Today, Nicole speaks to us about the privilege of influence, encountering God in the midst of Crohn’s Disease, and the meaning of true church (it is not the building).
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: “He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.” Mark 3:14-15 (NIV)
Before ANYTHING else, the disciples were called to BE with Jesus. Spending time in His presence is so much more important than anything we can do for Him.
“Spending time in His presence is so much more important than anything we can do for Him.”
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: Commitment. Each year I talk with God about a word or phrase to focus upon in the coming year rather than setting a New Year’s Resolution. Once He sets a word in my heart, I do a little research to find Scriptures with that word in them. He will make one stand out among the others and I know that’s the verse He wants to develop within me that year. Certainly not the only verse, but a big one.
Last year, for example, the Lord called me to focus on boldness. By allowing Him to grow me in this way, I was able to share Him with a group of college aged women through a Bible study I wrote called Flourish (available through the blog). I also delivered my first sermon on how to overcome the Maximum Capacity Mentality, based on a blog post I had written previously that year.
This year, I feel the Lord calling me to not only go after the things He calls me to with boldness, but to learn how to rest instead of quitting once they become stressful or even mundane.
“To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord. COMMIT to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:1-3
Profession: I am learning to find peace in the fact that what I’m doing now might not always be what the Lord calls me to do. As I’m learning to be more comfortable with that, I find that I’m also becoming more intentional and even expectant! So, in this season, I am serving as an elementary school teacher. I teach 3rd grade to a class of eighteen 8 and 9 year olds discovering who they are amidst a variety of needs and personal struggles. I love every moment that I get to slow down, take their little faces in my hands, and speak into their lives. It’s a privilege to be a person of influence in someone’s life, no matter how small!
“It’s a privilege to be a person of influence in someone’s life, no matter how small!”
A one sentence bio of yourself: I’m just a girl with wind-blown hair, bright eyes, and a wide smile, learning to live her one wild, imperfect, yet precious life with the love of Jesus.
When did you first encounter God? I can look back on my life and see God calling to me throughout the years: Spontaneous decisions to go to church, though I had never regularly attended, deep feelings about what was appropriate or inappropriate with boyfriends, Scriptures put on my heart, though I didn’t read my Bible.
It wasn’t until I was 20 years old that I was able to acknowledge this was God reaching out to me, calling me to be reconciled to Him. At 20 years old, I was a junior in college, a new fiancée to my now husband, Justin, and a patient of the Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida where I was scheduled to have sections of my intestines and bladder surgically removed. I had jumped the four-month-long waiting list of a world renowned colorectal surgeon because my diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease (an autoimmune disease which attacks the gastrointestinal tract) was so severe it had even been deemed life threatening.
When I came out of surgery, I expected the doctor to tell me this was a temporary solution to a chronic problem, however, I was met instead with the news that there were no signs of Crohn’s Disease in my body. No trace of the disease left in my body after five years of consistent outpatient surgeries, procedures and transfusions, home health nurses and home school teachers, restricted diets, medications ranging from steroids to chemotherapy agents, and constant pain.
There was no other explanation for this sudden and complete healing but God, and I knew that I had to know Him more. I took off in pursuit of Him… a slow walk at first, and then with increasing speed as I learned more of His unconditional love! He loved me so much that He healed me when I didn’t even know Him, and now all I want to do is live to make Him known.
“I expected the doctor to tell me this was a temporary solution to a chronic problem, however, I was met instead with the news that there were no signs of Crohn’s Disease in my body.”
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? My friends at church! I know some people say nature is their church, and I agree that God’s presence goes with us everywhere when we receive the Holy Spirit. I like reading my Bible in a hammock as much as the next person. I know He meets me there. Church is not about the actual building though. It’s about the opportunity to meet others within that building- others who love and serve Christ, too.
Let me put it this way: Christ is called the Cornerstone. He holds up all of the living bricks, or people. You and I are but one brick. One brick among many. If we are not supported by other bricks, we will fall. If we are not supporting other bricks, they will fall. As we lean on one another, Christ works through us to support the entirety of the bricks. My friends at church aren’t the ones whom my salvation, joy, or peace come from. However, they are the ones reminding me of Whom those things come from when I can’t see clearly for myself.
