The Fruit of Peace

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What is peace?

Peace is often defined as the absence of conflict or the end of war, but in Scripture, peace is often synonymous with wholeness or salvation. For example, Isaiah 52:7 says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good new of happiness, who announces salvation…” The Gospel is good news of peace. In the Armor of God passage of Scripture in Ephesians 6, verse 15 tells us to shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.

I find it interesting that in both of these passages of Scripture, peace is correlated with our feet. Often, we think of peace as being associated with our mind and the way we think, but it is more so about our lifestyle and the way we walk out our faith. Isaiah 59:8 says, “They do not know the way of peace, and there is no justice in their tracks; They have made their paths crooked, whoever treads on them does not know peace.” Romans 3:17 also refers to a “path of peace” and in Luke 1:79 Zechariah prophesied that Salvation would come “… to guide our feet in the way of peace.”

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is “Shalom” which means completeness in number, safety or soundness in body, welfare, health, and prosperity. Shalom means peace, quiet, tranquility, and contentment. As Phillip Kenneson writes in Life on the Vine, shalom “refers to the state of well-being, wholeness, and harmony that infuses all of one’s relationships. Such a view of peace is inherently social; to be at peace only with oneself is not to experience shalom in all its fullness.”

We need people. We need community to experience true peace. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” This is a difficult task for us to work towards when we live in a society that is so individualistic and divisive.

We live in an electronic age that allows us to hide behind a screen. We can type out hurtful words and press the send button, knowing we would never actually say those words aloud if we were face to face with the person on the other end. We can’t see the impact of our words, so we can’t see the harm being done. With these technological advances, we can create an image of the person we want others to see us as online. We only post the pictures we want them to see, and only share the stories we want them to hear. Meanwhile, we are completely alone, completely anonymous, and completely void of true connection. Without true connection, how can we know true peace?

Even outside of technology, we’re still divided. The media has divided us. Marketing has divided us. Politics have divided us. Greed has divided us. Pride has divided us. The love of money and the desire for power has divided us. As Phillip Kenneson writes, “Politics no longer involves the search for the common good, but a competition between warring factions, each bent on securing or protecting its own interests. All of this contributes to the further fragmentation of our lives, both as individuals and as a society.” The world sees no gray area, no middle ground, no sense of nuance. Only right and wrong. Only us against them. And this leaves little room for peace. We are taught to think one way, and we rarely see both sides of the story. We rarely listen to people with different worldviews and different life experiences than our own. When we’re so focused on ourselves, we start to lose sight of the bigger picture. When we never lift up our eyes to see what’s going on in the world around us, then we eventually end up tripping over own feet as we journey on the path to peace.

In Life on the Vine, Kenneson describes how our fragmented lives have created a barrier to peace. He says, “trying to embody such integrity (that is, a fully integrated life) is difficult in a society that cultivates fragmentation rather than wholeness or shalom.” What does it mean for us to live fragmented lives? Think about this: Is who you are when you’re at home different from who you are when you’re out in public? The way we talk and interact with our neighbors and the people we live around may be different from how we talk and interact with those we work with, and the person we portray ourselves to be at church may be different from the person we portray ourselves to be with our friends and family. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it exhausting? No wonder it’s so hard for us to be at peace with ourselves and with other people. How do we know which one is the real us? How do we know what our real convictions are verses the opinions that we’ve formed based on other people’s opinions? Each group of people we surround ourselves with have different expectations of us, so we shape and mold ourselves to fit into the image of who they want us to be. We are far too concerned about what other people think about us, and the truth is, no one really cares about the image we’re portraying because they’re too concerned with their own image.

