Struggles

By Alicia Hayes, Speaker for niNe. magazine

StrugglesFor many of you, the “new year” may not begin on January 1st but on the first day of school. New classes, schedules, activities and possibly new struggles are starting in the fall. Some of these struggles may have to do with romantic relationships, new or old friendships, academic struggles or problems at home. Dealing with these things can make a new time in life, which is already stressful, incredibly difficult.

Understand that your struggles are unique, but there are always people who have gone through similar struggles who can help you. For instance, I had a Spanish teacher who thought that her students were arguing with her or disagreeing with her, but really, we were just confused and needed a little more clarity and explanation. Rather than helping her students, she would raise her voice in frustration because she felt as if her students were butting heads with her. This was a unique academic struggle, but I could always seek help from other people who had struggled with difficult, confusing teachers as well. Your struggles are important and unique but you’re not alone. Seek help from youth leaders, activity leaders, family members and guidance counselors to help you best resolve these struggles… no matter how big or small.

Seeking help not only resolves issues for the future, it can be incredibly affirming and comforting to find people who understand your problems. God says again and again that He’ll never leave us alone. One way that He prevents us from feeling isolated is by bringing people into our lives to ensure companionship and help. Do not isolate yourself in times like these. You’re not alone.

Though it’s important to find help and support, it’s also important to take time for yourself. It’s easy to avoid your struggles with busyness or noise. Hiding from your problems will not make them go away, and in fact it may make them worse. Taking time for yourself may force you to face your struggles head on. While in the comfort of your own, personal space, you can spend time talking to God about your issues, journaling about what’s bothering you or expressing your frustration in other healthy ways. God will use this time to reveal a lot of awesome solutions, or maybe even just remind you that He’s there, holding you up and protecting you from harm.

Now that the “newness” of the school year is wearing off, those struggles are still present. So, it’s time to face them head-on. Connect with people who understand, love and cherish you and spend time with God.

Broken Body

nmi_2010_fashionyear_00138aOne day in gym class, we were learning gymnastics. I was doing some stuff on the balance beam and my teacher was giving me a new challenging move that involved slowly rolling off the beam with control. My teacher knew I could do this move because I was a very active dancer. In fact, I danced nearly 30 to 40 hours a week – on top of my routine school requirements. I was really excited about this fun and challenging move, but as I slowly rolled off the beam, I lost the necessary control near the end of the dismount and whack – I hit my foot hard on the corner of the mat. This moment will forever be ingrained in my mind. I felt a sharp pain blaze up my leg, but I didn’t think anything of it. I’m tough; I can handle it. But, as the day went on, I could tell that my foot didn’t feel right.

After I told my mom about my hurt foot, she made an appointment with my doctor. The doctor examined my foot and said I had a bone that didn’t look right, but x-rays didn’t show any damage. He sent me to have special ultrasound of my foot taken to determine if there was a fracture in one of my foot bones. Sure enough, there was a tiny hairline fracture in my middle metatarsal. This bone is so small that the original x-ray couldn’t detect the break.

A cast wouldn’t heal such a tiny fracture because of its location, so I had to do a series of other things to heal from this little injury. I had to wear supportive tennis shoes every day, sometimes I would have to tape my toes together and I was required to drink what seemed like a gallon of milk every day to increase my intake of calcium.

The awesome part was that I could still dance, because it was just my foot that was injured. But, the foot is an essential part of dance. So, I had to dance with my tennis shoes on, I had to do everything flatfooted, meaning I couldn’t point my toes, rise up onto my toes or wear my pointe shoes. I had to do special floor activities to keep the rest of my body strengthened when I couldn’t do the full dance routine. The most frustrating part about all this was that I was preparing for a big performance and I needed to learn a dozen different dances without actually doing them full out.

Even though I didn’t have to wear a cast, my daily life and the rest of my body was greatly impacted by this teeny tiny fracture. This experience reminds me of how important every part of our body is, and how when one small part is broken or not fully functioning, the rest of the body is affected.

