THIS is family.

John 19:25-27

New Living Translation

25 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home

As my man and I traveled back from our first HOTFM home group meeting last week, we were discussing the difference between this community of believers and those we’ve been a part of for more than 2 decades. We had a hard time articulating what we felt. We couldn’t quite put it into words… it’s just… different.

The next day, with a BOLD cup of coffee in hand while watching the sun rise over our lanai, revelation hit:

THIS is family.

This is what Jesus died for!!!

This is not a corporation.

This is not an empire.

This is not a circus.

This is not a one man show.

We’re accustomed to the local church operating as a business with a CEO, CFO, Boards of Directors, etc. etc. etc. We’re used to performing our religious duties in order to be praised and promoted by men. We know how to work the system to receive affirmation and affection from big daddy- aka the senior pastor. We know the drudgery of making bricks without straw for Pharaoh. We know the bondage of Egypt.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not under any false illusion that the people of HOTFM are practically perfect in every way. No. They are maturing in Christ, just as we are. The difference is: what we previously experienced and what we’re currently experiencing is that this group of believers was birthed by the Spirit- not a business plan. Led by the Spirit, not the flesh, a church was constructed on THE cornerstone. Governed by the headship of Jesus Christ, a family of fathers were appointed- a plurality of elders, as written right there in black and white in the OLD and NEW Testament! (Plural, as in adding an “s” on the end. Meaning, more than one.) Fathers and mothers training & equipping ALL of God’s children. And ALL of God’s children doing their part in the family (ministry) without competition or comparison!

Welcomed as new members of Heart of the Father Ministry!

THIS is family.

THIS is what Jesus died for!!!

Sons and daughters that share the same Father.

Sons and daughters that share the same older brother.

Sons and daughters that share the same Spirit.

Sons and daughters that share the same blood.

Sons and daughters that share the same name.

I gotta tell ya. Getting here came at a cost. I spent 7 years groaning, weeping, and laboring. I spent 7 years asking, seeking, knocking for the door to be opened. I spent 7 years feeling rejected, betrayed and abandoned by those I love.

THIS is what I died for.

THIS is His Kingdom come.

THIS is His will being done.

THIS is on earth as it is in heaven.

My friend,

Have you found your family? It’s time. It’s time to come home to the Father. It’s time to know the Son as Savior AND Lord. It’s time to overflow with His Spirit. It’s time to celebrate with brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s time to share everything you have with a community of Spirit filled believers. THIS is family. THIS is eternal and abundant life.

Rivers in Dry Land

Isaiah 43:18-20

18 “But forget all that—
    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
19 For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
20 The wild animals in the fields will thank me,
    the jackals and owls, too,
    for giving them water in the desert.
Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland
    so my chosen people can be refreshed.

We entered into the land God promised a little over a month ago. Naïvely, I expected to immediately declare “it is well with my soul!”  

I didn’t. 

Expectations are a finicky thing, aren’t they? They’re often prone to fail us when we create them in a mind that is still in the process of being renewed….

The Lord took me back to Isaiah 43 in the secret place this morning. It’s a familiar passage for me personally, and I’ve referenced it frequently in ministry to others. Today, I continued reading through Isaiah 44. You know how when the Holy Spirit BREATHES on His Word, you get that punch in the gut, that slap in the face, that AHA moment?! Yep. That happened. There it was, written in black and white, from ages past: the blessing of the Lord over me and my family. My mother received and prophesied this Word over me, literally on her death bed 4 months ago. She had an encounter with the Lord through a dream while my husband and I were shopping for houses in FL. (You can read about it here: https://deepintothewater.com/2021/04/19/go-on-to-glory/) I’m so grateful that God sent His message through her. It encouraged my soul, and it is a moment with my mom that I will cherish until my address changes to heaven too. 

