What’s Next?

Doesn’t it seem like every year goes by faster than the last? 2019 is encroaching upon us and I can hardly remember what went on in the last eleven months. The most memorable part of this year for me was the beginning. At midnight on January 1st of 2018, I was in the shower. I got out, fell asleep on the couch and I swear, it feels like I’m just now waking up.

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Seriously, where did the time go? I remember opting out of making any resolutions because I didn’t want to look failure in the face when (due to lack of effort) my “life goals” didn’t materialize. I figured I’d just do my best to be better. But if I’m being honest, I could’ve tried harder. Nonetheless, here I am.

That being said, if you’re reading this: congratulations, you’re still here too! We’ve still got time. How much, I can’t be certain, but carpe diem! I think sometimes we get too involved in our long-term goals. Truth is, we don’t know if we will ever get to kiss the brow of what we hope will one day be. Lately, death feels imminent. The axiom tomorrow isn’t promised has become more real than ever. There used to be a time when I couldn’t imagine death happening to me but those days have drifted away like a sweet aroma carried by the breeze.

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Normally, a topic so morbid would evoke a sense of sadness, but in this season of my life, it has awakened an urgency: an awareness, that my purpose can’t wait. It simply does not have the time. Every part of me recognizes the fragility of life and more than I fear not being successful in the eyes of the world (or myself), I panic at the thought of not completing the earthly assignment given to me by God.

This panic has prompted me to make a true effort to put my wants and dreams in perspective. I have to ask myself, do the things I want most align with the purpose God has given me? Not always. I’m currently fixated on moving out at the beginning of next year. The search for somewhere to live consumes a good portion of my day and when I’m not searching for places to stay, I’m busy making photo collages of home decor. It’s pretty bad. All the while, I’ve been given an assignment that I’ve been steadily neglecting.

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Next year, I’ll be making one resolution: Everyday make a conscious choice to take the next step toward my purpose. Whether it’s something as simple as a prayer, reading a novel, or writing the first sentence of my book, I want to step into my future, not leap. There’s invaluable worth in the baby steps. We get so caught up in dreaming “big” that we forget big was once small. So chill.

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In no way am I encouraging small aspirations. We serve a God who is not limited by any human notion and he has great plans for each of us. I just don’t want us to forget that great doesn’t necessarily mean big or famous, or wealthy, or a partner. It simply means surrendering to God’s plan for our lives and taking whatever step is next to fulfill it. That’s greatness. I think we’ll find that if we do this, we’ll gain more than we could’ve ever attained on our own.

So let’s forget about New Year’s resolutions: what can we do right now (and before the year is up) that would be a step in the direction of our God-given purpose?

I’ll go first. For me, it’s writing this entry. I didn’t feel like it and I’m not confident that it’s any good, but I’m going to post it anyway. Beside me are two notebooks, which contain outline drafts for my book, “90 Days of Reign.” I want to open them and work on my story but I can’t promise. Though it is, in fact, my next step and I don’t have forever…

 

 

 

 

 

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Call Me by My Name

When it comes to inconsequential matters like ordering food or making minor reservations, I never give my real name. Celestial just seems nine letters too troublesome for a box of pizza. Besides, why put people through the bother of fumbling around the spelling and pronunciation? So to avoid any unnecessary confusion, when asked for my name, I respond: “Sure. It’s Ashley.”

In the first place, Ashley is a far simpler name than Celestial. But beyond that, it’s familiarity gives people a sense of comfort, however wrong or right they may be. Still, no matter my reasons for providing an alias to passing strangers, my name isn’t Ashley: it’s Celestial. And were I to develop a real relationship with one of these strangers, they could no longer go on calling me Ashley. To do so would be an indication that they still don’t know me, regardless of how familiar I may seem.

