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In a busy, demanding, and competitive world, it is easy to get lost, to think that one person might not matter. But you do. God made each person according to His plan and with intention and purpose. You are who you are because that is who God wanted you to be. Short, tall, fair, dark, funny, dry, quiet, loudonly you are the exact combination of features, gifts, and callings that is you. These sixty devotions remind you each day to value the gift of your life and to grow into the person you were created to become.
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About the Author
J. K. Olson started out as a newspaper reporter before turning to freelance writing and editing. She and her husband have been married for twenty-four years and have three children.
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Bravely Living in the Skin You're In
By J. K. Olson
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 J. K. Olson
All rights reserved.
O Lord, you have searched me [thoroughly] and have known me. ... You understand my thought from afar.
PSALM 139:1–2 AMP
I was at college in Chicago when I received a letter from my mother that mentioned my sister had prayed with a friend to receive Jesus. I was glad to hear it, but as I walked down La Salle Street on my way to work, comparison reared its ugly head: I have never prayed with one of my friends. Here I am, going to Bible college. I felt like a hypocrite. A failure, even.
My sister and I always have been more different than alike. I've had six inches and fifty pounds on her since birth, practically. She is social, I am not. She went through a Pat Benatar stage, I liked Bing Crosby. (I remember this only because of the Bing Crosby's Greatest Hits album that she bought for me in high school. I think she bought me that album because I did not want to change the radio station in the car when Bing came on. Did I like the song just because she didn't? A strong possibility.)
But our differences didn't matter. Did Jesus say, "Go ye extroverts into all the world ..."? No.
When I reached the door of the drug rehabilitation center where I worked, I stood and held the door open for Regina, one of our clients, who was coming down the sidewalk with her shopping cart.
She stopped halfway through the door and looked at me. "Are you a Christian?" she asked quietly.
I was surprised, but even more so by her reply when I said yes.
"I can feel the love of God coming from you." She looked at me intently for a few seconds, then continued in.
Something that I had known in my head moved to my heart: God saw me. He used a homeless woman like an angelic messenger in the exact moment of my self-accusation to tell me I was accepted, loved, and could be used by Him.
Father, thank You for the priceless timing of Your message of value to me all those years ago. Thank You for never comparing Your daughters or wanting us to be more like one another. Thank You for my sister's strengths, thank You for mine, and thank You so much for the tender way You care for each of us.CHAPTER 2
GRACE-GIVERS, TRUTH-TELLERS, STANDARDBEARERS
Let His banner over me be love.
SONG OF SONGS 2:4 NIV
When I was in high school, I asked a teacher if he would fill out a college reference form for me. He did, and gave it back to me to mail. He said very positive things, one that I remember still: Jill can do anything she puts her mind to. I was humbled and amazed that he saw that in me. Many times in the years that followed, I thought about that. Sometimes not believing, but never knocking it down. I came back to it often.
Our words have the power to breathe truth into others. They can be a lasting gift, a mirror, reflecting what someone has lost sight of in themselves, or maybe has never seen at all.
When the Israelites were walking through the wilderness to their land of promise, they carried banners that identified each tribe. After centuries of slavery, it served, among other things, as a visual reminder of who they were: God's chosen. God had made that clear to their forefather:
Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel. ... A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you (Genesis 35:10–12NIV).
The banners proclaimed the truth of their identity, the names of the tribes, Jacob's twelve sons, as they journeyed toward their promised land.
Armies at the time also used banners, which identified rallying points before battle. The Bible gives us a rare glimpse of the important position of those who held up the banners, also called standards. Isaiah 10:18 says when the standard-bearer faints, the nation's glory fades away (KJV). The identity and rallying points are gone.
I want to be that standard-bearer. As those around me battle for victory day after day, I want my words to brand them with truth about who God says they are: people who are loved by Him, honored by Him. I want to marshal them to the purpose God has written in their names, to the identity planned before they were born.
Let's hold high a banner of love by revealing the beauty of people, by speaking kind and encouraging words to them, always keep those words of truth in plain sight. That banner of truth may be the very thing that keeps them going.
Father, thank You for the power of our words over others. Help us to speak truth about the incredible love You have for them.CHAPTER 3
The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
LUKE 19:10 NASB
We all make bad decisions at times. But even in the midst of wrong choices, God says, "I'm not leaving you. You're mine" (1 Samuel 12:20–22, paraphrase). It was a life-changing surprise to me, during a time when I knew I was experiencing God's discipline (the painful consequences of my own actions), to feel that He was closer than ever. It was like He pulled me into His lap right in the midst of my despair to whisper His gentle acceptance and continued love.
