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Against the Wind

Sep 29, 15

Psalm 104:1-4
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.

IMG_6550One of my favorite activities when I’m at the beach is to ride bikes on a wide, firm coastline. One incredibly beautiful day my husband and I set out pedaling on just such a beach. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the wind was behind us propelling us forward.

But then it was time to turn around, and we were faced with the struggle of riding against the wind. Each pedal stroke felt like it required all of my strength, concentration and energy. Despite how strong I thought I was, I was simply exhausting myself against the wind.

Atop of the whipping gale I heard a gentle whisper to my heart. God was reminding me that when I try to do things in my own strength, the struggle will always be present. When I surrender to Him and the power of His Holy Spirit, I may still be exerting effort and energy, but I have the strength of the wind pushing me forward.

The beauty of a daily walk with Christ is that at any time, when the winds of the world get too strong or violent or overwhelming, and the firm coastline turns into shifting quicksand, all I need to do is turn around. And every time I turn, there He is. His embrace and His comforting touch is a gentle, balmy breeze in the face of worldly gusts. His promises and His word are firm and solid ground.

I’m thankful for a God who speaks truths and reminders to me on life’s seemingly mundane adventures. The Lord’s assurance is speaking through His very creation and constantly pointing to the Creator who is beckoning us to turn around and allow His wind to be at our backs.

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A Very Mary Martha

Sep 25, 15

Luke 10:38-42
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Craig Hawkins

This painting speaks volumes to the state of my head as I plan, but Jesus reminds me that in Him there is calm.

There are few things as rejuvenating to the spirit as the first snap of chilly air to usher in the fall season. That feeling of rejuvenation, particularly for women, has the tendency to be quickly followed by panic: Halloween costumes, fall classroom parties, Thanksgiving meal planning, Christmas shopping, the creation of holiday traditions and Christmas. So. Many. Things. To. Do.

For years I learned about the Bible characters Mary and Martha: about Mary’s eagerness to sit in the presence of the Lord and just soak it up, and Martha’s control freak tendencies that left her unable to maintain a heart of worship. Black and white. Be Mary. Don’t be Martha. Check and check.

I have to wonder if Martha’s heart wasn’t in the wrong place, after all. Maybe she felt like she was using the gifts that God had placed in her to glorify Him, but in doing so, she merely missed the point. Jesus didn’t tell Martha she was wrong only that Mary’s choice was the better one.

Imagine inviting guests over for dinner to enjoy fellowship, wonderful wine and a home cooked meal, only when they arrive, you’ve spent so much time thinking about being together in company that you’ve done nothing else. Rather than welcoming them to your home replete with anticipation and warmth and cleanliness and a full table, there are piles of laundry and dishes and junk mail and bills where candles should be burning, a pie should be cooling, floors glistening, and place settings waiting. But you’re together, so… yay!

That just isn’t our reality as women. There must be a Martha to insure that the atmosphere of a home is set and brimming with love and fullness and life. But, there must also be a Mary, with a heart set on finding the joy in the moments, a heart set on finding contentment and rest. Mary’s job to savor a delicious meal certainly is a bit easier when there’s a Martha to set the table and roast the chicken.

My prayer for you as we enter a season as full of wonder and treasures as it is of obligations and tasks, is that you be neither entirely a Mary nor a Martha, but instead that you embrace and seek to maintain a posture as a Mary-Martha. As women, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, God has uniquely gifted us with the ability to do and manage a lot… all the things. What may come less naturally to us is the inclination to enjoy all the things. I pray that while the plates are spinning and lists are being checked, that we also take inventory of our own hearts and hold ourselves accountable to curl up in the Lord’s lap and listen to His heart and desire for us… that we be Marys in spirit while we practice Martha’s diligence in action.

