Happily Ever After

Recently, Kylie and I had a chance to watch a movie together, just the two of us. We don’t get these opportunities very often. Typically at least one of the guys are with us and of course, when they are, we aren’t often able to watch a full-out girly girl movie, at least without a battle. So on this rarest of days, we seized the moment and picked the movie “Enchanted”.

If you aren’t familiar with Enchanted, it’s a super cute movie about a princess from an animated fairy tale land, where there are no troubles or worries; that is, until her soon to be mother in law fears losing the throne after her son marries. To protect it, she banishes the princess to real live New York City, where she has to quickly find support in simply surviving. She stumbles across a man (surprise 🙂 ) who feels compassion for her and takes her in. Over time, they fall  in love and she realizes he is her one true love, and they marry and live – ‘Happily Ever After.’ Her prince charming from fairy tale land, who had followed her to New York City, also met the girl of his dreams, and she followed him back to animated world where they also marry and live ‘Happily Ever After’. So for all, it was a happy ending!

As it wrapped, I was reminded how much I still love happily ever after endings. I think it’s because, I’m a girly – girl and a hopeless romantic. As I pondered it, I couldn’t help but feel joy in thinking my story would end with a happily ever after ending, as would anyone else’s in Christ. We know we will go to Heaven one day and live for all eternity with our one true love!

As comforting as that is to me, and as much as I treasure that thought. I still can lose sight of it in the day-to-day realities of life. For example, David and I have been through a lot this past year. As I talked with my mother in law about it all recently, who is by the way, much nicer than the one in Enchanted, I told her how I feel sometimes we are living an amazing God story, and I just want to be able to turn the page and read what happens next. I know the end is good, but I just wish I could glance ahead a page, or even a chapter or two and see what God has in store in the time between now and then.

It’s that not knowing, that makes faith so important. We have to trust God with the unseen future and difficult trials. While we can’t know each season before it unfolds, and even what life holds for us on any given day; we do know the one who holds every day and every season of our life, and with Him we know that no matter what comes our way He promises to work all things out for good for those who love Him.. (Romans 8:28).

So as we wait for our happily ever after ending to come, we live this amazing God adventure with faith, surrendered hearts and hope, knowing that ultimately God has the final say in all things. He is faithful to complete everything He begins, to bring beauty for ashes, to never give up on us and to love us with out end. For me, knowing how faithful God is makes each day a joyous God adventure.

I hope the same is true for you. As you look ahead to new chapters, new seasons, and even to what this day holds, I hope you will trust God with each moment and allow Him to lead you step by step. When unexpected twists and turns pop up, when a chapter ends, when the plot changes, keep your eyes on Jesus and remember God will work all things out for your good! Now, go!

Copyright © 2012 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.

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Unforced Rhythms

Have you ever picked up something only to find that it is too hard to carry? I do every time I think I am strong enough to carry one of my kids up to bed. All of them, my youngest included, are too old, too big, and too tall for me to be able to handle in any graceful way. In the recent times I have had to carry them, I may have gotten them upstairs & into bed, but I was beat… worn out, breathing heavy and weary by the time I was done. I accomplished the task, but at a cost to me. Whereas David seems able to just whisk them up and walk smoothly up the stairs, place them in their beds, and come down effortlessly. You can probably look at me and tell I was not designed to carry great weight over long distances. I am not strong enough!

 Some of us can relate to seasons where we have lived our lives that way – trying to carry loads we weren’t made to carry. Maybe we buckled under the weight of trying to measure up; to be successful in the eyes of the world. Or perhaps we bent under the strain of our past hurts and injustices, because they became so much a part of our identity, we didn’t know who we would be with out them. Or maybe we toed the line; in an effort to be a “Super Christian”.