They are the ones defending me in prayer, guarding my heart from the opinions of others, and encouraging me to continue pursuing Jesus with everything I have. In this season, I have had so much stripped away. I have one friend from church in particular who invites me over on the weekends just to lay in her bedroom and have some quiet time in my Bible. She knows my current living situation isn’t so quiet, and so I crave that alone time with the Lord. I pray that everyone would have friends like this to encourage them in their walk. I pray that we would be these friends, too.
“Church is not about the actual building though. It’s about the opportunity to meet others within that building- others who love and serve Christ, too.”
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): Girls With Swords by Lisa Bevere. We’ve been entrusted with a sword, girls! The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and we wield it as we stand in confident expectation of the promises God has spoken, declaring them over ourselves and others.
Top three essentials: A thick hardcover journal with a set of rainbow inkjoy pens, a bonfire (but I’d settle for a Marshmallow Fireside candle from Bath & Body Works), and a cozy knitted blanket.
How did God speak to you recently? Approaching a traffic light at a busy intersection a little while ago, the green light changed to yellow and then to red. Instead of feeling frustrated, I felt relieved. I knew that after the red light would come a green arrow. I’d have the right of way while crossing this busy intersection instead of trying to judge for myself like I would have had to do if I had only had a green light, not a green arrow. God showed me it’s the same in our lives. When we feel like we’re stopped at a red light in life, we should have joy. God’s up to something! Green arrows follow red lights. Whatever we’re about to do will have God’s approval and anointing, and if God is for us then who can be against us?
“When we feel like we’re stopped at a red light in life, we should have joy.”
Hobby: I’m a passionate gatherer of people, a DIY enthusiast, a curator of antiques and beautiful words, a born traveler, a bold dreamer, and most recently, a practicer of regular stillness. I would love to learn more about photography soon, too.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong: I don’t actually know a lot about Smith Wigglesworth except that he was supposedly an amazing man of God, and my father’s bookshelf is lined with many titles written by him. It might also have been my dad who told me Smith Wigglesworth once woke up in the night to see a demon sitting at the bottom of his bed. While you or I might have panicked, Wigglesworth laughed and said, “Oh, it’s only you,” rolled over and went back to bed.
He was so sure of his identity in Christ that no fear could overcome him. He knew that evil had no authority over him because He was sealed with the Holy Spirit. Knowing these few things about Smiths Wigglesworth makes me really stop and take time to consider his teachings and quotes when I hear of them now. One of the quotes from him I’ve heard that I love is “I never pray longer than 5 minutes at a time. I also never go more than 5 minutes without praying.” Smith Wigglesworth helped me to understand that staying spiritually strong starts with developing an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, and being in regular communication with Him. Three ways to develop this relationship are to first understand that God makes Himself available to hear us, to transform your daily life into an atmosphere of prayer, and to learn how and why we read the Bible.
When I was first saved, I didn’t understand ANY of this. In my head, I was rocking my relationship with Jesus. I scheduled time every day to read my Bible and to pray. I checked both off a daily “To Do” list and felt quite proud of myself for it. My faith was compartmentalized and systematic. I’ve come to learn that’s not a relationship…. that’s a religion. A relationship with Jesus is actually like a relationship with anyone else in my life. It is natural and flexible, adjusting itself to the day, time, and situation. The way that I had been spending time with Jesus would have been equivalent to waking up in the mornings, sitting up in my bed, facing my husband and telling him everything I love about him and everything I’m hoping for in the first hours of morning light, only to go about the rest of my day without speaking to him again. It would be the same as eating dinner, watching TV, and then lying down to go to sleep without acknowledging each other again until the next morning’s light. That’s WEIRD. And yet, that’s what I did to Jesus for month and what, I think, a lot of people do to Him without knowing any better. A real relationship with Jesus begins when we understand that God says He’ll never leave us or forsake us. His Word says He actually goes before us. He scouts out the path before us. But then He comes back to us and goes with us too. This is so that, even if the path is safe and clear, we never have to walk it alone. (Deuteronomy 31:8) In every moment of our day, God makes Himself available for us to call out to Him. It wasn’t always that way, either. In the Old Testament, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, or innermost chamber of the temple, where God’s presence dwelled. There were strict rituals that had to be fulfilled in order for the high priest to even enter the presence of God. If a single step was forgotten or completed incorrectly, the high priest could be struck dead. A rope was tied around his body so that, if that were ever to happen, he could be pulled out from the chamber and buried.
