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Unlikely Comfort

My college kids headed out in the boat for the last run of the day. Lake Shasta had not disappointed in a day filled with wakeboarding excitement and laughter.  As the sun was setting, my daughter Nicole took a hard fall after jumping the wake. She fell forward and her board popped up, hitting her in the back of her head.  She was able to climb onto the boat, unaware of the blood flowing down her neck.

The kids raced for the marina to get cell service to call 911 and to let us know what happened. As Nicole was lifted into the ambulance, she instantly had a feeling that she would be prayed for on the way to the hospital. Whether she was seeking distraction from her pain or just curious how prayer would happen, she asked Ashley, the EMT, how he handled seeing trauma every day.  He replied, “Honestly, it’s Jesus.” Nicole smiled and said, “Do you go to Bethel church?” He replied yes. They talked about their church and healing experiences.  As they pulled up to the hospital, Ashley prayed for her healing.

Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul: “We were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.  Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:5b-6) Where do you receive comfort when you are hurt or afraid? Who can you turn to when you need healing and help? God sends us comfort, sometimes in unlikely places. One minute you can be jamming on a wakeboard and the next you’re in an ambulance but God knows all about it. He sends encouragement and faith through a Titus, or in our case, an Ashley. Outside are conflicts, inside are fears, but God finds us.

In every difficult situation you encounter, God offers help. Maybe it’s a neighbor who is praying for you, a friend who pays your rent, a co-worker who reaches out. Maybe it’s a huge lit-up cross on the side of a hospital to remind you that God knows all about your pain. No matter how that comfort comes, take it as a wink from God. If you encounter opportunities this week to be that help, that unlikely prayer warrior, healer, encourager-BE the provision sent by God. You never know how God may use you to bring encouragement, healing, or transformation in someone’s life.

After an agonizing five hour wait outside the emergency room of (no joke) Mercy hospital, Nicole emerged stitched, bandaged, and cheerful. She told us about Ashley’s prayer, confidently assuring us she would not have a concussion.  The next morning Nicole was not concussed. She didn’t even have a headache. That was God’s wink for her. 

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I love witnessing the tender ways God encounters regular folks like you and me! I share these stories in my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. Get it today at www.MargaretAllen.org  

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Trust the Process

Do you remember planting seeds for science class in elementary school? The classroom window was lined with hopeful little pots, waiting for green life to spring forth. There was always that smug girl whose plant shot up first and remained the biggest plant in the window. Then there was me, knee socks slumped around my ankles, pulling my little green stalk out of the dirt to see what was going on under that soil!

Growth is almost always a subtle, hidden process. A tree’s growth is registered in its rings. The actual growing or adding of woody fiber happens quickly over a few months. The rest of the year is a slow solidification process of the green timber. Our spiritual life can feel the same way. God will bring bursts of revelation and insight or conviction and tenderness of heart.  Big decisions leap forward and new directions and habits forge ahead. God is so close we can almost feel His smile on us. But He also brings seasons where we must press in.  Weeks or months feel quiet and uneventful. We are solidifying our relationship with Him. To enjoy God’s presence is one thing; to be established in Him and manifesting His goodness daily, is another. Fruit ripens slowly with subtlety. It takes time to grow into His representation here on earth. 

“I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil.1:6) I’m glad the Apostle Paul was so sure. I have to fight the compulsion to pull it all up from the roots, impatient to see what’s going on in the soil of my heart. But remember, a squash only requires months to grow while an oak tree needs years. It depends on who and what you want to be! What does spiritual growth look like for you in this season? Are you being called into greater levels of obedience and listening? My friend, be encouraged: God will finish what He has started in you. The Bible says it this way: “the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10)

You don’t have to strive and worry. You don’t have to get into your flesh and work up some kind of emotion or frantic behavior. God will perfect what He started in you! He will confirm His work in you, strengthen it and establish you as His representation here on earth. Keep soaking up those nutrients in scripture, prayer, and God-encounters. Follow and obey Him. Let your roots go deep into Christ as His love blooms into new life.  

