Who Are You?

We all had a starting point in life. I was born into a Christian home with a pastor for a father. My parents have been married about four decades. My family ate dinner around the table almost every night, did Bible devotions and went to church every Sunday. This was my beginning. We all have one, and it’s easy to get where we started all mixed up with our identity.

Being raised in a Christian home doesn’t make me a Christian, and beyond that, being raised in a Christian home doesn’t define who I am. It helped shape me, train me, and I am absolutely privileged to have grown up in the home I did. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that my beginning was rare, almost movie like. That many of my friends came from homes where they were quite the opposite.

The crazy thing is…our identity is the same. 

NO MATTER WHAT OUR BEGINNING WAS, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US WAS MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.

God says so in His Word at the very start, so we wouldn’t wonder. Genesis 1:27 says, “He made mankind in His image, making them male and female.” Further in His Word it says, “While we were still sinners, [before we called ourselves His] Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8). What do we make of this? I see two things to make a big deal about: 1) God made us and 2) He died for us! This means, you guys, that He loved us, EVEN before we chose to follow Him! 

THIS IS WHERE OUR IDENTITY IS! IT’S NOT IN HOW WE WERE RAISED; IT’S IN WHO WE ARE! AND WE ARE GOD’S! 

This is where our identity is! It's not in how we were raised; it's in who we are! And we are God's!

Yes, my name is Shannon. I am married. I have two kids and a dog. I lead worship, and I burp a lot (don’t be jealous). But none of these things make me who I am. 

WHO AM I? I AM MADE BY GOD. I AM LOVED, CHERISHED AND TREASURED.

I was bought at the highest price that could ever be paid. I have made many mistakes in my life, yet Jesus will still look down on me, pick me out of a crowd and say, “Yep, that one is mine, and isn’t she lovely?!” And He does the same for you! Yes, YOU! I don’t need to know who you are to know you are loved extravagantly by God! You are a human aren’t you? (If not, I’m not sure how to proceed, hmmm). Our identity is in Christ, and no bad beginning, bad ending or horrible stuff in between can change that! You were created by God, in the image of God, and He looks at you with nothing but love in His eyes!  Even if you haven’t taken notice of Him yet and realized that He has an abundant life planned out for you, know this: There is no identity thief that can steal a life that is hidden in Christ! No person, no hardship, no demons, no sickness, no broken relationship, no mistake, not even death can take away God’s love for you! (Romans 8:38-39 the Shannon version). 

Open Conversation

Back in the old days, I would write letters to my friends.  I used fancy pens, sprayed the notebook paper with perfume, decorated it with hearts and poured out my heart on those pages.  Most likely cute boys were the overwhelming topic.  It was an accomplishment if I had to struggle to fold the pages over because I had gone on writing page, after page, after page.  I still love writing letters, but if I write more than a paragraph, my rusty old hands cramp up due to lack of writing anything on paper anymore.  The hard part about snail mail correspondence was that you had to wait for the recipient to write back, and sometimes it seemed to take forever!  But these days...our precious hands can rest while our thumbs do all the work, because nowadays, we text! 

 

In texting, we can get immediate responses to our messages! I do have the rare friends who don’t get back to me for days, but the majority of my friends and I have an open conversation all day long.  Messages don’t start with “My Dearest Bethany”.  The text’s opening consist of something like

“so, wanna hang today...”

“by the way that color looked great on you!”

”...also, you’re my favorite”

In an open conversation, you just pick up where you left off!  You don’t have to say hi or bye, you just start texting.  

 

This is the exact same type of conversation God wants to have with you!  You talk, He listens...or He talks, you listen.  You don’t have to worry about him ignoring your message, He has said that if you talk to Him, He will listen!  (Jeremiah 33:3)

Isn’t it annoying when people don’t answer your messages?  As I pondered this open communication with God, I wondered...how many times I had ignored one of his messages?  Ouch! 

 

I want to have a constant conversation with God every single day.  I don’t ever want it to stop!  He has things to tell me, and I for sure have things to tell Him!  I’m afraid it’s probably a one sided conversation more often than not.  But wow, you guys!  God WAITS to hear from us!  And I imagine that when I finally do tune my ear to hear Him he has SOOO much to tell me & I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a few messages.  

 

If you’ve missed a few messages or haven’t heard from God lately, maybe it’s time to start that conversation up again.  Start with something like  

“...so, wanna hang today?”  

Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite

You don't exactly plan to be living in luxury on a mission trip, but you do hope to at least get a good night's sleep. Our hopes were dashed a little in the middle of our mission trip to Vietnam. There's no nice way to put it; the hotel we checked into was nasty. Our complimentary toothbrush packet was already open. A glass sat next to the sink with water still in it from the last customer, and there was no soap to wash the filth of the room off our hands. We could deal with that, but we were more concerned about spiders in our bed. So before we turned in for the night, we pulled the sheet back and checked to be sure we wouldn't be bitten as we slept.

