“Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God.” Tozer’s words echoed within me as I sat down to listen as… More
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live. (Deut. 30:19)
Today I have been reminded how fortunate I am – and how powerful choice is.
Life, marriage, relationships – all require a choice.
…a choice to love (even when it’s hard,)
…a choice to serve another (and not yourself,)
…a choice to respect the process (especially when it’s a slow one,)
…a choice to share the bad along with the good (we all have both in us,)
… and a choice to see the good around you (it’s a matter of perspective,)
…a choice to walk by faith (and not by sight.)
…a choice to live in gratitude (even while walking through a valley.)
There are people around the world who have had the privilege to live life in freedom stripped from them. They are not allowed the opportunity to marry whom they choose, or work where they want to. Many folks cannot speak freely without fear of imprisonment or death, yet they choose to rise above it and courageously live in joy and not bitterness.
Choice. A tiny, but life-altering, word.
I pray to be reminded swiftly if I should begin to see this game-changer as anything less than a blessed gift.
May my choices have the purpose of Christ behind them,
be infused with surrender to His will,
and sparked by servant-hearted motives.
Oh, that I would always choose life, as the Scripture encourages me to do.
It was a late-into-the-night kind of experience when the Lord brought me to a soul moving passage of Scripture five years ago. I remember sitting in the middle of my bed crying and begging God to speak to me- to show me what I should do. The battle between my spirit and sinful flesh ensued through the night – weeping – negotiating – reasoning – reckoning, and in the end, when the sun began rising, resolving to surrender.
It was a life-changing and sorrowful place of truth and wrestling. I struggled with the letting go of what I thought I wanted and moving into what He had ahead for me.
As I read Deuteronomy chapter 2, I heard His heart for me – “Stop going in circles around a mountain you were never meant to conquer, Tonya. Don’t settle for a meager cup of soup simply because you’re hungry, wait for the feast that is your birthright.”
Yet, letting go isn’t always as easy as it should be, especially when the soup tastes yummy – nevermind indigestion it gives you later. How thankful I am God doesn’t give up in His pursuit of my complete heart.
What a treasure it is to know He is righteously jealous for me. What? Me? And just like that, I am stunned by His grace all over again.
Just like with the children of Israel, He has watched my every step. He has blessed me and kept me – all 48 years of my life – and He promises to always be with me, and to bless me.
He knows my trudging through the wilderness seasons, He allows them for my good. And even when I cannot sense He’s there, He remains steadfast in His love for me – always.
These days have been odd and challenging, yet they are no different, in many other aspects, as they were 5 years ago. I still seem to head my own way, thinking I am right, and then My Father speaks to my heart, “Stop going in circles, turn your face toward me and walk on – there are better things ahead.”
This time of year has always held a different kind of feel for me. On one hand, I enjoy celebrating my precious Momma – she is truly one of a kind. She is fierce and strong, yet tender and humble. She is a warrior princess who battles the enemy many many times as she journeys this life as the King’s beloved daughter. Of course, I take delight in praising Him for choosing such a beautiful soul to be my mother.
Mother’s are this wonderful gift of grace, and I feel this grace wash over me every time I talk with mine.
Yet, this time of year has the power to make me keenly aware of what I (seemingly) missed out on because of my barrenness. I understand what it is like longing to hold a child in your arms and know they are yours only – the desire to have a child rise up and call me blessed, to say, ‘I love you Momma” or, when he’s older, tell me I’ve always been his “valkyrie” (my brother says that about our mom.)
But here’s the thing, with each passing Mother’s Day season, I grow ever more grateful it is God who directs my path and knows my deepest desires. As the years have passed, I see more and more being a mother doesn’t always happen the way we envision it.
My brother’s children, my husband’s daughter, my nursery babies, my friends’ children, and the students I teach have filled an empty space I never thought would feel full. Each time I hear, “Aunt Tonn Tonn, you’re the best Aunt Tonn Tonn in the world,” my barren womb receives divine healing. The Sunday mornings I hold newborns and play with toddlers, my childless arms are completely full. When I listen to a Kindergartner pray, my lonely mother’s heart isn’t so lonely anymore. Seeing “Step Mama” (with a heart) on my girl’s phone makes my heart smile so big. With every teen girl leaning in for advice, prayer, and a hug, my Father’s compassion fuels my spirit.
Just like Hannah, I can honestly say of all the children God brings into my life, “For this child, I prayed, and the LORD has given me my petition which I asked of him.” I have been so blessed.
He molds miracles into reality and our dreams into life. We can depend on Him, He is faithful to give us the desires of our heart when we are trusting Him alone.