Familiarity: the thief of intimacy. Indeed, I am familiar with quantum physics, but I couldn’t begin to tell you even the most major concept of that theory. (Although, I probably could now because I just looked it up.) Likewise, just because we hear about or see someone often doesn’t mean that we know them deeply. For example, you know that friend of a friend who you occasionally see at gatherings? You always mistake her name for Brenda, when really it’s Shannon. Yes, that girl: take a moment to consider why you always forget her name. Could it be because you have no real relationship or ties to her and therefore her name could be Kjgwqeoigesokgn and she would still just be a friend of a friend, better known as Brenda?

Yet, isn’t that what many of us have done to God? We’ve put him in the friend of a friend zone, and as a result, we often forget his name. So instead of God, we call him The Universe today, Good Vibes tomorrow, and Positive Energy the next day. I admit these names are easier to digest than the mystifying name of God, but they hold no true value. They’re simply titles we use to circumvent the name of God because we’ve decided that his is far too difficult a name for us to be concerned with. 

What’s interesting though, is that we still want the benefits of God’s nature. We send positive vibes to The Universe in hopes of receiving the grace, love, and hope that is solely God’s to give. We don’t want to submit to his ways that are in place purely for our benefit, yet we want to reap the rewards that come through obedience. In any other iteration of life, this line of thinking would be illogical.

It’d be like asking me to help you come up with a budget even though you know I’m imprudent with money. Tiffany, however, is an accountant and frugal, but you don’t like her. So instead, you choose me and my likeability to help you budget, while somehow expecting the money conscious rewards Tiffany has to offer.

Life doesn’t work that way. At all. We don’t get to cherry-pick the characteristics of God we like, and with them, create our own deity. 

It’s easy to call God anything but God when we don’t really know him. I’m not talking about being religious, I’m speaking of relationship and spirituality. For Christians, we shouldn’t be reading the Bible and praying strictly because it’s our “religious duty,” we should be doing these things to forge a deeper relationship with God. I’m not saying it happens overnight, and yes, sometimes we will have to force ourselves to pray and read our Bible. Discipline is required, but the reward of our faithfulness is being one with our creator and thirsting no more.

Running from God to false names may provide a temporary balm to our plight, but ultimately, it will lead to further confusion. I know that living in this world can make it hard to believe in an all-powerful God who is allegedly good. I won’t pretend to have all the answers.

If I may, however, offer my advice: call God by his name even in your uncertainty. Don’t be afraid to confront him with your questions. But be ready for the answers. God is not daunted by your inquiries. He wants to show you who he is, and the wonderful plans he has for you.

Step one to finding God: call him by his name.

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Lessons from Thumbelina

Thumbelina is one of the most underrated animated films of my time. What with all the Disney movies hogging the limelight, I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Yet, even with the odds stacked against it, “Thumbelina” somehow failed to go unnoticed by my childhood. By the age of six or seven, I’d seen it more times than I could count. Today, I found myself absently singing one of the tunes from the film. Annoyingly enough, I only remembered one line from the song…”Dearie, marry the Mole.”

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I mentally flipped through clips of the movie until I came to the scene this song accompanied— before I continue, let me give a brief synopsis of the movie for the losers who haven’t seen it or read the tale.

Thumbelina- a girl the size of a thumb- tries to find her place in a big world where she doesn’t quite fit in. On a whim of a night, her angelic singing lures a prince to her windowsill. They fall in love immediately. Typical. They set up a rendezvous for the next evening, but before their tryst can take place, Thumbelina is kidnapped. With the help of a new friend, she escapes. As she goes about trying to find her way home and ultimately her way back to Prince Cornelious, she gets sidetracked by various suitors who attempt to convince her that she should marry them instead. Despite pleas and insistence that she wed one of the available singles, Thumbelina never loses sight and hope of finding her true love.

tumblr_opo359Kx6c1w8zoooo1_500.gifCringe-worthy, I know, but there’s a takeaway.