Such is the case of the body of Christ. All believers are members of “The Church Body” – the unit of people who work together to impact the world for God’s goodness and glory because they believe in Him, trust Him with their life and want to follow His calling. If one of us is broken, bruised or not functioning correctly, then the whole entire unit can’t fully function. It’s so important for each of us then to realize our role and the part we have to play. God has called every single Christian to something unique, something in which no other person can do. So, we can’t wait around for someone else to pick up where we slack off. No, we need to stand firm in our purpose and fulfill it fully so the Lord is glorified.

Plus, we need to support one another and encourage one another to pursue what God has called others to do as well. If we see someone who’s been a little discouraged or damaged, maybe they’re simply tired or confused, we need to provide the support, compassion and love they need to find proper healing so they can step in again and take care of their duty.

Inspiration for the End

Contributed by Alicia Hayes, Speaker for niNe. magazine

pexels-photoYou’re almost done with school! At this point, your problem with studying and completing assignments isn’t about lack of focus; it’s a lack of inspiration. Some people have a hard time “getting in the zone” without motivation to do so. I am one of those people. Here are some ways that I have found inspiration to “get going” again:

Music

Music is one of the most accessible, inspiring resources I have when I don’t know how to start a project. There are many ways that music can serve as a motivator. Instrumental music in particular is great because there are no lyrics to distract you. It’s easy to categorize Classical music as the only type of Instrumental music, but Jazz, Techno, Electronica, Dance, etc. are all effective motivational music genres.

Find an album that is related to your project so that if you start to daydream, the music will point you back to your work. The excitement and energy that comes from listening to your favorite artist can be channeled back into your assignment. If your new music is piling up, pick something at random to play in the background.

Exercise

Often when I’m struggling with articulating my words or figuring out where to start on a project, I’ll go for a walk. Or, I’ll take five minutes and go through a yoga flow. Whatever physical activity I choose, it’s short, invigorating and gives me a push in the right direction.

Beverage

Believe it or not, a simple beverage will make me in the zone. After I set up my workstation, a cup of coffee, made exactly to my liking, is the boost I need to start moving. Of course, it doesn’t have to be coffee. There are plenty of other non-caffeinated drinks that can still invigorate you and be the finishing touch on a study session. Try fruit-infused water, juice or decaf tea.

Conversations

You’re not alone! The people around you have thoughts and experiences connected to your school subject. Take some time to talk to siblings, parents, friends or youth group leaders about your study methods and assignments. When I have turned to other people, they have often either given me study tips or a casual discussion about my subject (which then made the wheels in my head turn).

For example, my last semester in college when I was writing for niNe. magazine, I had an article to write that I was struggling to finish. I went to do some homework with a friend and we wound up talking about the article. She thought the concept was really fun and interesting and our conversation led to me completing the article easily.

 

Remember, not everyone has the same learning styles and work methods. Don’t feel bad if you can’t just sit down and knock out some assignments. It’ll be better for you in the long run to figure out how to approach projects in a time-efficient and self-sufficient manner. If you want some encouragement, direction, motivatio, or inspiration, tweet to us @niNeMag or email at editor@ninemagazine.org. Also, let me know what strategies work for you! I’d love to give them a try before my next deadline. You can do it!

Church Clothes

Growing up, my mom would make me a special Easter Sundress and a beautiful Christmas dress to wear to church. Every week, I’d dress in my “Sunday Best.” It was what I expected and I learned to love it. Still to this day, I wear a nice dress or skirt and top – a step up from the clothes that I wear on a day-to-day basis. Lately, it seems like the attire at church is becoming a lot more casual. Now, I’m not old fashioned, but I see and observe fashion trends and the trend of dressing comfortably at church has caught my attention.

nmi_2010_fashionyear_00041aSince when has it become important for us to be comfortable worshiping the Lord? We are meeting with the Lord Almighty. We wouldn’t want to meet Kate Middleton or our favorite celebrity in jeans and flip-flops. We would be embarrassed. And, we should be embarrassed if we’re not putting any effort into our church apparel. When we’re going to church, were going to honor and worship the Lord. We’re not going to socialize and be comfortable. We’re not hanging out with Jesus, making little Snap Chat messages and taking Selfies of the two of us to post on Instagram. No. When you’re honoring and glorifying anyone, you must look the part.