So, one day when I am older and do not have children and grandchildren gathering all around me to celebrate Mother’s Day, I will still be able to look back over my life and say thank you God for giving me a Mother’s heart – I sure did enjoy using it! I can only pray I used it well.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the sweet and beautiful women who mother the world with their love and grace. Bio-moms, adoptive moms, stepmoms, grandmoms, aunts, teachers, nursery workers, big-sisters – all of you – we celebrate all with a mother’s heart, you are a gift of God’s grace, and we are thankful for you!
Have you ever wondered why some days seem extra-ordinary and some just seem a little less? I have. Yet, the more I age, the more I seem to long for those days which are, to others, a little less grand. I don’t think I realized my need for ordinary until I watched a sunrise that was not colored with hues of majestic proportions. I had never noticed how wonderfully comforting it could be to experience a sky filled with the simplicity of basic colors – and fewer strokes from the Master’s paintbrush.
So often I stumble when I allow my heart to tread the waters of “less than” because the world tells me to be special means we must live a life filled with only majestic sunrises and sunsets. To take the most beautiful snapshots and display them for everyone to “ooh” and “ahh” over seems to be the #goal. And, I am not only speaking of the physical photographs, but I am also talking about our lives and how we live them out before one another. It is our natural desire to be noticed, to be validated by others.
But what about the subtle colors we may quietly illustrate with? The lovely strokes of kindness, meekness, gentleness, self-control, joy, love, peace – all painting the way we react, the way we move. These are the simple, yet glorious, pigments that color our lives into the beauty God longs to see.
I believe we have things a little mixed up. Most definitely, God is grand, and His beauty is most assuredly more wonderful than our human eyes or hearts can comprehend. Nevertheless, we do not have to be living lives of extraordinary proportions for Him to view us as beautiful, for He already sees us that way – from the moment we begin to grow in the womb.
It is when we reach the place in our lives where Jesus is our portion, our Redeemer, that God sees us as Holy, for then when He looks upon us, He sees His Son’s righteousness shed over our humanity. Now, that is spectacular!
Our Creator’s eyes roam all over this earth, seeking to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose lives are painting even the most elementary of portraits for Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9) So, the next time I see the subtlest of sunrises or simplest of sunsets, I pray He reminds me the beauty of the ordinary is glorious to Him. What a gift it is to trust He sees me with perfect vision and knows my heart.
Valentine’s Day might be the most conducive 24 hours to fester a goofy kind of envy in my heart. How often am I guilty of trying to measure my own marital bliss, i.e. success, by someone else’s standard? However, I increasingly grow more aware it is perfectly kind of my Father to afford me the opportunity to live this wonderfully messy way to teach me lessons which draw me closer to Him. Frequently, the learning begins before I even realize it has started.
Case in point, a few weeks ago I snapped a picture of my husband’s and my house shoes laying side-by-side in our bedroom. At the time, it was the perfect visual for me. It represented just how different our personalities are. But I quickly moved on, not really thinking anymore about it. Yet the image remained in my heart – waiting to find its way into God’s curriculum for my life. And, it soon did.
On Valentine’s Day I walked in the kitchen to see a card sitting on my purse. And in that simple, ordinary moment, the snapshot of the house slippers flashed across my mind. My shoes were messy and sideways – one on top of the other. My husband’s, in contrast, were neatly sitting side-by-side, in the same exact spot they can always be found. Such a simple thing, but an incredibly sweet representation of not only our differences but our daily life too.We have struggles and sweetness, stormy days that shake us and the steady ones that keep us going. I am slowly beginning to see this picture of our marriage squarely framed by God’s amazing grace and providence.
I Corinthians 13 speaks to us as to what the way of love should be.
Love always bears up, always trusts, always hopes, always endures. And marriage is a prooving ground of sorts.
It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it. When I begin to scavenge the ordinary, I am always amazed at how beautiful it is – different isn’t always bad, and hard isn’t always wrong. I’m thankful I had a friend remind me of that recently.
So, you see, romance doesn’t always mean flowers and candy. It can be an acts-of-service-husband stepping outside his comfort zone to write his words-of-affirmation-wife a love note.
Love isn’t always bold proclamations of affection. Sometimes it is the faithful kiss on the forehead at night before going to sleep, or the gentle nudge waking you each morning to get ready for work.
Quite possibly, love is the emptying of the dishwasher, or him doing the laundry for you when he’s off work. I dare say love can be found in the faithful balancing of the finances, sharing of household chores, and conversations at the dinner table each night.
Life framed with God’s presence and truth makes for a much different picture of what good is.
And I am grateful for God’s delightful way in how He teaches me His truth. This week a picture truly was worth a thousand words (and so much more.)
