Pursuing Peace and Sanctification…

As the brethren of our Church in Alabama prayed over my husband and I at his deacon ordination in the summer of 2013, the one word I prayed earnestly for was humility. Little did I know God was about to answer this heartfelt prayer…

IMG_0248In the summer of 2014 we CAME to California “to help” and we beCAME humbled.

I remember the day I first felt the conviction to move to California to serve my family in the name of Jesus Christ.

It was the Spring of 2014. I had flown to California to help the woman who nurtured and cared for me all my life–my Grandma.

She had suffered through her third stroke and needed extra help because she had fallen and injured her foot. During this season of our lives my husband and I were planning a mission trip to Guatemala. We felt the ‘next step’ of our spiritual journey was to be missionaries.

When I shared about the mission trip with my Grandma she told me the ladies that helped her in the rehabilitation center were from Guatemala. I thought it was interesting that I was going to help strangers in Guatemala, and strangers from Guatemala were coming to help my Grandma.

I felt convicted that I was ‘willing’ to sell our stuff and go to another Country to serve and share the Gospel, but my heart hesitated when it came to my own family. I had sang the song, “All I have is Christ” many times and told God I would go anywhere and do anything and yet I felt I was being tested.

You may understand when I tell you, it’s hard to serve your family. I think it’s because we tend to be offended more easily since we are so close to them, and we want to please them.

That morning as I was reading the Bible, God asked if I was willing to be a ‘vessel of mercy and grace’ for my family. If I would be willing to “pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord.” I wept, and surrendered. I told God I can’t, but I know with Him, all things are possible.

I ‘threw a fleece’ out and asked God, if this conviction is from Him, He would ‘move’ my husband. In the past my husband had said he would NEVER move to California. I didn’t want to be the one to ‘convince’ him of anything, but I knew if this was God will He would ‘convict’ him.

In the sermon that morning God confirmed through His Word this conviction was indeed from Him.

What God did next is amazing…less than an hour of getting out of Church during my visit in California my husband calls me from Alabama and tells me he was moved and convicted by the sermon and after praying he knew where our next assignment would be.

I thought he was going to say drilling water wells in Africa. He had just met with a missionary about it and was heart broken about the lack of clean water. I braced myself and asked,

“Where?”
“There.”
“What do you mean ‘there'”
“California.”

My heart raced and so did the time.

We had already started downsizing and having Garage sales in the summer of 2013 but in the span of fiveIMG_1465 months we had a total of 8 Garage sales/consignments, many donations and trips to the dumpster as we prepared for the cross-country move. The pursuit of sanctification was evident as I was confronted with my flesh during the garage sales. I never saw myself so sentimental, stingy and selfish with my stuff. Gently God began to
work on my heart and help me to let go of stuff.

The pursuit of sanctification continued in California as we pursued peace while our motives and intentions were scrutinized. In fairness, I understand. It’s hard to believe a family would uproot from a place they love to serve in a place they’re unsure of—but time and testing would reveal motives and that is how God is glorified.

We moved from our spacious four bedroom home to my Grandma’s much smaller three bedroom home. This was supposed to be temporary as we searched for a local place to live so we can help our family care for my Grandma while giving her personal space.

What we did not realize was how long it would take to find a job for my husband. We also did not realize the work God was doing in him to ensure he knew his identity was not in a job title, or how much or little he made but in Christ. We thought we ‘learned’ this lesson but we were about to learn this lesson again, again, and again and we continue to learn this lesson.

I watched my husband burn in God’s refining fire of sanctification. He was willing to do IMG_3130whatever it took to provide for his family. He walked miles knocking on 90+ doors marketing for a construction company, he worked in the heat of the day digging water wells in central California being away from his family and the fellowship of the Church. He had many lonely days, clinging to Christ and yet yearning for fellowship that comes in Christ with the Church. He endured a hernia and was on disability as he waited months for surgery.

We had many days of spiritual depression caused by our disobedience and doubt. We cried, fought, and even conspired to run away from the fiery furnace…but we didn’t run away. I’d like to say we didn’t run away because of our faith, but the truth is we couldn’t. There was no money to go anywhere so we stayed…it wasn’t until we fully surrendered to the calling here in California that things began to change for us. In less than a week, Billy was offered a job as a recruiter at a Security Firm allowing him to work closer to home and be back with the body of Christ.