 Jesus knew we would struggle in these areas, and He wants more for our lives. He wants us to learn from his example of what a successful life living for God looks like. In Matthew 11:28 (MSG), He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Come… Walk with me… Work with me… Watch how I do it…  These are all action oriented statements. Christ wants us to lead active, productive lives, but it’s action from a place of resting in Him, fueled by His grace to live a life that brings glory to God. When we surrender our lives to God in this way, He is able to accomplish more of eternal value in us and through us than we could ever do on our own; our lives are no longer about keeping score or a test of how much we can carry or accomplish in our strength, but instead our lives become a testimony of how much he can accomplish through us as we rest in Him.

 My prayer for you today is that you will lay down anything you are carrying that is ill-fitting, anything that is causing you to stay trapped in the past, or is keeping you from being able to surrender to the life God wants you to live. And in exchange for what you lay at the feet of Jesus, I pray you will embrace the life, blessings and all things he has in store for you… serving, loving, and leaving a Godly legacy. There is no greater adventure, no greater sense of fulfillment than that which comes by living a surrendered, God-fueled life!

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

13 Roses

Like many girls, I grew up enamored by the kind of love seen in fairy tales, the happily ever after endings; good always winning out over evil. But in my own life, as the childhood years passed, I grew less and less sure that ‘happily ever after’ endings really existed, it seemed each time love came my way –the enemy was hell bent on stealing that love, or at least trying to rob me of the joy of it.

 I remember when I was in the 8th grade; I was the new girl in school. I was nervous about whether or not I would fit in and make friends. As it turns out, my newness made me very visible; I made friends quickly and even had caught the eyes of some the good-looking boys. When Valentine’s Day rolled around, I was surprised to receive 13 Roses from an assortment of admirers, more than any of the other 8th grade girls. The roses had been orderable through the school the week prior to Valentine’s Day, and I had no idea I’d receive any, much less so many! I was on cloud 9. By the end of the day though, I was in a totally different place…a few girls who didn’t appreciate me getting so much attention, spread a rumor that I had bought all of the roses for myself. I was crushed. The joy of the moment was gone, and I think I cried off and on for three days.

 It’s a cute story now of something that happened many years ago, but the pattern of it has repeated itself in different ways through out my days, and until I realized a valuable truth, each painful experience seemed to close my heart a little more to love; driving me to unhealthy ways to try and fill the void I felt.

 The roller coaster reactions to the ups and downs of love from imperfect people, and the unhealthy things I did to try to fill the voids created by a closed off heart began to change when I realized at a heart level something critically important – that truth I mentioned earlier – I realized that I am loved perfectly, unconditionally, unfailingly by the creator of the Universe, and His love is more than enough! It’s the only source of love that can satisfy the deep longings of our hearts and promise a ‘happily ever after’ ending. I also found total freedom in the fact that nothing could separate me from that love; no one could rob me of it – just as it says in Romans 8: 38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 Whatever you are facing today, I just want to remind you that God loves you. His love is enough for you. No one can take it away. He wants the best for your life. For those who come to him through Jesus, he promises to work all things out for good. He wants to mend and repair the hurts in your heart. He wants to meet you in your place of need and lead you from there to paths of victory.

Held

I remember when each of my kids were learning to walk. I would prop them on their feet, wrap their tiny fingers around mine, hold tightly and then encourage them to take steps. At first they could only walk if they held my hands, but it seemed like in no time at all, they had gained the strength and courage to let go and toddle across the room on their own.

In each of their first years, there were many times I felt like I was holding my breath as they began to let go of my hands and fearlessly explore new territories. With each stumble and fall, my heart seemed to skip a beat as I would run over, to wipe away tears and help them to get back on their feet again! And those moments were foreshadowing for what was to come. In the years that have followed, I have had plenty of breath holding, letting go moments… when we took the training wheels off their bikes, on each of their first days of kindergarten or their first time away from home over night. When my oldest entered middle school and later high school, I felt those butterfly feelings again, and I could tell this aspect of parenting would not be an easy one – training them to step out along the path God has for them without me by their side, to hold their hands along the way, and pick them up when they fall.