Even our Christianity has become individualized. We call it a “personal” relationship with Jesus. We choose our churches based on what’s convenient for us and what’s most beneficial for us. We complain about church when we don’t “get something out of it.” We leave a church when they didn’t reach out to us, or when they did or did not do this for us. We make it about ourselves, but the church doesn’t exist for us. The church exists to glorify God and make His Name known. The church exists for the community. The church exists to make disciples, to care for the orphans, the widows, and the least of these. We are part of a body of Christ, and peace is found when we are all working together in harmony towards one purpose. Peace is found when we use all of our differing spiritual gifts to spread the Gospel of Peace – the Good News of a Savior who unites both Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. Peace is found when we lay down our pride. Peace is found when we shift our focus from ourselves and start putting the focus on serving and honoring God with every breath that He graciously gives to us.

Peace is a gift.

In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

If peace is a gift, then what does that tell us about peace? That tells us it can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It must be received. If you want to receive peace, you have to open your hands to accept it. You have to surrender. You have to let go of control. You have to let go of pride, and selfishness. You have to let go fear, anxiety, and insecurity. You have to trust the Giver of the gift. You have to trust that He is the Giver of good gifts. You have to trust His intentions, trust His plan, and trust His purpose. You have to trust that He gives out of the abounding love He has for us. He does not intend to harm us, but is working all things together for good.

Peace is freely given to us. And that’s great news! Who doesn’t love a good gift?! But in this particular passage of Scripture we can’t be so quick to focus on the peace that we neglect to consider the words that came before the gift of peace:

“I am leaving you…”

Suddenly that peace doesn’t seem like such a great gift – because Jesus didn’t just give it, He left it. Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the night before His death. Jesus was warning His disciples about what was to come, and in leaving them with the gift of peace, He was leaving them with a gift they didn’t even know they needed yet. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t comprehend. Jesus had shifted their world upside down, and they could never have imagined a world without Him in it. They could never have imagined the horrors He would face on the cross. They could never have imagined that He was going to die and rise again. They could never have imagined the persecution and martyrdom they themselves would face as His followers. And Jesus knew that. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our limited understanding. He is compassionate. He is merciful. He is gracious. In verse 29 He says, “I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.”

Peace is a promise.

Last week, when we talked about joy, we talked about its connection with sorrow. This week, we see that peace is closely connected with fear and anxiety. Jesus knew that because He experienced our humanity. In Him, we find faith to face our fears. Jesus gave the gift of peace before the promise of pain was fulfilled because He knew it was coming. He equips us for every trial we will ever face. He does not leave us alone. With the gift of peace, comes the gift of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our Peace. And Jesus said “It’s better that I go so the Holy Spirit can come” (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. He is our Helper. He is our Advocate. “These things I have told you,” Jesus says in John 13:33, “so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus tells us that His gift of peace is not the same peace that the world offers. The world offers a fake peace, a counterfeit peace. The peace that the world offers only provides a temporary fix; it puts a band-aid over the gaping wound of sin in our lives. The peace the world offers just wants us to forget our troubles or mask our troubles. There’s no promise to remember. The peace the world offers is found in money and possession, in lustfulness and addiction, in likes and attention. The peace of this world is found when we blend in with this world, but the peace of God is found when we stand out from this world. The peace of God is found only in Jesus. The peace of God is found when we praise Him even in the midst of the storm. The peace of God is when we smile, even when our hearts are heavy and burdened. The peace of God is found when we surrender fully to Him, even when our minds are filled with fear and anxiety. There is a song called Peace by Hillsong Young & Free and the words say, “You will stay true, even when the lies come. Your word remains truth, even when my thoughts don’t line up. I will stand tall on each promise you made… Dare anxiety come, I’ll remember that peace is promise you keep.” We find the promise of peace in the words of Jesus. Countless times throughout John 13-16 we see Jesus start a statement with the phrase “These things I have spoken to you…” or “This I have told you…”  In John 16:33 He says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.” His words hold the gift of peace, and we find peace when we call those words to remembrance.

