Rising from the Ashes| By Ashley Siliezar-Kinchen

“For our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29

It was about 8 years ago that I woke up to a screaming sound at 12:28 in the morning. It was my brother who was yelling that the house was on fire. It took me a while to understand what was going on because I was half asleep. I immediately took action and called 911 and woke up my family to evacuate. Believe it or not, despite how hard the fire was on our family, it was an answer to a prayer.

Have you ever prayed for something small and God transforms it into something much bigger? I am sure we have all experienced God in our own special way.

I have encountered God’s greatness in such a personal, yet supernatural way that it hardly seems real at moments.

In the years leading up to 2011, I lived in what seemed to be a storm of my own making. A troubled past coupled with resentment and bad decisions made me a cold person.

However, my father continued to bring my brother and I to church every Sunday. Life for me started to change because of this. But there were still times that I felt alone, like God could not hear me.

I would think, “Am I doing this right?” or “Can he hear me?”

I would think that that maybe He was upset with me because it seemed like some people around me had God’s direct hotline. However, no matter what guilt I felt, I knew that He always loved me and that guilt was the enemy trying to put distance between me and God.

As it turns out, God never abandons his children, and He had always heard my prayers. I did not know it then, but God was planning something that would change my entire life.

“Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” John 13:7

When my house caught on fire, I remember everything being such a blur. However, in the midst of it all, I remembered to grab one thing – my bible. At that moment, nothing else mattered, other than my family being alive.

When we stepped outside, I watched my mother drop to the ground and scream at the top of her lungs. It was painful to watch my mother drop to her knees as she saw everything crumbling in front of her. It was painful to see everything that I have ever known, burning in front of my eyes.

Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:” Matthew 7:7

My thoughts were racing all over the place, but the only thing I can remember thinking was, “How can this happen?”

But then it hit me. I had to prayed to God to light a fire in my heart for him. Fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. I prayed for God to bring me closer to him. My heart was yearning for God’s love. That is exactly what God did.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

The day we lost our house we lost many things. We lost almost all of our belongings and even some of the memories that we made as a family in that house. But as the phoenix rises from the ashes so did we. Although it was painful to see our belongings burned, God always protects and provides for his children. God provided us with amazing people that helped us get back on our feet. He provided us with an even more beautiful home, and most importantly, He kept us safe.

He did not burn down the house to punish but to free me and bring me closer to him. The fire that burned my house down lit a fire inside of me. I yearned for God even more than I did before. Nothing can ever put out that fire.

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Love Without Boundaries| By Gabby Jones

Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your 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.’ Matthew 22:37‭-‬39

Many of my friends tell me, “I love the way you love!”

Honestly, if they were to tell me that years ago, I would not know what they were talking about. I do take this as a compliment and give all thanks to God for opening up my heart to love, but it has not always been this easy…

When I was 7-years old, my mom and dad went through a rough patch in their marriage and ended up getting a divorce. Even though I was really young, that was the beginning of my world war with love. For almost ten years, I looked at love as if it were my enemy and not worth dealing with because I saw how conditional it was with my parents. I tried to dodge love in relationships or look for it in the wrong places when I thought I knew what it was. It was not until Jesus wrecked my heart that I knew what true love was.

Growing up in church, I was always taught about the obedience side of Christianity, and rarely did I hear the love and mercy side of it. I only read my Bible because I HAD to; I only went to church because I HAD to; I only prayed because I HAD to. I did not enjoy it most of the time, and I did not love it.

The night I gave my heart to Christ, I was not fully expecting to surrender my entire life. I thought I would be a Christian around similar people and be “myself” around my other friends, but I was quite wrong.

That night, they showed a clip of Christ dying on the cross and stated, “Jesus died for your sins and because He fully loves you and your heart, no matter where it is.”

I was expecting them to say He died so we would love Him and obey Him, not because He LOVED US (1 John 4:19).

For many years after that night, I began to really open myself up to loving others, but only at a cost. That cost was: I will love you with the love of Christ, but what can you do for me? I was in the right place with the wrong mindset. We don’t love others because they love us or can do something for us. We love DESPITE what others may feel or do for us. That means loving your sister who despises your very existence; loving your fellow church goers even when they judge your every move; loving your disabled neighbor who cannot give you anything. Love is not easy, but it is worth it.

