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Repost - A Prayer For The Singles by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush 

A Prayer tor the Singles 

February, the month of flowers, proposals and lots of chocolate, which as a big girl is soooo not a good thing!  As a single woman I remember running the gamut on emotions during this time of year.  There were the, I’m so depressed moments and the, I hate men moments.  Which were often followed by the, I don’t care if I’m alone moments, the I’m so jealous I can turn green moments and the moment that signifies you’ve made your peace with Christ,  I’m just gonna hang out with my girls cause I’m alone and I’m going to have a good time, even if I feel a little sad sometimes.  

Coming to terms with being single is easier said then done for some of us.  I don’t know if I ever came to terms with the crushing loneliness that sometimes invaded my space.  I never fully made peace with my singleness and I know that it is often preached in many singles groups – make peace and then “The One!” will show up.  But it didn’t happen like that for me.   

Instead I simply surrendered with a prayer that went – “I don’t want to be single, You know I don’t want to be single, and You desire truth from the inward part so I’m telling You that I don’t like the thought of being single all my life.  But I know You know what’s best for me, and I trust that You will do right by me. So if being single is what’s best for me, I trust You to carry me through.” 

I meet Jon not long after that and we were married in less then nine months.  What was I doing when I met my husband?  I was singing – doing what I was called to do.  After 18 years of waiting I get to celebrate, but for many a dark Valentine’s Day Jesus sustained my heart.  I pray He do the same for you if you’ve been waiting for a few years or many years, if you are a widow and desire a mate, a divorcee or a new Christian.   Be about your Father’s business and let His plan unfold. 

Check out my stories of singleness and being newly married in my book, Lessons From The Back Seat  

And in the meantime, I'm praying for and with you! If you desire a mate and have been waiting and would me to add you to my prayer list, leave me a comment or shoot me an email! naima@ministryofnaima.com

Repost - Would Santa Punch You In The Face? 

Would Santa Punch You In The Face? by Dr. Naima Bush, Founder of The Refreshing Life 

Who knows how a Turkish bishop named Nicholas, who was orphaned at a young age and had a penchant for gift giving and died centuries ago, became an eternally living, jolly fat man, who lives in a snow covered wasteland, riding around with magic reindeer while managing to defy the space time continuum that the Good Lord put in place. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of Santa is a wonderful thing, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t hope to one day leave milk and cookies out for the dude with my own children.  When my brother and I were little we left Santa some Chips Ahoy and an orange plastic Tupperware tumbler of Vodka… don’t ask… 

But this year as I flipped from channel to channel it seemed that every holiday themed movie or TV show that was on was about Santa Claus, or an Elf, or a dysfunctional family. Unless it was a Hallmark or Lifetime movie, then it was about some professional business woman to busy for love and how seasonal magic somehow ushered her into the arms of Mr. Right. 

Not one show about the birth of our Savior, the true meaning of Christmas, the greatest gift ever given, at least not until Charlie Brown comes on, and then we’ll hear Linus preach the gospel message until the day that somebody protests that Christmas tradition as being offensive. We already lost the song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and Rudolph is facing the axe because of bullying… but I digress. 

As I was pondering my TV selections, I thought about a conversation I had with a Catholic friend of mine in regards to the true history of Santa Claus. Now Nicholas was a devout man, who loved the Lord with his whole heart.  There are many stories of how he gave away everything he had to meet the needs of others, all in the name of Christ. 

But he shared with me a story I had never head before.  This one was about how St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 with three hundred other church leaders under the direction of the Emperor Constantine. During this major ecumenical event, the Nicene Creed was produced, but before that Santa got a little unruly… 

Arius, a church leader from Egypt had the floor and was going on and on about how Jesus was not equal to God the Father, thus rendering the Trinity as null and void. The longer Arius talked, the more perturbed Nicholas became, until he could take the heresy no more and dashed across the room and smacked in some accounts, or punched in others, Arius in the face.  Which to be honest, makes me laugh uncontrollably, since the only image I have of Saint Nicholas comes from the imaginings of the secular world. 

Well, of course Nicholas, the patron saint of children, repentant thieves, merchants (might explain all the shopping) and pawnbrokers (yes, pawnbrokers)  was punished and stripped of his bishop’s garments and thrown in jail… and then there’s a miracle and restoration… you’ll have to look it up to get the details on this one or we’ll be here forever… But Nicholas does get out of jail and is restored to his office. 

The point is Nicholas was willing to risk it all to defend the truth. Christmas is about Christ, and I believe Saint Nicholas would agree. If he got so upset he was clocking folks in the eye over the importance of the Trinity, what would his response be to how the world has taken this most sacred time and turned it into a Black Friday brawl over a $198.00 TV set? 

Yes, Christmas is a sacred time. It should be more about giving the gift of His eternal love, of forgiveness and restoration then about elves and grinches and stockings. I’m not saying not to put out your cookies, or decorate your tree or hang your Christmas lights. Jon and I watched Elf this past weekend and I laughed so hard I almost choked. But while we are doing these things, let's not forget The One who gave us breath in our lungs so that we could laugh, The One who loved us so much that He left His throne to be born in this barren place to give us hope and a future. 

What I am saying is that although many believe that the story of Saint Nicholas smacking Arius is a myth, it still begs the question. A man so on fire for the Lord that he risked everything to tell the world he would not stand for the demotion of his Savior, that he would not stand idly by while someone made the Lord Jesus Christ less then what He Is, that someone would so reckless disregard the gift the Father gave us to restore us, pushed Santa Claus to the brink. 

If Jolly Old Saint Nick was here today, would he be so jolly? Or would he be running around malls, TV stations, Christmas events and even churches smacking folks in the face? 

This blog is a repost from last year. I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please leave us a note below or on our Facebook page! 