Jesus's acceptance of Zacchaeus was life-changing for him too.
Zacchaeus takes up a mere ten verses in just one Gospel, but his creative approach to Jesus is well remembered. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but couldn't because of the crowd surrounding Him, so Zacchaeus ran down the path ahead of everyone and climbed a tree.
Imagine Zacchaeus's surprise when Jesus stopped near the tree, looked up, and spoke to him by name. "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house" (Luke 19:5 NASB).
Jesus didn't tell Zacchaeus He might stay at his house or even that he would like to stay at his house. It appears Jesus's time with Zacchaeus was written long before that sycamore started to grow.
Jesus interacted with people in a lot of different ways, but this is the only time we see Him inviting Himself over to someone's house. Jesus showed a fondness for this man whose sin was so very public, and the man was more than giddy.
Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. But the people were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled.
Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much" (Luke 19:6–8 NLT).
Jesus doesn't hold back in disgust at our sin. We encounter Him right there in the middle of our own way, and find Him loving us unconditionally. And we are never the same.
Jesus, thank You for Your love that pursues us, even in the pain of our own mistakes. Thank You that a time-out away from YouCHAPTER 4
YES. WHAT ELSE?
Casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
1 PETER 5:7 AMP
A family friend of ours was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division during WWII whose unit parachuted into Normandy in the dark. A few months before he died, I asked him what he thought about being called the Greatest Generation. He was quiet before he responded. "I don't know if we were great as much as we were hearty," he said. So both.
There are times when it doesn't matter much what is going on inside you, you just have to push forward no matter what. Emotions can be seen as things that need to be overcome.
But for many of us, this push forward no matter what, or "buck up" mentality, is a way of life, inherited from generations of those who associate it with survival. We can mistakenly see God like that, as someone who has His foot on our backs to push us out of the plane, rather than One who picks us up and jumps with us.
There was a time when I had more anger and anxiety than I could handle. I asked God to take it from me regularly, but victory was always short-lived. One day, I just started typing furiously, describing to God in detail what I was feeling, the darkest and ugliest I had.
Instead of feeding the fire or feeling like trash, with all of it staring at me in black and white, I was surprised by the feeling that this was exactly what I should be doing. It was almost like God was coaxing me on, responding to every admission with, Yes. What else? I learned that my anger was a response to something more that God couldn't address with me until I took the time to present it to Him in detail. I needed to walk into the details with Him before I could let it go.
In the verse above, Peter could have said, "Why are you concerning yourself with those cares? Don't you realize how powerful God is?" Instead, he shows us the heart of God and gives us the how-to: cast all your cares on Him, for He cares about you.
If we try to just buck up and push forward, we're denying the intimate relationship and restoration He desires for us. In His gentleness and respect for our choice, as cliché as it sounds, He will only take what we give Him.
Thank You, God, that there is not a place we can go, inside or out, where You aren't there, waiting for us to come to You.CHAPTER 5
WHY DO YOU CALL ME GOOD?
A man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
MARK 10:17–18 NASB
For many years this response from Jesus confused me. Why in the world would He question His own goodness? It seemed like He was being a witness for His own prosecution. I could just hear the Pharisees' courtroom-like accusations: "And wasn't it you yourself who questioned why you were being called good because God alone is good?"
One day, I determined to be the persistent widow and continue asking until He gave me clarity. I asked for wisdom, battering again and again: "Lord, I don't understand. Why would you question someone calling You good? You invented good. Will you give me an understanding beyond my own here? Jesus, please show me why You said this."
I don't know how long I was at it, repeating versions of the same request, before I understood the answer. It dropped into my mind and I praised Him for it, at the same time feeling like the last one aboard the USS Common Knowledge.
Jesus was asking a leading question. He really wanted the man to think about what he was saying and draw the conclusions himself.
Jesus continued to lead him. Instead of mentioning that whoever believes in Him has eternal life, as He had said to Nicodemus, Jesus listed six commandments — ones He knew this man had kept. And when the ruler replied, "Teacher, I have kept these from my youth up," the Gospel of Mark records that Jesus felt love for him.