Fashion is an incredible way of expressing the heart. If you’re comfortable then you’re saying:

1.) Lord, my comfort is more important then your honor.

2.) I’m lazy and you’re not worth the extra time, money or effort.
Because we have an intimate relationship with the Lord, we don’t have to dress in elaborate prom dresses. That’s just silly. But, that intimacy exists throughout the week, so the time to be comfortable and casual with the Lord is not when we are entering His house, it’s when He’s walking along side us on our daily journey.

Our attendance at church has a greater purpose than just hanging out with the Lord and expressing to Him what we think or need. We go to church to be in fellowship with other people who believe in Him, to hear from the Lord, to learn and be challenged by Him directly (through scripture, the sermon, the overall worship experience, etc.) and most importantly, we go to church to praise and worship HIM. Certainly, we can praise and worship the Lord in multiple settings or various situations without going to church. But, going to church is intentional (even if we’re dragged there by our parents – they’re being intentional and they’re responsible for you). Therefore, we should be intentional about what we wear.

Whether we realize it or not, our clothes say a lot about us. God created clothes to cover Adam’s nakedness and shame. What are you hiding that you cover with comfort? If you’re just comfortable, then are you missing an opportunity for God to speak to you? Are you holding yourself back from truly hearing from the Lord because you’re leisurely sitting in a pew or chair? Are your clothes acting as a shield, preventing the Lord from challenging you? That’s placing a lot of significance on what you wear, but your fashion is a true expression of your heart. If you’re concerned about being comfortable, then are you unwilling to hear because you don’t want your comfort to be shaken?

Certainly, if you’re new to church in general, then you’re comfort is incredibly important. Wear what does make you comfortable. The Lord is thrilled that you’re coming to His house and will welcome you and speak to you in your comfort. Same if you’re going through a hard time. The Lord wants to present you with His love regardless of the effort you put in. Your effort shouldn’t be laborious, it should be in perspective of what you wear regularly as well as within reach of what you can afford. But, the Lord deserves your best. Give Him your best. The Lord created your beauty – put your beauty on display for all to see. Don’t hide behind comfort. Express your love to the Lord by wearing something you love to wear – not because its comfortable, but because it’s special.

He Runs

he-runsLuke 15: 11-32 is the narrative of the Prodigal Son, a story in which most of us are rather familiar. Many of us have our favorite part of the story, many can relate to a particular character, all of us are blessed by what the account says about Gods character. My favorite part of this scripture lies in Luke 15:20 where scripture says the father ran to meet his son. I love this because it reminds me that God runs to me when I return to Him. He doesn’t sit there waiting for me to journey back to Him. He doesn’t slowly meander my way. He runs swiftly and embraces me as I return.

As a fallible human, I wonder away from God more than I’d like to admit, but every time I come back to Him, He runs to greet me with open arms. Even if I’ve only been gone for a moment, especially when I’ve trailed far from Him, He darts toward me.

Our returning to Him isn’t the only time He welcomes us with open arms. He runs to us when we look away, even for just a second, but choose to stay by His side. It’s when we choose dignity and peace over the ways of the world when He embraces us. When we choose to follow what He sees as best for our lives rather than pursuing our own understanding or desires.