Though we have made many great memories in California it has NOT been easy. It was hard to leave our kindred friendships in Alabama and be the ‘new’ family in an established community. It was hard to not have a ‘reputation.’ It was hard to lose my sentimental stuff. But what has made it most difficult was seeing our rebellious and prideful hearts. To see our depravity.

I wouldn’t trade all the ‘loss’ for what we have gained.

I have come to the place to choose to look at my depravity and humble myself….I see this is a daily exercise of dying to self. I must daily address the defensiveness and rebellion in my heart. Living with family can be difficult because there’s no opportunity for false pretenses. It was my gracious Aunt that gave me wise counsel.

“Let it go…”

“Let go, the need to be right….”

“Let go the need to defend yourself…”

She was guiding me back to the path of humility reminding me of the way to access grace as shared in 1 Peter 5:5-6:

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time….”

Praise God for His grace, strength and power that comes through humility. God used my IMG_4774family to test us. To reveal what is in our hearts, and show us areas not yet surrendered to Him. We had a choice- to deny our sin, or confess and repent of it.

Our flesh had been ‘peeking out’ in areas we had not realized still existed. We were continually humbled. We saw our tendency to focus on the environmental factors, circumstances or the behavior of others and blame them for stirring up our anger. The fruit of the Spirit and flesh are evident.

The truth is, circumstances and people only reveal what is in the heart. If we say they are tempting our flesh, then we are acknowledging there is flesh to be tempted, and as a Christians we should see this ‘temptation’ as an opportunity of refinement, to die to self, and be more like Christ, to trim the fat and rid the flesh, for us to decrease and Christ to increase. This is good but it doesn’t feel good (Hebrews 12).

There has been much for us to confess and repent. The circumstances of being around my family have revealed how prideful and self righteous we can still be, wanting to be right and defend ourselves. We can be very defensive and try to prove our intentions. We are learning intentions are truly revealed by God in His timing and that’s for Him to reveal to others. We are to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth as we abide and obey Him keeping our eyes fixed on Christ.

We know we must abide in Christ, walking in continual confession, repentance towards God and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will write these Scriptures on our hearts.

There’s unity in humility. When I began to humble myself, not only was I able to receive God’s grace, but I was able to see the hearts of my family. I began to have compassion for them.

Genuine compassion is birthed out of experiencing the lives of others. That’s what Jesus did. He humbled Himself:

“…made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross.” Philippians 2:7-8

We came to California to help and we beCAME humbled.

We thought our next ‘assignment’ was going to be a missionaries to a far off land. We have come to understand and appreciate the Truth that “Man plans, but the LORD directs his steps.” With the counsel and teaching of our current Church, we are continuing to mature as disciples and realize our wrong thinking about missions. We are always on mission,and it begins in being faithful wherever you are. The ministry of reconciliation is a calling we all have as Christians, and yet it is only done in God’s strength and power. We have been humbled to KNOW we will be learning for the rest of our lives and never ‘arriving’ until Christ returns. We have also have learned what it means to have ‘A Biblical Theology of Work.’ This has been a liberating truth full of grace!

IMG_3882Recently, my husband was blessed with a job that allows him to work from any location. Since our house in Alabama never sold, we have decided it is better stewardship of our entrusted resources to move back to Alabama. We are excited and thankful for the opportunity to rejoin the fellowship of believers that have invested much teaching, prayer and encouragement to our family even while in California.  They are watching us grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and we are returning one humbled family.

My Grandma will continue to be loved and cared for by her children and grandchildren in the local area. Though my heart is torn and sad to leave her, I know she is not alone and she does not need another Savior because she already has One–His name is Jesus Christ.

We have made many mistakes, and I know I did much in my own strength than I should have. Many apologies flowed out of our hearts and mouths, and an abundance of tears were shed. But by God’s grace, we pursued peace, and we pursued sanctification.

We pray the Lord was seen.

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Since making the decision to move back, we have been given the opportunity to serve in a ministry in Alabama that is seeking peacemakers, people that pursue peace and sanctification. I can see God has used this testing and refining time in California to prepare us for this ‘next assignment’ and we go knowing apart from Christ we can do nothing.

Pray we pursue peace.
Pray we pursue sanctification.
Pray others see The Lord Jesus.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see The Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

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This is the prayer card we gave to our Church family in 2014 before we left for California! Notice the Scripture in the lower right hand corner!!

