we enjoy the fellowship as we grow closer to God and each other.

 

However, I also pray we remember that the buildings are not “the Church” and the times we assemble together for weekly services are not the main objectives of our mission.

 

Times of assembling with believers are meant to equip and encourage the Body of Christ to become more spiritually-matured disciples who are ready to be dispersed, so we can fulfill the Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission . . . wherever God leads us in person and online.

 

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Loving God, thank You for empowering us with Your Holy Spirit who enables us to know You and love You.

 

Please help us see all of our neighbors, especially those who are different from us and those we are more comfortable ignoring.

 

Empower us to love our neighbors the way You love them, selflessly and sacrificially, unconditionally and compassionately, intentionally and genuinely.

 

Show us how to love with our words, our actions, and our attitudes in person and online.

 

Please remind us that You never asked us to change our neighbors, to make them more like us, or to expect them to fit into our vision of acceptable.

 

Make us more like You, Jesus, so we can reflect Your character as we reach out to others and point them to You so that You can transform them through the power of Your Holy Spirit, as You are transforming us.

 

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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As I ask God to help me see my neighbors so I can love my neighbors, I’m excited to be a part of a group of authors who celebrate God’s intentional diversity and inclusivity.

 

Throughout the month of August, I’m working with Dorina Gilmore-Young, Tina M. Cho, and Dorena Williamson to help others see their misrepresented and under-represented neighbors in the pages of children’s books.

 

This week, I would like to introduce you to Dorina Gilmore-Young, the author of Cora Cooks Pancit.

 

When asked about the lack of representation of BIPOC characters in Children’s literature, Dorina writes:

 

“We have tasted progress, but we have not yet arrived. Representation still matters. As an author, an educator, and a mother of three brave girls, I want to be part of carrying the torch.” 

 

Dorina’s family has teamed up with Dr. Lucretia Berry, founder of Brownicity, to present a membership program called Global Glory Chasers. Each month they highlight a specific country and introduce a list of books, movies, music, and recipes to help families learn about different cultures.

 

To read Dorina’s article in the Representation Matters Series, “Mosaic Voices: Why Representation Matters in Children’s Literature and Beyond,” click here.

 

To learn more about Global Glory Chasers, click here.

 

To follow Dorina on Instagram, please click here.

 

We have a special announcement to share at the end of August, so I hope you’ll stay connected.

 

I look forward to growing with you as we seek to love God and our neighbors together!

 

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Congratulations to the recipients of the Anniversary Giveaway!

 

Michelle Vegara, you will be receiving a signed copy of Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace.

 

Karen Condit, you will be receiving a signed copy of Different Like Me.

 

I will email the winners to request mailing information.

 

Thanks to all of you who took time to read and respond.

 

Stay tuned! We’ll have another special giveaway SOON!

 

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If you are reading this message via email, please DO NOT REPLY to this email. Instead, CLICK HERE to leave a comment under the original article on my blog. You will have to scroll down to the end of the article to join the conversation.

 

Thanks for being a part of my blog family!

 

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What Does God Consider Priceless Worship?

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Suggested Reading – Mark 12:38-44

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As the woman’s words nestled into a deep crack in my scarred heart, I had no idea they would cripple my thinking for years.

Your work has no value. Your words are worthless.

When I closed my eyes, those messed-up mantras morphed into the real fear this woman’s cruelty stirred up.

You have no value. You are worthless, insignificant, inferior.

As I wrestled with discouragement, God gently nudged me to move forward in obedience, to keep sharing His truth and love to the ends of the earth.

God reminded me that only He could determine the worth of His creations and all they offered to Him through their faithful service and acts of worship.

Even though I was still writing with a limp caused by the wounding words of a person I barely knew, I started my Facebook Author Page and began sharing God’s truth and love through mini-devotions, prayers, and graphics.

In His loving and humorous way, the Lord encouraged me while I encouraged others who were battling discouragement or debilitating doubt.

No one should have to wonder if the love-offering they are placing into God’s hands is enough . . . if they are enough.

Writers are not the only ones who struggle with insecurities, doubts, and fears that can keep us from serving God courageously, faithfully, confidently, and obediently.

God has gifted His people according to His perfect plan and uses each of us according to His perfect pace.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV)

So, if God created us and intended us to do the good works He planned for us in advance, then why would we wonder if what we have to offer Him is good enough?

As I considered this question, I thought of a poor widow in worn clothes walking through a crowd of rich people, adorned with jewels and New Testament name brand outfits.