IT WAS DEFINITELY DIRTY, BUT BUG FREE...OR SO WE THOUGHT.

Around five o'clock in the morning, my husband felt something crawling on his face and slapped it away. I assured him it was probably just a tiny spider. But his high functioning OCD and germophobia didn't find that assumption acceptable; he had to find out what had been hanging out on him. Our worst fears were realized when he turned on his iPhone flashlight to reveal a bed bug crawling where he had been laying along with evidence that one had bitten me and been squashed in the night. Eeeew!! I shot up, and we began disrobing and telling our kids to do the same. The decision was made to leave every article of clothing that had touched that bed behind so as not to take those bugs home! These are the moments that my husband's germaphobic ways come in real handy since nothing else had touched the bed and our suitcases had already been locked up tight. Right about now, you're probably thinking "Wow, what a gross story. How on earth does that apply to my life, other than standing a little farther away when I talk to you?" Follow along with me.

Bedbugs are resilient and relentless and nearly impossible to get rid of. If we hadn't taken measures to be sure that they didn't come with us, we could've unwittingly migrated those Vietnamese bedbugs into their new home in California, in our beds! They would've been prolific at multiplying, and we would've had to burn our mattress. Okay, maybe burning is a little extreme, but we'd definitely need to invest in a new bed. I'm sure glad we spotted them!

THOSE BEDBUGS REMIND ME OF THE LITTLE BITS OF SIN THAT I PICK UP ALONG MY WALK WITH JESUS.

Sometimes, without even noticing, something latches onto me and won't let go. It multiplies and permeates every area of my life, and before I know it, I'm infested with poor judgement, leading to poor choices, leading to straight-up more and more sin. Getting rid of sin is thankfully easier than getting rid of bedbugs, but they both need to die. The Bible says that as soon as I decide to let Jesus be the director of my life, I am no longer chained to my old way of living, my old mistakes. I am NEW, and none of that old stuff is meant to stay.

Sin is sneaky. Sometimes, without even noticing, we pick up something nasty, and it just takes over. For me, it usually takes over by changing the way I am with the people around me, usually my family. I get snappy and rude, and I just want to be alone and watch Netflix, and by watching Netflix, I mean watching an entire season on Netflix. Netflix doesn't ask questions; Netflix understands. I'm pretty sure if you looked up "Netflix" in the dictionary it may have an alternate definition of "a complete waste of time." They only give you 10 seconds between episodes to see if you'd actually like to do something useful with your time. I mean, can we even make an educated decision in 10 minutes? Well played, Netflix, well played. Isolation feels good when I'm riddled with sin because I don't have to tell anyone how I'm REALLY doing.

Maybe it manifests in you differently.

ONE SIN ALWAYS LEADS TO ANOTHER IF WE DON'T GET RID OF IT BEFORE IT TAKES OVER.

I'm not sure what God's reason was for making bedbugs. I like to believe that He didn't, and that some mad scientist made them as a prank. Same with cockroaches...but that's a whole other story, actually one that applies to the same mission trip. However, I am amazed that God can use this disgusting little creature to remind me to keep my life clean, to get rid of anything that isn't meant to be there. To not let sin hangout and not get so comfortable with it that I am lulled right to sleep, clueless of the infestation project that is in full swing around me. So, let's all keep checking up on our lives, making sure nothing has crept in that doesn't belong in our new hearts and lives!

Sound of Surviving

I was talking to a friend last night about a time in my life when I had no hope, when I had walked away from God and pushed hard to keep Him out of my life. But when you choose to run from God, it's exhausting and it's a hopeless feeling I never ever want to feel again. Once I stopped running, it didn't take long for Him to swoop me up in His sweet, undeserved grace and sweep me off my feet with His deep love.

 

I remember an acquaintance telling me years ago that I should be careful about sharing my story, that I would lose the respect of many. I was so discouraged until I realized that every single one of our stories matters, because they are all stories of survival in one way or another.

 

Choosing to be transparent and share your life with others shows nothing but bravery!

“they told me I’d never get to tell my story, too many bullet holes, it would take a miracle...but my story is only now beginning, don’t try to write my ending, no one gets to sing MY song!” -Nichole Nordeman

Nichole Nordeman has long been one of my favorite songwriters and this song right here brings tears to my eyes.  Take a  minute to watch this lyric video, I hope it encourages you as much as it encouraged me! 