Our walk was nothing out of the ordinary. At dusk, we bundled up in coats and ‘boggins, slipped our gloves on to stay warm and off we went. We chatted about the day, what curtains to buy, what happened at school, how work was, all while our feet made the rhythmic swish-swap, swish-swap sound on the pavement. As we rounded the familiar corner, the menacing bark echoed through the fence and startled me. I jumped, and my pace quickened sending me sideways. My husband let out an inquisitive sort of laugh and said, “Babe, you know that dog is there, he barks every time we pass this way. Why did you jump?” But, the next few words my partner sent my way were what got me to thinking. He chided, “You know It’s coming.”
He was right, I did know the dog was there. Yet, it startled me because I was focused on the rhythm of my walk and had forgotten he would be hiding behind the fence. The entire event took place in under 60 seconds, but it took my heart almost triple that to calm down to a steady beat. Now, you may be asking, “Yea, ok, we get it Tonya – the dog scared you. So what does that have to do with anything?” Here it is…
I know my enemy is a hunter chasing to kill my faith. He is a thief in pursuit of my peace. And he is certainly the warrior seeking to destroy my walk with God. Yet even though I know all of this, I forget. I neglect to be vigilant and sober, realizing in every ordinary moment, the enemy of my soul is consistently lurking behind the old familiar fences.
His gritty bark is sinister enough to make me fear his bite more than I trust my Protector. My heart trembles and I go stumbling sideways into fear, panic, doubt, and sin.
Thankfully, because our loving Creator is gracious, and divinely knows the whole sum of His creation, He is quick to remind me His hedge of unbroken vigilance around me is stronger than the enemy’s bark and bite.
No weapon formed against me shall prosper.
He that is within me is greater than he that is within the world.
In his powerful book, The Red Sea Rules, author Robert Morgan admonishes every believer to acknowledge the enemy but keep their eyes on the Lord. Even though it often takes me more than a few minutes to be still and return to what my soul knows well, the truths are the same nevertheless.
My Savior is always steady and true. He is the Captain of my peace. My Father is ever faithful and strong. He is the Keeper of my soul. The Holy Spirit is wisdom and truth. He is the Counselor of my heart.
The Holy Sprit fervently challenges us to believe, to trust, the Lord’s providential hand is for our good. He knows what subtle evil skulks about – nothing catches Him off-guard. Being confident that His mighty arms will keep us intact as the foe wages war is to welcome the presence of God’s power into our lives. I know it’s coming.
Can a sunroom be a snowroom?
In jest, I asked my friends this question earlier today. It was a simple and silly question, however, it left me to ponder a few things in my heart.
As the snow fell softly to the ground outside my window, the white against the gray sky was a bright light of calm. Yet, it is normal for us to think of winter months as drab and depressing. We often feel as if the only light which can bring us warmth and peace comes to us wrapped up in a sunny day.
This Is not so.
Snowy days may seem cold and dull, but wow, the cardinal never looks more beautiful than when he is perched on a snowy white branch, and the light from the hidden sun makes the crystals glisten around his crimson wings.
Just as nothing is as brilliantly luminescent as a woman who has found the warmth of her Savior’s embrace during those winter days of struggle. His robe of righteous grace and love blinds the enemy and shines a sweet light of victory for others to see.
…all come when we weather the winter seasons of life, when we learn to live in their kind of light.
Today’s snowroom moments reminded me of this.
Last month, I opened my life up to a circle friends and asked them to hold me accountable in my study of God’s Word. I beseeched them to inquire how my Purpose Driven Life Bible study was going, and to pray for me along the way. So, last night when one such friend inquired as to how my study was going, I had to be honest – “I am on Day 3…” I relented. He chuckled, “That was two weeks ago.” Ugh, he was almost correct. I actually started two and a half weeks ago – hmmph – I am supposed to be on Day 18. <insert embarrassed emoji here>
But, is that not that reality of life? We have hurdles, we have victories, and we do our best to survive all the in-between. To stay stuck in the embarrassed-emoji mindset is to let the enemy win. Move on.
So, I opened the book, and read the long-awaited Day 3’s question – “What drives your life?”
It would have been nice if I could have told you guys Jesus alone was my motivation in 2019. Honestly, I wanted that to be the case, but I let so much of life’s circumstance distract me into forgetting. Thankfully, He is ready to remind me as often as my memory lapses. Even when I skipped the study, He was faithful to bring me to the right path, all I needed to do was sit surrendered and waiting at His feet.
On the day of Christmas Eve, my Father gave me the gift of Psalm 16. His words have consumed my thoughts ever since underlining their truth through my tears.