Paintings by Craig Hawkins
(L) Supervention No. 2, 2014 mixed media on paper 9x 12in
$900 unframed
(R) 
Supervention No. 12, 2014 mixed media on paper 12x 10in

$ 1200 framed
Available at Anne Neilson Fine Art

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Casting the Nets

Sep 22, 15

Luke 5:5-7
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

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My son Ford had his hands full with his catch.

The disciples were weary. They had been fishing all night. Any mom probably has immediate flashbacks to those first nights (or months, if we’re being honest) of bringing your newborn home from the hospital. You were weary. You worked all night! And mothers of teenagers, you know those early helpless days come back anew, and your nights are full of waking hours of prayer and anxiety.

Maybe the last time you fished it was at one of those ponds where the fish were essentially trained to hop themselves onto your pole for a tasty treat before being tossed back in. That was not the kind of water that the disciples were in. Instead Simon Peter and his team were battling rough seas, choppy waves, and empty nets. They were tired, frustrated and disheartened.

In walks Jesus, casually throwing out the suggestion, “Hey, guys! Why don’t you just switch sides?” Can you think back to those early newborn days if, say, your mother-in-law had popped over and said, “Hey, you! How about you just hold that baby differently?” But because she’s your mother-in-law (wink wink), you’ll give it a go. The disciples did the same. “Uh huh, good thought, Jesus.” And suddenly they had a new problem on their hands.

They weren’t battling empty nets anymore; they were fiercely wrestling in nets that were so full they were breaking! The Lord answered their despondent cries for abundance, yet the disciples were unprepared to handle the provision that came flooding their nets. Their physical needs were doing the begging, but their spiritual hearts weren’t ready for the answer.

I had always prayed for a large family. Without these four children of mine, my nets would feel unbearably empty. But. In the midst of trying to parent a family full of teenagers and young adults, my nets feel like they’re breaking some days. As a wife, mother, and now a business owner, my employees and I are currently praying for nets full of opportunities and platforms for the Anne Neilson Home brand, and my focus is on making sure that the same diligence that is identifying the seeming emptiness of our nets is the same intense focus that is preparing us to haul in the abundance of the full nets promised to us.

I am so thankful to know that the Lord who provides the nets will stock my supply. He will fortify my fibers. He will increase my capacity. He has called me to fish, and His pond is full and deep. Whether you’re a teacher shepherding a classroom of unruly students, a new employee praying for greater influence in your workplace, a stay-at-home mother trying to steward your flock well, or an empty nester trying to redefine your home, the Lord promises you provision if you simply cast your nets in His waters.

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An Anchoring Hope

Sep 18, 15

Hebrews 6:19
This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 

Hebrews 2:1
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
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My husband, Clark, and I had the wonderful privilege of taking a group of students to the British Virgin Islands for their Senior Spring Break last April.  It was one of those trips of a lifetime: breathtaking scenery, a respite from technology, and a sensation of peace that passes all understanding.

During our trip, I had a unique opportunity to talk with these kids about their futures. They were all standing on the threshold of their last summer as children before walking through the doorway to their next season into adulthood. We spent time talking about what it is that anchors them, as our own boats were tied to a buoy or anchored out in a cove.
DSC_0025I mentioned to them that without a bracing anchor of faith they would drift. They would be cast about by the inevitable storms and waves that sift through life. Their surest anchor is in the hope provided by a God who loves them no matter which way the tides ebb and flow. The Creator who paints each wave and commands the calm seas also provides Himself to us as an anchor to grasp in the midst of choppy waters.

The beauty of having a boat equipped with an anchor is that we were able not just to travel from excursion to excursion but to do so without worry of passing the spot where we needed to park to enjoy our time. An anchor didn’t hold us back. It allowed us to enjoy our time to the fullest. An anchoring faith, in the same way, won’t hold your life back, but rather it will provide the freedom to move hopefully from season to season without fear of casually drifting by your port of call.
DSC_0085In between bouts of laughter so deep that our sides hurt and intimate moments of life giving truths, I watched these precious young souls bask in the sunshine and prepare themselves for a future that will assuredly carry its fair days of clouds. My prayer is that they – and you – would know that there is a God who loves us. That He has a plan. We are not simply flotsam and jetsam, randomly battered about by the seas of our lives.