 


{His}Story: Faith, Repentance, Joy…{Final Bite}

 

This post is the final part of ‘bite size’ portions of my testimony. If you would like to start from the beginning you can read:

Downsized. {A Bitesize Testimony} (Part 1); Building Facades & Chasing Mirages (Part 2); An Eternal Invitation (Part 3); A Christian Mary Poppins (Part 4)

***

Seven years ago today God was pleased to reveal Himself to me through His Word–His Son Jesus Christ.

I had asked God:

What does Anna have that I don’t? I talk to you God. I want what she has with you!

One month goes by and that’s when I ‘hear’ Him. It was not an audible voice. He spoke toimage my heart and He spoke through His Word….

He wakes me up at 2am on February 12, 2009 and I feel this prompting to get my Bible and journal and go to the guest room of our home. He speaks to my heart:

Arcelia, you want to know what Anna has that you don’t? I want you to go through the Ten commandments and don’t move on to the next one until you perfected the first”

I didn’t even know where to find the Ten Commandments but looking in the concordance I find it in Exodus 20

You shall have no other gods before Me…”

I respond.

I don’t have any other gods before you…then His Holy Spirit takes me to Deuteronomy 6:4-9

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I tell God, “I do love You! I do love You with all my heart, soul and might and Anna is ‘diligently’ teaching my children Your word. She knows the Bible better than I do. Besides, this is the Old Testament anyway, what did Jesus say?”

Then I see what Jesus said about the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37-40 as He quotes the Old Testament:

“ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

My heart drops…I say again, I DO love you God!! Then it was as if He spoke to my heart these words:

Arcelia, you are passionate about your job, you are passionate about serving in the Church, you were passionate about the military, you were passionate about creative memories….what about Me?”

God through His Holy Spirit began to convict me of all of the idols in my life.

I see for the first time. I did have other gods.

But I wanted to love God with all my heart mind soul and strength but how? How can I ‘perfect’ that? I wept and cried out to God. I cried because I was frustrated, how can I love? What was love? I read 1 Corinthians 13.

I saw my inability to love God the way He was asking me. I saw my sinful state in contrast to His holiness and I wept. That’s when I began to understand the good news:

I can’t perfect anything.  That’s why Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He is the perfect sacrifice. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is through Jesus Christ I have access to God the Father.

I was broken, my heart soft, repentant and ready to place my faith in Jesus Christ and receive the gift of salvation.

I sorrowfully cried because I finally understood! I understood I was a sinner, disobedient, unwilling and unable to obey God in my own strength. I asked for forgiveness for my sins and had a change of heart and saw my need for Jesus Christ. There and then I loved Him
as never before.

I didn’t get ‘it’ I got ‘Him’, His Holy Spirit and a new undivided heart devoted to God. Just as it is written in Ezekiel 11:19-20:

“And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.”

It was the beginning of my walk of faith with God.  I told God I am His and I would go anywhere He wanted me to go, do whatever He asked and I would talk to whoever He wanted me to talk to. It was more than just believing in Him, I told Him I would follow Him all the days of my life. I committed my life to Him. 

That was the day I breathed my last and began my life of surrender to God.

A life of a Christian is not perfect nor is it about DOING things for God but BEING in Christ.

A life of a Christian is not about religion but a reconciliation of relationships that begins with God through Jesus Christ and extends to others ( A reconciled Mom and daughter).

A life of a Christian is not without trials and tribulations but there is a blessed assurance and peace that comes from trusting and knowing God.

Eternal life is not about dying and living forever, rather eternal life is meant for NOW.  Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

The more you know Him the more you love Him.

***This is my testimony of how God chose to reveal Himself to me. It was a process, a drawing.

It’s not the same for everyone, and not everyone ‘knows’ the ‘exact date’ of their conversion. God is so personal and knows our hearts. The only thing that is the same for all is: repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I realize it’s not how you BEGIN that counts…it’s how you end.  I know my salvation is not based on works, but in the finished works of Jesus Christ alone, however I want to run this race of faith well so that I may be found a faithful steward of everything God has given me, beginning with my faith and family.

God is the same, yesterday, today and forever….May God reveal Himself to you today if you do not yet ‘know’ Him. I pray you say, “no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42

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The family God entrusted me 2009 {three months after my conversion}

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The family God entrusted me (2015)

“Glory in His holy name;
Let the heart of those who seek the Lord be glad.
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face continually.”  1 Chronicles 16:10-11

 

“This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior Jesus, all the day long…”

 

 


A Christian ‘Mary Poppins’ {A Bitesize Testimony Part 4}

IMG_0146Her name is Anna.