#santaclauspunchesarius #saintnicholasandarius #slappingsanta

Irish Springs Bring Peace! 

Irish Springs Bring Peace by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder of Refreshing Life With Naima

Every now and then I like to confess something just a little strange about myself.  I’m an avid War Movie buff with Hacksaw Ridge, Miracle at St. Anna's and When We Were Soldiers being my three favorites.  I am an introvert by nature, I like to be alone and although I love to sing, I don’t really like being in front of people.  And Rum Raisin and Pistachio are my favorite ice cream flavors…  but one of the strangest things about me is that I have a peculiar fascination with soap. 

And I do mean peculiar. I love the way a good bar of soap feels in my hands.  I can tell you which brands have the best lather, which retain their scent the longest, and which ones get you the cleanest.  I can even tell you when brands change their formula resulting in inferior or superior soap quality.  My husband’s love language is gift giving – and he gives good gifts.  Out of all of the wonderful gifts he gave me last Christmas, the gift I treasured the most was a basked of soaps he had curated from different shops and vendors – BEST GIFT EVER! I spent a good portion of Christmas Day with my nose in the basket inhaling deeply, opening soaps testing them out and placing them in baggies so I could retain their fragrance. 

My struggles with food addiction have never been a secret, I walk this thing out on a daily basis.  I find in times of great strain it is easy to reach for a cookie, when I should be laying before the Lord.  The euphoria of the moment of chewing for some strange reason brings a sense of false calm and deceptive peace – because there is always a price to pay. 

These last few months have been difficult and I’ve found myself falling short quite a bit.  But then something interesting happened.  I was in that melancholic artist mood, distraught about some thing I can’t even remember now, and I opened the fridge to see what was inside.  But then I thought – well actually I believe the Lord whispered to me – you need to wash your hands you’ve been cleaning.  

I found myself at the sink, lathering up my hands with some $5.00 soap that I had brought from the local department store, a good quality soap.  It was called Coastal Waters and the more I rubbed it together the thicker the lather became and the calmer I felt. I stood there for a good ten minutes, singing and washing my hands, lather everywhere, hands soft and wrinkled from the water.  But it felt so good, I felt so much better.  And let’s face it, washing my hands is a much healthier habit then eating a bunch of junk food with my health challenges. 

I thought to myself, what if every time I feel like the world is ending I came to the sink and washed my hands? What if the sink became my altar, my holy place? A memory floated up from the past at that moment… When I was in my early 30’s working with the youth group living in Ohio, I would carry in my purse a box of Irish Spring Soap.  And whenever I needed a moment, needed to focus, needed peace, needed clarity, I would take that soap out and sniff it! Everyone would laugh at me, but I was able to accomplish so much more because of a love of soap that the Lord put in me.  Yes, Irish Springs brought me peace. 

Now when I feel like I need a moment, I run to the sink to wash my hands and sing or talk to Jesus.  It leaves me with a peace I can’t express.  Maybe you need a touchstone, a holy place that you can run to when times are hard.  It may not be at the sink washing your hands, but finding out what it is will help you live a life of joy in the perfection of His will. 

So wash your hands. Make yourselves clean. Get your evil actions out of my sight!

Stop doing what is wrong! Isaiah 1:16

Dog Food Made Me Cry! 

Dog Food Made Me Cry by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush

 

I had a list.  A short one at that. I had rehearsed it in my mind over and over all day. Pampers, Distilled Water, Almond Milk, Chicken Nuggets and Dog Food. It played over and over in my mind like a drum… Pampers, Distilled Water, Almond Milk, Chicken Nuggets and Dog Food.  I rushed into Walmart after church on a Wednesday night, the hour was late, the babies were cranky, Jon was sleepy and the dogs had not eaten all day. I raced up and down the aisles throwing items in the cart, several I didn’t even need, but I couldn’t pass up a sale or a snack my toddler might like. I paid, rushed out to the car drove the three minute ride home, pulled into the driveway and realized, I had forgotten the dog food! How could I be so thoughtless? Our first babies were already getting half the attention they were use to since the kids had arrived. I owed it to them to get it right. But once again, like so many times in my life, I had gotten it terribly wrong. I banged the steering wheel and promptly began to cry. 

My husband looked at me sideways and my chattering toddler quieted real quick.  “I forgot the dog food!” I blurted out, snotty and distraught I continued, “It was the main reason I went to the store, the only thing I had to have tonight. I am so overwhelmed! I need a minute; I just need a minute.”  

Jon gathered up our girl and hustled her into the house leaving me alone with our sleeping baby in his car seat. And in that moment, I saw the absurdity of it all – this man, who I just told I was overwhelmed left me crying in the car with a sleeping baby. I couldn’t do anything but dry my eyes, shake my head and sigh. 

It had been a rough week. Mounting expectations from a number of people, people not doing what they promised, Jon traveling and working crazy hours as he prepared for the upcoming school year. Bianca with a growth on her stomach, Bucho barely making it outside to the bathroom these days, my dad’s health challenges, me gaining weight and the thing I love to do the most, sing, on the back burner as we await the outcome of the fate of these children who are mine, but not mine. 

And forgetting to buy dogfood bought this all to a head on a steamy Louisiana night in my driveway. Those tears didn’t make me feel any better, they didn’t release the pressure. The heavens were silent and God did not speak, there was no release, just resignation. 

What I learned that night is that sometimes when you are trying to live a life of joy there is nothing you can do in times of stress but face your reality. 

In that moment things looked dark and bleak. I felt lost and like a failure. But I got out of the car, unstrapped my sleeping baby took him in the house and got him in his crib. Then did the same for my toddler. I gave those dogs some ground turkey which made them very, very, happy. And at that I smiled. 