The Lord Himself is my inheritance.
What an astounding truth – He is my “ḥel·qî ” – my portion, my share, my reward. This divine, holy, perfect, merciful, forgiving, almighty God – this, this is my legacy, my truth. See why Psalm 16 is such an incredible gift?! Even the Psalmist himself said, “What a wonderful inheritance…no wonder I rejoice!!” And, I do rejoice, especially since I recognize I have such a tendency to fall short.
Truth is, my heart and flesh are going to fail; however, Christ Jesus is my portion, my strength, my hope – forever. Forever is hard to grasp for my finite human mind, but it is no less true simply because I do not understand it. Honestly, understanding doesn’t need to accompany trust – just surrender.
What drives your life, Tonya? I believe it is no accident I just made it to Day 3 on Day 1 of the new year. My heart echos Psalm 16:11. The Lord will surely show me the way of life, granting me the joy of His presence and the pleasures of living with Him forever. This is the gift He has given me – the manna of His perfect counsel, the provision of His steadfast love and a share of His enduring grace.
For this teacher, Kindergarten Science is often a beautiful lesson in life. Just this week, we discussed how sometimes, with temperature variations, substances can undergo reversible changes (such as with water being frozen and then thawed.) But that also, with many other substances, modifications happen which can never be reversed- as with these little pumpkins.
Prior to being cooked, they were hard and could not be molded (or squished) by our hands. Yet after being heated (from the inside out) they became all-too-easy to squash, and at this point, the change was irreversible – they would never be raw pumpkins again.
We squished the pumpkins into pieces, and chatted about our actions and words, and how once we act or speak it cannot be undone. But, my thoughts couldn’t help but wander over to the truth of God’s irreversible love, and to how we can fully trust in the good news of the Gospel. When Christ sheds His love abroad in our hearts, He makes an irreversible mark on our souls that can never be erased or undone – we are His forever!
Nothing we do can alter His great love for us! What an amazing truth this is!
Nevertheless, the lesson did not stop there. While the truth of His unchangeable love resonated in the deepest part of my spirit, I began to also think of how His love reshapes us through the tests and trials of life. These are all a part of the intricate “heating up” process as we walk with Him. And once He changes us with the warmth of that kind of love and grace, we are truly never the same.
He sometimes puts us in the fire so as to help us become more “squishable” – usable for His glory. And, while this may not always be welcomed by our hard-shelled, inflexible, decorative-only selves, it is necessary if we want to become more like Jesus.
What began as lesson for my Kindergarteners, ended up a lesson for their teacher. I am thankful for Kindergarten Science – and the little pumpkins God uses to change me.
A few years ago I read a book written by Tommy Newberry entitled, 40 Days to a Joy-filled Life. The Lord used Mr. Newberry to challenge me to take inquisitive notice of my thought life and begin filtering it through the Word of God. Newberry aptly asserts, “No area of your life is untouched by your thoughts,” and I would have to agree. I see it in my own life, as well as in the lives of my students. A single thought can change the course of an entire day or switch emotional tracks from one to the other.
For a couple of years now I have had a timer set on my phone to remind me to stop and “think on good things” for at least 48 seconds (Phil. 4:8, get it?) And it always makes me smile and feel a little lighter. But on the wearisome days when I ignore my reminder (yep, unfortunately, I do) before I know it, I am traveling down a back road to falsehood, where anxiety, worry, doubt, fear, and lies reside.
This week was a series of those wearisome days; so, I am thankful God knows me well and handed me the gift of a Kindergartener’s insight. This amazing kid said, “Mrs. Brown, I don’t like painting. I can’t’ do it!” I confidently reminded him he could do all things because Christ would help him. With genuine belief, he said, “I don’t need to listen to the Devil, he’s trying to trick me, right Mrs. Brown?” Without a moment’s hesitation, I agreed, “You are so right J, he is tricky!” Of course, I was convicted immediately. The simple truth of his innocent wisdom shocked me silly! By ignoring the simple, yet powerful truths of God’s Word, I often allow myself to be outwitted. I suppose this is why I am consistently in need of grace-filled reminders from the Author of my faith.
Thankfully, there is a way to combat the enemy’s assault on our minds – put in to practice what Jesus taught us. When we view this life (and circumstances) from a Biblical worldview, it changes us – it redirects our focus back to the truths of God.
Mr. Newberry and the Apostle Paul found the gold in this veracity – think on whatever is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy!
Praising God for who He is, what He has done, and all He has yet to accomplish has the power to change the course of our thought life if we would only let it! Maybe we could all challenge ourselves to think about the goodness of God, I am quite certain He will change us – 48 seconds at a time!