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Does your spiritual life need nurturing? Join the Gracious Living challenge today! You can get the book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion at www.MargaretAllen.org or the Kindle version on Amazon.  

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Abiding in Christ

I finished my Peloton ride, proud that I worked out before breakfast. Sweating, I moved into my stretching routine still feeling pretty accomplished so early in the day. As I eased into a lunge, I suddenly and unexpectedly sensed God’s voice. He said to me, Margaret, I am the vine, you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I abide in you; you will bear much fruit.  Apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

And that’s when I began to weep. God, apart from You I am completely lost. I need You in my life. I need Your speaking voice. I need Your holy presence, God. Otherwise, it’s all a mess- my marriage, my kids, my home, my business, my health, thoughts, attitudes, and mindset. You ARE the vine God. I am a little branch living through You!

All week I’d tried connecting with God and came up empty. I read my Bible, prayed, listened to podcasts and so on. But the entire time I felt distant and distracted, like a cloud blocked my view. Until He spoke that one verse to me, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” In that moment it was all clear as day: apart from the Holy Spirit living dynamically through me, I can do nothing. Nada. Zero. But, actively connected with Christ, all things are possible!  

If our natural tendency is toward distraction, what did Jesus mean when He said we must abide in Him? To abide is to dwell, make our home, live in, pitch our tent, cohabit. Abide also means to linger, stick around, to remain. Jesus, our wise teacher, Prophet, king, instructed His friends how to maintain a deep and personal relationship. Gazing out over the vineyards, He said, think of Me as the vine and you are one of the branches. Those connected to Me, making their home in me and, I in return, dwelling, remaining in them, will bear great fruit. But of course, you understand if a branch breaks off the vine it will wither and dry up. It will not bear beautiful life-giving fruit. Hear me: a branch disconnected from the vine simply will not produce life.

What is needing a God infusion in your life right now? Has your distraction only produced withered results? We all need fresh encounters with God. In every area of life, Jesus wants to bring supernatural provisions and solutions.  But if we are not connected, abiding, dwelling IN Christ we miss those moments of counsel and comfort. We will not bear the fruit that is needed right now. 

I check in often with God to see if I’m truly sustained by Him. How about you, my friend?  If you struggle to know God deeply, get the book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. In Gracious Living, I’ve carefully described ways to understand what God is saying. I’ve included prayers that you can pray, along with Biblical declarations to proclaim aloud. The book and the declarations are on my website at www.MargaretAllen.org Join me in the Gracious Living journey; get connected to God!

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Easing into Gratitude

Did you know when people are feeling positive they are 30% more creative and productive than they are at negative, neutral or stressed? I don’t know about you in 2020, but I’ve been straining just to get to neutral. Goals of creativity, productivity, positivity are melting into a coronavirus ooze of Netflix, Zoom calls, tired cooking, and boundaryless life-work tension.  Like me, are you searching for ways to lift your mental health

We learn to scan the landscape of our lives for good. My daily gratitude practice is outlined in my book, Gracious Living. Gratitude begins with posturing our heart toward God. Here’s a starter: “I take a few minutes to turn my affection toward God. Some days, I have more time, but at a minimum, I spend five minutes loving Him and celebrating His friendship in my life. It can simply be turning my face upward toward the sun for a few moments; dancing when a song comes on; or cherishing the sweetness of a moment in prayer.  Every day I also jot down three things for which I’m grateful.” (p. 43) You see, telling God thanks helps us to relive those good moments along with all the positive feelings. It’s way more productive than reliving every negative conversation or thought.

