Daily Devotional: Do not doubt your talents!

Today’s passage is an entire chapter; please refer to Ezekiel 4 NIV.

            In the Old Testament, the origin stories of Major and Minor Prophets are outlined in each prophetic book. Many of the Old Testament prophets either come from humble beginnings and menial labor jobs or aristocratic, educated positions. In Ezekiel’s case, he is a rather eccentric artist who is called to be a prophet to warn the Israelites of the consequences of their disobedience.

            Ezekiel’s performance art and demonstration, dictated to him by the Lord and used to personify the punishments planned for the people of Israel, is an incredible example of how God will magnify our individual talents and predispositions to spread his Word—we just have to be obedient. In a world focused on earning money, corporate work, and public facing ministries, it can be difficult to feel valuable as a Christian artist. However, the exciting truth is that God has a job for each of us to do in this life that only we can do, no matter what talents we have or don’t have. It is important that we move as bravely and passionately as Ezekiel—there’s no doubt that the general public assumed he was crazy—he prophesized in spite of how it may be received and he prophesized the only way that came naturally to him, using his creative talents to get his point across. When it comes to serving the Lord, we all can benefit from courageously applying our strengths to the task at hand.

Meditation: God already qualifies us for the job. Consider ways in which you have procrastinated or avoided the calling on your life. Pray for the strength to stop making excuses, and for the faith to follow through on His plans for you. Know that you can and will do incredible things! Trust in Him and be a blessing to the generations to come.

Daily Devotional: Without Self-Awareness, Worship is Just Performance

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, stead on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; 

The whole earth is full of his glory.” 

At the sounds of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” 

Isaiah 6: 1- 5 NIV 

Isaiah is called to be a prophet, and when he is confronted with the spirit of God, he sees himself.  Immediately he feels convicted to improve himself, change his surroundings, and seek out better associates and friends.  

The insight in Isaiah’s experience is that true worship and relationship with God is not possible without self-awareness and accountability. The timing of when he is led to the Lord also shows that sometimes the Lord must remove something or someone from our life in order to make room for His plan. While it is much easier to apply the word of God to the flaws of those around us instead of self-reflecting on the things we need to change in order to align with God’s will for our lives, Isaiah shows us that it must be done. It is crucial that we apply what we learn to ourselves with humility and confession in prayer so that we can continue to grow spiritually and mature with the Holy Spirit. Without self-awareness, worship and study are diluted into shallow performances and self-righteousness, which not only starves us spiritually and pushes a wedge between us and God, but also leads to condemnation and spiritual hurt for every Christian.

Meditation: Consider ways that you can improve your relationship with yourself. Are you compassionate with yourself? Do you hold yourself accountable? Meditate on ways that can you worship Him with more accountability and honesty. Confess your flaws and weaknesses to God, acknowledge areas that need more work, and pray for the strength and Spirit to assist you in your spiritual maturity and growth.

don’t cling

Sometimes when God answers your prayers, it’s just an opportunity to show you that what you asked for isn’t what you actually need. I believe He sends certain things my way so that I can use my discernment to prove to myself that I’ve outgrown the cycle, and to learn how to not fall back into my old ways.

I recently broke up with a person who I thought was the answer to my prayers for a real, healthy relationship. Since I met him after praying to God that I would not “fumble a real one” if He sent him my way, the timing seemed perfect. He is kind, fun to be around, financially stable, intelligent, and all of the other things I so desperately wanted in a man. The only thing is, in order to be with him, I would have had to compromise on my devotion to seeking healthy interdependence. Since I didn’t experience any heartbreak or poor treatment, I was pretty confused when things came, amicably, to an end. As always, I thought of any mistakes I might have made and how I could do better in the future. Finally, I realized that it was never about what either party was doing wrong or how we were hurting each other or missing red flags, it was just simply a test of how far would I be willing to go to keep my promise to God and myself. Like, hey, here’s your “perfect” guy but in order to be with him you’ll have to backslide into making a project out of his issues, being his therapist, making excuses for his quirks because you “understand him so well”, and becoming too engrossed in merging lives with him. Obviously, I refused.