I was probably about 11 years old, and we were having a small gathering at our house for some people from our church. A man with a huge glass of iced tea walked over to our rickety piano bench to sit down. As soon as he sat on the unreliable bench, it gave way under his weight. He fell straight to the floor, spilling his cold drink all over himself. I have a vivid memory of being so embarrassed for this poor man. He had chosen a place to sit, not knowing it was going to fail him. When I think back on it now, it makes me ponder how many of us have chosen to sit in unreliable places, and what sort of fear we now carry because of it.

The wobbly piano bench can represent anything in our lives that has let us down. We are people, therefore we fail. We hurt people, and they hurt us.

THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS IN LIFE WE CANNOT CONTROL.

Friendships are broken; jobs fall through, and sadly, people pass away too soon for our liking. How can we trust when life feels just as unstable as that old piano bench?

During youth group the other night, we were talking about faith. How would you define faith if you were asked to describe it? We got a little stuck pondering how trust is different than faith. When I talk about trust, I think of the chair analogy, you know, you sit in a chair, trusting that it will hold your weight and won’t crash to the ground. Well, that’s all fine and good, but what about that poor man who fell to the floor in my childhood home? He trusted that piano bench to hold him up, and it let him down!

THERE ARE SO MANY “CHAIRS” IN LIFE.

We choose friends and spouses. We trust that our family will be around forever. What happens when your trust is broken? You trusted God to preserve that loved one’s life, but they passed away far too soon. You trusted that your friend would always be there, but they let you down and broke your heart. Your spouse walked away from their vows, leaving you shrouded in doubt. What then? What happens when the chairs we choose to trust shatter underneath us?

Here comes faith. Trust leads us to sit in the chair, but faith tells us that even if that chair falls apart, we will still be ok. Having faith in God doesn’t mean that He will protect us from all pain and disappointment. God’s plan isn’t to keep us comfortable, sitting back in a recliner that has cupholders and built in remotes. The chairs we sit in may hold us, but some will most definitely break. So, what are we to do? Should we stay standing our whole life, keeping ourselves safe by never sitting down in a chair that may or may not hold? Absolutely not.

GOD PROMISES THAT HE IS TRUSTWORTHY; THAT WE CAN RELY ON HIM EVEN WHEN EVERYTHING SEEMS BROKEN.

I love the words of Phillip Yancey, “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” We choose friends and spouses and experiences because they enrich this life that God has given us. God doesn’t want us to be timid believers who walk around in fear all the time, waiting for the next chair to break. He wants us to step out in trust, reinforced with faith, knowing that even if the whole world seems to fall apart, He will still hold us.

 

 

 

This article was originally posted on Calvarychapel.com 

Every life has value

My family and I recently returned from a medical mission trip to Haiti. We met a special person who changed our lives. His name was Edison. He was eight months old but so malnourished and sick that he weighed only 14 pounds, the average size of a four-month-old. His nine-year-old brother, Esky, brought him to our medical clinic in Croix de Bouquets, Haiti, on a Sunday afternoon.

Words don’t come easy when you try to fathom the childhood his brother has lost, having to care for his baby brother, and the heartache he felt as he told the doctors that his baby sister had recently died. The volunteer medical team examined baby Edison and found that he was riddled with disease. Among them were syphilis and HIV. He had been born with these diseases, which had caused his mother to be mentally incapable to care for him, as her body was succumbing to their damaging effects. Our hearts were broken as we wished we could have done more. All we could offer was water to hydrate him, hugs and prayers.

EDISON WAS THE TOPIC OF MANY CONVERSATIONS DURING OUR SHORT TIME IN HAITI.

I learned more about HIV and AIDS than I’ve ever known, and I was overwhelmed. I believe with everything in me that God creates every human being with a specific purpose, and that every single one of us has an inherent value simply because God created us and breathed life into us. That value is permanent! It can’t be added to or taken away from. So, I knew God had a purpose for Edison; that God knew the number of his days, and that every one of those days mattered.

OH, HOW I WISHED THAT WE COULD EXTEND THE NUMBER OF THOSE DAYS BECAUSE THEY SEEMED SO VERY PAINFULLY SHORT. BUT GOD NEVER STARTS A STORY WITHOUT FINISHING IT.

On our way home, 10 out of our team of 30 people missed our connecting flight. We embraced the unexpected adventure after the annoyance of the lack of efficiency of the customs procedures (don’t get me started). This is where the story gets really cool. After pleading with the restaurant staff to stay open late, so we could use our vouchers for our comped meal, they agreed, and we were all grateful to finally eat some dinner.

