We have to stick together, ladies. There are too many things in this world trying to pull us apart right now. We need to have each other’s backs instead of throwing stones at them and talking behind them.
Turning on one another is a learned behavior based upon lies that we’ve believed from unreliable sources like reality tv stars and tabloid journalists. You know they get paid to be dramatic and catty, right? Sales over souls should be the motto of this day and age.
Let’s stop pointing fingers at the mama in the grocery store with a screaming baby on her hip and a toddler running down the aisles. She needs a reassuring smile. She needs to know that it gets better. That you’ve been there and it’s ok to admit that those sweet little bundles are driving her crazy. Maybe she needs someone to come alongside her and offer to give her a kid-free afternoon so she can catch up on the Zzzz’s she’s undoubtedly lost.
Can we all just take a moment and address the elephant in the room? Friendships are hard. They require work and commitment and loyalty and grace. For ourselves and for the woman across from you on the computer, at the dinner table, or in the gym. Why don’t we offer more understanding for the changing seasons we are each individually called to navigate instead of doling out advice or judgement? I want a friend who sees past my decisions, be they good or bad, and gets to know my heart. A woman who calls out my potential despite my problems. Don’t you?
What about the teenage girls running around looking for love in all the wrong places? Can we, first of all, put ourselves in their place for a minute? We were 17 once (man, it feels like forever ago!) Do you remember hormones and dates and bullies and body odor? The young girls of today have way more pressure and temptation to deal with DAILY then we ever did. They need the older women among us to show them that loving themselves because God loves them is more momentous than letting their boyfriends love them from 1st base all the way to home plate. Can I get an Amen??!!
It’s high time we joined together instead of facing off against each other. In one of Aesop’s Fables, titled “The Four Oxen and the Lion”, a short story of deep meaning is found. A lion prowls around a group of oxen for days and days with the intent to attack. Every time he tries to pounce, they group together by backing up against each other and facing out horns first in the lion’s direction. The lion can’t break through their wall of unity and backs off. A time comes, however, when the oxen begin to argue. They each leave the pack and go off on their own due to their disagreements. The lion is then able to charge each of them separately and take them as his prey.
Pretty devastating consequences for a little scuffle between friends, isn’t it? That’s the point. Aesop clinches his tale with this winner of a phrase: “United we stand, divided we fall.”
The days we are living in are brutal. Our minds, bodies, and souls are literally taking blows from a variety of sources on a regular basis. Can we choose to look beyond a woman’s mistakes or opinions long enough to realize that God never called her to figure this life thing out on her own? In fact, none of us were called to be alone. It’s time for the collective voice of women to rise up over the nagging insecurities and questionable choices that plague each of us behind closed doors.
It’s time to start defending and stop offending. Let’s stand back-to-back ready to fight off anything that threatens our unity. Sisterhood is worth the fight.
by Harmony Vuycankiat
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I am somebody who has a view into both the black and white world. My parents married in the sixties when it was illegal in many states for a black and white couple to marry. I have been subject to racism my whole life, as well as having a lot of privilege. I’ve seen what it's like to go to restaurants and stores with my white family, and then go to the same restaurants and stores with my black family and be treated completely differently. If you know me at all, you know I desire for every person to live together in harmony, peace and love. The truth is that conflict not addressed but simply glossed over will never truly bring peace. However, conflict resolution and reconciliation will bring peace and harmony.
Reconciliation is not assimilation. Following Apartheid South Africa held truth and reconciliation courts. In one case a white South Afrikaner admitted to killing a black woman's husband and son. He asked her for forgiveness and how he could possibly reconcile things. She said that he had to come on Sundays and be her son and let her cook for him. The response from the woman didn’t happen because she was told to get over it and assimilate.