 

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Planting Seeds of Righteousness

Sep 15, 15

Psalm 1:3
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers.”

Jeremiah 7:8
“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
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The past few years have been both exhilarating and exhausting for me.  Since I was a little girl, I’ve had the passion to paint deep inside of me, but at the same time there was an equal passion to be a wife and a mom of many children.

In my high school history class my mind would wander as I doodled a fantasy wedding scene and scribbled out the names of my future children.  I admit I made a D in that class. It may not be a grade I’m proud of, but my 4 children (3 girls, aged 21, 19 and 18 and one boy, 15) and husband are blessings that I am incredibly proud of.

This past spring we were at the beach enjoying a long bike ride along some magnificent paths. My son had done something that made me so angry, and as I pedaled among the Spanish moss and huge oak trees, I found myself having a conversation with God.  “What am I doing wrong as a mother, Lord? Why does he choose to disobey me?” As I looked up at one point, I saw the most amazing trees. Their trunks and roots twisted and turned, yet they were strong and solid with every branch pointing up.
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It was then that I realized that I had done my job as a mother and will continue to do my job to plant seeds of righteousness into my children and entrust our heavenly Father to water and nurture and grow these amazing children into the adults.

There may be times that your situation seems hopeless: Children who are not growing in the direction you were hoping, a marriage that seems fruitless, a relationship or a workplace that, like kudzu, has overgrown its boundaries and is choking you. But like me with my children, God is asking you to merely be obedient in planting the seeds, while He tends to the garden. My prayer for you is that even when the soil doesn’t feel fertile, you will continue to plant, and that your faith in Him will be strengthened as you trust Him to be your master gardener.

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Changes

Sep 11, 15

Isaiah 40:8
“God’s unchanging Word equips you with timeless truth. Isaiah declared, ‘The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.’”

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If I was an “Old Bat” 26 years ago, what am I now??

There are so few things that can truly be classified as timeless: A black shift dress, maybe? A work of art? I’d like to think so. Certainly not the icons of pop culture currently swarming my TV and newsfeed. Change happens, and it’s happening to me right now. As I look in the mirror, I see so many physical changes. The texture of my hair for one… I spend so much longer drying this mop, nowadays, and I try not to get mad about it.

But, thankfully or sadly, I can’t decide which at the moment, it doesn’t start and stop at my head. My waistline is changing too. Yikes! I know that if I would exercise a bit more, I could redirect that change for the better. The weather is about to change too, which is a great thing. I love throwing on my jeans, boots and a sweater and relishing in the crisp air (a true pleasure against a Southern summer’s nearly oppressive humidity).

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My little crew isn’t nearly so little nowadays.

Our family dynamics are also experiencing change. Our home, which was once bustling with toddler voices (how long ago was that, anyway?) is now dwindling in volume as each of my birds leaves the nest. My hobby of painting in my tiny home studio years ago has transformed into an incredible business and ministry that continues to grow and morph.

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Murphy Ayala’s “Empty Nest 1” – oil on linen – 20×20 -$2,000 available at Anne Neilson Fine Art

As I take inventory and account of these shifts, and I think about all of the change swirling around me, I am reminded and comforted that we serve a God who never changes. I cling to His word in Isaiah that His commands are timeless and “our God stands forever.”

Not only is His word true, but it’s everlasting, unchanging. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes mention of there being a season for everything under the sun, everything except for the One who created that very sun. No matter what changes you are facing in your life, the joy of adding a new life to your family, the heartache of being unable to, the wonder of a new marriage, the devastation of a crumbling one, the relief of good health or the anxiety of a questionable report, you can rest certain in knowing that the One holds you in the palm of His hand is the One who will not change or shift or quake.