I am 24 years old, but it was not until I was 22 when I really began to love hard and without restraints.

Also, just because you love someone, it does not mean you have to agree with everything they do or say. That is not the love of Christ and that is not reality.

God has taught me to love in truth and love like I have never been hurt. However, it is hard, and I would not recommend that you do it in your own strength.

There have been times where I was hurt by guys, my family, or friends, and I turned my back on those that I loved. I have pushed away friends that have taken my love for granted or who did not reciprocate like I wanted them to do. I have never loved perfectly, but I have strived to love like Jesus every single day. When you begin to love without fear, boundaries, and judgement, God will open your eyes and heart to a new world. Nothing will be brighter or greener on the other side. However, you will see a world who is hungry for the love of Christ but does not know where to go to fulfill it.

Let us step out and love others with courage, truth, and Christ in us. Start with your closest friends and family and watch how Jesus begins to take their heart of stone and make it into a heart of Flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” John 13:34 (NIV)

My Grace Is Sufficient| By Tori Savoy

grace“You don’t realize the power of your words,” a man yelled at me in the lobby of a public building.

Back in my journalism days, it was not uncommon for some people to be unhappy with the copy we published in our newspaper. This man just happened to be more passionate than most. He confronted me right before a public meeting and chewed me out for close to 15 minutes. I just let him yell with hopes I could hold the tears in until he was finished with his rant. It turned out, he had not even read the article and had to come apologize to me hours later for yelling at me without gathering all of the facts first.

All of my life I have struggled with insecurity and perfectionism. I will literally beat myself up over every little mistake I make. Similar situations such as this would run through my mind over and over again for days following the incident. Even though that particular incident was not my fault, I still felt as if I had done something wrong.

However, no matter how harsh others have been to me, I have come to realize it is nothing compared to the words I say to myself.

The perfectionist in me is constantly using harsh words to tell myself that I am not good enough.

I am not a good enough wife. I am not smart enough. I am not organized enough. I am not social enough. I am not kind enough. I am not a good enough friend. I am not pretty enough.

I will tell myself things like, “why can’t you just get your life together? You don’t workout enough. Your house is not clean enough. You do not read your Bible and pray enough.”

However, God has been working on my heart in this matter by constantly whispering one little word in my ear, “Grace.”

“But he said to me, ‘’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  2 Corinthians 12:9

Grace is a free gift from God that we could never earn. If a perfect God can look on imperfect me with forgiveness and unmerited love, why can’t I give myself grace?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

Accepting God’s gift of grace is one of the most freeing experiences. When I start to beat myself up about mistakes, I remind myself that God’s grace covers me.

Instead of spewing hate and negative words toward myself, I begin to repeat God’s words of love and grace over myself in times of failure.

Perhaps perfectionism is something you can relate to. You are a work in progress, beautifully broken.


One of my favorite quotes is by American playwright Eugene O’Neill

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

Rather than striving for perfection, let the perfect grace of God cover you. He wants all your broken pieces just the way they are. Embrace all of the imperfections and welcome in grace.

“But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Romans 5:20

Now.| By Jasmine Beard

It’s been nine years now since I gave my life to Christ. These years have been great, they have not only come with triumphs, but trials as well.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve never had a depressed thought again, that I’ve never questioned God’s love for me, and that I’ve trusted God in every area of my life, but that would be false.

Matthew 5:45 NKJV says,

“… For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”

You see life is hard for the believer and the unbeliever. The only difference with a believer is that they don’t walk through this roller coaster we call life alone.

In high school my relationship with God was filled with mostly triumphs. I had trials, but all failed into comparison to the new found peace I found in Christ.

When college started, I found myself miles away from my best friend and without a church home. Life was so uncertain. Life as I once knew it was changing again. Real life was beginning, and real life is where our faith can be truly tested.

I was no longer with all the people I grew up with. I had new found independence from my parents and was surrounded by all types of people from different backgrounds.  When I finally found a new church home, I felt welcomed, but so alone. I didn’t have the familiarity of my other church friends, leaders, or pastors. While I smiled at the new church, I was silently falling back into depression and isolating myself from others.

I would leave church service early and go to a local park and cry. From my childhood, I had always dealt a bit with rejection. That spirit of rejection began to magnify when I isolated myself and began to listen to the lies Satan whispered in my ear.