I hear good people saying ‘all lives matter.’ The truth is once a person says all lives matter, they have shut down a conversation that could lead to healing and reconciliation. I suggest to a person who truly wants Christ-like reconciliation that instead of shutting down conversations from POC, they would just simply listen. I suggest they could just simply hear someone’s stories of trauma without judgement and without telling them how to respond. Who knows, perhaps in that moment of genuine listening and intentional hearing, there could be healing. And when there is true healing the door is open for genuine reconciliation.
Each morning rain or shine you rise up
And hurry over to your coffee cup
Breathe in the smell, breathe in my wisdom
Before you go out to deal with the system
Your phone rings, the people need you, the city is desperate
But you'll know better then to settle for a reality that's embellished
They talk of things you have to listen, they laugh and you'll laugh
Yet you should know it's just for them to look good in their photographs
But I whisper don't lose hope, let them see your tears and your sweat
Just don't you ever forget, even when your heart is so upset
That in this world you remain a bright corner
In this cold world you must keep your soul warmer
Because you are not of this world my beautiful daughter
by Sena Gomes
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Pic by Wonderlust
Here are the photos from our Flourish Summer 2016 Shoot. These photos were taken by the amazing Emily Brashier for our Flourish Store. A percentage of the revenue sold from all products of the Flourish Store will be given to anti-human trafficking efforts in Oklahoma City.
In Proverbs 31, Solomon tells us that the children of a God-loving mother will do two things. “Her children rise up and call her blessed.” - Proverbs 31:28
Rise Up: To rise up means to live boldly for Christ by standing our ground when everything around us is trying to knock us down. Picture an eagle soaring above the storms. She is not affected by the lightning and thunder around her but rather, she is bravely allowing the severe weather to propel her further into her destiny.
To raise our children with the mindset of an eagle, we have to be intentional about speaking life and purpose over them; not just when they score a touchdown or make an A, but also during the rough times when their character is not lining up with their potential, or their decisions are not following God’s will. We, as mothers, are called to see past the here and now, and speak to our children’s future. It’s not always easy, but it can be done with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The second thing the children of a Proverbs 31 mother will do is:
Call Her Blessed: Saying mom is blessed shows that our kids are calling out the deep things inside of us that define who we are as women of God. It is about our children seeing Jesus shine through our smile as we look on with love at their victories and defeats. It means they know that we trust in God during the good times and the bad times and because of our trust in Him, our children bless us with words of praise and admiration.
Ultimately, being a mother is difficult at times. None of us get it right all the time. God sees and knows, yet does not condemn us for our failures. He does not expect us to be perfect. He just wants us to allow Him to guide our lives, as we guide the lives of our children. It is really about one thing: leading them in love by example to the perfect Parent, our one and only Heavenly Father.
Our aim is simple: look to heaven for help on earth. This model will demonstrate true faith to our kids and will eventually reward us, as they live lives of passion and courage for the glory of God. So, keep on keepin’ on, moms. It will all be worth it when they rise up on wings like eagles and call you blessed.
by Harmony Vuycankiat
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Right now there is a lot of controversy in our world about a lack of diversity. The Oscars Awards Show is being boycotted by actors and filmmakers because of a lack of diversity in its nominations. People are mad, and people are mad that people are mad. It’s always good to think through things without a lot of emotion so that there can be good conflict resolution. I believe it’s wise to always bring water to the fire not gasoline.
So after thinking about it, I don’t think anyone wants for the the members of the Academy to pick movies based on race or gender, but I do think people want the Academy to be more diverse in general so that it represents all those who are in the film industry. If the Academy is more diverse, then wouldn’t the nominations be more diverse?
I understand that particular frustration in Hollywood, because I was a young actress in Los Angeles years ago. I studied at a prominent acting academy, I worked on my craft and received excellent feedback; and yet as someone who was ethnically ambiguous I was cast for very few parts. The parts I did get were generally small parts as a housekeeper or an immigrant. Those of course are honorable roles but eventually I began to lose heart because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me doing what I felt I was put on the planet to do. Thankfully for years now many have persevered and now there are successful people of diverse backgrounds in the film industry.