Scripture says Jesus watched the people “putting their money into the temple treasury” (Mark 12:41, NIV). The widow “came and put in two very small coins, worth only a few cents” (v. 42).

The poor widow didn’t drag her feet, bow her head in shame, or peer over shoulders to compare her offering to anyone else’s gift.

She simply walked into the temple, prepared to give what she had already determined to give, and worshiped the Giver of all good things.

She minded her own business, because she remained focused on her Father’s business, and “put in everything ̶ all she had to live on” (v. 44).

Jesus made sure his disciples realized this poor widow had “put more into the treasury than all the others” (v. 43).

They didn’t have to be great mathematicians to realize God’s math doesn’t work like the numerical system of man.

Jesus didn’t say the offerings of the rich people were worthless, but that their offerings were worth less than the widow’s sacrificial gift.

Why?

Could it be the widow’s humble posture of confidence?

She didn’t care what anyone said about their perceived value of her gift.

She didn’t announce the sacrifice she made.

She didn’t seem to want any attention drawn toward herself, which is in stark contrast to the image of the “teachers of the law” that Jesus shared in Mark 12:38-40.

Jesus said they “like to walk around in flowing robes” and “have the most important seats,” using prayer as an opportunity to show out and show off. Their offerings may have been substantial in amount, but the substance of their hearts lacked compassion and humility (v. 40).

Jesus measures the motives of the givers, not the amount or type of the gifts offered.

Our loving Lord knows the deepest intentions of our hearts, whether we’re worshipping Him with a financial offering or by using the time or talents He’s entrusted to us so we can serve Him.

The person who prays for a hurting friend and the person who pays a hurting friend’s rent are both valuable.

The person who makes people feel loved with a smile and a kind word and the person who passes out meals to the homeless every holiday are both valuable.

The person who helps a neighbor in a practical way and the person who faithfully volunteers overseas or commits to a consistent schedule to impact their community are all valuable.

And yes, the person who shares a hefty sum of money, the person who shares a small sum of money, and the person who cannot contribute financially so they serve in another way to support God’s Kingdom work and help those in need . . . each of these people are valuable.

No gift is too small or too large to give in the name of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus when our focus is fixed on serving God and others.

So, what does God consider priceless worship?

Anything we willingly and cheerfully give to please Him, to show our gratitude for all He’s done and all He is, to express our total devotion to Him, to honor Him, and to shine a light on His sovereign goodness, faithfulness, and love.

In today’s Pause for Prayer video, Heart Lifter Series Episode 1, I share the story that inspired this post and helped free me from debilitating doubt fed by the harsh critics in the world and in my head.

Click here to see how the Lord used my story, “Priceless Worship,” to encourage millions of readers around the world, proving that He can use anything and anyone in ways we never dreamed possible. 

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You can subscribe to my YouTube channel or  give me a cyber hug by “liking” or “sharing” my Facebook Author Page today.

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If you enjoy cute dog photos and videos, check out Callie the Service Dog on Facebook and on Instagram. I share different content on both platforms.

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If you’re a Christian writer, please join me on Write to Worship, a Facebook page that allows me to share biblical encouragement with others while reminding myself the encouraging words God had me sharing with them applied to me, too. I share writing tips, submission opportunities, and conference information on my Write to Worship page, too.

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Thanks for being a part of my blog family!

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Committing to Truly Loving and Following Jesus

As I watch the divisions in the United States and within the Church widen, I cry out to the Lord.

My personal problems seem so small as I weep for the Church, asking God to reveal my wickedness, to purify my heart and mind so I can live in alignment with His life-transforming truth and love.

Still, I’m wrestling with God as I witness hate infesting communities and dividing people.

I watch in disbelief as well-known Christian leaders, blinded by idolatry, add checkmarks on evil’s scorecard by condoning, excusing, minimizing, and contributing to the sins that make folks want to run from Jesus instead of to Him.

I don’t want to drive people away from Jesus.

I don’t want to stray from Jesus, either.

So, I began to ask God a simple question:

How can I truly love and follow Jesus?

My search led me back to the basics.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

Jesus Himself said that loving Him is synonymous to obeying Him (John 14:15). He clearly declares the theme of love with the greatest commandment, too:

“Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

As I studied Scripture, I began to realize that truly loving and following Jesus results in the Spirit-empowered obedience to sacrificially love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Selfless and sacrificial love protects “our neighbors,” all the people God created and loves, more fiercely than we protect our earthly rights, our biased opinions, our political beliefs and affiliations, our traditions, and our need to be right instead of being right with God.