I never felt so overwhelmed as I did on that night. As a matter of fact, I felt even more dismal as I washed the dishes, cleaned the baby bottles, swept the floor, let the dogs out, and laid out the clothes for the next day. 

In that moment there was no joy. God was silent and I wanted to scream. But the Lord is so elegant in his promises because as he dictated His word to the prophets, historians and apostles thousands of years ago He had me, sulking in my kitchen in the 21st century in mind. He didn’t need to speak because I already knew the truth, Psalm 30:5 – Weeping endures for a night, but JOY comes in the morning! So I went to bed... daylight was just a few hours away.

 

Dr. Naima Johnston Bush is the founder of the Refreshing Life with Naima and is available for concerts, guest worship leading, teaching and speaking events. She is a Christian Recording, an author, minister, educator a wife and a foster mom.Email us at: naima@ministryofnaima.com for more information.

This Is Not A Punishment 

This Is Not a Punishment by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder, The Refreshing Life

How do you reconcile praying for something and feeling like the answer is no, and will always be no? I have tried my best to handle my infertility with grace and most importantly with faith. Walking through the stages of mourning from questioning, to anger, to bitterness and grief.  Finally making peace with my empty arms despite wanting to hold on to the dream with mustard seed faith. Trying to believe and receive the prophetic words that still come declaring that there will still be a child. 

But at forty-seven all I can do is say, “I believe, help my unbelief, let Your will be done!” 

We always planned to adopt so bringing foster children into our home with a husband who was adopted was just part of the dream and we shared with our Social Worker that we only wanted to foster children that were ready to be adopted, those already in need of a forever home. 

When they plopped a two-year-old and a two month on our doorstep we were ecstatic. And then we got to court, and we met mom and much became clear.  She had no intention of giving up her children, she didn’t appear to be a drug addict or unwilling – rather she seemed like a young mother who had fallen on hard times and needed some help.  What were we suppose to do in that moment when the Social Worker asked if we wanted to keep them while she got things together? And even more alarming to me, we were asked if we wanted to keep them both. I was appalled, we were already in love with them and they were siblings, we don’t separate siblings, no – we don’t rock like that. 

I have to be honest, I was heartbroken, but I wouldn’t admit it.  It looks like I will love and raise them for a season and then give them back. My gut twists even writing the words. With so many people clamoring to tell us congratulations, to give us helpful items, to step in and help us care for them, makes the burden all the harder to bare. 

These are not my children, although I am charged to love them like Jesus loved them, and quite honestly, I would give my life for them.  I already mourn the day when I have to pack them up and send them on their way.  And I must admit it is really difficult not to let bitterness creep in while the devil is whispering in my ear… "God made you infertile, now He's given you children that can never be yours." that's enough to allow bitterness more then a foothold in my life.

I wrestle with the perception that the Lord knows my mother’s heart, He knows the grief of my infertility. He knows how I’ve cried in the middle of the night and felt like less then a woman because I could not birth a living legacy. Children are a legacy of the Lord. That’s what the scripture says. 

This denial often teases me to think that I am being punished.  Have I done something to offend the Lord that He would allow me to watch my former youth group kids have numerous children, or the young ladies who I prayed with in Nashville for husbands now having beautiful additions to their families? Or what about all the women who take this enormous gift from God and destroy it? 

I have cried out to the Lord seeking the answer, asking how have I offended You? Have I not loved enough or served enough or given enough? And the heavens remained silent. Until I came across the following passage of scripture: 

 “What a wonderful God we have—He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does He do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we undergo sufferings for Christ, the more He will shower us with his comfort and encouragement. 

 We are in deep trouble for bringing you God’s comfort and salvation. But in our trouble God has comforted us—and this, too, to help you: to show you from our personal experience how God will tenderly comfort you when you undergo these same sufferings. He will give you the strength to endure.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-8 

It’s a hard pill to swallow but His word never lies. The Lord must really want to comfort, strengthen and help me walk this broken road. This isn’t a punishment. Somehow my infertility, the potential loss of these babies that have nestled under my heart, are burdens that I must let Christ carry through me. These are seasons I must walk through so that someone else might be comforted in their own time of questioning, uncertainty and grief. 

When I accepted the call to be an encourager of God’s people, I never knew when or where I’d have to encourage others. I choose to accept in this moment, infertility as a blessing, not for me but for someone else who is walking through this shadow. And if I should pack these children up and send them on their way, I choose to believe that this is not a punishment either, but somehow this part of the journey will be one more opportunity to run into the arms of my Father, who sometimes makes decisions that are in my best interest, but I won’t understand until I’m older.

And later on, I’ll be able to encourage someone else to do the same.

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share your comments and questions below.

 

#adoptionstory #adoptionjourney #fostertoadopt #infertility #copingwithinfertility #infertilityandfaith

#fostermom #griefandfostering

 

Photo Credit: Image by MorningbirdPhoto from Pixabay

We Needed Her 

We Needed Her by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder, The Refreshing Life

Sometimes I want to throttle the two year old in my house.  Not seriously, but when I find Cheerios in the oddest places, when she refuses to take no for an answer, when she floods the bathroom after distinctly being told not to touch the faucet, I am amazed at her audacity. Her logic often alludes me, her capacity to forget a simple request and her willingness to get sidetracked by baby sharks and paw patrols leave me frustrated, snappish and tired. 

And who wouldn’t be tired when being jarred out of sleep after finally getting the baby down by a little voice demanding Apple Juice or wanting to, “Get Out” of her bed.  Her needs are apparent and they extend beyond the basic needs for life. She needs lots of hugs, she does not like to be left alone, uncertainty makes her nutty and she is a true attention hog.  Typical for most toddlers, but imagine the typical turned up to the tenth degree. We don’t know much about her past, but we pray over her future and try to love her hard in the present. 