Besides my gratitude list of three every day, I practice another habit that has significantly impacted my life. Again, from my book, Gracious Living: “I send an encouraging text or email to someone every day. Whoever comes to mind, I take that as a sign from God.  I send them a Bible verse, tell them why I’m grateful for them, or share what I’m praying for them.  You might ask, ‘How does this help you, Margaret?’ If I consistently speak life over others, it will stand out as incongruent if I speak poorly to myself.  If I’m better to others, I will be better to myself, plain and simple.” (p. 43) Try it out: send an encouraging text or email a few mornings this week and see if your mood is lifted!

The Bible is a plumb line for me. When my thinking starts to spiral toward negativity, I review this honest word from Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) So my friend, when you walk into the kitchen, what do you dwell on? When you interact with fellow employees or family members do you dwell on what is true and honorable and worthy of praise?

This attitude of gratitude will ripple outward into every area of your life. Let the goodness of God shape your thinking so that you can be positive in this present moment. If you need some inspiration, find my book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion at MargaretAllen.org. The kindle version is on Amazon. Thank you for reading my blog today and let me hear how your gratitude practice is going!

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Beautiful Resilience

I am a proud survivor of this year’s family camping trip. You remember I mentioned a glorious trek into the Emigrant Wilderness last week. Perhaps I should have printed T-shirts with a giant mosquito on the front and the simple statement “I survived Wood Lake 2020.” I thought the hike to our campsite was twelve miles. I had water for about that much. Turns out it’s more like sixteen miles but who’s counting? (Uhh, me actually)

It was so 2020! This must be the year of doing hard things. I didn’t realize the altitude would affect me so greatly. My feet blistering wasn’t quite in my plan, either. I got worn out, honestly. Then the mosquitoes took it to a whole new level of uncomfortable. But maybe life is feeling that way for many of us: a whole new level of uncomfortable. The economy, marriage, parenting, working from home, feeling lonely have worn us down. Are you struggling my friend?  Maybe the road you are on has taken an unfortunate twist. But once you head into that wilderness there’s just no turning back now, is there? You may find in the strenuous journey that you emerge a different person: stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and flexible.

Here’s the scripture that carried me through that sixteen-mile hike: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) I figure that if the apostle Paul can write this admonition as one who suffered much, surely it can nourish and support me with my daily struggles. Seriously, when your marriage aches with pain and baggage, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer.” Are medical issues weighing heavy on your heart, my friend? Are you wondering if anyone sees your life? Whatever struggle, whatever long ass journey you are on, be joyful in hope, don’t give up! Be patient in difficulty. Persevere in prayer. When this truth is your compass, the strength of God guides you. He will surely answer the cry of your heart. With each step, be joyful in hope, another step, patient in affliction, more steps, persevering in prayer, step by step. Joyful in hope. Patient in affliction. Persevering in prayer. As the trail grows steep so does your hopefulness. Resilience is invigorating. People will wonder at your patience and strength of character. Prayerfulness will steady your life and create a beautiful culture all around. The bottom line is love. When we are joyful, persevering, and prayerful we are actually loving ourselves, loving others, and even loving God.

On the journey, I had people cheering me on. I hope you do too. Either way, you are a proud survivor. Keep moving forward! Resilience feels great and it looks good on you too. Romans 12:12 is a guide; let it direct you no matter how long the journey. When you overcome difficulties this week, congratulate yourself on hanging in there! Appreciate what God is carefully crafting in your life.

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Do you need resources right now to come alongside your spiritual journey? Go to MargaretAllen.org to get Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion.

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Spiritual Life Prep

Today I will be twelve miles into the Emigrant Wilderness in California. A group of us will hike into the wilderness to set up camp at Woods lake.  We will be the only group around, as this 112,000 acre wilderness keeps us all socially distanced. Our flyrods are ready, axes sharpened, and all camping gadgets are packed. Hammock? Check. First aid kit? Check. Solar shower? Hell yes. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, sleeping meds, and sleeping buddies. Yessiree Bob. Every possible scenario of wilderness survival has been considered. Ah, the camping life!