Christ followers cannot love sacrificially or selflessly if we’re content with cowering in the dark corners of our comfort zones, hiding behind apathy, indifference, or approval through silence to avoid conflict or criticism.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus commends the Good Samaritan for having mercy on his fellow man and commands His disciples to “go and do likewise” (v. 37).

Oh, Lord. Forgive me! Change me and make me more like You, merciful Jesus.

How often have I chosen the sin of indifference, refusing to love someone with my words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes?

How often have I chosen the sin of idolatry, placing myself above You and everyone else?

The more I studied the Bible, the more I discovered God’s repeated emphasis on loving our neighbors as a commandment not an option:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9)

When we choose to truly love and follow Jesus, we can begin a wave of healing that ripples through our homes and into our communities, in person and online.

We may not experience physical restoration of a relationship or guarantee an offender’s change of heart when we’re the ones forgiving and choosing to love, but we can rely on God’s just and merciful love to work in and through the most painful circumstances.

Though the road toward change and healing will not be easy or short, our mission as Christ followers is clear.

If we say we love Jesus, we are commanded to love all people as Jesus loves us ̶ selflessly and sacrificially ̶ because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

As we live for Jesus and love like Jesus, we can draw people to the hope we have in Christ and make disciples of all nations by being true examples of disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:16-20).

Love will always prevail because our victorious God Himself is love.

But as I cry out to Jesus today, I’m praying He’ll change my heart and transform my thinking so that I can prevail by living a victorious life in Christ ̶ truly loving and following Jesus, which will be evident in the ways I love others who are different from me, who believe differently than me, and even those who refuse to love me back.

What a glorious day it will be when God uses our loving obedience, our genuine and selfless love for Him and others, to draw others closer to Him, to inspire others to dig deeper into His Word, and to encourage others to delight in His love as they enter into His eternal Kingdom!

Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to love and forgive others. As we watch the atrocities unfolding right before our eyes and grieve over the blatant hatred destroying lives, it is ever apparent that we need You, Lord.

Please reveal our wickedness so we can repent, turn away from our sins, and represent You while living as foreigners on this earth.

Help us place offenders in Your hands, so that we can be freed to make a difference in our world by refusing to be indifferent.

As we rest in the surety of Your constant presence, give us all we need to seek peace, celebrate diversity as we stand in unity, and love selflessly, sacrificially, and generously all the days of our lives, starting today.

 In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Who, besides Jesus, loved you into the Kingdom of God?

The Lord used so many people to love me as He prepared my heart to surrender to Him. However, I would like to thank Ms. Virginia, Winona, Barbara P., Cendy, and Miriam for loving me like Jesus before I’d even seen a “real Bible,” and while I was deliberately unloving and unlovable.

Who is God asking you to love into His Kingdom as you share the Gospel with them?

How are you loving Jesus by loving others in the against injustice?

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As I seek to fall head over heels in love with Jesus more and more each day, I am reading through the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread reading schedule. If you would like to join me, please let me know in the comments section or send me a message.

For more biblical encouragement, please subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Please join me in loving our littlest neighbors by ordering extra copies of Different Like Me to share as gifts today.

I would appreciate your help spreading the word about Different Like Me, too.

One easy way to make a huge impact is by writing a short review on Amazon today. All you have to do is share what you like about the book and if you would recommend the book to other readers.

I look forward to being rooted in God’s Word as we grow closer to God’s people together!

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Give the Gift of Radical Forgiveness for Christmas

(Suggested Reading: Luke 23:32-43)

As Christmas approaches and our world continues seeking some sense of normalcy during this pandemic, some people are not social distancing from family because of the virus. Some are grieving over unresolved family conflicts. Some have given up on broken relationships long before the pandemic. And some are licking their wounds and widening divisions over differing opinions on masks, politics, and tension caused by racism and an idolatrous sense of nationalism.

Instead of singing carols about Jesus’ birth, some are crushing hearts with careless words and graphics shared on social media.

Not many of us can escape the crossfire.

The enemy doesn’t have to work hard to divide God’s people when we do most of the legwork work for him.

As I prayerfully prepared to write this Christmas article multiple times, I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. After a few personal attacks I endured over the last year , I’d allowed resentment and bitterness to take root in my heart.