The reality is, I can not live out my parenting days holding my breath as my kids grow and mature, and as a human I am limited in my ability to extend my reach wherever life leads each of them. I simply can not hold their hand every step of the way, but what David and I can do, is train them up in the way they should go and teach them to grab hold of the hand that will uphold them, steady them and never let them go – and that’s the loving, gracious hand of God.

Psalm 37:23-24 (NLT) paints a beautiful picture of what walking hand in hand with our Heavenly Father looks like. It says, “The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.”

 Isn’t it wonderful to know that no matter how old we are, we have the hand of God available to us at all times? There is no more fruitful, joy-filled way to live than in a life of surrender to God, placing all we are into his grasp, and allowing him to lead us each step of the way. When we stumble, He won’t let go – he picks us back up, dusts us off, kisses our aches and pains – and lead us down the path that leads to life.

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

But God

Can you imagine sailing through life thinking you were living right, maybe even passionately pursuing God the best way you know how… only to find you were off track? In the bible, we can read about a man named Saul who lived the early part of his life that way. We first see him in Acts 7, where he was observing Stephen’s stoning. Any questions we might have had about Saul’s reaction to Stephen’s stoning are laid to rest in Acts 8:1 where we read, “And Saul was there, giving approval to His death.” You see, Saul was a Pharisee, and he was passionate about his Jewish faith.

After Stephen’s death, a great persecution broke out against the church, and Saul was at the heart of it, as he went house to house dragging men and women out and putting them in prison. The Christians scattered, preaching everywhere they went, and the church grew. But Saul’s plans to stop them grew as well. He got permission to travel to Damascus to capture Christians that had fled there to bring them back to Jerusalem. He was willing to go the distance and do whatever it took to stop the church from spreading! Permission granted, he was on his way until something amazing happened – Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, literally bringing him face to face with the truth of the gospel. Paul surrendered to Jesus, and His life was never the same.

This is a powerful story of God’s grace in action! Saul became Paul, and went on to become one of the greatest leaders, preachers and writers of the New Testament. These words found in Ephesians 2:4,5 (one of the books Paul wrote) show us how much his life was transformed, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

Paul knew he was undeserving that day he put His faith in Jesus, after He met him on the Damascus road. Only love could explain the way God stepped in and turned his life around. You could say he had a ‘but God’ moment… ‘But’ because of His great love for him, ‘God’ stepped in and made him alive in Christ, and God does the same thing today for us as well. He reaches out to us where we are, he sees where we can be, and by His grace he gets us there.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

It is Finished

This past Friday my family and I had the opportunity to walk through Stations of the Cross, an annual Easter event our church puts on, which provides attendees an opportunity to walk through a fifteen station depiction of Jesus’ last hours on earth, to his death and resurrection. Being that this was the third year for our family to participate, I was focused on not taking it for granted. I wanted to take the time to reflect and pray; allowing God to minister to me where I am today and speak to my heart in new and fresh ways. So, I made a point to walk slowly through each station and really press in during the reflection time.

The first few stations were really, only minimally impactful for me. That all changed about midway through, when I came to the station with the standing cross with splatters of red representing Jesus’ blood, and a small cloth draped over it, representing the cloth Jesus wore at the time of his death. As I stood at the base of the cross, looking up at it; I began to picture Jesus on it, looking down at me, and I couldn’t help but wonder – If I could have been there that day, standing at his feet and looking into his eyes; what would I have seen in them? Would I have seen agony and anguish? Would I have seen a fiery, ‘Go get ‘em, Tiger’ look, something along the lines of- I’m dying for you now go and live for me?

As I pondered what his expression might have been, I saw none of those things in my mind’s eye. Instead, I saw misty eyes tenderly looking down at me full of sincere, piercing compassion – for all the heartache I have had to suffer, all the pain, for every hurt, for the affects of sin in my life – either by others or of my own choices. I began to cry. I couldn’t help but wonder how could Jesus, hanging in pain, be thinking of me; feeling compassion for my hurts and sorrow, for my pain and sin? But he did. And not only did he die thinking of me – he died thinking of you as well. Isaiah 53:4,5 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities (that’s mine and yours) and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds, we are healed.” He was thinking of you, he was thinking of me – he loves each of us that much.