“They don’t like you.”

“You’re weird.”

“You’ll never fit in.”

“You’re all alone.”

I began to cry out to God. I began to say those very lies to God.

I would say,

“Jesus I feel so alone.”

“Why isn’t my family here with me?”

“I don’t fit in here.”

“Nobody loves me.”

To those lies, He would respond in truth.

“You are not alone.”

“You are loved.”

“I am here with you.”

When the Holy Spirit would whisper that truth to me, I found comfort and peace in His words. As I began to stand on the truth of the Holy Spirit, the word of God got louder, and the lies from Satan began to silence.

That is one example of a trial I endured and walked through. Some trials in my life have been smaller than this one, but most much larger. However,the size of the trial fails in comparison to the size of my God.

I have since graduated college and continue to attend that same church. The same church that I once felt so alone in, I can now call the people there my family. My mother has given her life to Christ, and I have since seen God do great things in and around my life.

I am not defined by the trials I have walked through. By walking with Christ, my trials do not overtake me. I overtake my trials by walking through them with Christ guiding my every step.

Psalm 119:105 NKJV

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

walk-with-me

Who?| By Jasmine Beard

In the months after I gave my life to Christ, I began to experience true love. I always thought going to church and being a good person would ensure a personal ticket to Heaven. But, through my experience of salvation I realized that was not the case.

I began to delve deep into the Bible. I had the same Bible since I was nine years-old. It was hot pink with florets all over the cover. The title page read, “Teen edition NIV version.” I didn’t know if this Bible was like the all the other Bibles. I figured it was what I had and I might as well read it.

I was super excited to learn about the Bible which had just been collecting dust on my bookshelf for years. I opened and dived right into the book of Genesis. This book was familiar, I read these familiar stories as a child in a children’s Bible. As I continued to read I discovered all the different books in the Bible and different sections.

After reading Genesis I began reading the book of Matthew. This was the first book in the Bible that really jumped off the pages to me. The book details the descendants of Christ, His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection. Like I previously said, I didn’t have much knowledge of Jesus before becoming a Christian.

In movies and pictures, I had seen prior to this, Jesus was always a man with a skinny frame and long dark hair- far from a picture of strength and a depiction of what a man who would save the world would look like.

The gospel of Matthew painted a much different picture of Christ in my mind. The man Matthew described was a man of strength and dignity. He was a man of miracles that changed the atmosphere when he entered it. I remember feeling in the moment that I had never heard of a life that displayed love so perfectly.

When I entered my second year of high school the person I had always been had changed. And man did others change. Instead of just talking about guys between the ooing and ahing my peers began to experiment with the opposite sex and tell me all they were experiencing.

At age 14, I longed to be loved and craved attention. But, deep down something just told me boys weren’t the answer. Something told me that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. I thought sex was about love, but even at that young age I knew what I was hearing didn’t sound like love.

I began to dive deeper into my new faith found in Jesus. James 4:8 ESV says,

“Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”

I would lie in my bed and pray. I would ask the Lord what his likes and dislikes were about me. I would read His word for affirmation and revelation of how I should be living my life. He filled every longing and every craving I had for attention and experiences other people were having.

Jesus is a personal God. Not a God you should hide from. A God you should run to. While this world is beautiful and offers nice things, I have found it all falls empty in comparison to the love and freedom I have experienced in Christ.

My prayer is through my experiences and revelations written on this blog people will be encouraged to simply give that “Jesus thing” a try. I did and I’ve been forever changed.

Romans 5:8 ESV

“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

praying

Where?

After my cousin passed away, I thought about death a lot. And eventually I began to have a repetitive dream of my own funeral. For a suicidal teen, the dreams were somewhat satisfying to me, as morbid as that sounds. I began to tell my best friend that I thought I was going to die soon because of the dreams I was having.

Around that time I began visiting a local church’s youth group as well as a weekly Bible study. I mostly went because I enjoyed getting out of the house and spending time with friends. At the time, I thought simply believing in a god or deity made a person a Christian.

I believed in God my creator. I read all the children’s Bibles as a child – at least, the first few chapters about creation. I knew about the God who created the Heavens and the Earth and the God who created Adam and Eve, but anything past that I had no knowledge of.