  • God runs to you when you choose to walk away from the party.
  • God runs to you when you choose not to fall into the trap of lust.
  • God runs to you when you honor your parents.
  • God runs to you when you strive to know Him more.
  • God runs to you when you make your family and friends more important than success or your reputation.
  • God runs to you when you don’t post that potentially hurtful comment on social media.
  • God runs to you when you walk away from materialism and give away some of your belonging.
  • God runs to you when you defeat negative talk and speak the truth about your identity.
  • God runs to you when you realize your true beauty.
  • God runs to you when you find healing in Him after a broken relationship.
  • God runs to you when you defeat self-doubt.
  • God runs to you when you set aside drugs or alcohol.
  • God runs to you when you decide to consume a meal rather than throw it up.
  • God runs to you when you love a stranger.
  • God runs to you when you reach out to someone who isn’t very popular.
  • God runs to you when you try to forgive.
  • God runs to you when you go to church rather than sleep in.
  • God runs to you any time you choose Him, His ways or His glory.

It’s in these moments that the echo of feet rhythmically hitting the ground can be heard as God runs to embrace His beloved daughter.

Friend in Jesus

nmi_2011_fashionyear_00829a-1 I was really looking forward to connecting with one of my dearest friends over coffee. It had been months since we both had the time to connect. A lot had happened in my life and tons had occurred in her life and neither of us could wait to share. So, we met for coffee and rather than jumping into conversation, we just sat there in silence. Seriously, neither one of us said a thing for a long time.

At first, this really bugged me because I don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with this particular friend, so I want to fully invest in the time we did have together. It’s not like we didn’t have anything to talk about. I just didn’t know what to say. At the time, nothing seemed as important as just spending time with one another.

As friends, we both want to invest in each other no matter what we’re doing or where we are. This helped me realize – silence is okay. It was nice to just hang out. It’s nice to simply be near her, in her presence. We don’t need to be talking all the time; we can just be present with one another.

As Christians we can be like that with Jesus. He’s always present, always around. But, we’re not always talking to Him, nor is He always talking to us. His presence is nice, and we need to realize His presence so we can rest in it and enjoy it. We can recognize His presence and find peace and comfort with just being near Him. We don’t always need to be engaging with one another, but we can live in enjoyment with the presence of one another.

nmi_2011_fashionyear_00832a-1Now, my friendship would never continue with this friend if we only sat together in the same room, always in silence. The same goes with Jesus. We can’t always be silent with Him and we can’t expect Him to always be silent with us. We have to engage in conversation and we have to listen to Him speak to our heart. However, we never need to force conversation with Him. Plus, we don’t need to force ourselves to hear Him. He will make Himself known – He always does. So instead of worrying about what you’ll hear or what you need to say, just be still in God’s presence and be grateful that you have Him as a friend you can confide in.

Giving Generously

Christmas gifts in vintage styleAmerica is a very prosperous country, but we are far from generous. Yet, we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that we are generous. We believe that giving a gift to a stranger at Christmas is generous. We believe that giving a 10% tithe is generous. We believe that volunteering at a soup kitchen is generous. We believe that giving money to a third world country in need is generous. But few of us have been so generous to the Lord that we’re willing to give Him all we have because He is all we need (Mark 12:41-44).

This time of year, we hear numerous times, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Here, the emphasis on generosity is in the giving, not the receiving. But, when we’re given something truly generous, we are blessed. The American culture is selling us short because its focus is on the giving and not the receiving.

When we don’t give, or when we refuse a gift, we are refusing a blessing. God desires to bless us every day. He doesn’t ask for anything in return. He never wanted anything in return, and that’s why He’s given to us so generously. There is no way we can repay Him for His gift – the gift of life and salvation. That’s generosity. Doing something for someone without expecting anything in return.

God gives this gift to everyone, but not everyone will receive His blessing. That’s a second element of generosity – giving anonymously or even if your gift is not received. At the very least, we tend to want a, “Thank You” but for a generous heart, that is still expecting too much. Generosity means completely setting our own intentions and ideas aside. It means allowing others the ability to use the gift we give them in any way they choose.