However, during that time in California I eventually gave up acting and I became very purposeless and drifted in life even to the point of self-destructive behavior. Thankfully years later I am back on track by the grace of God alone and I’ve discovered my deeper purpose and calling in life. However, I have never forgotten how important it is to see people who look like you doing what you feel you are made for, it gives you vision.
When thinking about diversity, it’s clear it only strengthens things. I remember watching a documentary once on the making of the movie Gladiator, one of my favorite films. During pre-production the writers had failed to produce the final script. They were getting ready to start production and they couldn’t figure out the motive for why Maximus, played by Russell Crowe, kills Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix.
The group of writers consisted of all men except for one woman. The woman writer went away for a week while the others were still working on the script. While she was gone they decided to have Commodus kill off Maximus’ love interest Lucilla, played by Connie Nelson, so that Maximus would have the motive of revenge.
They told the woman writer when she returned about their decision, and she was horrified. They had already killed Maximus’ first wife and now they were about to kill off the only other woman in the film. She convinced them that this was a really bad idea. They listened to her and finally arrived at the idea that Maximus’ motive was not vengeance, but a desire be with his family in the afterlife. The movie came out and was a major success, it won critical acclaim, a ton of awards and is loved by people everywhere, particularly women. Diversity only makes a project fuller and richer.
In Ireland in the eighteen hundreds the peasants were oppressed and forced to survive on one potato crop. Tragically, however, that crop failed. During the Irish Potato Famine one million people died and two million people immigrated. One of the first things I learned in gardening is to plant a diversity of crops, because they are stronger together, and more resistant to attack from disease and predators. Then if one crop fails, you still have an abundance of food.
Scientists will tell you that a healthy ecosystem consists of a diversity of life forms. The more varied the number of species of genes, microorganisms, plants, the more health and sustainability the ecosystem possess.
In investing stocks it is so important to diversify. If you place all your financial eggs in one basket then you risk a major loss. However, if you diversify your funds, when one does poorly you still have plenty that do well.
Organizations today that are advancing have discovered that they need to reach the younger generation to have success and longevity. However, think if the Academy or leading organizations began to intentionally reach each generation, women and those from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds? How healthy and strong would they become?
I truly believe when our organizations and teams begin to diversify from the top to the bottom our strengths, gifts and talents will come together to synergize and multiply. We are always better together and when we are unified the possibilities are limitless.
Pic by Lumina
In life we can believe we are inferior to others. We can be trapped in insecurity and fear. However, God made us in His image, every single one of us, and not one is superior to the other; just everyone of us unique and special.
Jesus came to earth to make a place for all of us at the table: the prostitute, business man, tax collector, the outcast. Even when our upside down world ignores the truth that we are equal, God raises up deliverers to fight against injustice and inequality: Gideon, Moses, Deborah, Esther, Nehemiah and modern day ones like Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
God’s love for us was revealed perfectly in Christ Jesus’ life, death and resurrection from the dead. Become of Jesus, we can all receive God’s gift of righteousness and abundant supply of grace not by works but by faith.
Jesus not only made a place for all of us at the table but through His finished work on the cross we become co-heirs with Christ and share in His inheritance. God’s relentless, unconditional, overflowing and unfailing love washes away the lies of inferiority and insecurity.
The more we look to Jesus, the more we will walk free knowing that we are loved and approved; and now through His precious perfect blood and broken body on the cross we are co-heirs with our beautiful risen savior Jesus Christ.
Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
“All men, created alike in the image of God, are inseparably bound together" “This is at the very heart of the Christian gospel.” It is the heart of the American creed as well. - MLK jr.
"Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Saviour over the torture of the cross and the grave. "Our Messiah, who came to us in the form of a mortal man, but who by his suffering and crucifixion attained immortality. "Our Messiah, born like an outcast in a stable, and executed like criminal on the cross. "Our Messiah, whose life bears testimony to the truth that there is no shame in poverty: Those who should be ashamed are they who impoverish others. "Whose life testifies to the truth that there is no shame in being persecuted: Those who should be ashamed are they who persecute others. "Whose life proclaims the truth that there is no shame in being conquered: Those who should be ashamed are they who conquer others. "Whose life testifies to the truth that there is no shame in being dispossessed: Those who should be ashamed are they who dispossess others. "Whose life testifies to the truth that there is no shame in being oppressed: Those who should be ashamed are they who oppress others." - Nelson Mandela
More on Rosa Parks Faith http://www.journeywithjesus.net/Essays/20130401JJ.shtml
Christmas Seen through the Stories of a Con-Artist, Harlot, Immigrant, Adulterer and a Middle Eastern Refugee
by Malika Cox
Pic by Sari Wynne Ruff
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year - the festivities, the food traditions, time with family, Christmas carols, gift-giving and especially gift-receiving. As much as I do love these things I love the Spirit behind Christmas more. I love the heart of the message which is God’s gift to the world.
I think a beautiful picture of this gift can be seen through the genealogy of Christ. It is easy to skip the genealogy but if you take the time to read it you will find that Matthew mentions five women. Five just happens to be the Biblical number for grace.
What is interesting is that these women are all either marginalized or a bit scandalous. In the mix we have a con artist, a harlot, an immigrant, an adulteress and a refugee.
Tamar: I remember the first time I read her story, I thought, wait, what? This is not one of the Bible stories you heard in Sunday school when you were a child. As the story goes, Judah the patriarch marries his son Er to Tamar. However, Er dies, and the tradition of the day was for a brother to fulfill the duties by marrying his brother's widow to produce an heir. Judah tries to marry Tamar to one of his reluctant other sons, but he dies as well. Judah then stops offering his sons to Tamar. In that day a woman without a father, husband or son would often be left penniless and vulnerable. She might be caught in the trap of prostitution or begging at the gate. The beggars often would gouge their eyes out or do other self-mutilation to elicit sympathy in hopes for alms.
Tamar, seeing that she is not being given a husband, disguises herself as a prostitute. She places herself in her father-in law's path one day. She ends up pregnant and Judah finds out. He plans to have her killed according to the law but she reveals that she was the one dressed as a prostitute and is pregnant with, as it turns out, his babies (twins), Perez and Zerah. Judah proclaims that Tamar was more “righteous” than he. Tamar’s future ends up secure, she becomes a matriarch and ends up in the genealogy of Christ.
Rahab: Rahab is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a harlot. Josephus the secular historian wrote that Rahab was an innkeeper. Whether the inn was a hotel or a brothel we don’t know. We don’t know a lot about her but we do know that Rahab would have had very little social standing in society. Whatever her standing was, she had great faith in the God who delivered the Hebrews from the Egyptians. When the Hebrew spies came into the land of Jericho, Rahab protected them, even knowing that she was risking her life.
The soldiers repaid her by sparing her and her family when they invaded Jericho. Rabbinic teaching indicates that she converted to Judaism after the invasion and legend has it that she married a soldier, possibly even the leader Joshua. We don’t know if those things are true but we do know she made it into the genealogy and is mentioned as the mother of Boaz in the Book of Ruth.
Ruth the Moabite: Ruth’s story begins with her mother and father-in-law, Naomi and Elimelech who left Israel for Moab because of a famine. Their sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, and then tragedy strikes. The father and the sons die leaving the women vulnerable.
Naomi decides to face her fate alone and return to Israel. She encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their families. However, one refuses to leave her. Ruth follows Naomi back to Israel where she will be an immigrant, a stranger in the land. Ruth chooses to leave everything she knows that is familiar and the security of her father’s house to ensure that Naomi would not be left alone and vulnerable. In Israel Ruth finds herself gleaning wheat in a wealthy bachelor’s field and she ends up marrying Boaz the son of Rahab. They have a baby Obed who becomes the grandfather of King David and who is in the lineage of Christ. Naomi proclaims that Ruth is better than seven sons.