Back at the scene, an ostensibly well-intentioned mouse friend tries to convince Thumbelina to marry a rich, over the hill mole with an upbeat ditty. She uses a practical argument: stability (i.e. money) is paramount to love. And it almost works. Thumbelina prepares for the wedding ceremony, complete with a hideous coiffure and equally horrid dress. As she saunters down the aisle toward the biggest mistake of her life, visions of Prince Cornelius bring her back to her senses. “I’m sorry, but I can’t marry the Mole. I don’t love him!”

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My fellow singles, I encourage you to take a page from Thumbelina’s story. Don’t settle for available just because your wait has become wearisome.

Your person is out there. Don’t give up on the partner God has purposed for you. They’re worth the wait and so are you. Besides, a partner isn’t all there is to life. While a spouse may be a part of your destiny, all that God has for you is not wrapped up in that one dream. Venture out and see what God would have you do in this season of your life.

Whatever you do, please refrain from entertaining your wait with pointless dating endeavors.

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Sometimes it seems easier to take the reins of life into our hands, rather than wait around for God to deliver his promises. I’ve been there and I get it, but do your best to avoid falling into this temptation. Date with intention, not out of loneliness. If you’re yearning for companionship, draw closer to God. I know, no one wants to hear that, but a boyfriend (or husband for that matter) cannot fill a void in your life that is meant for God.

Remind yourself of Thumbelina. She was lost, and many times throughout her journey, confused about what was best for her. Nonetheless, she kept her eyes on the promise she would live happily ever after with her prince. Thumbelina held on to her hope. If you are God’s child and he is your hope, then I ask you, are you allowing His promises to guide your love life?

Stay focus. Know that God knows what you need more than you think you know what you want. Read that last sentence again. Don’t be afraid to reject who you know is not from God. People will tell you you’re too picky or that you have too many standards that are too high. Your spouse is God’s choice— not your mom’s, friend’s, aunty’s, or cousin’s—God’s choice. His choice, your decision.

If you get to a place where you’re tempted to enter into a relationship just to kill time, question yourself. Ask yourself why you feel the need to be in a relationship with someone who has no real potential of being your spouse. Take those answers to God in prayer and ask him to help you fill those voids with his love. But please, don’t foul things up out of impatience or loneliness.

Stay strong in your singleness. You have not been forgotten.

 

P.S. In doing research for this post, I found out that one of the reasons Thumbelina was going to marry the mole was because she was under the impression that Prince Cornelious had died. Still though, if you’re a believer, has not death lost its sting? Things not panning out the way you want or expect them to is still not a reason to settle for anything less than what God has for you.

Off to watch, “Thumbelina.”

Rescued by the Storm

I’m awake. Thankful as I am for another day, I had every intention of being asleep at this early hour. It’s a cool fifty-four-degree morning here in Calgary, Canada and the sun is in its final moments of rest. Us humans, however, are already up and at it, scrambling toward productivity. I can hear the grumbling acceleration of car engines dragging along the black road just outside my window. Headlights peek through the small opening in the sheer hotel curtains, and some undecipherable fluorescent green sign across the street is pulling my focus away from the task at hand.

I snoozed my alarm at 6 a.m. but couldn’t fall back asleep. I figured a little reading would help ease me back into unconsciousness so I opened the Bible. The Old Testament. I ended up in the first chapter of the book of Jonah. I’ve heard the story of the man who was swallowed by an enormous fish a million times, but I’m embarrassed to say that this morning may have been the first time I read it for myself.

As I read along, my eyes lingered on one word in chapter 1, verse 17:

Now the LORD provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Provided?

I reread the verse trying to understand the use of a word meaning provision when Jonah’s situation couldn’t have seemed more hopeless. God made arrangements for Jonah to be swallowed by a sea creature? I needed clarity, so I continued my reading into chapter two.

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Our prayers to God generally include pleas for him to keep us away from ill-intentioned people and harmful circumstances, but not often enough do we pray for God to save us from ourselves. I love that I’m about to quote Whitney Houston, but something she said in an interview truly comes to mind. When asked what form of substance abuse was her biggest devil, she responded:

That would be me. It’s my deciding, it’s my heart, it’s what I want. And what I don’t want. Nobody makes me do anything I don’t want to do. It’s my decision. So the biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy. And that’s how I have to deal with it.