I had heard of the name Jesus and that He was the son of God. I took that information at face value and I guess I believed it, but that still didn’t mean much to me.

The summer after my freshman year of high school finally arrived, and the church I had been attending was having a youth camp that June. I wanted one thing that summer, and it was change. I wanted to be different and to feel different than I was. I didn’t want to feel depressed and have a cloud of shame and guilt floating over me. I didn’t know if that was possible or if it would happen, but I hoped.

On my way to the youth camp, as I rode with my best friend and Bible study teacher, I began to tell them about the dreams I had been having. I told them I thought the dreams were weird, and that I thought I would die soon.

My small group leader’s response baffled me. Instead of playing along with my morbid view of my dream, she instead believed the dream was symbolic and that the dream represented my old self dying and my new self being born. I had no idea what that meant, but her response somehow gave me the assurance I needed.

On the first night of camp, we were shown clips of The Passion of the Christ. In the clips, men beat Jesus beyond recognition. They continuously yelled at him and showed no empathy for the pain inflicted upon him. Before this moment, I did not know anything about what Jesus had done on the cross or what His blood represented. I suddenly began to weep like never before. Goosebumps filled my arms and legs, and the blinders finally fell off my eyes.

In that moment, I experienced peace for the first time. After the clips, the pastor gave a quick message about salvation. He told us Jesus died on the cross and took the punishment for all our sin. And that He did this so we could all be forgiven of our sin and have eternal life in Heaven with Him.

That night, light shined on the emptiness I had held onto for years. I realized I no longer had to live a life full of depression and rebellion. When the pastor gave an invitation to receive Christ as Savior and Lord, I didn’t just walk. I ran to the altar.

It was in that moment I realized life is worth living. There is life after death, that Heaven and Hell were no longer things I read about in a story book or just places I heard about, but they were real. And I now knew through Jesus I could have eternal life in Heaven.

Romans 5:6-8 ESV

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person— though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

Why?| By Jasmine Beard

Often times the who’s, the what’s, and the how’s of life can be pondering questions in our souls. For me the question was, why? Why do trees exist?  Why are people here? Why do people die? Why are people here in the first place? But, most of all why am I here?

These “why” questions clouded my fourteen-year-old mind. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to be here, I have no reason to live, what’s the point of all of this, why am I even here?”

On the outside, I had everything going for me. I had great friends and supportive parents. I was talented and pretty, and I appeared seemingly cheerful on the outside. But, on the inside I was breaking, constantly pondering suicide and a way out from this world.

At this time in my life everything was changing. I had just started high school, and the course work got heavier and harder. I was in school with 18-year-old guys who were “pursuing me” and suggesting anything other than gentlemen like behavior.  People dressed differently and spoke differently.

On the outside I was just like my peers. I wore the tight shirts and short skirts. I yelled and spoke the profanity, spitting them out at any time I had the chance. I also gloated at the attention I received from boys.

You see my entire life I had been teased for not acting “black enough”. From the ages 12 to 14, I made it my mission to become black enough. I thought to myself, “I just want to be able to hangout with the black kids, and fit in.”

For some reason the color of my skin wasn’t enough for the ones who teased me. I figured being loud, disrespectful, and obnoxious is what they want. And if that’s what I have to do to fit in, I’ll do it.

But, on the inside I felt as though I was dying and suffocating in the pain of trying to fit in and trying to be a rebellious teenager. At fourteen, the persona I was playing was cracking. I didn’t like being angry all the time. I didn’t like tight clothes. I didn’t want to use profanity. I didn’t want to talk to guys who didn’t have the right intentions.

Fourteen was the first time I truly grasped death at least in a carnal way. I had experienced death of grandparents in the past, but I just didn’t quite get it. It wasn’t until six people within nine months passed away in my family, the last being my fifteen-year-old cousin who I went through virtually every grade with. I was in complete disbelief that a person the same age as me could seemingly be fine in the morning and just be gone that same day in the afternoon.

On top of all the self-hate I had inside my heart towards myself, everything was falling apart. I didn’t understand why everyone was dying and wished I could fix it.

Once the fact that my cousin had passed away began to set in, my question stopped being, “why”, but “where?” Where did Jordan go? Did he go to Heaven? Did he go to Hell? Was any of that really real? I always thought I believed in those places, but it wasn’t until this loss in my family that those places became a reality to me.