I also became more aware of my own codependent habits, and worked to nip those in the bud so that I can be a more balanced and healthy partner when the right person does come along. I started going to therapy, working to be more open about my past and emotions, and more attuned to meeting the needs (within reason) of my partner. I’ve never been in a serious relationship before this one, so learning to honor the love languages of another person with more genuine interest and compromise was a new experience for me. I’m used to just doing things by myself, on my own time, and how I want them to be done. I’m used to men only dating me for sex or to eventually devalue and discard me when they were tired of the rush of a new “love” interest or realized that they didn’t actually like me for me but rather, what I could do for them. Learning to go deeper into the emotional and mental areas of what makes a real relationship has been an invaluable lesson. Starting therapy has been super helpful as well! I’m finally able to process trauma I didn’t even realize was still affecting me, with guidance to help me achieve real self-actualization and peace. I’m working on, and more aware of how my survival instincts and trauma-ignited insecurities don’t have to be a part of my new reality of security, independence and contentment. I’m finally learning how to be Denise. The Denise that God intended, before the world, family, school, and trauma started smothering my real identity, by telling me I was wrong and by forcing me into the role of taking care of others before myself, when it should never have been an issue for me to face as a child anyway. In the past, whenever I’ve become aware of things like this, I tried to rebuke them entirely from my identity, which is counterproductive. You can’t hate parts of yourself and expect to ever feel content or whole. Therapy has helped me see the strength in what I’ve experienced and how I’ve survived so that I can keep using it to my advantage, while actually becoming who I’m supposed to be. 

What’s even better is that, since I’m not the same angry, traumatized person, my ex and I are on great terms. The love that I feel for him and vice versa has not wavered or dissipated. The love I feel for him is not the controlling, idealistic nonsense that I equated with love when I was younger and just desperate for someone to fill my voids or validate me.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

 When we can learn from God without clinging to our expectations, or what we want versus what we need and what He wants for us, lessons can be learned from a place of self-love instead of bitterness! Good things can be experienced without eventually souring in our hearts, as hard-headed behaviors often lead us to becoming so shredded and hurt by the thing we should have let go of that we must pick ourselves up from rock bottom. Walking in faith, without clinging, also gives God plenty of room to do His thing in your life! His plans are always for our highest good and in our best interest, even if they don’t feel that way in the moment or seem to go against what we want. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather let go of the small-thinking things that I want or think I need, in exchange for the amazing blessings God has in store for me!

Today, think about the things in your life that you cling to or want more than anything. Whether it’s a job, relationship, opportunity, etc. Ask yourself if you’re focusing so deeply on it out of desperation or a personal obsession, or if it’s actually part of God’s plan for you. Not sure how you can tell the difference? If what you’re into is taking everything out of you just to maintain or achieve it, it’s probably a you idea, and not a God idea. If it doesn’t bring you peace, feels forced, or something feels a little off, you should probably back off and double check that you’re headed in the right direction! I know it’s really hard to just let go and let God when you really love someone or you really have a goal in mind, but you owe it to yourself to receive the full amount of His inheritance for you, and to reduce the amount of suffering you have to go through in order to receive it. It’s cliche, but literally. Just let go and let God.

go deeper

You don’t need validation. You don’t need rules. You don’t need to feel better than everyone else. Just do whatever it is you’re trying to do in life. This is a message for all of the higher thinkers. Don’t be turned into a robot, or an egomaniac, or a narcissist for the sake of success. Just be yourself, do what makes you happy, and go with God. There’s peace in that. If you’re constantly breaking your back to do these things for validation, the ego boost, or to feel like you’ve completed each step of the way or rule, then you’ll never be happy and you’ll never actually be successful. Success is defined differently by everyone; everyone has a different image of what success is, based on how they were raised, what they want, who they want to be, etc. But the truth is, success isn’t fame, wealth, spiritual purity, or any of that. Success is contentment. Success is making a positive difference in the lives of others. Success is love. Love for yourself, and for others. Real love though. Not loving yourself only because of what you have achieved, or what you own or because of how others admire you. That’s not true self-love, it’s just an attempt at placating yourself against insecurities, past trauma, etc.. Love yourself for who you are, and what you’re going to do and how you go about doing those things. Love yourself because you’re already qualified to do the things you want to do, so you don’t need to be validated by others or get a fancy degree or use other people in order to do it.