Love you Whitney.

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She was right, and although there is a very real enemy plotting against us, most of our problems are self-created through stubbornness and disobedience, just as it was with Jonah. God had given him a message to deliver to the people of Nineveh and he refused. He ran away from the will of the Lord and thus found himself tossed overboard a ship in a raging storm.

What I realize is that God’s idea of saving doesn’t always look like what we envision. God saved Jonah by sending a deadly storm and putting him in the belly of a sea creature. Personally, that’s not my idea of a life saver, but hey, I don’t make the rules. I’m sure Jonah would’ve appreciated dry land as a form of rescue.

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But the question is would he have responded to the call of God had God simply placed him on dry land? Sadly, I think not.

Jonah 2:1 says that “From inside the fish Jonah prayed…” That storm was Jonah’s opportunity for rescue, his moment to regain sight of his purpose. And in it, he cried out to God.

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Out of fear, we sometimes run from God’s plan for our lives. Decisions made in anxiety will always lead to disobedience. That rebellion is the catalyst to many of our storms. But what I love about God, is that he uses even our worst experiences to strengthen our relationship with him. Nothing we endure is wasted. He is a resourceful God, who uses the ugliest and most shameful parts of our lives to teach us and refine our faith in him. Because he is a merciful God, he provides a rescue in our storms. More amazingly, the storm itself is often the rescue.

Many times, it’s not until we hit our lowest point that we begin to heed God’s guidance. Most of my spiritual breakthroughs have come in the form of storms I thought I could weather. Whenever they proved to be too much for me, God has always been there, waiting to embrace me with open arms. And it’s in his presence that I was given the strength and faith to trust and obey his will.

The next time you’re in a storm, consider the possibility that you are also in the midst of your salvation. You must choose not to focus on your circumstance, but the God who has the power to pull you out. Trust that through the bad weather, God is realigning you to his will for your life. Remember that the Lord commanded the sea creature to vomit Jonah up. When it did Jonah had found the strength and courage to deliver God’s message to the city of Nineveh.

Know that when God allows your storm to spit you out, you won’t come out empty hearted. He will have prepared you for whatever challenge lies ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling Light

 

In March, I spent two days at Newark Liberty International Airport completing recurrent training: a dreaded but necessary requalification course required annually by all flight attendants. Never a fan of school, I huffed and puffed all the way there on that first day, but by the time class was over I realized how light I felt— literally.

 A normal workday would find me weaving in and out of the ever-crowded Newark airport, my forty pound luggage dragging behind me like a fractious child. But because I wasn’t actually flying anywhere, all I’d brought to training was a backpack to house my wallet, a notebook, some snacks, and a blanket.

Eager to soak up the rest of the day away from work, I galloped down the escalator and hurried to meet my uber driver at arrivals. I shrugged my bookbag off as I slid into the car. Leaning back, I sunk into the worn seat as the driver eased on the gas and the airport faded out of view. Wow, that was seamless.

My temporary dismemberment from my suitcase had given me the freedom to walk and maneuver as I willed without having to factor in their extra weight. On the ride home, I couldn’t help wishing I had access to the science used in the movie, “Honey, I shrunk the Kids.” Of course in my case, the kids would be my annoying luggage. How much easier my life would be if my bags weighed less than a pound and fit in my pocket.

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Putting aside silly notions, I thought of more realistic ways to lighten my load. As I began taking a mental inventory of the items in my suitcase, I found my thoughts drifting off to the less obvious baggage I tote around daily: the unecessary bulk I carry in my spirit.

We spend so much of our lives internalizing weight that was never ours to carry. Our spirits weren’t created to support life’s burdens, yet we bathe ourselves in the worries and trials of this world expecting to be cleansed.

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Hard as it may be to grasp, we don’t possess the antidote to not even a single of life’s troubles. Blinded, we sometimes think we have a responsibility to carry the load on our own, but that couldn’t be farther from what the word of God says.