How could I write about celebrating the birth of Christ if I couldn’t obey the Greatest Commandment ̶ to love God and to love my neighbor as I love myself?

The Bible clearly explains God’s command to love our neighbors includes all people who are created in His image no matter what their beliefs, differences, or sins.

When I truly love my neighbors, I’ll treat them as Jesus would treat them.

It’s easy to love the kind neighbors, the neighbors who agree with me, who encourage me, who understand me, who stick up for me, who don’t rub me the wrong way.

But Jesus calls me to love the neighbors who need the most grace, the neighbors who are as depraved and dependent on God’s mercy as I am.

How can I do this if I allow pride and hurt to fester until gaps of resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness feel too wide and too deep to repair?

I cried out to God, trying to justify the list of people I had tucked in the dark corners of my unforgiving heart. “What do You want me to do, Lord?”

Forgive.

But I’m angry.

Forgive.

But I’m tired of forgiving when there seems to be no remorse, no repentance, no willingness to listen to learn or even empathize.

Forgive.

But I’m still hurt.

Forgive.

But I’m afraid to get hurt again.

Forgive.

As I wrestled with God, He reminded me of the countless times He’d extended undeserved mercy toward me and led me to Luke 23:32-43.

While Jesus hung on the cross, He willingly submitted to the nails that pierced His hands and feet. As an atonement for my sins, He paid the insurmountable debt my wickedness earned.

What does this have to do with Christmas?

Our loving Savior intended on offering us radical forgiveness before He left His heavenly throne, put on flesh, and allowed Himself to be wrapped in swaddling cloth and placed in a manger.

During Christ’s earthly ministry, He had countless reasons to hold grudges, to become bitter, to seek revenge, to refuse to forgive . . . especially when He chose to endure the suffering on the cross.

But as He looked on the ones who cheered for His execution‒those who mocked the King of Kings without remorse or repentance‒Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

The ones Jesus loved, the ones Jesus asked the Father to forgive weren’t remorseful . . . at all.

In Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall states that “[asking] the Father to forgive them showed that not only had [Jesus] forgiven them and released them from their guilt, but also that He asked His Father not to punish them or take revenge on them . . .” (p. 3).

Though I’ve read this book over half a dozen times and have read through the Bible yearly since 2005, I still choke up when I consider the words Jesus cried out while hanging, bruised and bloody, on the cross . . . paying the price for my sins.

Am I truly willing to love with such selflessness?

Are you?

When we think of Jesus in the manger, we cannot forget Jesus on the cross.

 So this year, would you join me in asking God to help us give the gift of radical forgiveness for Christmas?

No more pleas for payback.

No more daydreams of dishing out a cold bowl of revenge.

No more harboring resentment.

When we ask God to help us release our offenders into His loving and merciful hands, we can trust Him to work in and through their lives as He continues working in and through our lives.

The more we pray blessings over our offenders, the more God helps us see them through His eyes of loving grace . . . and the more peace reigns in our hearts.

When we offer radical forgiveness, we’re not condoning, minimizing, or even forgetting an offense. God is righteous and just. He is full of compassion and understands our need to process, heal, and sometimes close the door on a relationship.

But when we place the offense and the offender into God’s trustworthy hands, we no longer have to carry burdens that don’t belong to us.

We can choose victorious freedom through right relationships with God and others instead of insisting on being right, gloating in someone else’s remorsefulness, or demanding apologies before forgiving.

As imperfect humans in desperate need of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, we will need to forgive others and ask for forgiveness all the days of our lives. We’ll need prayer and encouragement every step of the way.

Radical forgiveness requires an ongoing commitment to surrender to the Holy Spirit but begins with the choice to love Jesus and love others like Jesus loves us.

Will you give the gift of radical forgiveness for Christmas this year?

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Lord, thank You for forgiving us and for empowering us to forgive. Please prepare our hearts to receive and submit to Your truth and love. Show us our wickedness and lead us into the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Help us recognize, confess, repent, and turn away from our sins. Please help us reconcile, even if restoration of a relationship isn’t possible, as we embrace the peace and freedom of living in radical forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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I ordered a revised and updated copy of Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, a book God has used to help me understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as well as what He says about forgiveness in the Bible.

I’ll be reading Total Forgiveness as I read through the Bible in a year with the Our Daily Bread Ministries reading schedule, which is posted with each day’s devotion starting on January 1, 2021.