This man wasn't attempting to prove his own goodness. He was kneeling before Jesus, sincerely seeking. Jesus's response showed him that he'd gone as far as he could in his own efforts. "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
Jesus's response was like a mirror, revealing the man's own heart to himself, and he walked away grieved. Then in the following verse Jesus gave the remaining crowd an unforgettable word picture: "[I]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Their astonished "Who then can be saved?" prompted the beautiful answer of a loving God to our inability: "All things are possible with God."
Jesus sees our hearts and speaks to us as individuals. He gave Nicodemus one answer, and this rich young man another, connecting directly, intimately with the thoughts and intensions of each. And when this rich, young ruler walked away, Jesus's unanswered question, and the key to his quest for eternal life, followed him: "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone."
Jesus, thank You for how You communicate with us so individually, so intimately. Help me to let go of anything I am holding to more tightly than I hold onto You, even my own efforts.CHAPTER 6
HIS TENDER TIMING
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die.
ECCLESIASTES 3:1–2 NLT
Toward the end of her life, a series of strokes took my grandmother's ability to speak and move. One night as I sat reading to her, I told her she needed to hold on long enough to meet my first child. She didn't make eye contact much at that point, but her blue eyes turned and locked on mine. I knew she had something to say but no way to communicate it. She died soon after, the same month I conceived our first child.
The same year I miscarried our first child.
My baby was here, and then she was gone. It may not make sense, but I craved to know who was caring for her now. Then I had a dream, a short vision of my grandmother, sitting in her rocker, holding my baby. I couldn't approach them, and I couldn't see my baby's face, but I could see my grandmother's full, tender attention on my "little lambie," as she called her grandchildren. My sister had a similar dream after her miscarriage.
The next year, when I was pregnant again, my husband's job took us out of state. We moved away from all family and into an apartment complex that had so many senior citizens, the locals thought it was an old folks' home.
Less than two years after moving in, we had two beautiful, healthy boys. To get out of the house, I often took them down with me to the community room for morning coffee.
The ladies around that table were shameless in the attention they gave the boys, and in their attempts to feed my babies sugar. One morning, I jokingly asked if they had anything to talk about when we weren't there. Viv, a spunky eighty-something widow who had taken it upon herself to keep my door decorated according to season, replied, "Oh yes, we say, 'I wonder what the boys are up to now?'"
At my boys' first birthday parties, the ladies wore hats, gave gifts, and shared cupcakes. When I was trying to clean off my son's place at the table, Lola smiled from the chair next to us and said quietly, "Don't mind the crumbs, Jill, there'll be plenty more of those." A comforting perspective from someone who had seen generations of temporary concerns. A perspective my grandmother would have had. And when Lola sang, her sweet soprano voice lifted happy birthday wishes to the ceiling and brought tears to my eyes. The room was a choir full of my grandmother's voice.
Lord, thank You for Your love that orchestrates how you bring people in even as others have to leave. Thank You for the blessing of loved ones we have known for a very short time, and of those who have shaped our lives. Thank You for the care You give to that ushering in and out, oftentimes in ways we don't even see.CHAPTER 7
CHASING THE TAXFISH
Go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.
MATTHEW 17:27 NASB
Jesus could have come up with that shekel for their taxes a million different ways. He could have just pulled it out of His pocket, out of Peter's pocket, or out of Peter's ear. But in His infinite intention and wisdom, He sent Peter fishing.
Peter seems like the kind of guy who tried to take things into his own hands (like a sword in a garden). This may be a characteristic of the life-form called human. It describes me, for sure.
I see Peter heading out confidently to the water to find the fish. Did he get in a boat and head back to the spot where he had been fishing when Jesus called him? To the place where Jesus had instructed them to go back out, and with one throw of the net they brought in enough fish to overflow two boats? I can picture Peter dropping a hook there, at the seaside memorial of God's goodness. Surely that's where the taxfish would be.
When nothing bites, Peter changes poles. Then baits. Still nothing. He scans the surface of the water. Did the fish swallow a shekel that fell from a fisherman's pocket, near shore? Maybe he needed a metal detector.
I imagine that is when it hits him. Jesus's words were simple: throw in a hook, take the first fish that comes up. Peter realizes that Jesus didn't send him because he knew how to fish. The minute he understands that, he leans back and feels a tug on the line.
We know that Jesus knew what people were doing who were outside of His own human vision (John 1:48). I expect He was aware of the whole scene, amused, then delighted when Peter finally figured it out. I believe His delight is also with us when we have faith enough to rely fully on Him to bring about the good things He desires for us when we're following His will.
Excerpted from Irreplaceable You by J. K. Olson. Copyright © 2017 J. K. Olson. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
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