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Anger, unforgiveness, and abandonment are a few of the more recognizable poisons we hold onto, but it’s the worries we think are natural and harmless that mature into beasts over time. Constantly stressing over money and bills, the future, health, our kids, marriages, and employment— all these normal worries carry heft as well. With time they ossify our spirits and we begin to block the blessings God wants to bestow upon us. Philippians 4:8 instructs us on what our thoughts should be consumed by.

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Giving our lives to God means trusting him entirely. Not only with the big things, but with the minutia of our lives. We cleverly disguise our pain, making sure to evenly distribute it throughout ourselves so that no one will notice the extra weight. We can’t hide from God. He formed and knew each of us before the foundation of the earth. He has purposed each of our lives for his glory. God is not perplexed or intimidated by our pain. However, we must make the choice of whether we want our struggles to be barriers or breakthroughs.

I see so many Flight Attendants hobbling through the airport with their luggage. It’s usually the ones who have been lugging around three and four pieces of baggage for twenty-five years. The weight and strain catches up. The baggage, if we let it, will attach itself to us like barnacles. Thank God though, our pain doesn’t have to be irreparable. We can opt to surrender our excess weight to God and let him deal with it. Trust him to deal with it. Know that He is more than capable of giving us the peace that we need to released our baggage.

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Millennial.

Millennial is a label I’ve grown to hate. Unless it has to do with teaching the Baby Boomers how to work their smartphones, the title has become synonymous with spoiled, entitled, brats.

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I wish I could disagree, but unfortunately, that definition isn’t entirely inaccurate. Yet, what I find far more pertinent than defining us, is figuring out how in the heck we got like this in the first place. How did we become such self-absorbed, pretentious individuals? I’m no Social Psychologist, but being a millennial myself, I do have a few theories on how we wound up a bit of a hot mess, and what we can do to remedy it.

1. Reach for the stars…they said.

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We were sold a dream. When our teachers and parents told us we could do and be anything, we believed them. We were inadvertently brainwashed into believing that a sure and certain path would lead us to lasting happiness. So you can imagine our devastation now that real life has pied us in the face. We put all our eggs in one very promising basket and things aren’t panning out, so we’re busy falling apart. Maybe no one said it, but we were made to think that following our dreams would be easy: graduate high school, go to college, get a career, find a spouse, buy a home, have some children, and run off into the sunset. No one told us we’d be here- drowning in the waters of a reality we were shielded from. We didn’t know there’d be bumps in the road or mountains not ours to climb, or how painstakingly long we have to water our seeds of success before they sprout. We’ve been convinced that happiness only exists in the grandest parts of life. If we aren’t doctors, lawyers, or some glamorous person who makes more money than they can spend, we diminish ourselves to nothing. The ordinary life has no appeal to us. No worth. The quotidian office or factory job is devoid of the happiness we imagined for ourselves. We were bred to be more…they said.

2. Fear of being second best.

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As a result of our warped perception of happiness, us millennials are terrified of failure. Cat’s out of the bag that we aren’t all going to be Space Engineers and Pop Stars, but we’re not taking it all that well. In fact, we’ve resorted to a state of petrification. Unable to move because we fear that if we do, we’ll somehow end up in the same spot. If we don’t cross the line first, we’d rather not cross at all. Ridiculous, I know, but this runs deep. Us millennials don’t do second best. And many of us would prefer to remain stagnant than to finish last, or fourth, or fourteenth. Instead of finding contentment in gradual progression, we’re programming ourselves to find happiness in whatever is on the surface. Whatever is within arm’s reach.