A couple walked up to us and began sharing about how they had missed their flight as well. I recognized them from the airport in Haiti. We exchanged small talk, and as they explained more of what they were in Haiti for, we found out some incredible news. You ready for this? They run a clinic in Croix de Bouquets where they specifically treat HIV and AIDS patients for FREE! We all gasped and rubbed the goosebumps that were raising on all of our arms. My 15-year-old daughter looked at us and said with certainty, “This is why we’re here. This is why we missed our flight!” Tiny baby Edison’s life was important enough to God that He brought so many people together for His rescue operation. Those who were left behind at the airport became those who got to watch it all unfold from front row seats.

I HAVE SEEN AGAIN AND AGAIN THE WAY THAT GOD CHOOSES TO USE US TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PURPOSES.

What may seem like a coincidence to some is actually an obvious work of God. Had we been on that flight home to L.A., we wouldn’t have been in that hotel lobby sitting next to people who run a clinic for HIV / AIDS. Every minuscule bit of our trip was orchestrated intentionally to place us exactly where we needed to be at exactly the right time! Isn’t that amazing! God wants to do the same for you. If God works so hard to rescue a baby with a less than desirable outlook, don’t you think He wants to rescue you? He does, my friend. My prayer for you is that you will know that you are loved, treasured and valued above what you could ever imagine. God is trying to get your attention. He wants to rescue you today. Will you let Him?

 

Since the trip, Edison has been receiving treatments, and his brother Esky has been given help as well.  You can help Edison & Esky by clicking here !  

One day I was a Fire Breathing Dragon

It was a difficult conversation. Don’t you hate those? I thought I was right; they thought they were right, which resulted in a heated war of the words. Unfortunately, the exchange escalated, and all of a sudden, I transformed into some sort of fire-breathing dragon bent on destroying any words that might come against me. I thought I was good. I thought I was sensible and wise and kind. But, when it was over, as I stepped back to see the damage that remained after my fiery defense, there was no mistaking it. My pride had won.

THERE’S ALWAYS A BIT OF A WAR WITHIN US DURING THOSE UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICTS IN LIFE.

I find that I have a deep desire to be understood, yet the other person longs for the same. So, what I’m forgetting is to try to understand. See, if I am letting God direct my words and my actions, I will seek to understand while I am being understood. Have I confused you yet? Work with me here…my pride had taken hold of my heart and mind and told me, “You do whatever you have to do to MAKE them understand that you are right!”, while the voice of the Holy Spirit, getting softer and softer, was whispering, “Be quiet and try to listen and understand what THEY are saying.”

What did I learn from this? Well, first of all, I was acutely reminded that residing in me is the incredibly awful ability to tear someone apart with my words.

I LOOKED BACK WITH DEEP REGRET AT WORDS I COULDN’T TAKE BACK.

You may be wondering, “Well, what if I really am right, and they aren’t trying to understand?” As always, God is a step ahead of us! Remember in chapter 14 of Exodus, when Pharaoh agreed to let the Israelites out of captivity? Well, not too long after they were let go, Pharaoh was like, “Wait a minute! Why would I let all that free labor walk out of here? Let’s go get them back!” Pharaoh and his men went after the Israelites, and as they saw their enemy approaching, the Israelites freaked out! I mean, they were so scared, they regretted being freed from slavery! That is major freak-out material right there! Can I just say how thankful I am that God didn’t call me to be a Moses. What a whining group of people. (We wouldn't have whined any less, I’m sure.)

Moses told the people, whom God had put into his care, “Chill out! Just stand there and watch God take these creeps down!” This is, of course, the Shannon version. But in all seriousness, God, through Moses, comforted His people by reminding them that HE is the one who fights the battles in front of us. The Israelites didn’t need to defend themselves, because they had God on their side. Over and over, throughout the wilderness time of the Israelites, we see God come through for them, feed them and rescue them. He meets their every need, and He indeed fulfilled His promise.

What does this mean for us? It means that we will all fight battles figuratively, and sometimes even literally.

WE HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE.

We can choose to let God fight for us, or we can choose to morph into a really ugly, fire-breathing dragon. I wouldn’t recommend the latter. From now on, I know what I will choose. I will choose to let God come rescue me. Not necessarily rescue me from the person I am “fighting” with, but I need Him to rescue me from my deep, fleshly desire to MAKE myself be understood. The truth is, God gets me, He understands me, and He knows what my motives are. His opinion is the one I care about the most.

And here’s the coolest part…are you ready for this? When I put my efforts into honoring God first, I will, in turn, honor others. He has promised in Ezekiel 36:26 to give me a new heart and a new Spirit. He vows to take away the rough edges and place in me a heart that wants to honor Him. That breathes new life into me, which I can breathe out towards others. It also takes away that fire that I had previously wanted to breathe out. 