Dear Lord, let us not fear imbalance, instability and constant change, but let us anchor ourselves with the knowledge that You are good; You are true; and Your love is steadfast and will never be found wavering or unsteady.

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A Sure Foundation: Digging In the Dirt

Sep 8, 15

Isaiah 33:6
“He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”

Psalm 51:10
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

Isaiah 28:16
“So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.”

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Before our home could be built, there was a lot of dirt that needed to be moved.

Laying a foundation is vital to structural integrity, literally as well as spiritually, and digging is an essential process of building faith. Have you ever played – or watched a child play – in a ball pit? Reaching the bottom of the pit seems impossible. The more you displace those colorful, plastic balls, the faster they come avalanching back to reclaim their position. As humans, when we work to dig out our own messes with our own strength, we’re playing in our own ball pit. We seek to rearrange our sin, our issues, our fears, our anxiety, our humanly… well, dirt, and yet, we can’t make progress. Not alone.

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We’ve been able to build our dreams on this strong foundation.

Have you ever watched precious, chubby babies try to walk for the first time? It’s hilarious. Their feet are disproportionately small for their thigh rolls, and their steps are uncertain and nearly drunken. More often than not their string of steps end up with a face plant and a goose egg. They have a shaky foundation.

Firm Foundation BC

Our copy writer’s 9-month-old, Nora Beth’s foundation is questionable.

Foundations aren’t glamorous. Southern Living rarely highlights the beauty and ornate artisanship of a home’s foundation. In order to lay a foundation, builders must dig. Even in work as delicate as gardening, a seed cannot be planted or thrive without the gardener digging out ground to nestle the seed inside, planting its foundation.

If we invite Jesus to aid and oversee the dirty work, real progress can be made to clear out our junk. Twice in Isaiah, God is described as being a cornerstone and a sure foundation. “A tested stone, a precious cornerstone,” and “a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.” The craftsmanship and intricate design work that can take place when there is no doubt in the solidity of a strong foundation is endless, and the Lord delights in creating and designing and adorning His children with the hand of His work.

Let’s pray that we not fear the dirt and that we not shy away from the digging process but that we allow the Lord to do the work and lay a foundation and string of steps that are strong, sure and secure.

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The Eyes of the Lord Roam

Sep 1, 15

2 Chronicles 16:9
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”

On a family trip to Europe, the crowds in Venice were unreal. And fully captured my attention.

On a family trip to Europe in August 2009, the crowds in Venice fully captured my attention.

As a self-proclaimed people watcher, I find myself endlessly fascinated when I’m in large crowds. Whether that’s at a crowded beach, in a bustling airport or surrounded by throngs of cheering fans at a sports game, the sheer number of people is indicative of an endless number of stories. I want to know what they’re doing. What trials are they facing? Do they know Jesus? How can I be a light in the midst of the traffic of these people?

2 Chronicles 16:9 encourages me. It says that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth. This scripture tells me that God is also a people watcher. And where I find myself asking about who these people are and what scenarios are being played in their lives, 2 Chronicles reminds me that not only is God watching; but He isn’t simply a passive spectator. He KNOWS. He knows what they’re doing; He knows their struggles and their turmoil; He knows who holds their heart, and He is eager to show His strength.

In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh beautifully states, “My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.” And while I could grow frustrated or disheartened that I may not be able to know and meet the needs of each person’s story, I know that by maintaining a heart sensitive to the quiet whispers and nudging of an all-knowing and all-seeing God, I can serve, meet, care for, and shepherd those people who He chooses to place in my midst. Today I urge you to ask Him to reveal – even in the most crowded of spaces – the stories that need your unique ministry, your exclusive gift, that need your obedience to bring light to their situation.

 

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Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – A Time for Everything

Jun 26, 15

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 – A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

This passage of scripture has really spoken to me over these past few weeks. So much emotion – so much going on in my personal life and this chaotic world we live in. A week ago Monday, my second daughter walked down a sea of green to get her high school diploma.