As the revelation of Isaiah 44 hit my heart, clarity of Isaiah 43 came. My perspective immediately shifted. For so long, I was focused- fixated rather- on the dry wasteland I was living in. I was constantly frustrated in Egypt (believe me, I REPEATEDLY let God know allll about it!) 

I prayed for deliverance. Instead, He gave me dreams.

I prayed for rain. Instead, He gave me a plow.

I prayed for repentance and restoration in His body. Instead, He gave me the gift of prophesy to encourage His people.

I prayed for rivers. Instead, He gave me a well of living water. 

But the past is in the past, right? I’m no longer in Egypt. I’m IN the promised land, so I shouldbe shouting from the rooftops, “IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL,” right? Why look back? Just look forward, right? Wrong. By looking back, I see how the Lord delivered me from Pharaoh’s hand. I see that I am no longer in bondage to the empire he is building. I see that I am no longer a slave to the drudgery and demanding work he requires. I see that I have been set free from the oppression of Egypt. I see that I’ve walked THROUGH the wilderness. Yes! Amen!!! Praise and honor to the Lord for all that He has done. And all that He is still doing. Allow me to explain….

As I wrestled against dark principalities and powers in Egypt, real people spoke real words of false accusation against me. I was betrayed by those closest to me. I was rejected by my own people. As a result, the dry and weary land I inhabited began to invade my heart. My soul became a lonely, barren wasteland. Unaware of the cost of following the Spirit into the wilderness, I continued to pour my life out in intercession. I wept for those living under the oppression of Pharaoh. I preached the good news to them. I encouraged them to trust in the Lord. I pleaded with them to cry out to Him for deliverance. I wanted so desperately for them to taste and see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, as I had. I longed for them to encounter the Messiah at Jacob’s well as I had. Even to this very day, my heart breaksfor them. I wish I could relieve their suffering, but… I am not their Savior. I am merely a soldier in the Lord’s army. I follow commands, I don’t give them. I know this, but sometimes I fail to do this. Occasionally, in my effort to “help” people, I inadvertently start swinging the sword of the Spirit in my own strength; tearing down instead of building up. I continually need to be reminded that the battle is the Lords- not mine. I am simply His servant, His slave, His soldier. A soldier that needs time to rest, recover, and receive. 

How beautiful that He confirmed His Word through the elders and leaders of our new spiritual family (https://hotfm.org)shortly after we arrived. They knew by the Spirit that we were planted in infertile ground in the previous season, but that the Lord transplanted us into a rich land flowing with milk and honey, where we will flourish. They knew that we had suffered from the laborious work of plowing hard soil. But now, that assignment is over. It is finished. The sowing in complete. It’s a new season. It’s time to harvest, to heal, to build up, to laugh, to dance, to gather stones, to turn away, to quit searching, to throw away, to mend, to speak, to hate, and to have peace!

I fought the good fight of faith in Egypt (because God SENT ME to Egypt, just like He SENT ME to The Promised Land). But now, He’s doing something new. Do you see it? He’s creating rivers in my soul. Hallelujah!!!

Ecclesiastes 3

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

Valley of the Shadow

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd,
[a]shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside 
[b]still waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the 
[c]paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the [d]valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no 
[e]evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You 
[f]have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
[g]Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will 
[h]dwell in the house of the Lord [i]forever.

Growing up in the Presbyterian and Methodist church, I learned the 23rdPsalm by merely repeating it over and over again during Sunday Services. Everyone knows the passage – even unbelievers can recite it from memory at funerals. We did so at my mother’s Celebration of Life last month. I know the words, but His Spirit is making the Word known to me in the valley of the shadow of death. 

It seems as if everything in my life is dying. I am surrounded by:

The death of my mother.

The death of our church community.

The death of our ministry. 

The death of relationships with family and friends.

The death of our home in North Carolina.

The death of unmet expectations as offers are rejected on homes we’ve bid on in Florida.

In the valley, there are shadows of death. In the shadows, we are surrounded by darkness. In the darkness, our vision is limited. And what we cannot see, we will fear. 

