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Everyday A Blessing Day

Published June 28, 2013 by Ashley Townsend

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I didn’t realize I had been so busy the past few weeks, but obviously I’ve been a little preoccupied since Rising Shadows’ 1st Birthday passed without me realizing it. I even had it on my calendar with little drawn balloons and confetti and everything! Haha. I guess I should pay more attention to my One Direction calendar, since obviously it’s hanging on my wall for a reason—well, two reasons. 😉

Anyway, thinking of the book being a year old—and writing up chapter summaries for its sequel, Chasing Shadows—reminded me of how blessed I am to be doing what I love. A year ago Wednesday, the amazing, dream-come-true opportunity that God dropped into my unexpecting lap became a reality that I am happy to live. It also made me think of how God loves to do the unexpected and give us our hearts’ desires. My family and I have been reading a lot of devotionals and listening to encouraging CD’s the past few weeks, and they all have a common theme: Expect Blessing.

So often we’re afraid to hope because we assume we’ll be let down, or we think that we can’t possibly give our dreams up to God in faith, because surely He’ll make us live as penniless missionaries in Uganda. If you have never thought this way, then good for you! I, however, am still working on giving everything up to God in faith—not just the little things that don’t matter, but the big dreams. And that’s what my writing career was: A dream that I wasn’t sure I could let Him take full control over, and I still struggle with it. Which is ridiculous, because God can do a far better job at making it a reality than I ever could, and I know it will be more magnificent than I imagine. I’ve written before about my fear of letting go of my dream, but the only time anything came of it was when I finally relinquished control.

We cling so hard to the things that are important to us, and God isn’t asking us to forget about and give them up; if it’s important to us, it’s important to Him, and I think this is something everyone needs to grasp hold of. It might not always be in the exact way we imagine it—keep in mind, God is very creative and imaginative—but if we have something that is our heart’s desire, then He wants to give it to us. We just have to have enough faith to give Him room to work, and don’t worry; He has very gentle hands. I’m still trying to grasp hold of this fully and am working on getting it from my head to my heart, but I’ve decided to start looking for the blessing in each day. Some days it’s harder than others, but there’s always a silver lining or a blessing in disguise if you’re willing to look.       

Week 9: Self-Control

Published November 2, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your Faith Goodness; and to Goodness, Knowledge; and to Knowledge, Self-Control; and to Self-Control, Perseverance; and to Perseverance, Godliness; and to Godliness, Mutual Affection; and to Mutual Affection, Love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

Wow. Week 9 already? It’s hard to believe that we’ve come to the end of the challenge. Whether I expected to or not, I learned something every week and was expecting this final stretch to be enlightening and hit me like a bolt of lightning, and I would be struck with immense insight (and some potential third-degree burns). Nonetheless, I fully anticipated to go out with a bang. I mean, the end of these nine weeks had to be epic, right? I found the verse above and thought that it was so appropriate for our final week, since it basically covers the transition from each Fruit of the Spirit and says that they help us to be productive in our knowledge. I highly recommend reading this a few times and just letting it sink in.

I went through the list of obvious manifestations of self-control the first few days. I tried to keep from being rebellious, to be kinder to others even when I didn’t want to, and watch what I said more, saving the sailor’s mouth for football games only … Just kidding (I mean, I can still kiss my mother, and all). But I worked pretty hard to curb what I said to others and try to only speak positive things. Let me tell ya, not always that easy. At the beginning of Self-Control, someone said something that normally would make my blood boil and receive a snarky remark. It was on the tip of my tongue, but then I suddenly remembered Self-Control. I’ll tell you that it required quite a bit of ye ol’ Control as I took a deep breath, exhaled, and actually managed to compliment my offender. The strange thing was that it completely threw them and changed their attitude, and I felt surprisingly good over having held my tongue. That was kind of s shocking bit of insight, and after that I worked really hard to watch my tone with others and what I let slip from my lips. But then something occurred to me (of course, it dawned on me last night).

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

Suddenly it dawned on me that watching what I did on the outside, while very important, wasn’t the only form of Self-Control; I also needed to censor what was on the inside. Taking thoughts captive is much more difficult that simply not saying them aloud. It’s going to take me a while to master my mind, or even get a little hand-hold on it, though I’ve already begun to notice a difference in my thoughts as I try to think only positive and productive things (good news is that all that free space has left me a lot of “productive” room for creative insight for the sequel to Rising Shadows, so YAY!). I’m not saying it’s easy in the least, and sometimes you don’t even realize that you’re entertaining a rebellious or negative thought that even needs to be taken captive, but be encouraged that it does get easier over time when you’re conscious of your thoughts. It might seem like a lot of work for something that probably won’t affect your day-to-day life, but I guarantee those thoughts will eventually leak out into what you do and say later on. So save the space for something productive. Like everything else in this challenge, you’ll be glad you did it.  