When things get hard, when she frustrates me to the point of anger or I’m tempted to say the wrong thing I remind myself she is two and she’s survived things I can’t even imagine – most foster care children have. I ask myself what would Jesus do and try to rethink my approach while applying the easy answer, the self-righteous answer, the answer that makes me the savior and she the one in need of saving.  The answer… she needs me, I can’t forget, she needs me. 

Then just a few days ago, when she had been banished to bed for some rude transgression that had pushed me to the edge of sanity, I walked into my bedroom and was just about to reiterate to my husband how much she must need us since we were in the middle of another test of patience that required unlimited compassion and love. But I had fallen short and sent her to bed thirty minutes early. 

And the Spirit of the Lord spoke to me at the moment – “You need her just as much as she needs you.”  

I needed her? The more I thought about it and prayed over it, the more I understood that I did need her. I knew I wanted her, any woman who has struggled with infertility and wants a child more then anything understands that wanting. No, I needed her, it was well past wanting, I needed her, so that I could become more like Jesus. 

I need her remind me that Christ loves me no matter what silly transgression I commit. That He expresses this love regardless of what I or don’t do, that no matter what happens He blesses me with grace and compassion. And that I have to learn to love like that as well, not out of obligation but out of joy. 

I need her to illustrate how Jesus never gives up on me, even when I forget to do what He told me to do, when I get sidetracked on the way to accomplish His will for my life, when I make a bad choice and have to suffer the consequences. 

But no matter what… Jesus is there, with a big unconditional love that never fails and my toddler pushes me to that standard every day.  Because after getting in trouble or making me nuts, there she is ten minutes later with the most beautiful smile, big eyes on me full of trust and love. I need that. And my promise to her, her brother, and even her biological mother is to give her big unfailing love right back. Just like Jesus.

#fostercare #adoptionstory #fostertoadopt #toddlermother #learningtoparent #lovinglikeJesus

The Joy Challenge! 2019 

The Joy Challenge 2019 by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder, The Refreshing Life

#storiesoffaith #findingjoy #joyfulliving #lifeofjoy

I'm on a mission to bring more joy to my life. I have a habit of worrying to much, forgetting to live in the moment and letting go of things I have no business hanging on to. So for the next few months I am starting a grand journey, launching off into the deep to hear the laughter of Jesus... I am trying to learn to live in the pleasure of the Father.  

That means more then just doing things that are fun and make me laugh.  Learning to live in the pleasure of the Father means sometimes doing the hard and scary things like being a witness, serving in areas that are a challenge for me, being bold in sharing the gospel.

It means reaching for deeper intimacy with the Lord, immersing myself in His Word, seeking His face and finding refreshing in prayer, in learning to discern that still small voice again and moving quickly to do what He has called me to do.  

And it also means being downright silly, sometimes eating the ice cream, rejoicing in the love of my husband and playing tea party with the toddler who has taken over my home and heart.

Life is short and I don't want to live it worried about how long we'll have these children in our lives, if my liver disease will take me out, wishing I spent more time reading my Bible, sharing His word and singing His song. 

This month I commit to resurrect my joy, like Christ resurrected from the grave! And I'm going to start with picking things off my list - 100 Ways To Find More Joy In Your Life to try to bring a smile to my heart.

This month, I commit to doing at least 10 things on the list to the right of 100 Ways To Have More Joy... this is only the first page, but I'd love to share all 100 with you!

So, I'm on a journey to joy and I expect it to be a wild ride. I'm rolling with Jesus and I'll be documenting the journey with pictures, videos and blogs. Who wants to roll with me?

I'd love to hear your comments or questions. And if you are interested in following along or going on this journey with me email me simply saying, I want to go on the journey! Journey To Joy Sign Up

Want a copy of all 100 Ways To Bring More Joy To Your Life?

Get your digital download here:

100 Ways To Have More Joy! 

Let Go of the Weight 

Let Go of the Weight, Guest Post by Alicia Terry

Some years ago I wrote a blog post titled, Get Rid of Those Keys. I referenced a key chain I carried that had a lot of keys, but they no longer gave me access to the doors, vehicles and anything else they unlocked. So, why did I continue to carry them? Good question. At the time I thought for sure I would get rid of the keys after I published the blog post.

But, I didn’t. I continued to carry them out of habit, a sense of nostalgia and being comfortable with the weight. It wasn’t until the other day when the leather strap to my automatic car door opener tore and the keys fell that I had to acknowledge the weight had been too much. Years ago I knew the weight was too much, but ignored it until things broke and I found myself picking up the pieces.

Have you ever done this? Are you doing it now…carrying weight that serves no constructive purpose and only wears you and things out over time? Let’s stop doing this to ourselves. We have the power to live in and from victory and accomplish what we’ve been put on earth to do.

Hebrews 12:1 says: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (NLT)

You and I, we can do this. The Bible is full of stories of people who serve as examples for us. They are the great cloud of witnesses, who, by faith, dropped the weight of their circumstances and moved forward with great focus and determination. The lighter load enabled them to endure to the end and win the race God intended for them to win.

We can experience this too. Let go of the weight. Run with endurance. Complete your race!

 

As the owner and founder of Idea Haven, a communications and training practice, Alicia Terry helps entrepreneurs, teens and women clarify the message around their mission so they can attract and connect with the people they are meant to serve. You can learn more about Alicia at aliciaterry.com and connect with her on Facebook. She is a frequent writer for the Refreshing Life Blog.

#crushfear #overcominglimitations #nolimits #Aliciaterry #livingalifeofjoy

Valentine's Day... 