 If you can love yourself that way, unconditionally and completely, then you can begin to love other people that way as well. It won’t be about what they can do for you, or how they can fill your trauma-induced voids, or how they contribute to your mission. It won’t be about exploiting their marketable skills and talents, or their penchant for listening to your problems and giving you advice. You won’t use them up or burden them, or become a stumbling block for their journey. You won’t feel outraged that you’ve done all these things for them and they haven’t returned the favor. You won’t feel like no one else is on your level or that nobody understands and therefore, you’re all alone. You’ll just appreciate them for who they are, even when they make mistakes or hurt you in error or fall behind on their own journey. Because you’ve had so much practice loving yourself in a gentle, but firm way, you’ll be able to spread it around without working at it. 

Once I learned about the differences between unconditional love and conditional love, and success vs. self-actualization, I set out to do everything I could to embody these more spiritual and holistic approaches to life. But I learned, recently, that it doesn’t really work that way. Sure, you can make sure you are positive in every interaction you have with others, and create healthy boundaries to prevent the cycles of abuse from happening again, and support others and try to push them towards a greater life and self-perception, but it will always feel like work and will always result in a loss or anguish. In fewer words, doing all of these things with your mouth and body but not actually doing it for yourself (in your soul) will always prove to be futile attempt at reaching success and contentment. Even if you do achieve “success” as you’ve defined it, you’ll never feel content and become the person you were born to be, if you don’t start with yourself. Also, learn to be gentle with yourself, but keep it real. Be your own validator and greatest supporter. Be your own critic and mentor. That gentleness helps in the beginning, and when times get hard, but it eventually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of mediocrity and always allowing other people to cloud your judgement and direction. 

Stop focusing on doctrine, your intended life’s mission, or being seen. If you want to succeed, focus with tunnel vision like strength on the things that are within your control: how you see yourself, how you treat yourself, and how you work on yourself. If you’ve been looking everywhere else for that feeling of wholeness, I’m here to tell you that the answer is inside. It’s not in the Bible, it’s not in Church, it’s not in your relationship, it’s not on Twitter, and it’s not at work. It’s inside. Stop asking God the same questions over and over about your future and what you need to do and how you can be successful. You already know what you need to do. Stop expecting your partner to guide you to who you are or team up with you to achieve greatness. Team up with yourself. Stop expecting your friends to get as excited about your plans as you are or to fight for your dream with the same intensity. Be excited for yourself. Fight for yourself. Stop expecting strangers on the internet to tout your great talents and support you. Be proud of your talent for yourself. Support your mission, for yourself.  Be quiet and listen to your intuition. If you’re looking for a way to your destination, know that every step, direction, and assignment is right there on the inside of you. Go deeper.

Daily Devotional: Walk by Faith

For we live by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV

I know it’s been a while since my last devotional, but it’s been a rough time lately, y’all!

 Yesterday was my late mother’s birthday, which usually unearths a very emotional, introspective mood, but this one was particularly difficult. I’m at a crossroads between staying where I am, or walking with God through the fire to who He’s called me to be. I feel trapped. I feel like a failure. In my mind, it’s I answered His call, but now I’m not good enough. Or, He showed me where to go before, and now it’s radio silent and dark, so now what? I’d heard it would get hard in various sermons all year, and thought nah, I’m good! My leap of faith was hard, but a breeze! I realize now, that was just God throwing me a baby leap. He’d already showed me where to jump, when to jump, and how to jump. This right here? I don’t have a blueprint. I’m fumbling blindly through the dark, waiting for Him to turn the light on. For a second, I was feeling deserted. I felt tricked by God, or maybe that I’d only made up every revelation I’d received, and that my big leap was just a mistake. But it’s not that way at all. There has been too much confirmation and blessings where I am for me to ever think this wasn’t the right move. 