In Hebrews 10:32-35, Paul writes:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”

If peace is a promise Jesus spoke to us, then we can trust He will provide peace for us. We can trust His Word because He is faithful to fulfill all that He has promised. Jesus does not just speak truth, Jesus is truth. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Peace is not a place we go to, it’s a person we run to. The Prince of Peace is the One walking with us through all of our trials. The Prince of Peace is the One in the boat with us in the midst of the storm. When He speaks, the winds and waves cease. His presence is all the peace we need. So why do we fear? We often fear because we do not trust Him. When Jesus calmed the storm for His disciples, He asked them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith. Do you know what command is given more often than any other command in Scripture? Do not fear. I’ve heard it said that the command is given 365 times throughout Scripture – once for every day of the year. We constantly need to be reminded not to fear. We constantly need to be reminded to trust Jesus to be our Peace and to speak Peace into our lives. Peace is not the absence of conflict – We will face troubles in this life. We will face times of fear and uncertainty – but peace is an anchor in the midst of the storm. Peace is calmness even in the midst of the chaos. Peace is the ability to find harmony even with those who are different from us – even when the world is doing everything it can to try and divide us. When we live at peace, we live in the confidence that Jesus is exactly who He says He is and that He will do exactly what He says He will do. Peace is a way of life. Psalm 34:14 says, “Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.” We should always be seeking peace with ourselves, peace with each other, and peace with God. We pursue peace when we pursue Jesus. As long as we are seeking after Jesus, then we are seeking after peace!

Reflection on a Decade

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As I reflect back on this past decade, I have so much hope for the road ahead, because I can clearly see how God has been working all things together for good. When I think back and remember who I was on January 1st 2010 – I see so much personal growth. On a day-to-day basis it’s easy to look at my life and be discontent. This isn’t the way I pictured it. I should be doing more. I should have accomplished more. There are so many goals I set for myself and never completed. But on January 1st 2010 I was a shy, high school senior, attending youth group each week, and trying to decide where I should go to college.  I was scared. I was full of hope. I was in a season of learning to navigate grief and loss. I had little knowledge about the world around me outside of my church, my town, and my family – let alone any knowledge or confidence of who I was and what my purpose in life was. Would I stay home and go to the college 20 minutes from my house? Or would I go to the school 1.5 hours away? It was the first major life decision I ever made. I remember going to the Gardner-Webb campus in February 2010 for a scholarship interview. I did not get the scholarship, but the experience confirmed that Gardner-Webb was where I needed to spend the next four years of my life. I didn’t take in the full picture of the cost. I didn’t anticipate that financial aid would slowly dwindle away each year, and I didn’t take into consideration the loans I would still be paying off 10 years later – I just knew there was a nudging in my heart for me to step outside of my comfort zone, to leave home for least 5 days a week and experience something new. And although I sometimes resent that 17-year-old girl for her choice when I am making those student loan payments each month, I am so proud of her decision to walk bravely scared into an unknown future, because that decision made me who I am today, and I am eternally grateful.

If it wasn’t for the grief and the loss, I might not have made that same decision. I wouldn’t have understood the brevity of life. I wouldn’t have appreciated the little moments that make big impacts. That year opened my eyes to so much. I learned about the power of brokenness and transparency among a community of believers. I learned about the power of worship. I learned about the beauty and history of scripture and the church. Until then, I had only ever accepted everything that was told to me as truth without reading and understanding the context for myself. It was the first time I started to see that there were people who believed differently than me, went to different types of churches than me – but still desperately loved and served Jesus. It was the first time I started to read through the Gospels and get to know Jesus for myself. It was on that college campus that Jesus became so much more real to me. His Kingdom was so much bigger. His love was so much deeper.  His presence was so much more real. His purpose was so much more passionate. His friendship was so much more personal.