Date Night Ideas With Jon and Naima! by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush, Founder of the Refreshing Life

 

This is the first time since we've been married that Jon and I are not together on Valentine's Day! But our move, the stability his job provides and February being my busiest month of the year dictates that we be in two different states this year.  I'm sad, but we've got an amazing get a way weekend planned for the first weekend in March.  

This video was shoot last year when we still lived in Nashville.  It gives you a look into our nutty, silly adventures as a couple determined to live for God and be best friends as well. Jon and I don't always make the grade, but we strive to live a life in the center of God's will on the journey to joy with Jesus.

So if you are looking for some marital inspiration, if you are single and want to be encouraged about what the Lord has in store for you, or if you just want  a good laugh, check out the video below, subscribe to our Youtube Channel to keep up with all the nuttiness and leave us a comment!  

And if you need prayer for your marriage, feel free to shoot us a note, we'd be more then glad to bring your request before the Lord! Email us at: naima@ministryofnaima.com  

 Click The Image To Watch The Video!

 

#marriageministry #christianmarriage #datenightideas #valentinesdayideas #relationshipgoals

 

Looking for a great tool to help you build a strong marriage?

Check out my book, Lessons From The Back Seat or How I Learned To Be A Wife!

Click Here To Order: Refreshing Life Store

 

Brother Harlow Turns 90 

Brother Harlow Turns 90 by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush

I miss unlimited soup and salad from the Olive Garden. I desire to pop into Barnes and Noble and visit the discount craft store when I want to pay less than Michael’s prices. I long for prepackaged nuts from Trader Joe’s and nitrate free turkey pepperoni from Whole Foods.  And let’s not even talk about skipping down to Disney on a Saturday afternoon, laying on the beach, burying my toes in the sand and roaming the countless thrift stores, vintage shops, flea markets and garage sales that pepper the greater Jacksonville area. 

In these areas JAX – Duval County to be exact, where they bring the RACHET… (yes that is a city wide slogan) has tiny little Leesville/New Llano, LA beat.  But these temporal things mean nothing when I think about the family we have found in this place.  We have been embraced by the beautiful and colorful southern hearted home folks in this area.  In this place I’ve puzzled over crawfish houses, been introduced to finger licking Cajun cooking, been bitten by fire ants, waved at the po po, who always make sure I’m safe when I’m in the yard with the dogs after dark and everybody else who has driven up our street, and had more, “Girl how you doing!” meetings in Wal-Mart then I can count. 

But I knew I was home when I attended Brother Harlow’s 90th birthday party.  Brother Harlow is the sweetest man, filled with faith and a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  He always makes sure that Jon Bush is behaving and seriously insists that if my husband steps out of line I should promptly inform him.  We celebrated him with the most delicious cake, mounds and mounds of food, lots of laugher and a picture to commemorate the event. When we told him we were honored to be invited, he told us we were family. 

As Jon and I left we paused to view the display that had been set up to celebrate his life. My heart filled as I examined a life in pictures that told of triumph and struggle, of love, faith, family and great loss.  And when we left I was overwhelmed with sadness because the last picture I studied was of Brother Harlow and his beautiful wife who had passed away. I remember thinking, I wished she was here to celebrate with him and how much he must be missing her even with all the laughter and the crowded room of well wishers and loved ones. 

And it dawned on me, that one day, if Jesus should tarry, Jon or I would be in the same situation. There will be a day when one of us will have to say good bye to the other one for a season.  I can barely breathe just thinking about it.  How many of us have had to say goodbye to the ones we treasure and have never really recovered even though life and the love still goes on? 

At the end of that wonderful man’s party when grief tried to grip and squeeze me, the Lord reminded me of this simple truth. Death is hard because it is unnatural. How often do we hear death is a natural part of life? But honestly, death was never part of the Lord’s original plan for us, so it isn’t natural at all.  We mourn because we lose something we were never supposed to lose…  each other. That’s why it hurts so bad. And every new person that takes up residence in my heart gets not only my love but will one day be mourned or mourn me. And recently in the tiny town where I now live, many people have made my heart their home by moving in and finding a favorite chair or a place on the couch to chill out. 

The thought could be unbearable, but that is when hope rose up with healing in its wings. Brother Harlow’s wife was a believer, so we rest assured that we will see her again. And all the separations, all the loss, all the tears will be wiped from our eyes because death, hell and the grave will be over and done forever. I’ve dealt and struggled a lot with death this year, so here is where I dig in and refuse to let my faith be shaken.  I know God is a promise keeper and a miracle worker.  And I know He is not a liar.  

There are many mansions in my Father’s House, if it wasn’t so He would have told me.  And somewhere in that huge dwelling, Sister Harlow is worshipping with my grandmothers, my aunts and my sweet Leslie. Accepting and living for Jesus means forgiveness, unconditional love and everlasting life… so life is like the night and being in the eternal presence of the Lord is the morning. 

Remember, the Lord never lies… fill your heart with love knowing that one day you will face the unthinkable. Because weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning – and reunions to!

 

Dr. Naima Johnston Bush is the founder of The Refreshing Life with Naima and is on a mission to help you live a life of joy, powerful prayer and sincere gratitude! Please leave a comment if the blog is blessing you and feel free to share if you think it will bless someone else!

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In The Shadow of Cancer 

For Those Who Struggle With Fear by Dr. Naima Johnston Bush

I must be honest, I've had a really hard time since Leslie passed away.  At only 31, she was vibrant and loving and oh so kind...

My struggle has really centered on my work, my age, my failures, my inability to have a child.  It feels like the days are passing by so quickly and with my birthday quickly approaching I am no where near where I want to be in so many areas of my life. And with 47 barreling down the pike coming at me like a Mack truck, I can't help but think, did I make the right choice all those years ago when I quit my job and began to work for the Lord? 