As we translate this concept of giving generously into the Christmas season, it doesn’t mean we should want to receive more Christmas gifts so we can bless the gift giver more. No, that has nothing to do with generosity. It has everything to do with selfishness and pride. Instead, it means we should be encouraged to give of our entire self so we can bring glory to God during His most precious hour, while encouraging those we love to do the same. Generosity doesn’t mean giving so much that our bank account becomes bankrupt, instead it means we should give so much of our talents, time, character and love that our souls become bankrupt. When our souls become desolate, we realize that we MUST lean on the Lord’s support to continue with our daily life. At that point, generosity has become such a part of our lives that we feel incomplete without the Lord’s outpouring in our lives.

As you walk through the mall this Christmas trying to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, don’t think of yourself as giving generously. Rather ask God to reveal to you how He can make you more generous by impacting the lives of those you love. Pray for His generous Spirit to fill you, making you more like Him.

Becoming a generous person doesn’t come only at Christmas time, it is a lifestyle, met by understanding your own worth and being able to give that value to others, while accepting gifts with gratefulness because you know that they are blessing another. It doesn’t just take practice to become a generous person; it takes an entire mental, emotional and spiritual shift. This change can only occur with the help and leading of the Lord.

The most generous people accept that roll with grace. They know they make a marvelous impact on the world and they’re blessed by their own generosity. 2 Corinthians 9:6 says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” God wants you to reap many blessings, but first we must sow with a generous heart.

Minor Things = Major Thanks

nmi_2010_fashionyear_00535aI was working through a devotional on praying with a thankful heart. The devotion directed me to write or speak a prayer of thanksgiving for the object right in front of me. That object was my bed. Now, I’m very thankful for my bed, but it’s just a bed. As I started praying, thanking God for my bed, I realized how much that bed means to me:

Over the years, it has become a refuge or a sanctuary. It’s a place I go to when I’m hurting, frustrated or feeling lost. It’s often where I go to seek personal time with the Lord.

My closest friends and loved ones gather on my bed for some of the deepest, most intimate connections. Companionship is established on my bed whether between my husband and I or between a hurting friend who needs to cry and receive a hug.

My bed is also where I go to gain rest from a weary day.

It’s where I go when I’m sick and need to nurse myself back to help.

My bed is where I discover new dreams and ideas through the Lord’s leading.

My bed is not just a piece of furniture; it’s an item that has brought me closer to God on many occasions.

It fascinated me that my bed could mean so much to me, and that I could be so thankful for this one seemingly meaningless item in my life. So, I challenged myself to find other things that I tend to overlook, but actually bring me a lot of pleasure:

my journal, the pen I write with, the chair I was sitting in, a glass of water, a particular picture hanging on the wall, a window, a light… the list continued. It actually became a little game. As I went about my day, I would find the deepest thanksgiving for the most mediocre item in my world. This game went on for weeks, and I still find new things to be thankful for every day. It’s incredible!

So, now that we’ve entered into the week of Thanksgiving, when many people think of the things in which they are thankful. I challenge you to find the little things in your life that really carry your through. Don’t just thank God for the items you take for granted, but find the true meaning behind these items. Discover what these things actually do for you and how they support you during your journey with the Lord. He has provided you with so much, take time to let Him know how grateful you are for ALL the blessings He’s bestowed upon your life. He is good, and He wants to share that goodness with you. Open your eyes so you can see the purity of His goodness.

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Are You Wandering in the Wilderness?

Faith32BlogWanderingWilderness_WordpressIt’s been just over ten years since we published our first issue of niNe. magazine. It’s been eleven years since God gave me the vision of niNe. It’s easy to reflect on all the incredible things that have occurred over the years. It’s wonderful to look at our successes. It’s awesome to zero in on the incredible stories we’ve heard of lives impacted and changed by our content. It’s amazing to examine the many ways we’ve grown. But, it’s easy to gloss over and ignore our failures.

 

There have been many failures. Each defeat has led to a lesson learned and a moment of significant growth. Some of our failures have been tiny flops; some have been huge disasters – all have impacted both individuals as well as the entire organization. There are too many failures to list, but one that continues to loom over our head.