And as Jesus was dying, He said the words, “It is finished.” These words ushered in at the end of His life, marked the end of us as we were, and the beginning of us as we were meant to be (L.Giglio). As Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Our sin earns us death and separation from God; those are the wages we deserve. But Jesus willingly paid the price for our sin, and in so doing He gives us the opposite of what we deserve. For all who put their faith in Him, he gives the gift of forgiveness and right standing with him.

As we celebrate His resurrection, we celebrate not only our appreciation for Jesus’ love and grace represented on the cross; we also celebrate that when he rose again he conquered death, hell, and the grave. We celebrate that God does what he says he will do; He who promises is faithful. We celebrate that no matter how bleak things seem, we are never with out hope. We celebrate the amazing power of our God, power we have access to daily in our lives through Christ. And we celebrate the relationship we get to have with Him both now in this life, and in the life to come… there is nothing like it. And it all comes down to grace – God granting us what we can not earn and do not deserve – an amazing gift available to us all. Thank you, Jesus!

 Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved

What a Gift!!

Two weeks ago we had our Shoreline Women Collide Retreat. Friday night was spectacular. After it was over, I was wired and tired, and I stayed up a little too late after the evening ended. I had to get back to the Shoreline South building early Saturday morning, and so before I drifted off for a quick few hours of sleep, I set my alarm to be sure I’d get up on time. Saturday morning rolled around, and I did something I never do. I turned my alarm off in my sleep. I don’t even remember it going off. All I remember is waking up in a panic, realizing it was almost time for me to leave the house, and I wasn’t even out of bed yet!! Now, I am a girly girl, so I knew I was in trouble. So I quickly hopped up and got to it, only to get hit a few minutes later with texts from others already on their way saying IH 35 was at a complete standstill. The dark side of me was happy that everyone would be late also. But the more level headed side knew I just had to get there in time to be available to help set things up for Saturday to be a great day. David and I checked the routes, and I headed toward the toll road instead of IH35, which is the opposite direction I normally drive in the mornings. The toll road is east of my house, and as you know, the sun rises in the east. As I eased up to the stop sign leaving my neighborhood, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. I was captivated by the beauty of it, so many colors and textures, and I knew – this was for me – a special God touch of love as I started the day. It was like God was saying, “I am with you, and everything is going to be okay.” And, it was – I made it in plenty of time for things to run smoothly.  I didn’t do anything special that morning to earn such a display.  It was a God gift, and it made my day.

This past week, I was again reminded of God’s love and grace in a special way. I had gotten upset with David and lost my temper. I even threw my nail file at him during the heat of the moment. The next day, I felt so guilty. I asked for David’s and God’s forgiveness and felt better, but through out the day David was being so sweet, and the guilt tried to creep back in. For a minute, I went there, but then I heard a little Holy Spirit whisper, “What are you doing? You’re forgiven, all of your sins – past, present and future. Jesus bore them on the cross.” And I knew, it was for me. It was as if God was saying again, “I am here I am with you and everything is going to be alright.” Another God gift, unearned, unmerited – my burden lifted.

In each of those two situations, God’s gift of grace shined through. He didn’t pull away when I was rushing before Collide and mumbling under my breath, or when I was feeling guilty about fighting with David. He simply met me where I was in the moment; and He loved me there. Grace came to my rescue. What a gift! It reminds me of Ephesians 2:8-9, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.’

Maybe you are feeling panicked about something today, or feeling like you have messed up,  or perhaps you are feeling like you need a special God touch today; a reminder of His love and grace. My prayer for you is that you will have eyes to see his love on display in the world and people around you and ears to hear his whispers as he calls your name and speaks words of love and grace to your heart. He is for you, He is with you, and He loves you beyond measure; rest in the beauty of His love and grace today.

Copyright © 2011 by Amy O’Donnell. All Rights Reserved.