Somewhere in the packing for this trip I felt God nudging me, what if you approached your spiritual life this way? I paused to hear what He was saying. I felt a loving curiosity, what if you applied that same interest, passion, and detail to some of Our life together? Ahh fair question.

What if I applied diligence and excellence to my walk with God? Not a performance thing but a heart thing.  Paul exhorted Timothy, his spiritual son in the faith, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.” (1 Timothy 4:15) I’ve read scripture every day for years but is my progress evident to all?  Am I just kind of wandering through my spiritual life or does God hold my full attention?

Listen, if the prep and excitement around a weekend getaway can put our spiritual life prep and excitement to shame, let’s consider making a few adjustments:

  1. God is speaking every day. We must position our heart to be quiet enough and focused enough to hear Him. What is he saying to you this morning?  
  2. Spiritual questions? Research your questions as diligently as assessing an Airbnb for a weekend away! List questions, consider all the options, talk to experts, get clarity. God is not a God of confusion, nor will He cave under your scrutiny. 
  3. Read a first century biography about Jesus.  Study what He said and did as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. His life story is deeply compelling.
  4. Be absorbed in knowing and loving Jesus Christ, the King.

My friend, what a beautiful adventure we have walking with God! I know of no other relationship or destination that satisfies my heart so completely. “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

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Hey I am loving this Gracious Living journey we are on together! Thank you for following my blog. Get the book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion at MargaretAllen.org. The kindle version is available on Amazon.

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Self-Talk

What’s the conversation sound like in your head these days? The harsh rhetoric in our world today seems to have leeched into my self-talk. Having just published my first book, I’m on a steep learning curve with publishing, marketing, social media, shipping and so on. My brain hurts! But I’ve caught myself being self-critical and exaggerating negative predictions like you’ll never figure this out! Why did you even think you could… you fill in the blanks. My daughter heard some of my stinkin’thinkin’ and she started quoting my book to me. In her sweet, young voice she read: 

Do the conversations in your head sound like someone who is deeply loved and secure? Is your self-talk filled with compassion and gentleness? Would you hope your daughters talk about themselves in similar ways? Small changes produce significant results.  Thinking of yourself and talking to yourself with affection and appreciation may seem insignificant, but it cascades into a more gracious environment all around. Silencing the harsh voice of self-criticism and speaking to yourself with grace is sunshine for your soul, my friend.  You’ll feel the warmth—and so will others.” (Gracious Living, p. 37) God bless that child and our kitchen conversations!

The turn-around for me was quick. At the next obstacle, instead of berating myself, I purposely declared there’s a lot to learn here, and I’m new to this, be patient. You see, if I had a friend entering a new profession, I wouldn’t call her stupid for not knowing things. No, I would call her brave for trying something new. I would say things like hang in there, you’re just learning, be patient with yourself and with the process. It is a gracious choice to speak kindly to oneself as well as others.

How do you keep the conversation in your head bright and true?  Do you struggle with negative predictions? In this season where we are all grieving some sort of loss, intentionality is key. The Apostle Paul wrote that we are to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) Ruminating on negative, fearful, or critical thoughts doesn’t produce goodness in us.  The wisdom writings in Proverbs state “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21) I’m learning to speak life over myself and others. My goal is to release resilience, hope, and peace through my words.

Don’t let negativity creep into your language! Take those thoughts captive and replace them with truth and love. We each carry tremendous power to speak life and love—over ourselves, our friends and family, our community and nation. Use your words to create a culture of honor. You, and those around you, will be lifted up.  

You can buy the book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion today at MargaretAllen.org or the Kindle version on Amazon.

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Hopefulness

What do you see when you look at this picture? A young groom and a minister watch as the bride walked down the aisle. It was a lovely day in June. In spite of a pandemic the small group that gathered for this occasion was filled with joy.