 

Life Lessons From The Worried Woman

My husband and I were all settled in our seats as our plane was boarding for a flight to Houston. Believe it or not, we had won a trip including flights, accommodations and tickets to the Super Bowl! We aren’t even sports fans, but, I mean, c’mon, it’s the Super Bowl, oh, and it was my birthday. God always gives the best gifts!

A WOMAN CAME DOWN THE MIDDLE AISLE WITH A WORRIED LOOK ON HER FACE.

It didn’t seem like anything was actually wrong, she just seemed like one of those people who always has a worried look on their face, know what I mean? You know that constant look of striving and worry?

So, the “Worried Woman” asked a gentleman if he wouldn’t mind moving back a row, so her husband could sit across the aisle from her. The man obliged without question. “Oh thank you so much!”, said the worry-faced woman, “I really appreciate that!” I grinned at this lovely gesture of human kindness that seems to be lacking these days. Then, a soft-spoken woman who was sitting in the middle of the row (now next to “Worried Woman’s” husband) piped up and said, “Oh, my husband is right there next to you. Would you be able to sit on that side together, so that my husband and I can sit together over here together?” “Worried Woman” seemed caught off guard and paused to think. Her worried face turned into an inconvenienced face and she said, “Oh no, I don’t want to sit in the middle.” I was struck at the way she had just been offered kindness but wasn’t willing to become uncomfortable in order to offer the same kindness to someone else.

Before you get all “I would never do that” on me, I am one step ahead of you, because I did the same thing. I shook my head and thought of a few things I wanted to say but kept them to myself. I quickly realized though…I can’t judge “Worried Woman,” because I’m a lot like her (insert nervous grimacing faced emoji here). OK folks, it’s confession time…If I’m bringing home donuts for my kids, I make sure I get my favorite one out of the box BEFORE I get home because kids are vultures. I want the closest parking spot when I go to the grocery store because walking is work, and groceries are heavy. I want the cushiest chair in my favorite coffee shop because…well did I mention it was the cushiest? And doggonit, I just want to watch Food Network, not the action packed movies my husband wants to watch…it also bears mentioning that I don’t want to share the french fries on my plate with him either! My point is, I am just as selfish as the woman on my flight was!

IN ORDER FOR US TO BE UNSELFISH, WE HAVE TO OVERRIDE OUR HUMAN DESIRE TO BE CATERED TO.

It’s not natural for us to want to serve others and make sure their needs are met before ours.

God’s Word says, “Consider others as more important than yourselves.” It’s tricky, but not impossible. I’ve found that the things that don’t come naturally to me aren’t impossible, they just take more practice. Usually when we practice something, we become better at it, right? It’s the same when cultivating an unnatural character of unselfishness.

IF WE MAKE AN EFFORT TO PUT OTHERS FIRST, WE’LL GET BETTER AT IT.

For example, let someone go in front of you in line at your favorite coffee shop, or maybe even drive right past that front parking spot so that someone else can enjoy a shorter walk. What?! But groceries are heavy! I know, I know, but just try it out. I think you may just find that you get better at it the more you do it. Not to mention when we put God in front of us and decide to honor Him and obey Him, He always gives us the will and the way. We can all learn a lesson from the woman with the permanent worried look on her face. Life is stressful when you’re always looking to see how you can get ahead.You can never rest when you’re striving to always come in first. So let’s all try letting others be more important for awhile. That includes me. I’ll even bring home my favorite donut for my kids to try before I devour it. What about you…you in?

Have a Mary Christmas!

Christmas trees, presents and parties, oh my! How’s that Christmas season treatin’ ya so far? Is it just me, or do people get meaner while driving their cars around this time of the year? All of a sudden, it’s as if everyone is saying within the confines of their car, “Get out of my way! I have WAY too much to do, and YOU are slowing me down!” Granted, there is a lot to think about during this season, and especially us as women can become so busy that we forget what we are really meant to be all about! I’ve never been a “yes” person. Do you know any “yes” people? Sure, they can be on that committee, yes they can throw that party, of course, they can make that meal and lead that small group and drive the carpool, yes, yes, yes. Yet before long, they are bogged down and burned out.

 

But where in the middle of all of that busyness is the “yes” for time with Jesus?

God’s calling on our lives doesn’t change just because there are festivities to attend, presents to buy and houses to be decorated. He still calls us to sit at His feet, rest in His presence and give Him our full attention. I think about Mary and Martha. Jesus was IN THEIR HOUSE, and all Martha could do was work, work, work and judge Mary because she wasn’t doing anything but sitting and listening to Jesus…how DARE she! She even goes so far as to say, “Jeeesuuus…Mary isn’t heeeeeelping me!” Okay, maybe she didn’t say it in a whiney voice, but that’s the way I hear it in my head, so work with me, friends.