If we want to stay strong spiritually, I think we have to start with developing gratitude that God is ALWAYS here for us. Even in the moments when we might feel like He’s so far away, we have to confront those feelings with the faith that He hasn’t gone anywhere. His Word promises us He’s near. Then, we have to be intentional in developing an authentic relationship with Him. A relationship where we keep communication with Him throughout our day about anything and everything that comes to mind. Finally, we have to consider that God spent a considerable amount of time speaking the Word to human authors and ensuring they wrote every letter exactly as He’d spoken it. The Bible was a gift from Him to us so that we’d never have to question where He stood on an issue. He wanted us to have peace knowing His will for our lives. So, as we share our lives with the Lord and ask for revelation about His will for them, we have to see His Word as so much more than a daily reading assignment. It is alive and active. It is the very gift through which God holds a conversation with us. To be in an atmosphere of prayer all day long but to refuse to read the Bible would be to talk until we’re blue in the face about all of our hopes and fears and never give God an opportunity to respond. There is no fancy formula for it…. just the day to day prompting of the Holy Spirit guiding us to develop an authentic relationship with Jesus…that keeps us strong. Day by day, moment by moment, breath of grace by breath of grace.
Favorite person in scripture? I’m laughing because I think the person I really love in Scripture now is one that I used to be so frustrated by… the apostle John. John referred to himself in the New Testament as “the one the Lord loved.” I remember all of the times I read that and thought how arrogant he must be– how he must have thought himself as something like the leader of the group. Didn’t he know there were 11 other disciples who were doing a fine job representing Jesus too?! Okay, maybe 10. But still. Now I understand that John just lived from his identity in Christ. He knew how deeply he was loved by God, and it was that love that empowered him to live with the compassion, faithfulness, and boldness that he did. He didn’t shrink back from opportunities to represent Jesus. He did them knowing that, even if he made a mistake somewhere along the way, he was still the one the Lord loved! God would be quick to forgive his mistake and lead him in handing it better the next time. There was nothing that could separate him from the Lord.
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? There’s a few places in Scripture that the joy and humor of God just shine through. One of these is when Satan presents himself to God after roaming the Earth, looking for someone to destroy. God asks Satan if he’s considered his servant Job. God knew that Job was wholeheartedly devoted to Him. He would get a special pleasure out of watching Job refuse to bow to Satan. God loves when His children frustrate the enemy.
Another place in Scripture you can see this side of God’s personality is in Acts, just after Jesus was resurrected. Two men are walking down the street discussing how the tomb was found empty and Jesus joins them. He engages them in conversation before ever revealing His true identity. I can just imagine Him smiling and asking, “Really? Whoa! Where is this empty tomb? Who was in it?” Can you imagine the way they all laughed when Jesus finally held up his nail-scarred hands and said, “Hey guys… just kidding…check this out!” We know Jesus embodied love and gentleness. But I think sometimes people get this false idea that to represent Jesus means to show the same love and gentleness out of duty. Jesus’ compassion didn’t come from duty.
I don’t even know if that’s possible. It came from JOY. The Bible says Jesus endured the cross for the JOY that was set before Him– a life in eternity with US. You and me! I pray all the time that my life also represents the joy that comes from loving and serving others in Christ.
Favorite season? Without a doubt, FALL. I love the cooler weather, getting to wear scarves and sweaters and boots, indulging in one too many pumpkin flavored treats, and- don’t tell my husband- even the sound of Sunday football playing through the house. The only thing that could make it better is if Florida got to share some of those beautiful fall colors!