A picture is worth a thousand words, isn’t it? I see prayers fulfilled. It turns out this precious groom, Gabriel Paxton Smith, is the young man I started praying for 24 years ago. I look back at the things I prayed for my daughter’s husband to be and Gabe is every bit of that and more! Given that their wedding occurred in the middle of a pandemic and racial crisis, I feel that their marriage will be used to bring healing and restoration in their generation. 

I see hope. The bride and groom are filled with hope when they dream about their future. They vowed to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

But I see prayer fulfilled in our minister, the Reverend Eriq K Truitt-Reed as well. I’ve prayed for greater inclusion in the diversity of our spiritual leaders. Eriq is a spirit-filled leader and minister to me. I look to him as a model of one who has suffered racism and yet lives from honor. I grew up hearing “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood” from MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech. My children grew up reading from “Martin’s Big Words” by Doreen Rappaport of how one day little black boys and black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I’ve been praying not only for our nation, but also our community and family to cherish people around us, honoring our differences and welcoming deep friendships. Eriq reminds me that my life is better because of that solid rock of brotherhood.

My friends, this is just one little picture from one little backyard, but it speaks hope to me. It speaks honor, love, and righteousness. I’ve heard testimony recently that pictures and articles telling beautiful stories of reconciliation are being suppressed from social media. Good and hopeful stories are buried so that you can’t see them. Share this story. More importantly, keep building a culture around you of honor, love, and compassion. Pray for the future you want to see—in future sons-in-law as well as a brotherhood and sisterhood filling our lives with beautiful diversity. Pray for justice in our country; love in our homes.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalms 89:14

Go to MargaretAllen.org to sign up to receive this blog in your email each week or to purchase the book, Gracious Living, Creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion

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Waking Up

I woke up sensing:  I have food to eat of which you do not know. Ok, that’s weird but I recognized it as something Jesus said in the Bible. Like a smooth stone in my hand, I turned the phrase over and over in my mind. God why are you saying this to me?

I have food to eat of which you do not know comes from the Biblical book of John, a first century biography of Jesus, chapter 4. The story describes mid-day during a long journey and Jesus’ disciples have gone into town for food. Jesus, sitting at a well encounters a Samaritan woman. He rips through social boundaries to experience a genuine conversation with her (normally it would be improper for a rabbi to speak to any woman in public, especially one of mixed race as the Samaritans. It was even greater impropriety to share a drink with her). The long story short is that He pretty much reads her mail! He indicates knowledge about her past with all of its disappointment and shame. He indicates knowledge of her future hope. Get this: He tells her that God is seeking true worshippers. She, a discarded Samaritan woman, mattered to God.  

What I love about Jesus is that He did not participate in racial bias. He refused to be hindered or held back from extending justice toward a woman of the lowest rung in society. He lived out a life of honor, love, and compassion rather than perpetuating fear, shame, and division. Do you know anyone like that today? Are you that person creating a beautiful culture in your community?

I haven’t even gotten to my favorite part of the story! When his disciples return with the food, He essentially says no thanks, I’m full. Besides being shocked that Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman, the disciples want to know where He got his grub! Jesus clarifies, My food is to do the will of God. And what was the will of God? To bring this woman into wholeness. To establish her worth, dignity, and purpose. To answer her deepest questions about friendship with God. 

When I woke up with the Spirit speaking those words, I have food to eat of which you do not know, He was reminding me there’s a feast in the Spirit of God. There’s a joyful sustenance bigger than my circumstances would want me to know. Jesus is seeking an encounter with each of us today. He wants to minister to our pain and our shame. He waits to release hope, purpose, and destiny to us! Dear friend, do you have food today that others can’t see?

Hey, if you’re digging these posts, feel free to share them on your social media! If you want to get these as an email every week, just go to MargaretAllen.org and click on Mondays with Margaret and sign up for emails at the bottom of that page. Buy the book Gracious Living for yourself or be crazy and buy 10 for your friends to read and discuss!