I imagine that Jesus’ voice back to her was calm, sure and perhaps longing. “Oh Martha…how could I ask Mary to stop doing what her heart is compelling her to do? She is content; she is enraptured; she is at rest.” I’m sure Jesus longed for Martha to do the same.

My Mom has always been an example to me of a woman who rests at Jesus’ feet every single morning.

I’m sure she had to fight for this time when we were all kids, but her intent and practice of reading God’s love letter every single day has become her norm. These days if I show up to her house early, I can find her wrapped up in her cozy robe with her tea and her Bible open at the kitchen table. Her dedication to God’s Word is something I strive for, and I am thankful for her example. My Mom is the women’s director at our church, so she is at the helm of planning all the women’s events and leads a great team of helpers. Around this time of year, things start to get really busy for her. One year around the holidays, I remember her talking about all she had to do that day, and she didn’t know how she would fit it all in. She said she started to get busy before reading her Bible and then realized, “I have too much to do to NOT read my Bible.” She needed her time at Jesus’ feet, to rest in Him, hear from Him and receive strength to tackle that to-do list. When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary’s lack of concern for all that needed to be done, His response to her was:

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 41-42, NIV).

What does your to-do list look like today?

If it looks anything like mine, I’m sure it is chock-full of tasks. Can I encourage you to do something? Go to your to-do list, knock the top item down a notch and write at the top “Be a Mary.” Choose the better thing. Choose time with Jesus before you do any other items on your list today. God wants your attention, not your work. He is, after all, the reason Christmas began in the first place. Give Him your time today, rest in His presence and allow Him to pour into you all you need to get through the busyness of this season. Even and especially the patience with all those crazy parking lots and freeways! Have a very Merry Christmas, my friends!

 

 

 

Shannon's articles are published monthly on calvarychapel.com.  This article was originally published there. 

Cats With Clothes On

Have you ever put clothing on a cat? In my super important research for this article I found it necessary to search YouTube with the words “putting clothes on cats.” I encourage you to do the same, as it will definitely brighten your day. When I was younger, we had a cat named Mr. Fraidy, so named because he was afraid of everything. Get it? He was a “fraidy cat.” I know, my family is a clever bunch. As a source of fun and enjoyment, we would cut the toes out of a stretched-out sock and slip it onto Mr. Fraidy. He would get up and try to walk but would ultimately end up looking like some sort of drunken sailor or just give up all together and lay down in defeat. Oddly enough, this picture of my poor, old cat came to mind when I was doing a devotion about our burdens.

BURDEN BY DEFINITION MEANS “A HEAVY LOAD”

We all carry them from time to time, and sometimes, they are put on us (like little Mr. Fraidy, God rest his feline soul). We do our best to walk around and make life work in spite of this heavy weight. If you are anything like me, you stuff the burdens down, trying to hide them until one day it’s just too much, and you can’t fight the desire to give up anymore. But, we are able to be free of the burdens just as quick and easy as Mr. Fraidy was. When he complained enough (i.e. meowed as loud and angrily as he could), we would reluctantly remove the sock, and he would scamper off to hide underneath a bed or behind the couch. Similarly, when we are loaded down with worries and cares, all we need to do is ask God to take them from us.

When I was watching those silly “cat with clothes on” videos, I began to wonder what God thinks when He sees me struggling to carry my own burdens. Does he chuckle sometimes at the silliness of it all? How foolish I am to think that I can handle the weight on my own, when all I need to do is say, “OK, God, this is too much; I need you to take it.” In His kindness, He instantly removes the burden and gets rid of it.

God is clear in His words that the MOMENT we come to Him and ask for His help, He steps in immediately to rescue us. He says:

 "COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.”

This is a clear invitation to come and be released from the unnecessary weight you’re carrying. God has time for you, my friend! He has time to spend removing your burdens, no matter the weight and no matter how many you have been lugging around. His goal is your freedom! How can you walk encumbered by the worries, cares and stresses of life? The answer is you can’t, and you weren’t meant to. Don’t be like those cats with clothes on. Meow (er, I mean call) to God, and He will come to your rescue and set you free from that weight!

In all seriousness, my friends, what burdens are you carrying today? It doesn’t matter how small it may seem; it is keeping you from walking in the freedom God has already given you. How Jesus longs to come for you and remove that heaviness. He wants you to be able to walk lightly today. Will you let Him?