I cannot believe that we have reached the end of our Fruit of the Spirit Challenge. What an amazing journey it’s been! I hope you all learned as much as I did and maybe even discovered a little something about yourselves that you didn’t know before. And don’t think that this practice round ends here; now the real challenge begins as you take your newfound skills and shed a little light in the world. This last week isn’t the end of the road. No, there is a long road stretching out before you, and these nine weeks were just a little start in the right direction. Which way you go from here is completely up to you…

Week 8: Gentleness

Published October 26, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

The week of Gentleness brought to mind a few ideas; it reminded me of Kindness and Goodness, so once again I was faced with the dilemma of trying to come at this week from a different angle. I mean, it’s singled out like the other eight Fruits, so obviously there is a reason for that. My problem was figuring out just what that reason was, exactly. So I went back to my mental checklist, going over the similar characteristics, and somehow the term “meek” popped into my head as a synonym. But, stubborn as I am, I pretty much shrugged it off, because that adjective brings to mind one word: weak. And I did not think that you all would take too kindly to me telling you to be weaklings, and it just didn’t seem right.

“The meek shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

But meek was the term that kept showing its face in the pile of Kindness, Goodness, Love, and Patience. So I did a little research and was reminded of the verse above. I still wasn’t getting it. Okaaaaay, so we let ourselves get plowed over and stand down, and that means we’re deserving? That did not seem right (I’ve learned during this challenge to trust my gut and keep digging; I usually discover what I’m looking for). Then I looked up the definition of Gentle. The first few definitions didn’t surprise me much (kind, amiable, moderate, etc.). But then it stated that Gentleness implies being of good birth, honorable, respectable, to ennoble; dignify. All right, I could deal with that. And then it defined Gentle in a way that really threw me: entitled to a coat of arms. Are you trying to tell me that by being meek and Gentle—weak, by my assumption—one is actually embodying strength? Ka-pow! That was my mind being blown. The two seem completely opposite to me, but there it was. Then I looked at this verse again and realized that different translations make it clear that if God’s people are humble and honorable servants, then He will give the earth to them. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty hefty promise.

Being Gentle doesn’t mean that you have to by weak or feeble-minded. No. It means embodying a Gentle strength that that will win battles and rule nations—some of the greatest wars are not always fought with brute force. Gentleness also requires you to put your Kindness and Love and Goodness back into practice, but I also think it means that you have to use wisdom to know when to remain silent and when God is calling you to act.       

Week 7: Faithfulness

Published October 19, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the sky.” Psalm 57:10

Unlike a few of the previous weeks, I knew exactly what Faithfulness was: God is Faithful in his promises to me (like the verse above), and I would be Faithful and come through for those around me. I didn’t have to do any great research, ponder Faith for a time, and I did not expect any great discoveries for these seven days. Then Sunday morning, I literally had an epiphany (hey! Only two days in instead of the usual six. Progress!). I wasn’t even thinking about the challenge when it hit me that I have only really been practicing these Fruits on those around me, not God. Sure, I know I was showing Him Love when I emulated it in my life, but what about the others I’ve been working on? Did I work on being Patient when He told me to wait? Had it even crossed my mind to be Faithful to Him? I know Jesus said that whatever we do for the least of these, we do unto Him, but there is a difference when we focus on others and completely forget to be Faithful to God.

“May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness…” 1 Samuel 26:23

This completely changed my perspective for the entire week, and also the rest of this challenge. I wish I had come to this realization earlier on, but it’s never too late to start. And don’t be intimidated by this concept, either. Just start small—give an addiction up to God, watch what you say, whatever. It doesn’t have to be huge! But He’s Faithful to us all the time, even when we don’t realize it, so why can’t we return the favor?    

“You only live once, but if you live it right, once is enough.” –Adam Marshall

Week 6: Goodness

Published October 12, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Surely Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

Goodness … Goodness … Goooood-nessssss. I did this for about six days, emphasizing the word, going syllable by syllable, as if this would help me discover the meaning of the word and what I’m supposed to do with it this week. I mean, I know what Goodness is, essentially, but how was it any different from the rest? What set it apart that made is so important to be defined in the Fruits of the Spirit, rather than just being lumped in with Kindness or Gentleness?  Then I remembered the dictionary. Oh, yes, that special little book that most of us don’t have a use for these days that’s filled with pages covered in wonderful, magical words and definitions (Warning! Fellow lexophiles like me may experience swooning in the presence of a dictionary or thesaurus). Here is what I found when I did a little digging:

Good-ness

-noun:

-the state or quality of being good

-moral excellence; virtue

-kindly feeling; kindness; generosity

-the best art of anything; essence; strength

-a euphemism for God

Huh. I feel like I could just end this post with the above definition, but I really want to share what stuck out to me the most. The first one I was already aware of, it’s so obvious. But the rest of them … Well, they really caused me to stop and think and try to understand. I thought this week was going to be a bit of a wash out, so to speak; it was just supposed to be about being “Good” and seemed far less important than some of the other Fruits. I really did not expect it to be so impacting. Moral excellence and virtue are the farthest things from my mind when I think of Goodness, yet they’re right at the top. Those are some pretty strong character qualities for such a “weak” word. Proverbs 31 describes a woman’s virtue as being more precious than rubies, something to be praised. Wow. Apparently, there’s quite a bit of stock in virtue, and the fact that Goodness is the essence and “best part of anything” is unbelievable! And are you telling me that Goodness is a display of strength? How many people view Goodness or Kindness as some form of weakness? But it’s the complete opposite! Oftentimes it takes great strength to exhibit Goodness and self-control. I was already gung-ho and all fired up to put some serious effort into practicing Goodness up to this point, and then I read the final part of the definition. It isn’t a word that I would generally think of when describing God—strong, caring, and loving; yes. But it’s been there the whole time, and all of these are wrapped up in that single word: He IS Good, and He said it was Good! This is the only word where it really refers to God in its definition, and the fact that we can be more like Him by exhibiting this quality is incredible.           

I had no expectations for this week and didn’t expect for it to have such an impact on me, so this newfound wisdom was a nice surprise. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be proven wrong.

Week 5: Kindness

Published October 5, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Be Kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Amazingly, today’s post is just going to be a little blurb about this week in the challenge not because I didn’t learn anything new, but because I really had to take this week to rely on the past Fruits I’ve been working on. Not surprisingly, I had no idea what to do differently for this portion. I mean, I’m not usually a mean-spirited crazy person, or anything like that, so how could I exhibit Kindness more? I’ve already worked on a version of it with Love, Joy, Peace, Patience ….. Ohhhh. And then, once again, I was reminded that they are all reliant on each other. This week more than any of the others has caused me to work all of the previous Fruits (and some not yet introduced in the challenge) into the past seven days to practice Kindness.      

“Love is not a feeling, it is an overmastering passion. To cast ourselves down like a waterfall….”

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of Kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31:26

I really love this entire chapter and have poured over it so many times. But not until today—yes, we all know I’m a slow learner—did I realize that wisdom is also a large part of this week of Kindness, and even assists this whole challenge! You really need wisdom to know when to listen or give advice, to act or just be a Kind friend. Take the next week and try one—I’m only saying one!—Kind act for family, friends, or a stranger that you don’t normally do or that is out of your comfort zone. And remember to carry your wisdom, Patience, and Love with you. I’m still working on fine-tuning my wisdom skills, but from this point forward, I plan to bring my wits with me. You never know when they’re going to be needed…  

“Life is mostly froth and bubble. Two things stand like stone: Kindness in another’s trouble, and courage in your own.”

–Adam L. Gordon

Week 4: Patience

Published September 28, 2012 by Ashley Townsend

“Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” Colossians 1:11

This week threw me into a bit of a limbo over how I could better work on my Patience. My biggest problem lay in how I could practice it differently than I did Peace. That was when I realized how closely tied the two are and it reminded me, yet again, that each Fruit relies on the others. There were quite a few things that tested my Patience this week, and these same things also tried to erode my Peace. It was a little more difficult to attempt both of these qualities simultaneously, although challenging myself IS what I’m supposed to be doing throughout this challenge—why does it still surprise me sometimes when the water gets rough?

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14

I had to remind myself of this fact more than once the past few days and continually caught myself as I started to lose my cool. I actually came up with an attack plan for this week—this I did instead of organizing the essay that is due in a few days; it’s amazing what procrastination can encourage you to do!—and I knew I had to recognize when I was becoming agitated. If you don’t realize you’re doing it, then you can’t correct it, right? This was probably the hardest part of the week, to admit when I was wrong and make the choice to change my attitude. But I knew I had to start here if I wanted to get anywhere else, and please, take my word when I say that it is far easier to identify bad behavior and put an end to it in the beginning. Let me tell you, though, that I was greatly relieved when I began to notice the signs of my slipping composure rather quickly—a tapping foot, a strand of twisted hair around my finger, clenching my jaw, rolling my eyes, and a litany of other anxious tells. Not saying I always stopped the action or changed my attitude, because it is hard to break habits, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It was a constant challenge (ah, yes, that pesky little word of improvement) to catch myself, but I made an effort, sometimes even begrudgingly so, but I really wanted to try.

“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11

My epiphany about Patience and Peace being so closely linked came rather quickly at the start of this week. To practice Patience, oftentimes you have to be content and at Peace with something. It was hard to work on both at the same time, but this was actually one of my more productive weeks because I not only got to use a new Fruit (feel free to giggle, because it just sounds so funny … or maybe I’m just juiced up on java), but I was also forced to bring with me the previous skill that I had been working on. Up until this point, this whole endeavor was just a challenge, the results of which I was simply curious about. But now I am honestly excited to keep on with this and continue learning and improving.

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the LORD has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

It is without a doubt easier to lose your cool and wallow in Grumpy Ville than to make an effort. As always, it is a choice. You decide whether or not you want to make the change. So, I guess the choice is up to you: The Easy Road, or the High Road? (Feel free to switch lanes at any time)    

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