The news comes fast, every time I log on someone else has passed away, someone else has cancer or some other disease, people are questioning their faith, they are afraid and discouraged and overcome.  And here I am suppose to be the encourager, the one who lives a life of joy. What do you do with all these broken pieces and parts that want to pull you under.  You look those feelings straight in the eye and call them what they are. Fear has always been a enemy of mine and I find myself locking horns with it quite a bit these days.  And the only refuge I can find is in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God. Below is a piece that I wrote years ago during one of the scariest times in my life, some of you may remember it, but in this season I think it bears repeating. Out of times of great trial a new song always comes forth... my new song hasn't come yet, but until it does I will sing the old ones and remember I serve the same God who gave me victory before and will do it again...

In The Shadow of Cancer

I’m a New Yorker – born and raised in the Bronx, my family still resides there, but for many years the Lord had me living in Ohio. On September 11, 2001, before I went into fulltime music ministry, I went to work and every person in my office was huddled around the big screen TV in the lounge. My secretary Viki gently told me what was happening, she knew that my entire family was in a four-mile radius of the Twin Towers. As I watched the towers fall I was in shock, and the fact that I couldn’t get a phone to ring on the East Coast made the moment all the more terrifying. 

My brother wound up having to walk miles and cross a huge NYC bridge to get home. My cousin was outside when the tower fell; she sustained cuts but was ok. My brother’s girlfriend at the time worked at the World Trade Center, she just happened to be late for work that morning. My mother was stranded about 15 miles from home, with a river between her and home she uttered a prayer to the Lord and a woman she met for the first time earlier that same morning in our massive apartment complex of  35 buildings,  33 floors to a building, 12 apartments to a floor, saw her standing on the side of the road and took her home. And my dad… my dad was diagnosed with Cancer. 

Some remember that right after the towers fell, Anthrax was being sent through the mail, my father worked at the post office where the anthrax was first found and had to be put on Anthrax medication as well. And even fewer people remember that several weeks after 9-11 another plane crashed in a Queens neighborhood for reasons that still have yet to be determined. That neighborhood was the one my father lived in and on the day that plane fell from the sky, my father and I were at the airport waiting for him to catch a flight home after visiting me in Ohio. 

I was petrified, 600 miles from home and my world was upside down. I remember crying and praying and asking the Lord for peace. And something my grandmother said came to me, that whenever I was afraid I should read the 91st Psalm. I got up from prayer and picked up my Bible and read:

“He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” 

The song poured out, another feeble heart cry to the Lord, letting Him know that even though I was I was afraid I’d trust Him and believe that I was under His shadow. Not under the shadow of cancer or terrorists, or sickness, or crashing planes. 

Random Life Lesson # 32, Fear is a killer of Faith. Even in the shadow of the things we most fear, God will lead us along the best pathways for our lives, He is with us, even till the end of the age! Today if there is something that you fear, remember that the Lord is with you and you can run into His arms and find peace and safety in the shadow of His wings.

I'd love to gift you with a copy of the song, In Your Shadow - Click Here To Download

Naima

He Bit Precious On The Nose - In Memory of Leslie Prestal 

He Bit Precious On The Nose - In Memory of Leslie Prestal

 

I don’t remember when we first met exactly, but she turned up in my life, like she had always been there. Fourteen years old, full of questions and life, pony tales and an eager spirit, she soaked up the things of the Lord like a sponge.  

For a brief shining second in time, I was part of something rare and beautiful, in small town Ohio, I saw roses grow from cornfields. I was witness to the spiritual growth and development of a group of kids that served and worshiped the Lord with abandon, dedication and boldness in a way I never had.  It wasn’t until later that I realized what a tremendous responsibility and blessing it was to serve as a youth leader for Victory Temple Church in Fairborn, Ohio.  Leslie was a part of this unusual group.  Anointed, evangelistic, Holy Spirit filled, they preferred the things of God over the mall and hanging out.  It was nothing to see these radical teenagers laid out before the alter crying out to the Lord for revival, for healing, for deliverance. 

I got a chance to watch them all grow, some departed the faith and others became stronger and even more in love with Jesus. Leslie was one of those who fell in so deep, she couldn’t get out if she tried.  Many people try to be good, but Leslie was good.  And although she would be the first to admit she didn’t always feel good, that she battled her own flesh, I know what I saw.  The glory of the Lord all over her, displaying the Him in her so brilliantly that sometimes she was blinding. His words in her mouth, His heart in her compassionate ways, His sacrifice in her kindnesses, His truth in her desire that no one would perish. And she grew into a mighty woman of God and went from being one of my kids to being one of my sweetest friends. 

Once when she was around sixteen, the youth group was gathered at the Youth Pastor’s home for fellowship.  Leann (the Pastor’s wife) had this funny little dog – named, D.O.G. who use to terrorize the kids.  Leann was sitting in a chair with the little dog tucked away besides her barely visible.  Someone said something hilarious, and Leslie who was sitting at Leann’s feet, popped up on her knees screaming in laughter and rocking forward.  And as she came near to the chair, that dog popped out like a little viper and nipped her on the nose.  It was one of the funniest things we had ever seen.  It scared Leslie more than anything and D.O.G. got in major trouble, but my how we laughed about that incident for years. 

For some reason, the Lord allowed me to play a part in her spiritual journey – which makes no sense to me as I often feel so weak and powerless, and Leslie was so faith filled and strong. I got to counsel her on those teenage issues, share with her from the word of the Lord, help teach her how to lead worship. Later, Leslie and I helped that same Pastor and his wife start a church and worked together in the church office, she was one of the first volunteers for my ministry.  She traveled over five hours to serve at my wedding and we’d meet for breakfast and discuss her dreams, her goals, her desires.  I was her big sister in the faith and she was my Les-er-lee. 