Dreams Undeveloped

Vivian Maier was born in New York City. She lived a relatively long life before passing away at the age of 83. Up until 2007 she was known as little more than a peculiar woman who worked as a nanny and always wore a camera around her neck. A box of negatives that belonged to her was purchased at an auction by a man named John Maloof. When he began going through all of the negatives and subsequent boxes of hers that he purchased, he found that she was an incredibly talented photographer. Yet, she had hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film and negatives. Don’t you wonder why? Perhaps she had no idea how talented she really was, maybe she took photos simply for the joy of capturing scenes of everyday people living everyday lives.

IT MAKES ME WONDER...WHAT SORT OF DREAMS AND TALENTS HAVE YOU LEFT UNDEVELOPED?

I am a dreamer, and I firmly believe that God places dreams in every single one of us. The "size" of your dream is of little importance; what matters most is what you do with that dream. God places the dream in us and will give us all we need to achieve that dream. The only uncertain thing between the birth of the dream and the dream coming to fruition is our choice to do the work it’ll take or to remain sedentary.

Why wouldn't we want to jump with both feet into a big dream that God has placed in us? Fear. Fear that we won't be able to accomplish the dream. But God’s Word promises to give us everything we need for life and godliness, because He has called us, and He has promises He’s made that He intends to fulfill (2 Peter 1:3-4). I think of it like an airport runway at night. It is lit up like a huge Christmas tree so there is no mistaking where the plane should land. That is how God will lead us if we ask for His guidance and His leading.

DO YOU EVER FEAR THAT PEOPLE WON'T LIKE YOUR DREAMS AND THEREFORE WON'T CHEER YOU ON ALONG THE WAY?

This is a hard one, and I totally get it! As a musician, my talents and gifts from God are usually used in front of people. Some people like my gifts, and some don’t. There is no shortage of people who are unafraid to put their not so nice opinions on the “prayer request” section of a bulletin and shove it in the offering box. Sadly the naysayers are usually louder than the cheering squad. I learned a long time ago that you can’t please everyone, and guess what, that’s OK! Even Jesus, who saved the entire world from hell was despised and rejected by even His closest friends (Isaiah 53:3). My point is we are not out to please people; we are out to achieve whatever it is God has set out in front of us. That is our responsibility. Galatians 1:10 (NLT) says, “I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant.” The fact that God celebrates our little and not so little victories should spur us on to realize the dream He has planted in us.

I wonder if you have any dreams that have been left undeveloped, much like Vivian Maier’s negatives and film rolls. By the way, since her passing, Vivian Maier’s work has become quite popular and well known. How sad that it wasn’t until she passed away that her work was released to the world. Remember I said it’s not about the size of your dream; it’s about what you do with it. If you can’t think of any dreams, you haven’t thought hard enough. And don’t forget that God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above anything you could ever think to ask for! (Ephesians 3:20)

Quiet Time in a Garbage Dump

 dropped the kids off at school in the nick of time, as usual. Looking at the clock, I realized I had a hour-and-a-half to spare before my 9:30 appointment. My choices were a great workout or some time with Jesus, so I opted for a beautiful morning reading my Bible on the beach. I could just imagine the clear, blue waters crashing on the shore and could almost feel the warm sand between my toes. I quickly found a parking spot, as I coasted past the surfers just leaving and those just getting started. I couldn’t wait to get my toes in the sand and see Catalina Island off in the distance. I grabbed my Bible and put my keys in my jean pocket, as I began walking along the path to the beach.

SUDDENLY, AN UNEXPECTED SOUND PIERCED THE SILENCE.

A noisy air compressor was being used to work on someone’s home. I winced at the unwelcome sound but kept walking, hoping the waves would drown out the awful noise. I took a few more steps and looked up at the beach. In disappointment I dropped my hands to my sides as I looked up to see that the smog on the horizon was the worst I’d seen in a while. To make matters worse, the waves that I had been anxious to sit and watch were washing up an unusually enormous amount of garbage. “Great!” I thought “How am I supposed to have a decent time with Jesus in this noisy garbage dump?”

I was feeling slightly defeated, but with time ticking away, I figured I would make the best of it. Those pesky little kelp flies swarmed around my ankles as I walked past piles of seaweed on my way. Empty soda bottles, lip gloss containers, broken beach ball and an odd amount of airline regulation sized liquor bottles littered the beach (random, I know). I tried my hardest to empty my thoughts and let God speak to me as I sat in the midst of this trash heap. I closed my eyes and just sat, quietly. After a few minutes I heard it. All at once everything around me seemed to fall silent except the sound of the waves. I could hear them churning and crashing on the shore, just as they always do. I opened my eyes. I could see the sand swirling up in each one, forming a beautiful pattern across the face of the wave. I closed my eyes again, took a deep breath and just listened. The calming drone of the water brought comfort and peace. It suddenly felt like nothing else mattered—I was alone with my Creator, enjoying the creation He had made just for me to enjoy.