Queen Bathsheba: Bathsheba may be one of the most scandalous women of the Bible and yet possibly the most praised. Most of us know the story of David and Bathsheba. King David saw Bathsheba bathing from the palace rooftop and even though he had many wives and concubines he desired this married woman and summoned her to the palace. Bathsheba, who most likely loved her husband, had no say in the matter because of her status as a woman and as a subject of the King.
When David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant, he sends Bathsheba’s husband, who is one of his noble soldiers, to the battlefield to be murdered. David and Bathsheba marry but the baby is stillborn. Bathsheba’s situation seems hopeless.
However, she must have chosen to move forward in life because an ode to womanhood is written about her in the Bible. David and Bathsheba have another son, King Solomon. Rabbinic tradition and most scholars agree that Solomon wrote Proverbs 31 about his mother. The Proverbs 31 woman is wise and strong, she is caring and compassionate, she stands up for the poor and needy and she is capable, successful and an entrepreneur. No matter what tragedy and scandal surrounded Bathsheba in her youth she ended up highly praised in the Bible as a woman of virtue and made it into the genealogy of Christ.
Mary, the mother of Jesus: We all know the story of Mary because it is at the core of our Christmas story. As a teenager Mary receives a Heavenly message that she is going to give birth to ‘Immanuel’, God with us. She is not married and has not known a man. It will take a miracle for this to happen and yet she simply believes.
After the birth of Jesus a brutal infant genocide takes place in Mary’s homeland, which is being occupied by the Romans. Her husband Joseph takes her and her son Jesus and escapes to Egypt for two years where they live as refugees. The family would have been treated as foreigners and most likely scorned for being outsiders. This could be why Jesus said that when you take care of the hurting, the hungry, the forgotten, and the displaced you have done it for me.
Mary endured hardship as she stepped into her calling to bring God to the world, but because of her faith she became the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ and by her own prophetic words all generations call her blessed.
These women all suffered, were outcasts, were marginalized, and were forgotten, but not by God. He redeems each one and causes them to flourish. They are a picture of the beautiful bride of Christ, the church. We’ve all been a fraud, we’ve all played the harlot, we’ve all been the outsider, been a cheat and a stranger. However now through the gift of God, Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, we are rescued from destruction, redeemed from our past, restored to our original purpose, and reconnected to our Heavenly Father. We all can receive the abundant supply of grace and the gift of righteousness to reign in life.
This Christmas we can go beyond the festivities and fun and be a light in someone’s darkness: help out a single parent who may be struggling financially, call those we know who are grieving a loved one, treat the stranger on the side of the road with generosity and compassion, welcome refugee families into our lives as if they are Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
by Josiah Potts
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Pic by Eric Ewing
Three of the four Gospels give an account of a religious scholar asking Jesus which is the most important commandment. Matthew 22:37 is my favorite response; ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ He goes on to say the second part is equally as important as the first. He ends his statement with: “The entire law and all that it demands of the prophets are based on these TWO commandments.”
The Gospel of Luke gives the account of a religious leader who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus graciously reminds him of these commandments. The scholar inquires, “Who is my neighbor?” What shock he must have felt when Jesus spoke of the Good Samaritan: a man who was on his way to Jericho and was mugged. (This road was known to be a dangerous passage.)
They beat him, took everything, and left him for dead. Two different religious leaders passed by and offered no assistance. A traveler from Samaria passed by and took notice. Not only did he attend to the immediate needs, he created a way for the man to fully recover. He put the injured man up in an inn and agreed to pay any expense incurred.
During this time, Samaritans were treated as second class citizens; not only were they ostracized because of their race, but also of where and how they chose to worship. The Samaritan could have been completely justified in ignoring the plight of this man. He may have also realized the potential threat to his own safety; however, the needs of the hurting outweighed the social stigma or his fear of potential danger. He willingly took on extra responsibilities that could have made him more susceptible to danger.