The real truth is, there comes a time in your spiritual journey that the Lord isn’t going to hold your hand for every leap. I know now that I really have to develop an unshakeable faith, let go of my selfish ambition, and truly sit still and continue working/living where God has called me so that His will can be done in my life. It’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. I feel depressed. I’ve been moodier than I’ve ever felt in my life. My prayers now are just begging for Him to show me what I need to do next so I get some relief.  

But the message I receive every time, and that I want to share with you, is to have faith and stay present. Every time I cry to Him, the Lord just keeps telling me not to worry about money, about my next job, my next achievement in writing, where my relationship is going, where I’ll live next, who I’ll become. It’s all in His hands, and I have to believe that without a doubt. I know It would be a fatal error if I pushed my will right now, because everything that I want pales in comparison to what He has waiting for me. 

I know this is a more self-centered, and maybe not the most sunny devotional but I just want to keep it real with all of you. The road that we embark on once we answer the Lord’s call is not sunshine and daisies all the time. Of course, there are small victories along the way that remind you of the true glory of God and the fact that you are an incredible gift to the world, but I see now that some of this walk is done in the dark. I completely underestimated it. I can’t even say this is an attack from the enemy to knock me off course–this is truly my own insecurities, uncertainties and weak faith bubbling up to the surface to finally be destroyed. 

Today, if you’ve been feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, I just want to remind you that we must walk by faith. When it comes to God’s promises, we have to focus on what we hear from Him, and positively reaffirming our strengths, His unfaltering love, and our worth to ourselves. If I focused only on what I can see, I would never be able to follow Him completely. I’m up to my ears in student loans, I make only about a third of what I owe a year, I want to quit my job and be a full-time writer and I’m nowhere near that level of security, I have no family, I don’t want to live in St. Louis, I have no savings, etc, etc. If I only focus on what I can see, which is the glass ceiling between just getting by and true wealth and happiness, I lose hope. If I keep my focus on the amazing marriage, stability, wealth and legacy that God has promised me, I can keep going. 

Please keep going. Where you are right now is not the best God has for you, even if it feels that it’s all you’ll ever have. You have to destroy the flesh even further; break the habit of trying to do things in your own strength. You have to truly submit to His will so that you can succeed and give Him the Glory. I promise you He will carry you out of the darkness, no matter what your plight is, what mistakes you’ve made in the past, how scared you are or how depressed you feel. His will, will be done as long as you keep going. Just keep going. I know you can do it.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

Daily Devotion: Shake it Off/Pruning

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15:2 NIV

What is pruning? The Merriam-Webster dictionary states that pruning means cutting off or cutting back parts of a plant for better shape or more fruitful growth. We are all God’s creation, and He tends to us with the same meticulous care of a passionate gardener. By snipping away the dead pieces in our lives and our worst habits, He shows us how to grow into the shape that He originally formed us in.

Think of it this way; a tree that is still sharing its nutrients and resources with its dead branches cannot grow to its greatest height or health since the growth has to be parsed into parts of itself that cannot even grow.  The same goes for us, if we spend all of our time pouring into our dead branches (toxic relationships, the wrong career, self-sabotaging habits, etc.) we starve the healthy limbs, eventually becoming completely barren. It hurts to be pruned–to have parts of yourself and your world cutaway, but rejoice in knowing that this moment of pain only makes way for new healthy, fruit-bearing branches.

For this week’s meditations, I’ll be featuring poems from my ebook, genesis!

when God
is ready to prune you
there’s no stopping it

you gotta hand Him those clippings
don’t hold on

that someone or something
will rot

no matter what you do