 

What we’re experiencing here at niNe. isn’t a classical failure like many would see. Some would actually proclaim that it’s not a failure at all. Regardless, it’s potentially keeping us from the vastness of God’s vision for this ministry.

 

There are days when we become comfortable in our current state. There are days when we go to work and are satisfied with developing one magazine with the team of people God has called to this ministry. We’re content with the role and position we’re in presently. But, God has not given us a plan of comfort and coziness. No, He has given us a big goal, a long path to walk and a steady journey to strive for. He has great things in store for niNe. magazine, so we must not become complacent with where we are. Instead, we need to continue to focus on the vision He’s placed upon us. We must organize goals and journey forward. We must not fall short of the vision He’s placed on our heart.

 

When the Israelites refused to listen to the Lord’s plan for their lives, they became wanders in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14). They denied His purpose, didn’t believe that He could accomplish what He set before them and became fearful of His hopes for His beloved people. They settled for what they thought was comfortable and paid a steep price.

 

When you look at your life, are you settling? Are you fearful of what God has called you toward? The Israelites failed to trust in the Lord, and as a result became complacent. Are you doing the same? Certainly, you haven’t been wandering in the wilderness for forty years. But, if you refuse to follow God’s plan for your life now, you are setting yourself up for that in the future.

 

God’s plan for your future may be big and seem impossible, but if He planned it for you, then He’s planned a way for you to accomplish it. He’s lined it all up for you. It’s your job to focus on Him, listen to His word, follow and obey His leading. He will not let you down. He will not fail you. If you decline His calling and purpose, then you are failing. If you follow Him, then no matter what happens, you succeed and you do so gloriously.

 

Take a Drink

Faith31BlogSalty_Wordpress

Salt is used in nearly every American recipe. It adds flavor, preserves food and enhances how food tastes. When it comes to the popular scripture in the Gospel of Matthew (5:13), we often focus on our role as Christians being about making God look good, preserving Him and increasing other’s interest in Him. We’re supposed to “spice” God up and make Him more “flavorful” so other people find Him appealing.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)

But, salt also makes us thirsty. And, if we are the salt of the earth, then we’re to make non-believers and believers alike thirsty for the Lord. Our life, speech, actions, etc. are supposed to draw people nearer to the Lord. We’re supposed to lure them in so they want to grasp more of Him. We’re supposed to be a beacon that causes others to gravitate toward the Lord.

When we analyze who we are and look at our life, are we seeing where we have the opportunity to make other people thirsty for the Lord? Do we see where we’re utilizing our God-given gifts and talents to make people interested in Him? Do we know how we’re drawing people closer to God? Are we encouraging people to drink Him up?

Jesus calls Himself the living water. We have an incredible opportunity to make people thirsty for this life-sustaining water. Once they take a drink, they’ll be changed forever.

The Lord gives us the ability, as well as the tools, to draw people nearer to Him. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re supposed to go door-to-door and evangelize. But, it does mean that we are to build relationships with other people and allow Him to radiate outward beyond us, calling people we love toward Him. It means that we’re supposed to be real and honest about who God is to us and what He’s done in our lives. We’re supposed to captivate people we cherish with our life, our story, our actions and our words.

If we aren’t honest with ourselves and with God, making Him attractive to other people, then the saltiness in us is being lost. We need to evaluate our heart and ask God to help us understand more of Him so we can embrace our relationship with Him. If we’re not drawing others toward the Lord, we aren’t failures, but we need to be honest with ourselves. We don’t need to look for opportunities to make others thirst for God. Rather, these opportunities will naturally come as we deepen our relationship with the Lord. As we become closer to Him and learn about Him more, we’ll naturally share our joy and invigoration to those we desperately care about. We must not strive unnecessarily, but we need to be open, available and accepting of God using us to make others thirsty. We too should be thirsty for more of Him. We should always be drinking from His living water.