After Jesus tells this story, He asks the religious scholar who he thinks was the neighbor to the injured man. The scholar responded that the one who showed mercy was the neighbor. Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.” I think what fueled the Samaritan's Christ-like response was that he saw past their differences and saw the man for who he truly was: God’s creation. When humanity begins to understand the common denominator that we all share, we have the ability to see past the things that could potentially separate us. Christ-like people do not pick and choose who deserves help. We vehemently respond to those who are in need.
The Jesus we follow healed the sick, hung out with the social and religious outcasts, and invited His own betrayer into His close circle of friends. He placed the same value on every human by laying down His own life in the most extravagant display of love and acceptance.
When fear or apathy determines our response to people in need, we become more like the religious leaders who were unconcerned, or too afraid to get involved. When we are dealing with hurting and broken people, it is going to be messy. We may get blood stained, inconvenienced or pay more than our fair share. The right thing to do could cost everything. We risk it all because Jesus showed us that every individual is worth the sacrifice.
by Kendal Kelly
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Pic by Aleshyn Andrei
As a believer I feel that one of the biggest battles we can face in our faith walk is that of authenticity and transparency. It seems some of us are too afraid to show what is really going on in our lives. It is almost as if we take on a wrong mindset - that once we are a believer we are supposed to have it together all the time.
While the Bible is full of promises of favor and blessings that we inherit when we become a follower of Jesus, it also explains that in this life we will have troubles, but that we should take heart because Jesus has overcome the world. We are not excused from hard times, temptation or sin, but Jesus does promise His strength when times get hard, His grace when we drop the ball, His favor when it is undeserved and His promise to work out all things for our good when everything just seems to go wrong.
It can be frustrating when we look around at others’ lives, and especially when we look on social media where it appears as if everyone’s lives are perfect. We can think thoughts like “I’m the only one,” “the only one struggling,” “the only one with an issue.” If we continue to live masked and hidden we are only hurting ourselves. It can cause us to remain bound by our struggles, addictions and lies; it can lead to an absence of feeling fully known, seen and loved by those around us.
We can fear that if we show what is really going on inside or behind closed doors we will be humiliated, called out, judged, misunderstood, or rejected. However, hiding what is really going on with us and refusing to open up and let others into our past sins and current struggles can cause up to live defeated.
News flash - Jesus didn’t just die for the sins that we would commit before we received Him into our heart, but even the ones we KNOWINGLY would do AFTER. Luke 5:31 says "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Jesus is not shocked or offended when we mess up or fail, and He is most assuredly not intimidated or offended by our past.
I will never forget a powerful moment in my life when I was at Bible school and a man on the stage preaching was willing to open up about a sexual experience that he had when he was very young. He eventually told his dad who simply said that’s not you. The preacher talked about how he knew that had he not told someone that he would be filled with condemnation, and believe the lie that there was something wrong with him. He also very openly talked about his porn addiction as a teenager and his battle to stay away from it.
Later on I would hear another preacher talk about how she was abused as a child and how she felt shame and confusion in her sexuality. She also explained how she was able to walk through it and become whole again. I heard another pastor share that he was on his couch for six months with debilitating fear and depression. All of these people opened up and let others into their battles and found healing in Jesus. I was amazed by their vulnerability, it was so freeing to hear.
The truth is none of us is perfect and we all struggle. No matter what you think, you are not the only one. You name it, it has been done. Whatever you are facing, there is someone beside you who has come out on the other side ready to love you and walk you through it. What I'm not saying is go and tell your business to everyone, but find someone who cares for you and open up to them and allow them to help you through your struggles. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
When we open up to tell someone about what is really going on in our lives, we get to feel totally seen, known and loved. The lies and chains fall off and the things that once kept us down lose their hold. As we allow Jesus to do a deeper work of healing in us, we will be able to share our stories of overcoming with others too, and remind them that they are not the only one. Darkness cannot remain when the light comes in.