I’ve discovered that when I react to fear, I will either dismiss or deny pain. If I choose to dismiss the pain of death, I will rationalize my feelings by comparing myself to others, thus determining that I shouldn’t be depressed, angry, or disappointed. In that headspace, I belittle my suffering when stacking it against those that, from my perspective, are enduring greater hardships. If I chose to deny the pain of death by pretending it’s not happening, I will suppress my feelings, or try to avoid them altogether. The strain of carrying such a heavy burden will inevitably lead to a collapse- physically or emotionally.

With each passing day, I realize more and more that I cannot go through this valley alone. God has been faithful. He has never left me. He will not forsake me. He is with me, walking me through it. Although there are times I want to, I know that If I try to run, I’ll miss the green pastures and still waters. So, He is making melie down in the grass to receive rest and rejuvenation. He is leading me to stillness; to drink, so that I may be refreshed and restored. 

My friend, I was made- YOU were made for intimacy with the Lord. But let’s be honest. In our busy, distracted, self-important lives, we rarely take the time to pursue Him. Heck, we barely devote any time to genuinely pursuing righteous relationship with others! But isn’t it interesting? When someone dies, our calendar miraculously clears. We’ll take the time to be with friends and family in their grief. We’ll spend the money on airfare. We’ll rent a car. We’ll book a hotel. We’ll take a meal. We’ll sit and talk and laugh and weep with those who weep. Death causes us to see, if only for a moment- the reality of life. It’s in the shadow of death that we ponder- and perhaps ask the hard questions. It’s in the shadow that our ego is revealed. It’s in the shadow that He uses the rod and staff to discipline us. It’s in the shadow that we feel the loving sting of His correction. It’s in the shadow that we feel His comfort and care for us. It’s in the shadow that the things of this world grow strangely dim. It’s in the shadow that we are redeemed. It’s in the shadow that we are restored. It’s in the shadow that we see the Shepherd. It’s in the shadow that we realize that we, like sheep, have all gone astray. It’s in the shadow that we are prepared to face our enemies. It’s in the shadow that we are anointed with the oil of joy. It’s in the shadow that we learn how to dwell in the Father’s house- forever, and ever. 

Amen.

Mourning on Mother’s Day

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

“Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
    After all, everyone dies—
    so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
    while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

I knew this day was coming. I did not dread it, but I assumed it would be filled with sorrow.

I woke before dawn as I often do and made my way through the moving boxes and graduation decorations to the living room.I love to sit in the silence of the early morning with a cup of coffee and stare out the window at the beauty of creation. Today, the birds were extra talkative, so I opened the window to listen to their sunrise songs. I talked to Jesus. And I wept. Again. I told Him how hard this season has been; mourning ANDmoving. His Spirit once again breathed life and comfort as I re-read the wisdom of Solomon: 

“For EVERYTHING there is a season, a time for EVERY activity under heaven….”

I’m not one for the traditions of men on national holidays. I don’t like being told to celebrate someone or something in a certain way. Perhaps there’s still a little bit of that rebellious little girl in me. Or, maybe, it’s the righteous young woman that desires genuine relationship, not religious performance. Yes, I still celebrated my mother on Mother’s Day weekend every year. We didn’t miss being together very often, from what I can remember. But I told her I loved her every month of the year- not just on Mother’s Day, or Christmas or her birthday. I also tried to show it, not just tell it. Especially with homemade gifts. Those were her favorite from her girls and grandkids! Last Christmas, my daughter and I perused Pinterest and meandered through Hobby Lobby to make the perfect gift to express my heart. As she often does, mom wept when she opened the picture of hearts connected between 3 states. My sister settled in VA after her husband retired from the military, and my parents and I have remained in NC since relocating in 1988 when my dad grew weary of the rat race of Southern CA and wanted to return home to family. Next week The Bullard Pack (my family) will close on the home we’ve lived in for over 15 years in Sanford, NC. We’ll move in with my dad until we find- and close on a house in Lakeland, FL. It will be the first time in my life that my parent, sister and I will live apart; in 3 different states. I am sad. But I am also full of joy. I’m excited to follow the Lord’s call to leave our fathers family and follow Him to a new land.