It was in October of that year that I found myself on my knees alone in my dorm room floor with an open Bible and an open journal in front of me when I made the decision to start a blog. My expectations were not aligning with my reality, and I felt spiritually weak, but I met with God in the place of my pain. I put pen to paper to write what He was speaking to my heart, and then decided to share those words with the world. That first post was titled “Weakness in the Spirit: Where do I find my strength?” and I remember it vividly. Although I sometimes cringe when I go back and read some of those early writings, I am grateful for that lonely college freshman who decided to once again step out in faith and do something she had never done before. A few months later I posted a blog with lyrics to a song we had been singing on campus. The song was “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit and it was not well known at the time. My post showed up in the Google results when people searched for the lyrics. I started having comments come in from all over the country of people who had found my site after looking up the words of the song. People I had never met were telling me my writing encouraged them and gave them the kick-start they needed. They thanked me for my faithfulness and encouraged me to keep writing. I received comments telling me my blog provided the confirmation they needed. I received comments asking deep questions about whether or not I believed God could heal the sick, and if so, why did He heal some and not others. I never set out to reach the world, but somehow, I was making an impact on the lives of people I had never met, and I was doing it from within my dorm room. I found passion and purpose in writing. Over the years, that blog would receive over 45,000 views. Not much to some – but more than I could have ever imagined when I first started writing and hit the “post” button on that Tuesday night in my dorm room.

It was in my University 111 class during that freshman year that I took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time and discovered my personality type was an INFJ. The “I” stood for introvert. It was the first time my personality had a name. It was the first time I realized why I was the way I was. It was the first time I realized I was not alone in the world – I was rare, but I was not alone.

When I started college, I thought I would make lifelong friendships and maybe find my future husband while I was there, but that did not happen. I met some amazing people who significantly impacted my life, but college didn’t miraculously change my quiet, guarded, and reserved personality. I didn’t magically start opening up and allowing people to get to know me. In fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated college and moved back home that I first started to establish my closest friendships. I remember the early days of our friendship so clearly, because it was all so new to me. It was exactly what I had always hoped and prayed for – and they came into my life without me ever going out looking for them. They showed up uninvited during a time when God knew I needed them the most. They welcomed me in without me ever asking to be included. They climbed over walls I built to keep them out. They kept asking questions when I tried to shut down. They continually challenged me and never accepted my silence as an answer. They forced themselves into my introverted life, and my life has been changed for the better ever since.

Ten years ago, I would get anxious at even the thought of getting on a plane or a boat. My dad offered to take my sister and I on a big trip the year she graduated high school and I graduated college – but I couldn’t accept the offer. I was too afraid. It made me sick to my stomach to even think about being in the open sky or open water. I looked at the shortest flights and cruises I could find, but I couldn’t manage to choose where I would want to go. The fear was overwhelming and I couldn’t conquer it. I remember those tears so clearly. I was so disappointed in myself.

But since that day, I’ve stood at the top of the Gateway Arch. I’ve been on a riverboat cruise in the Mississippi River. I’ve been on two cruises to the Bahamas. I’ve flown to Washington DC on a spontaneous whim just to conquer my fear of flying. I stood at the Lincoln Memorial and witnessed a march for peace and civility. I visited the Holocaust Memorial, the Museum of Natural History, the National Art Gallery, the Bible Museum, and countless other historical landmarks and memorials. I flew to New Orleans, walked Bourbon Street, participated in a Second Line, and ate gumbo and beignets. I flew to Chicago, walked along the Riverwalk, ate deep dish pizza, and stepped out on the ledge at Willis Tower. It was as if one day my desire to see the world suddenly became bigger than my fear of how I would get there.

So, when I say this decade has been life-changing and life-giving, I mean it with all the sincerity in my heart. I am not who I was ten years ago. I am not without fear, but I am learning to let my faith be bigger than my fear. I am not without insecurity, but I am learning to stand securely on the promises of God. I am not without discouragement and disappointment from time to time, but I am learning to find peace, contentment, and joy in who I am and where I am at this point in my life.