Please let me know if you are going to join me in reading Total Forgiveness and/or if you are going to join me in reading through the Bible in 2021, which only take 15 minutes per day (30-45 minutes if you read slow like me).

I look forward to growing with you!

Merry Christmas!

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To inhale God’s truth, exhale prayers and praises, and rest in God’s presence, please join me for Pause for Prayer: Thriving through the Wait by subscribing to my new YouTube Channel today.

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Exciting Change of Venue for Flourish: Thriving through the Wait

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the First Baptist Church Vacaville Women’s Ministry will no longer be hosting Flourish: Thriving through the Wait on their Facebook LIVE page.

But God . . . Hallelujah . . . God quickly affirmed that nothing would stop me from sharing the message He’s placed on my heart to share with you.

If you registered in the month of October or before for Flourish through the FBCVV Women’s Ministry, the lovely leadership team has already given me your contact information.

You do not need to register again. You will receive the Zoom link via email so you can join me for this spirit-refreshing time of worship, fellowship, biblical encouragement, and prayer.

If you haven’t registered yet, please click HERE and fill out the form.

You will receive the Zoom link and instruction via email. All registrants will automatically be entered for a chance to receive one of the exclusive giveaways I’ll be offering during this FREE LIVE Zoom Event.

That’s right! FREE LIVE Zoom Event!

As I prayed over the change of venue, the Lord nudged me to make this event more personal.

I am looking forward to connecting with you via Zoom on November 14, 2020 from 10 am to 11:30 am (Pacific).

After the message, we’ll connect and celebrate with some fun giveaways.

Here is the original invitation with more details:

Are you feeling tired, frustrated, discouraged, stuck, lonely, or simply longing for a deeper connection with God and other women?

If you answered yes, you are not alone.

Please join me for Flourish: Thriving through the Wait.

We’ll enjoy a spirit-refreshing time of worship, fellowship, biblical encouragement, and prayer as God equips us to thrive through the wait with our hope, joy, peace, and our identities rooted in His unchanging and infallible Word.

If you pre-register and attend the FREE LIVE ZOOM EVENT, you will be eligible for a chance to receive one of two signed copies of Waiting for God, or one of two copies of God Hears Her, an Our Daily Bread bestselling compilation.

The grand prize will include: a signed copy of Waiting for God, a copy of God Hears Her, and a signed copy of my first children’s picture book, Different Like Me, with some fun swag.

Register for Flourish: Thriving through the Wait today!

If you cannot make it to this FREE LIVE Zoom Event on November 14th, I still want to connect with you in the comment sections on my blog and on social media.

I will be recording Flourish to share as the kick-off video for my brand-new YouTube Channel, as I prepare to present the second season of Pause for Prayer.

On November 21, 2020, you’re invited to Pause for Prayer: The Waiting for God Video Series.

 This stand-alone series, designed to complement the 31 chapters in my devotional, Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace, will include Scripture reading, biblical encouragement, and prayers.

 You do not need to purchase a copy of Waiting for God to enjoy this season of Pause for Prayer videos.

Join me on November 14, 2020 for Flourish: Thriving through the Wait and for Pause for Prayer, from November 21, 2020 to December 21, 2020.

I’ll share more information on this blog and through my social media pages.

If you haven’t connected with me on social media, please check out the links in the purple section at the bottom of my website pages.

I’m so excited to see what the Lord has in store for us!

Father God, thanks for assuring us that You have a purpose for every second we spend waiting for You. Please align our hearts with Yours and fill us with wisdom, courage, and confidence rooted in Your Word and Your proven faithfulness.

When the days feel way too long, fuel our perseverance with Your enduring hope. When the road ahead is covered in a fog of frustration, discouragement, loneliness, impatience, selfishness, fear, insecurities, or doubt, clear our vision and sharpen our hearing so we can discern Your directions.

Help us recognize our desperate need for You as we submit to the plan and pace You’ve set for our growth and our good. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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SPECIAL EVENT:  If you want to join me in reading through Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace while we enjoy the Pause for Prayer: Waiting for God Video Series, I’ll be hosting a book discussion and prayer time on Tuesday, December 22, 2020 at 6 pm (Pacific).

I’ll share the registration information on my blog and on social media soon.

Love your neighbors by ordering extra copies to share as gifts on Amazon, at Barnes and Nobel, from Our Daily Bread Publishing, or on the Christian Book website today.

If you’ve read Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace, please prayerfully consider writing a short review on Amazon and any other review platforms you enjoy so we can reach more readers with this empowering message of hope.