And then one day I came into her office and she told me she had gotten some abnormal test results back from the doctor and had to see a specialist. We brushed it off, declared the victory over the situation and put it in the hands of the Lord. 

 She fought valiantly, and there were times of healing, refreshing and reprieve.  Two times she conquered the beast of cancer by the power of the Lord.  And when it returned the third time, she won the ultimate victory and went home to be with her Savior, the One whom her soul loved. 

I don’t understand why a thirty-one-year-old would die. Especially one who went on mission trips, led worship, shared with the world how faithful God was. I don’t understand why the Lord didn’t allow her to be the wife and mother that she desired to be.  My heart is broken and I am weak and crying at all hours of the day and night. I got a chance to talk with her before she died, to sing a song that we sang together when she was that fourteen-year-old rose turning her face to the light to grow in grace.  

One of the last things Leslie said was, “I still believe God can heal me, and I am trusting Him to do so. What a marvelous testimony that would be.  But if He doesn’t heal me, and He calls me home, that’s OK to, because then I’ll be with Jesus.” 

We are a people always looking for miracles. We cry and question and when a loved one leaves this earth at a time we define as “to soon” we let our faith be shaken and say God didn’t answer our prayer.  But isn’t the true miracle that Leslie faced the beginning of her eternal life anchored in His promises and speaking them over her own life to give us comfort? 

And I comfort myself thinking about how D.O.G. nipped her on the nose and how she laughed until her face turned red after it happened. I am left with all the memories I wish I could pour out on this page to share with you about utterly lovely Leslie is.  I say is – because she still lives, she lives in the presence of the Lord and she lives in my heart.  And I am humbled and honored to know that in some small way, for one brief second in eternity, I got to share this earthly life with her and that for a time I got to be a gardener tending one of His most precious roses. 

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints. 
Psalm 116:15

Smile! It's Over! 

Just when I thought I was home… the Lord ups and speaks a word and sends me from sunny Florida to tiny town Louisiana.  Yep, Jon and I are now living down on the bayou and it happened so quick I know some of you are still trying to figure out how the heck it happened.  I’m still trying to figure out it happened! 

It just goes to show you that we make plans and God laughs.  And in His laughter we have a choice, will we laugh with Him and enjoy the journey even if it takes us to unexpected places? Or will we cry and moan and be angry that the life we thought we were about to live is now gone? 

Moments like these call for some Dr. Seuss wisdom. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” 

For three wonderful years we didn’t wear socks in the winter, went to Disney frequently, made a multitude of new friends and saw the Lord sustain through sickness, lack and discouragement. And we never thought we’d leave. As a matter of fact I was just about to purchase my Florida Disney Resident Pass! 

For a couple who are called "the gypsies" by our family, we felt like we had finally found home – oh, we might have left Jacksonville and went on to Orlando or Tampa at some point, but at some moment in time unbeknownst to us, Florida replaced Nashville and became home. 

New Llano, Louisiana, a small town surrounded by the booming metropolis of Leesville… combined the population is about 8,000 people with about 20,000 at Folk Polk, the army base that is a few miles up the road.  This is a town where people wave at me in my front yard as they drive pass, where people introduce themselves to me in the Walmart because they know me, although we have not yet met, a place where we have been truly embraced by our new church family.  It’s so very far from all our big city “villes” Nashville, Jacksonville… now Leesville. This is a town where I have to drive 2 hours to get to Whole Foods... 

How did we get here? It happened in a whirlwind six week period. Jon was offered a position as the principal of Leesville Christian Academy. So totally unexpected, I mean it really was a message on Facebook, a few phone calls, lots of tense discussions, a whole lot of prayer and boom – next thing we know we were packing the house right after Valentine’s Day and waving good bye to Lyle Lane on March 20th. Miracle after miracle paved the way and every door opened before us even though it seemed at times there was a great deal of opposition. 

So here I am adjusting to a new life, a new home, a new church, a new mission again.  I can already tell this is a season of growth and pruning – God has been speaking and I have been listening.  It’s going to be an interesting year with some interesting blogs, I can already tell you that. 

But I do miss Florida.  But I do trust the plan of the Lord and His promise.  Today, If you are facing sudden changes, surprises in life, opposition or the unknown, I encourage you to join me in mediating on the following scripture: 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 
  
And as He leads you smile… beautiful things are in store for every ending is a doorway to a new beginning. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, come minister to your group or see you over in our Refreshing Life Community if you are not already a member on Facebook. Shoot me a message and let me know how I can be of service or your comments about this post! Message Naima

God of the Hills and Valleys - Sarah Cepeda  

Good day all! 

I normally speak about empowerment, growth, self-love etc. Today will be a bit different. 

I am a strong believer in God and his goodness in our lives and that's what I want to focus on today. I was riding to work this morning, listening to the Christian radio station I love and the song "Hills and Valleys" by Tauren Wells came on. This is one of my favorite songs. Some of the lyrics, the ones that especially stood out to me this morning, are as follows.... 

On the mountains, I will bow my life 
To the one who set me there 
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there 
When I'm standing on the mountain, I didn't get there on my own 
When I'm walking through the valley, I know I am not alone! 
You're God of the hills and valleys! 
Hills and Valleys! 
God of the hills and valleys 
And I am not alone! 

While this song has always had a special significance to me, from the very first time I heard it, today it really touched me to the point where I was almost in tears. It brought to mind, everything that is happening in Houston, Texas right now. I have seen videos on social media platforms, where despite the circumstances they are experiencing, people are still praising God and thanking Him. There are people who have lost everything except the clothes on their back and they still manage to smile and thank God for his grace and mercies. In the midst of all of the loss, they are still aware that God is with them and will never leave them. They are well aware of the fact that our God is most certainly a God of the hills and valleys and He will never leave us. Even in the midst of our worst storm, he is there. Even when we look up and things seem so bad that all we can see is storms and darkness, He is there. This is so powerful! 