In the past ten years I’ve graduated high school, college, and graduate school. I’ve established a career in human services, and I love the work I’m able to do and be a part of in the community. I’ve counseled, mentored, and coached people who just needed some extra support and encouragement. I’ve been counseled, mentored, and coached myself. I’ve become a homeowner. I’ve led Bible Studies. I’ve wrote blogs. I’ve completed training to become a licensed foster parent. I’ve watched people I love get married, have babies, and buy houses. I’ve seen God answer prayers, break generational strongholds, and show up in ways I never even thought to ask Him to. I’ve seen Him exceed my expectations time and time again. And I know this is only the beginning. He’s just getting started. There is still so much more beauty and adventure left to come.

In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about poverty, injustice, racial inequity, systematic oppression, abuse, neglect, and trauma. These are heavy topics. And compassion fatigue is real. It’s easy to burnout when the problems of this world are so overwhelming and you feel so powerless to change them. It’s easy to scroll through social media and pretend the social justice issues don’t exist simply because they aren’t impacting you directly. It’s easy to binge watch mindless tv shows to escape the harsh reality of the world for a brief period of time. But I can’t let those habits continue into this new decade. God has done a great work within me these past 10 years, and as I move into this new decade, I’m asking Him to do a great work through me. I want to be less passive and more active. I want to be less self-centered, and more kingdom-focused. I wanted to be less distracted and more attentive. I want to be less hidden and more present. I want people to see Jesus when they look at me, hear Jesus when they speak to me, and feel Jesus when they are near me. I want to be His hands and His feet. I don’t just want to be changed by Him; I want to be used for Him. I don’t have a perfect vision for what 2020 will bring, but that’s okay, because I’m walking by faith and not by sight.

When the Fog Lifts

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“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

I Corinthians 13:12 NLT

     Have you ever drove through a dense fog? It’s terrifying, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area. Last year, my family went on our annual fall mountain trip and one day we decided to take a slight detour and drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while to enjoy the views, but that journey did not go as planned. As we drove, we entered into a thick fog and couldn’t even see the road in front of us, let alone the views around us. We had to significantly reduce our speed, and follow as close as possible to the car in front of us – just to feel safe and be able to see where we were going.

Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes?

Like a dense fog has come and settled on the plan you had envisioned for your life?

I know it has for me.

It’s scary to feel so lost, so out of control, so blinded by obscurity and insecurity. You can’t see what’s in front of you, you don’t know what you’re walking into, so you just have to follow close to the One in front you. You just have to slow down, and be still, and trust that you’re being led in the right direction. You just have to wait for the fog to lift.

On our trip this year, we encountered the fog again, but this time it was different. This time we weren’t driving through it, we were at the house – which sits on top of a mountain. This time we were able to step out on the porch and look out over the fog-covered country hillside. We were able to see the fog from a different perspective, and it was beautiful. The view from the mountain gave clarity to a cloudy situation.

We all took out our cameras to capture the image – so peaceful and and serene.

It’s amazing how a simple change in perspective can completely alter the way you see and experience things. The source of our fear in the valley, the challenge we were forced to overcome, became a thing of beauty to be captured and treasured from up above.

That’s the thing about fog – it looks like mystery, but it feels like peace.

And believe it or not, the two can exist simultaneously – I see it and feel it in the person of the Holy Spirit.

He is my mysterious sense of peace.

He grows my trust by clouding my vision.

He gains by trust by leading me through obscurity and into purpose.

He whispers, just be still.

And in the stillness of the moment, I sense the stillness of His presence.

So constant, so secure.

In the Old Testament, God led the Israelites through through the wilderness by a pillar of fire in the night and a cloud in day. He made His presence visible. He made His presence known.

What is the difference between a cloud and a fog? The only difference is that fog is a cloud which has made contact with the ground, it has touched the surface of the earth.

The Holy Spirit comes to us as a fog, because He has touched this earth. His feet have walked the same ground we have walked.

When life gets foggy, we should count it as a blessing, because that means the Holy Spirit has settled in around us.