Her eyes glowed with excitement behind her glasses and she overflowed with love when she shared with me how Jesus saved her. I didn’t even ask.

Every other sentence that came from her mouth was to share something about Jesus. How Jesus loves the little children. How His eye is upon her and He sees all things, even her innermost heart.

Since she was from Germany I asked if she would teach my kids German, to which she graciously said….

“Uh no, I don’t do that. I will teach your children their ABC’s and numbers but most importantly I will teach your children the Word of God.”

At the time I was indifferent, oblivious of the gift this woman was giving to our family. I told her that was fine with me, and I told her I had just started reading the Bible myself. It wasn’t her familiarity of the Bible that intimidated me, it was the WAY she talked about Jesus. As if she KNEW Him. As if she talked to GOD and as if He talked back! I was curious about her.

She began as our nanny the following week in January 2009.

Anna brought order and structure in our home and held me accountable, she was like a Christian ‘Mary Poppins.’  I’m ashamed to confess in the past I was the first mom to drop off my kids at daycare and I was the last one to pick them up. When Anna started with us, she told me she couldn’t come until 7 a.m. and I needed to be home by 4 p.m. Also, I noticed a change in the behavior of both my children, they were actually OBEYING.  There was a peace and calm in the household that never existed before.

Within the next few weeks I became very insecure about my relationship with God. Anna would come in the morning with her Bible in hand ready to share with me something God showed her. I didn’t understand. I asked her many questions and she showed me many things in the Bible–all of this in less than 20 minutes a day. I would go to work with God’s Word in my head and I would think about it all day. Finally it came to the point where I was jealous.

I was jealous for what she had with God. I asked God,

“What does Anna have that I don’t? I was baptized, made my first holy communion, I went Church, I studied the Bible, I was still listening to Christian music, I stopped drinking as much…why don’t I have what she has?”

It was February 12, 2009 when God answered that question…..

To be continued….

**This week I will be sharing ‘bite size’ portions of my testimony in honor of my 7 year spiritual birthday**


An Eternal Invitation {A Bitesize Testimony Part 3}

In 2008 a brave soul walked our neighborhood and put an invitation to a ladies Bible Study on our mailbox. I was indifferent because I thought the invite was for stay at home moms imagein the afternoons. The insecurity I had as a mother coupled with the deep conviction for leaving my children for so many hours of the day made me jealous and look down on stay at home moms. Though I never said it outwardly I didn’t look highly on the calling of a mother.

When my husband told me the invitation included the evening, I decided to go. That night we were supposed to introduce ourselves. When it was my turn I unexpectedly wept in front of these strangers, sharing all my insecurities and burdens.

I did the ugly cry.

They did not judge, they did not say they understood. They just came alongside me and prayed for me. No one had ever prayed for me like that before. I wept more. I didn’t know what was going on with me. These stay at home moms loved me the coming weeks as we studied Philippians together.

During this time my husband were competing against each other on who could read the most books in one year. When I found out the Bible had 66 books I decided I would read the Bible. My husband did not want to lose, so he started to read the Bible too.

IMG_4281The ladies kept inviting us to Church. When they had their Harvest festival we went dressed as the Flintstones. Everyone was so loving, we decided to attend their services. Within a couple of weeks we joined a small group and started studying the book of Hebrews. Our small group was full of stay at home moms that homeschooled. I was curious and intimidated by them.

At the time we were studying about the sacrificial system of the Israelites. How every year at the day of atonement the High Priest would sacrifice an unblemished lamb to atone for the sins of the people. The High Priest was the only one that could go into the place of the Holy of Holies. I was 32 years old and I still didn’t know about any of this—at least I never remember learning about it. They told us how Jesus Christ was our High Priest and how He was the final sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world. I didn’t understand.

Also during that season we were under great stress because we needed to find another daycare for our children. Our son was in seven different daycares under the age of 4!!! Part of this was his erratic behavior to bite and fight others because we never disciplined him. The other part was because I fought with the Directors because no one could do a ‘perfect’ job. I was at a loss of what to do. I asked our small group to pray for us and one of the ladies told me about a woman in the Church that was looking to Nanny for a family. I was uncomfortable about the thought of someone being alone in our home with our precious children but I ended up calling her for an interview….

To be continued….