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Leading up to this special day, I spent countless hours pouring over old photos and then spent more tedious hours syncing each photo so that it would appear just at the right time during the several songs I specifically chose for the fifteen minute memory span of her 19 years.

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How did the time go by so fast! My emotions were raw for weeks as I was preparing to let go of another chapter of our lives and let go of yet another amazing child into this world. She is kind, she is compassionate, she is loved and my prayer for Catherine Anne Neilson as she ventures out on the next chapter in her life is that she would have a faith that sticks in this world. That she would know she is fearfully and wonderfully made and that GOD has big plans for her, plans to prosper her and give her hope and a future.

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I cling to GOD’S promise and truth in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It was a great week of celebrating!

Then four days later, the news of the Charleston shootings. Devastating. As a mom I cannot imagine the pain that these people in Charleston are experiencing. As a believer in Jesus Christ I know there is HOPE – especially in the outpouring of forgiveness that comes from the hearts of the people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. My most precious time of prayer and worship is in my studio as I paint angels. Praying for people known and unknown, needs known and unknown, I allow the Holy Spirit to sculpt these beings onto the blank canvas.

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We packed up nine care packages of “Angels” and sent to the families who lost their loved ones last week.

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We will continue to pray for the entire Charleston community for healing, comfort and peace. They need a time to mourn…but we know that there will be a time to dance again! Peace and Blessings to all.

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BVI

Apr 16, 15

What another messy day!  Even on rainy days like this I am always reminded that GOD is ‘reigning’ above and pray HE would continue to ‘pour’ HIS blessing and goodness no matter what!  I went to a book launch/luncheon for my dear friend, mentor, Bible Study teacher and now author of  “After The Storm”.  Jan has a powerful story and I pray that you will pick up her book at your nearest bookstore and soak in God’s goodness even during the messy storms of your life. (p.s. that is an umbrella cookie that was delicious!)

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Over Easter break, my husband and I had the privilege of taking 10 teenagers, nine of them being Seniors, on a sailing trip to the BVIs.  There was another group of boys and parents on a separate boat totaling our group to 23.

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It was a trip of a lifetime especially having all of us unplug from our busy schedules, the pressures of high school and the journey of what lies ahead.  Luckily, there were no storms during our trip. Basking in the warm sunshine, turquoise waters, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, it was a trip that ministered to our souls in so many ways.

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Our days could not have been more glorious and one of my favorite memories from the trip was waking up Easter morning before dawn, sitting on the fly bridge of the boat and just waiting.  Waiting in anticipation of a beautiful sunrise and at the same time thanking our GOD who loves us so much that he gave His only son – that whoever believes will have eternal life – watching the sun rise that day, knowing that HIS SON rose that third day…Glory!

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I got to know these teenagers, their tender hearts, their incredible, confident spirits, and was so blessed by their laughter and joy during the entire trip.

DSC_0063 One morning  while anchored in a beautiful cove, I told these amazing kids that they are getting ready for another journey in life…College…and that there will be many rewards and some challenges that will come their way.  We talked about the fact that IF the boat was not anchored, it would drift off and no telling what would happen…hit a reef, drift off to sea, crash?   Much like life…we need an ‘anchor’ to keep us from drifting…crashing…That anchor is a faith in GOD who loves us no matter what…whatever comes our way, we know that we will be able to weather the storm if we anchor our faith in Jesus.

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Our captain, Jerome Joseph, went beyond his normal duties to act as our captain and keep us safe for those nine days on a boat…He would take us on incredible hikes throughout the islands, show us beautiful quiet beaches and even cooked us several meals which were delicious!

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The kids got to have their fun but in a wonderful safe environment…I think this will be a trip that we will never forget!

DSC_0203 Congratulations Seniors 2015…You are all amazing young adults and I know that God has big plans for your lives…Be true to who you are…stay close to GOD always…Know that you are loved by God above…Oh the places you will go in life…

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