In Numbers 9:15-23 when the Israelites had set up the tabernacle in the wilderness, a cloud came and settled over it. When the cloud covered the tabernacle, the Isreaelites remained encamped, but when the cloud lifted they set out and continued their journey. Scripture says sometimes the cloud would stay only a day or two, sometimes a month, or even a year. But no matter how long it lasted, the Israelites remained obedient and didn’t set out until it lifted.

God was in control then, and He is in control now. He knows if the place we are headed to is not ready for our arrival yet. He knows if the road before us isn’t safe to travel yet. He knows we may not be prepared yet for what we will encounter along the way. So He sends a cloud, He sends a fog. He clouds our vision temporarily to keep us still, and to keep us safe. At the right time, He will lift the fog and we can press forward.

But we have to trust Him.

I’m a writer. When I start writing, I like to have the end in mind before I ever get started. Once my starting point and ending point are established, I can build out and develop everything in between. I used to do the same thing when I was younger and would go pick out a book to read at the library, I would read the first paragraph and the last paragraph in order to decide if I wanted to read that particular book or not.

But that’s not how life works. I can’t see the end, I can’t predict how the story will unfold. I am not the author of my life, and the pen is not mine to bear. It’s inevitable that you will always end up disappointed when you try to imagine the end of a story that you didn’t write. There’s always something you would have done differently, something you wished did or didn’t happen.

But what would happen if we always left the foggy situations out? What if everything was always clear and there was never any mystery? What kind of story would that tell?

Throughout Scripture, the greatest stories are those shrouded in mystery.

When Noah was instructed to build an ark because of an impending flood, rain had not yet fallen from from sky (Genesis 2:6).

When the Isrealites were hungry in the wilderness, God provided bread from heaven, and the Isrealites called it “manna” which means “What is it?” (Exodus 16:14-15)

When Sarah heard she would be with child in her old age, she laughed at the thought (Genesis 18:11-12).

When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and told her she would be with child, her response was “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

When Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, He was blinded for three days afterwards. And the men traveling with him simply stood there speechless as the event took place because they could hear Jesus speaking, but couldn’t see Him (Acts 9:7-9).

Imagine the fog these great leaders of our faith must have felt as they lived these stories out. Imagine the fear, the confusion, the cloudiness, and the disbelief. But imagine Noah, when that first drop of rain fell and He saw that what God had said was true, and He knew that His family would be safe because He had been obedient to God’s instruction. Imagine the peace that put His mind at ease when the ark came to rest and He saw the very first rainbow spread out across the sky as a sign of God’s promise. Imagine the Israelites, after praying and seeking God for provision, walking out and seeing the answer to their prayers on the ground before them – not at all what they expected, but exactly what they needed. Imagine the all-consuming joy of Sarah when she first held her son in her arms – the answer to a prayer she had already given up hope on ever receiving. Imagine Mary – giving birth, having never known a man. Imagine her watching Jesus grow up – holding his hand as he learned to walk, picking him when he fell down, soothing his pain we he was sick or hurting, wiping his tears when he was sad or upset… all the while knowing He would be the One to save mankind from their sins. Imagine Paul, the one who had dedicated his life to persecuting Christians and having them killed, standing up to preach for the first time and declaring the name of Jesus as the only way to be saved and made righteous. Imagine the first time he sat down to write a letter, never having been able to anticipate or imagine the lasting power and impact his words would have.

Imagine the perspective these saints of God have now – now that they’ve been raised from the fog of this earth. I imagine each time they hear someone call on the name of Jesus, or come to new life in Jesus – that they count every doubt, every fear, every earthly worry, and every earthly tear as worth it. Because Jesus is worthy.

The fogginess we’re enduring now is serving a purpose we can’t see.

This story God is writing is full of intricate details that we can’t see or understand, but one day we will. One day the fog will lift – One day it will all make perfect sense and we will see it all with perfect clarity.