I have become well acquainted with sorrow in this season. It has caused me to think a lot about death. And, it has created a deep, aching desire for MORE. More in my relationship with the Lord. For in the end, He is all that matters. I want to be ready when He comes back. I want to know Him. I want Him to know ME! I want my heart to ache for His return as it aches now for the reunion I will one day have with my mother- and all the saints who have gone before.

I am told that time will ease the intensity of my grief. Perhaps that is so, but I know that time heals nothing. Only One Man can bind up the broken hearted and set the captives free. His name is Jesus. Do you know Him? Do you love Him? Is your heart full of sorrow- longing to see Him face to face? I invite you to spend some time at funerals, my friend. Embrace the sadness of life. Let it refine your soul as you discover the Man in the pages of scripture who will one day, wipe away every tear. In His presence, there is no more death or mourning- just inexpressible JOY as we worship Him for all of eternity.

Parents, Do Not Provoke

Ephesians 6:1-3

Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord,[a] for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: If you honor your father and mother, “things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.”[b]

Another parenting failure.

I’ve had a few (thousand) in my tenure as a mom.

Recently, I ignored anotherwarning from the Spirit about one of our children. As a result, I failed to intervene on their behalf, again. So, the Lord spoke through two of our other children to get my attention. Hello!? Did you hear what I said? He pursued and corrected me through our kids!!!

Humbled.

Grateful.

Thankful.

Ephesians 6:4

Parents, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

I used to think the above-mentioned verse meant that parents only provoked their children to anger by commission. As a kid, I often erupted when my parents disciplined, said “no,” or restricted me from what I wanted. And I’ve experienced the same backlash from some of our strong-willed kiddos. But today I saw this passage differently. I realized children can be provoked to anger by omission.

In the midst of this latest parenting episode, our child was lashing out in anger because of what I didn’t do. I ignored the Lord, neglected to intervene, and justified myself in being passive. In so doing, I failed to see what was happening in the unseen. Our child was battling, unsuccessfully, against an enemy that is continually trying to steal, kill and destroy their life.

But, God.

GOD!!! 

God, our helper – the One who knows all and sees all, gave dreams, wisdom and discernment to several of our family members. The result? Difficult discussions and a willingness to admit failure, but not defeat. God was faithful! He provided a way of escape for ALL OF US! 

Now before we go blaming the enemy for everything, let’s get one thing straight: Satan and his legions have no authority unless we give it to him. Our child was not some innocent bystander (neither was I). And this particular onslaught was not a result of us advancing the Kingdom- thus, ticking off the enemy’s camp. No. Repeated rebellion against authority resulted in an invitation to torment. Deliverance and discipline (boundaries) was needed- and has been implemented. Boundaries guard the heart! An unguarded heart is open to all forms of attack. And an unguarded heart is easily provoked to anger. 

I gotta tell ya…

Every failure I’ve endured as a parent is a result of a childish heart that rebels against the Father. Every success I’ve enjoyed is a result of a childlike heart that bows to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And every triumph is a result of a humbled heart that obeys and overcomes by the power of His Spirit.

My fellow parents,

I plead with you, for the sake of future generations. Throw out your self-help books. Ignore the educated experts. Reject the advice of the world. Stop making behavioral excuses because of labels (I have a child on the Autism Spectrum and one with ADHD. I understand the science- but the Spirit trumps all in the training of our children). Seek the Lord. Fear Him. Obey Him. He alone is the creator and sustainer of family. He alone is the One who beckons prodigals to return home. Let’s get to know the Father. Let’s train our kids to know Him. The eternity of their souls is at stake.