**This week I will be sharing ‘bite size’ portions of my testimony in honor of my 7 year spiritual birthday which is this week!!**


Building Facades & Chasing Mirages {Bitesize Testimony Part 2}

IMG_47612007 started to look like a prosperous and promising year. I licked my wounds of the sudden loss of my Air Force Career and pulled myself up from the bootstraps and tried to move on in my own strength.

One day my husband and I drove into a beautiful neighborhood. The houses were huge and expensive and the people looked happy. I decided that moment, buying a house in that neighborhood would make me happy. My husband was eager to please me and he agreed to buy it and we signed our lives into massive debt.

To us, we didn’t care because we were making a combined income of $243K year as young thirty year olds, with promises of more money. We bought anything we wanted, went on vacations to Hawaii, dinner in Florida.  We were building facades pretending everything was OK when inside we were miserable.  We were chasing mirages thinking we would find meaning in wealth and stuff. We were building our own kingdom.

We welcomed our third child Annaleigh in the summer and life looked great. That was until my husband began to share with me this feeling of emptiness, and discontentment with an overwhelmed heart. I kind of understood what he felt because I too felt empty. We had everything we wanted and yet something was missing. This discontentment and depression put a strain on our relationship.

Again, I went to God. I was angry with God. Why do we have this ‘problem’ when we were listening to Christian music and going to Church!! Why can’t we feel fulfilled?

Instead of waiting on God we went to Barnes and Noble to search the ‘Mental Health’ and ‘Self Help’ aisle to find the answers we were searching for. I was determined we ‘would get through this…’ After all, I majored in Psychology. We also sought help from the ‘professionals’ and went to a few sessions before we became desperate to go to a friend’s Pastor who listened to us, prayed for us and shared God’s Word with us. At the time I was frustrated and thought it was a waste of our time.

I didn’t understand the POWER of God’s Word.

To be continued….

**This week I will be sharing ‘bite size’ portions of my testimony in honor of my 7 year spiritual birthday which is this week!!!!!!***

Part 3

 


Downsized. {A Bite Size Testimony}

Things you might have not known about our family…
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In 2006 I was pregnant with our second child and promoted to a Captain in the Air Force.

We were building our ‘dream home’ in North Carolina because I was assigned to a three year controlled tour to teach Air Force ROTC at Duke University. Everything seemed ‘perfect’ and was going ‘our way’ until…

In a span of a few weeks we experienced great losses in our family.  I was unexpectedly told I had to get out of the Air Force because they were downsizing.

This was a huge blow for me because I had planned to make the Air Force my lifetime career.  I was prior enlisted and the Air Force had paid for my education at The George Washington University to become an Officer, and now they were telling me I had to leave.

Not only did I lose my career, but we also lost the home and assignment in N. Carolina. The final loss was the hardest, I miscarried our much awaited baby.

During this season of my life I believed there was a God. In fact I ran to Him when all of this happened, but I still did not worship Him.

I was more interested in what God could do for me than to know Him.

The Air Force was my identity and when I got out of the Air Force I was lost. The Air Force was my god and direction. I started to fall into depression, eagerly looking for things and stuff to fill the void in my heart.
To be continued….

**This week I will be sharing ‘bite size’ portions of my testimony in honor of my 7 year spiritual birthday which is this week!!!**

*Part 2

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Groaning Grief

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How do you react when you find out someone is going through a major trial like cancer?

There was a time when I would flippantly share Scripture like Romans 8:28. Though God’s Word is true, there’s also timing of our words as we are told in Ephesians 4:29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Today I tend to react like Job’s friends first did:

“So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” Job 2:13

My husband’s step-sister Gina has cancer.

I have no words to speak to her, but I just weep and pray. Being sad and weeping is not a lack of faith, it’s just deep sorrow.

Jesus understands. When her brother died Mary said to Jesus,

“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” (John 11:32-33)

When Jesus saw where they laid Lazarus, He wept.

The other reaction I have to guard against is not doing anything at all for fear of offending. Do you ever struggle with that?

Right now we live in California and she lives in North Carolina, so the most practical things we can do is pray, donate what we can, and share this with you…

As you read her story you will see she is loved and knows it. You will see her faith in God is firm. But you will also see a mama’s aching heart for her sons and for her family.

Will you take a moment to read her story and prayerfully consider making a donation for this beautiful young mother of three children?

‘Help Gina Battle Colon Cancer’ https://dm2.gofund.me/pm398s8k


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