2017

My word of the year for 2017 was power. When I chose that word, I never could have imagined what God would have in store. In the past 12 months I have seen God answer prayers I never even thought to pray, defeat giants I never thought I would have to encounter, and move mountains I thought I would have to climb to get around. He has brought healing from sickness, life from death, victory from defeat – and so much more! There is so much to praise Him for, and my heart is overwhelmed even thinking about it all.

At the end of 2016, I set a goal for myself of moving out on my own in 2017. I never would have expected that on January 1st I would sign the lease on my first apartment. And I definitely never would have expected that only three months after moving out on my own, the opportunity would present itself for me to buy a house. But in April, I officially became a homeowner.

A week after closing on the house and moving in, I faced one of my biggest fears by getting on a cruise ship for the first time and spending a week on the open water.

And the day I got home from the cruise is the day my sister told me I was going to be an aunt.

In February, a vision became a reality when my roommate and I stepped out in faith and started leading a weekly Discipleship class to equip and empower people to grow deeper in their walk with Christ. Since then, we have led three different series of classes, met lots of new people, seen consistent growth, and watched God move in miraculous ways. In October, we were even invited to lead a small group for a Women’s Empowerment Conference at another local church.

In March, a close friend of mine faced an intense battle with cancer, defeated all the odds against him, and came out victorious. Six months later, he celebrated his daughter’s first birthday – a day doctor’s had previously told him he may never live to see – and even returned to active duty as a Highway Patrolman.

This year my best friend graduated nursing school, passed the NCLEX, became a registered nurse, started her dream job, bought her first car, and has seen prayers years in the making being answered.

In September, I conquered another major fear by getting on a plane for the first time – just to spend the day exploring Washington DC and marking a lot off the bucket list.

In November, I got to see one of my favorite worship bands and some of my favorite spoken word artists live – more items checked off the bucket list.

I also stopped procrastinating and finally applied to grad school.

And this past week, just five days before Christmas, I got to hold my new little niece in my arms and welcome her to the world… What a way to close out a year slam-packed with the power of God!

“How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy it gives. But greater still, the calm assurance, this child can face uncertain days, because He lives.”

After all… any and all power we can possibly possess is only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s all because of Him, and it’s only because of Him.

That’s not even all that happened this year – that’s just some of the highlights. God has revealed Himself in so many different ways, even down to the smallest details. And what I’ve learned through it all is that if you ask for the power of God to be revealed in your life – then you better buckle up and enjoy the ride. I have learned that in order to experience the power of God, you must first endure the battle of faith verses fear. This past year, I have seen my friends and family face some of their greatest fears, and celebrate some of their biggest successes. I have seen the hardest struggles transformed into the greatest stories. There have been relationships to begin, end, and be restored. There have been dreams and opportunities lost, only to be replaced by bigger dreams and better opportunities. There have been long-awaited promises fulfilled, and new promises to be revealed. This has truly been a year of breakthrough, and this is just the beginning.

I had almost forgotten why I chose “power” as my word of the year until I recently stumbled on something I wrote on January 4th. In the note, I had written, “My goal for this year is to grasp God’s power like the woman grasping for the hem of His garment.” I went on to write, “We behold His power with the eyes of our heart, but if we only ever behold Him then we will only ever watch Him pass by. To grasp His power is to take hold of it and make it ours. That requires following Him and pressing our way through the crowd.” This year, our world has been in such a chaotic state, that I’ve felt much like the woman desperately pressing her way through the crowd just to get a touch of God’s power. I’ve witnessed so many miracles and felt so much of His power this year that it’s almost as if, above all the noise, I can hear Him saying, “Who has touched me?”

A few weeks ago I began praying and seeking God’s guidance for what my word will be going into 2018, and the word He laid on my heart was peace. So when I was reflecting on this past year and decided to go back and re-read this passage of Scripture that had been so heavy on my heart this time last year, I was amazed by what I found. What stood out to me this time was not what the woman did, or what happened to her, but what Jesus told her afterwards.

What did He tell her after He healed her? After she received His power?

Go in peace.