In addition, many of the videos I've seen have had people of all races and backgrounds joining together to help one another in their time of need. With the political climate in our country being what it is now and the country appearing to be so divided across racial lines, seeing these videos, while tragic, was also uplifting for me. It confirmed to me that God and love will still always win over hatred, no matter what the picture looks like on the surface. 

I try to be optimistic and look at the silver lining in every cloud. While it is challenging to find a silver lining in the cloud of Hurricane Harvey, I do believe that there is one. Yes, Hurricane Harvey is a tragedy and has had some devastating effects on people. Some people have lost everything they spent their entire lives building. Some people have lost loved ones. It will likely take years to rebuild Houston, Texas after such a devastating storm. Despite all of this, I do believe there is a silver lining.

For me, the silver lining is the love that is coming out of all of this. The love that people have for human kind, that is enabling them to cross lines of hate and racism in order to help those in their community. The love of strangers who are leaving their homes in neighboring states to go to Houston to offer assistance. The love of people who cannot be there, who are sending donations. The love of people who are praying for Houston, Texas everyday. The love of those Houston residents, who despite everything, are still praising God and thanking Him. For me, all of these things are the silver lining in the horrible cloud that is Hurricane Harvey.

For me, all of these things are what give me hope for this world and help to strengthen my desire to continue to seek after God and all of His goodness. For me, this represents hope and determination and the fullness of the love of God and the fact that He is always there, to hold our hand and get us through whatever storm we may be facing! 

God bless you always! 

Sarah J. Cepeda 

CEO/Owner Broken Chains, LLC 

Certified Holistic Life Coach 

Empowerment Speaker

It's All About That Grace! - Dana Ezell 

When some people hear the word Grace, many things may come to mind. Perhaps Grace Kelly or the thought of a ballet dancer floating across the stage at the Nutcracker Suite. Or even how someone handles an adversary in a congenial manner. I can understand why people think of those things, but what I think of when I hear Grace, is G-O-D! 

I have had a trial or one hundred in my life. I grew up with a very supportive mother, but was never close to my brother who is eight years my senior and my parents got divorced when I was seven. I did not have the pleasure of having a father around to baby me and make me feel special. My mother did that for me. But I’m not sure that it was quite enough. 

I had a nice home growing up with a big yard and nice clothes, we were not wealthy by any means, but I never went without. My mom was a career woman, with great responsibility at her job, but she would still be room mom in my elementary school. As I got older, she would serve concessions at football games during my band and flag corps years. I think my father showed up once. The lack of a dad in my life really set me on a course that wasn’t so good. 

Towards the end of my senior year, I became more than a bit rebellious. That rebellion hit me even harder when I was a freshman more than one hundred miles away from home with no parental guidance. I did not do well in my classes, I made poor choices and I started to become another person. I could not relate to my friends from the past, I was not the same. So, after my second year, I moved back to my hometown because I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. 

I wanted to have more stability in my life. But what happened over the next couple of years was far from stable. I didn’t have a close relationship with my mom for a while because of my stepfather. I had a boyfriend who was not good for me. And I had a roommate that brought a lot of unnecessary drama to my life. So, when I was twenty-two, I moved to a larger town and made changes. I lived on my own and got my finances together and started to figure out what direction to go in, finally at the age of twenty-five my life stabilized. 

Looking back, I realize how much of a late bloomer I am in many respects. I did not finish college until I was twenty-nine. But I completed my degree on my own dime, while running a business. My life took a while to get on track, but through God, I was able to make it happen! I started going to church around that time, and started reading my Bible and honestly, started surrounding myself with people that were living Christ-centered lives. I am positive that my life changed because I put God at the forefront of everything. And once again through His Grace I prospered and was saved. 

Sometimes I still feel like that doe-eyed younger person still unsure of what the future may hold. But I am still here and I have a lot to share and teach the younger generation, particularly my own child, because of my mistakes. None of us know what is around the bend or what may happen from one moment to the next or what path some of our choices may lead us to. But one thing we can be sure of, is that with a dose of faith and a pinch of forgiveness, we can make it through anything. Which reminds me of my favorite scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 

He not only strengthens us, but He gives us second chances. He never loses faith in us even when we do not think that we can go on. He also forgives us, even when we cannot face things that we have done. God is the only reason that I, and all of us are still working and living and breathing and typing. J He knows what our purpose is, and if we become close with Him and seek His face and open up our hearts, it will be revealed to us. Many people never find their true vocation. They go through life blindly because they do not turn to God for guidance and direction. 

I wish in my younger and confusing years, I could have understood how many times God had my back and saved me from myself. What I failed to realize then, is that somehow, I always made it. I did not come in harms way (for the most part) and I got out of sticky situations that I should not have been in, virtually unscathed. Now, in my fourth decade of life, I finally understand the importance of this thing called life. Things are coming together slowly, but surely. I am still not where I want to be, but I am working towards it with confidence and vigor. Having God as my navigator makes it all possible. 

I may not have had it easy. I have had to work harder than so many people that I know and have struggled with many things. But I am blessed. I have a beautiful daughter, a loving relationship and have all the things that I need. Through God’s Grace, I have been able to learn from my many, many mistakes. For many years, I was not even close to the realization that everything was going to be okay and through my many emotional scars, I would survive. To be assured that one day I would be able to reflect back and realize how good I have actually had it. After a long time coming, I do… 

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”

 

Dana's website is currently under construction.

 

#faithstories #godsgrace #testimonies