Thanks for your loving support and encouragement!

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Why I Wrote Different Like Me and Blog Tour Mega Giveaway

What are you?

That question used to trigger anger, frustration, and sadness, especially when people responded in disbelief because my answer didn’t fit the stereotypes they’d accepted as truth. My insecurities deepened, causing me to hate my own light-but-not-white reflection.

Years later, when I became a mom of two black sons, I didn’t want them to suffer similar insecurities. I didn’t want them to think their worth as people could be determined by the opinions, expectations, or biases of others.

I wanted my sons to love God, to love the way God created them, and to love all the people God created.

But my desires and best-intentions couldn’t protect them the ignorance and hate so prevalent in our fallen world.

One day, during a trip to an ice cream shop, an adult male glared at my five-year-old son and said, “What are you?”

The sting of his words ripped the scar off the wound on my heart that I thought had healed.

Asking God to help me forgive, I sought ways to help my sons rejoice in their uniqueness and God’s creativity in designing all of His people. While studying my Bible, I began learning how to embrace my identity in Christ.

The more I learned about God’s love for me, the more I began to accept I worth loving and the more I began to love others.

I wrote Different Like Me in 2001, shortly after receiving Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Originally, I had planned to use the poem to teach my sons how to celebrate our differences and our sameness as God’s beautifully diverse and purposefully connected people. But the Lord kept nudging me to share the story with others.

God didn’t roll out His plans at the pace I’d expected.

In 2016, my agent and an editor read Different Like Me, loved it, but couldn’t move forward with publication.

The following year, I signed a contract for my first full-length devotional, Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace.

I set Different Like Me aside as I worked on the other projects the Lord had entrusted to me.

In 2018, shortly after submitting Waiting for God to my editor at Our Daily Bread Publishing, my agent and the editor who had loved Different Like Me in 2016 requested a complete proposal for the manuscript.

I scrambled to prepare my first children’s picture book proposal with the help of my friend and prolific children’s book author, Crystal Bowman. I submitted the proposal to several editors before prayerfully deciding to accept a contract from Our Daily Bread Publishing.

Then, I began praying for an illustrator who would avoid stereotypes and include children with special needs as heroes, not sideline characters.

Bonnie Lui (pronounced Louie) did a fabulous job. She weaved her own beautiful story into the gorgeous illustrations that breathe life into the whimsical rhyming text I’d written almost two decades earlier.

Bonnie even created a character inspired by my service dog, Callie, a Border Collie/Hound mix we rescued in 2018 from a kill-shelter and trained through Tails for Life after God moved us from California to Wisconsin.

Earlier this year, as I prepared for the August 2020 release of Different Like Me, tragedy divided our world.

I truly believe God delayed my path to publication so that He could prepare hearts to receive the message of love, unity, peace, and hope that He has brought to life through each page of Different Like Me.

This week, Celebrate Lit is going to be hosting an exciting blog tour with a mega giveaway!

The Different Like Me Celebrate Lit Blog Tour Mega Giveaway includes: a signed copy of Different Like Me with a bookmark and sticker, an exclusive coloring page signed by the illustrator, Bonnie Lui, a Different Like Me full-color 8 ½ x 11 poster, one box of Crayola’s Colors of the Word crayons (24-pack), a 4-pack of crayons, a Different Like Me fish shaped key chain, a fish-out-of-water finger puppet and lollipop, Swedish Fish, a colorful fish book bag, a custom made Different Like Me cup, and a $25.00 Amazon gift card to encourage readers to build up their collection children’s picture books that celebrate diversity.

Be sure to comment on the blog stops (posted below) for nine extra entries into the giveaway!

Inklings and notions, September 14

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, September 15

Texas Book-aholic, September 16

Library Lady’s Kid Lit, September 17

Splashes of Joy, September 18

deb’s Book Review, September 18

For Him and My Family, September 19

A Reader’s Brain, September 20

Simple Harvest Reads, September 21 (Guest Review from Joni Truex)

Mary Hake, September 21

Book Love, September 22 (Guest Review from Donna Cline)

Ashley’s Bookshelf, September 23

Because I said so — and other adventures in Parenting, September 24

Artistic Nobody, September 25

Book Bites, Bee Stings, & Butterfly Kisses, September 25

Locks, Hooks and Books, September 26

Sara Jane Jacobs, September 27

 

I’m looking forward to interacting with you in the comment sections of each blog post!

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