3. Social Media

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Where to begin with this one? Social media is the most life-sucking activity millennials engage in. We’ve belittled our self-value to likes and embellished pictures. Everyone wants to be Instagram famous and many are even striving to make a career out of creating illusions of happiness. Social media has become a mask: a way to hide our real fears and deep pain. The approval of others is like a high for us. We lay our precious worth in the hands of individuals just as broken as we are. To us, the world we create on the internet is more valuable than the world we actually live in. Social media has become a way to escape reality, but what we escape into is even worse. Millennials couldn’t be more enthralled with superficiality if we tried. Having money, being pretty, having a nice body, going on vacation, and luxury have all become paramount to the real beauties of life: gratitude, kindness, and love.

How do we initiate change?

Honestly, change feels impossible most of the time. I pray for my generation, myself, and for our world. The Bible speaks explicitly about the current times. Our world was always going to get to this, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to shoulder one another in these trying times. We have to stop selling the dream that life is all glitter and gold. It’s messy and it’s hard and doesn’t always turn out the way we expect, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty of happiness. It’s not the world’s responsibility to create a happy place for us, it’s our decision to create a happy place in the world. If we expect only one part of our story to produce happiness for a lifetime, that one thing is what will kill us. Failure is just a part of life and it’s okay not to be first. That’s one of my biggest fears when it comes to my writing, What if I write a book that doesn’t make the New York Best Sellers list? It is a very real possibility that my book will not be on that list, but that won’t make it worthless. I’ve read and enjoyed so many books that never made it to the best sellers list. So what? I enjoyed reading them and they imparted new thoughts and ideas- that’s what matters. Millennials, let’s be brave and make an effort to stop hiding behind social media and deal with our real selves. So what, if we’re not doctors and lawyers- we’re people. Don’t trade the human experience for silver and gold. We have to find a way to be happy and grateful in the place God has us. Move forward when it’s time, but let’s not allow our now to dictate our forever.

I Can Only Imagine

I’ve heard the song a hundred times, listened to it sang at least five different ways, and yet have never been at all curious about the lyricist. “I Can Only Imagine” is the best selling Christian single of all time and arguably the song most beloved by followers of Christ. When I found out a movie was being made about the backstory of the song, I was immediately intrigued. I wondered What did someone have to go through to come up with the lyrics:

“Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for You, Jesus
Or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.”

On its own, the song depicts perfectly our wonderment of what it will be like to experience the glory of God in heaven. Yet, the context of the movie unveils a less apparent perspective. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I do want to share my takeaway from the film.

The movie “I Can Only Imagine” broadens the character of the song. It puts the spotlight on the linchpin of Christianity. Faith. It’s easy to preach and pray about, but it’s not always easy to have. Pleadings to God can become tedious when we are forced to live in the now. Our situations don’t yield to our prayers in our timing, but in God’s. A hackneyed phrase, I know. God’s perfect timing can sometimes feel like an eternity.

Imagining our prayers already answered is faith. The areas in our lives and in our world that we wish were different, can be. But praying isn’t enough if all we’re doing is speaking the words we’ve been taught to say. Belief is what anchors our prayers. I know it’s not always easy, but it is necessary. The next time you pray for something, question yourself. Do you actually believe- can you imagine- that what you’re praying for can be a reality?

I have a friend whose salvation I’ve been praying for for years. This friend once told me that Believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus. Talking to him about my faith is like trying to explain long division to a rock. A few months ago the holy spirit challenged me to change the narrative of my prayers: Instead of making requests for things you believe have the potential to happen, begin to picture everything you pray for as if it’s already happened. I started with my friend. Now when I pray for him, I imagine him kneeling at the altar of God, both hands raised to heaven, praising the Father. I do the same for all my prayers. Picturing my requests have made my prayers more fervent, more believable, more hopeful.

So just as the Holy Spirit challenged me, I challenge you: imagine. Paint a picture with your prayers and hang it up on the walls of your mind to create a reference point for your petitions. I will never forget the scene I created the first time I prayed for my friend’s salvation using my imagination. I pictured my prayer as if it were real and since then, for me, it has been. It’s simply a matter of waiting for it to come to pass. 1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that Love suffers long… Don’t give up on your prayers. Imagine what you already know to be real by your faith in God.