Favorite holiday? Christmas! Almost the whole world spends a solid month getting into the holiday spirit. Whether they know it yet or not, they’re celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the holiday spirit they’re experiencing is the HOLY SPIRIT. Hallelujah! Plus, I love that there is opportunity for so many family traditions between the songs and movies and special treats and neighborhoods full of Christmas lights.
A dream you have? I have two big God-dreams in my heart at this time. The first is a dream for both my husband and I- being able to purchase our first home. Whenever I talk about our future home, I find myself using the word “retreat” to describe it. I long for our home to be a quiet, peaceful place where we can be still before God and refreshed in our faith. I long for it to be a place where friends always feel welcome too. A place we’ll sit and laugh and share stories in side-by-side rocking chairs, over bonfires, or around the kitchen table. And I long for it to be, one day, a place where our babies will run and play until the sun begins to set. We’ll call them in to wash their dirty little hands and feet and hear all the happenings of that day. And there will be many because it will be a place of miracles. Of course it will also have to be a place that I have a little nook where I can pursue my next dream… authoring a book to help young adult women learn to live from their identity in Christ. Perhaps, many books.
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: It isn’t QUITE a tradition, but my husband and I never go out to eat without trying each other’s meals and then voting on who “won” that round of lunch. Call us foodies, or just call us fat… I don’t know. *laughs*
Question you will ask when you get to heaven?: All the times I struggled with not getting my own way, what were You doing in my life or the lives of those around me? What were you saving us from, Lord?
Thing you want to raise awareness about: Honestly, just JESUS. Because Jesus is enough. As I mentioned before, I was diagnosed with a severe case of Crohn’s disease when I was 15. In the five years between my diagnosis and healing, I walked through more than most others my age. I learned to handle myself in a way teenagers shouldn’t have to. Even so, you won’t find me participating in awareness walks for Crohn’s Disease. I’m not identifying with a colored ribbon or national awareness day. The details of a disease are unimportant in comparison to the name of Jesus Christ. I would rather spend my free time making His name known than making the name of any disease known because they’re ALL healed in His name anyway. Sickness and disease have no authority over the life of a believer. When we speak the Word of God, which says we have been healed by Christ’s stripes, that Word goes out with all the authority of God by the Holy Spirit alive within us. We can trust that it WILL be accomplished. Jesus told us to pray that God’s will would be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. We know that healing is the will of God for all people because Jesus is the physical manifestation of God’s will, and Jesus never passed by someone in need of healing and left them as they were. The Bible says in Revelation that those who overcame the accuser “triumphed over him by the power of the blood (of Jesus Christ) and by the word of their testimony.” I don’t know about you, but I’m going to spend my life raising awareness of Jesus so that others can experience victory through Him too.
“The details of a disease are unimportant in comparison to the name of Jesus Christ.”
What do you usually do before 9 a.m.? During the week, I’m usually awake by 5:30 am. I try to read my Proverbs 31 Ministries devotional every day (sent out by email) then listen to a sermon on YouTube or some praise and worship music as I get ready for work. I go through phases of listening to different pastors… Todd White, Joyce Meyer, John Gray, Rich Wilkerson Jr, Judah Smith, etc. Right now, I’m on a Francis Chan kick. I have a half hour drive to work and I try to fill that with prayer or more praise and worship music. I spend as much time with Jesus as I can before I start my work day at 7:30 so that I can be Spirit led the whole day through. To be clear though, I don’t put Jesus away in my back pocket once my work day begins. My entire life is led by Him.
I live in an atmosphere of prayer, talking to Him throughout my days about whatever comes to mind. This is just time I intentionally set aside in the mornings to spend with Him though. On the weekends, I like to wake up slow. I usually sleep in until 8 or 9 am. Depending on the day I read a book until I’m ready to get up or jump right out of bed to begin my day outside.
What is on your nightstand? My Bible, a journal, the book I’m currently reading, and my cell phone which I use as my alarm. Okay, fine… AND the container of banana chips if I was craving a midnight snack. You got me!
Define Christianity in a sentence: Christianity is being immediately reconciled to God, who is Love, and then gradually learning how to walk in His love.
For more Nicole:
Until next time, keep witnessing!