I WAS REMINDED THAT AMONGST ALL THE JUNK THAT HITS US FROM DAY TO DAY, THE LORD REMAINS THE SAME.

He is constant; He never changes. The waves have been crashing on shores around the world since the day the oceans were created. God has been present, dependable, faithful and powerful all the more. His Word says that if I tried to count the thoughts that God thinks about me, they would outnumber the sands of the sea. Looking at the grains being swirled around in the waves, my breath was taken away by the sheer amount of time God takes to think about little old me. He has promised to be faithful, and He is trustworthy to do just that. Just as I know that every time I drive to the beach, I will hear and see the water churning and the waves curling, and I can count on Him to remain the same. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He will never leave me. He is always with me.

AREN’T ALL OF OUR LIVES LITTERED WITH AT LEAST A LITTLE BIT OF GARBAGE?

If we choose to focus only on the pieces of trash that reside in our lives—past, present and even future—we will miss the beautiful constancy of God. If we look, we will find the unexpected gifts that God has just waiting in the wings for us. So, even on a beach overshadowed by noise, smog and trash, God showed up. He always does.

“Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created.” (Psalm 119:90, NLT).

 

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Lies Are Loud

My Mom didn’t ask my little brother anything, but he looked up at her and said: “I didn’t take any chocolate chip cookies, Mom.” The telltale chocolate smears across his face told a different story. He sold himself out before she even noticed any cookies were missing. I can just imagine his little boy brain trying to throw mom off the trail of the missing cookies by just letting her know he was definitely not a suspect before she even began her investigation. But his little lie made it clear that there were indeed cookies missing, and the perpetrator was standing about waist high right in front of her.

LIES ARE LOUD AREN’T THEY?

When people feel guilty and are backed up in a corner, they shout out these lies in an attempt to take the finger that is pointing at them and turn it on any other easy target. Any Christian should know this first hand, because the enemy of our souls is the biggest liar of all and sometimes the loudest. The Bible actually says about Satan: “When he lies, he speaks in his native language, because he is the father of lies” (John 8:44). If he is the father of lies, than we can know that any lie we believe about ourselves has come completely from him. He has lies that he wants all of us to believe, because if we believe what he tells us about who we are and what God has for us, it makes it harder to believe the truth God speaks to us.

While lies may be different for men and women, some of them may sound like this: “You’re not beautiful, you are not loved, you are a bad mom/dad, you are a bad wife/husband, you’re fat, you're broken, you’re unwanted, you’re not a good provider, you don’t have anything to offer, you are alone.” Do any of those sound familiar to you? Have they been wedged into your heart so much that they are hard to ignore? While the enemy is the father of lies, some of these phrases may be delivered to us via our parents, former teachers, bullies or significant others. It matters little how they were spoken to us. What matters is how we have let them stick and define who we think we are because of them.

It is so much easier to recall the negative things that have been said to us. I’m sure you can think of something awful that was said to you, but if I told you to try to recall a compliment that was given to you, it might take a few more seconds for you to think of one. Lies are loud, and often times the truth is quiet. God whispers to us everyday: “I love you, you are beautiful, you are enough, you were made in My image, I have good plans for you, I am with you.” At the same time, the enemy is shouting at you, trying to draw you back to believing his lies. If the Devil can keep you wallowing in the sorrow that comes when you believe his lies, he can successfully keep you away from God. 

BUT GOD, WHO LOVES YOU SO MUCH, HAS PROVIDED YOU WITH A WEAPON AGAINST THE ENEMY’S ATTACKS…THE TRUTH!

For every lie the enemy speaks about you, there is a truth in God’s Word to counteract it. I encourage you to think of a specific lie that runs in your mind constantly, especially when you are weak. Take that lie, and look up the antonym for that word, then go search in the Bible for the truth that debunks that lie. Here are a few to get you started:

1. LIE: NOBODY LOVES YOU.

Truth: He loves us so much that even when we were against Him, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8)

2. LIE: I AM ALONE.

 Truth: God tell us not to fear or be dismayed because He is with us, He will make us strong and even hold us. (Isaiah 41:10)

3. LIE: YOU HAVE NO FUTURE.

 Truth: God has BIG plans for us, plans that will be good and will lead us to a bright future and fill us with hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

So you see, lies are loud, but the truth of God speaks louder! His truth has not and will never change. The way we feel about ourselves will ALWAYS be subjective to our surroundings and our circumstances, but God’s truth will always remain! No matter what the enemy may try to throw at you, let God’s Word speak for itself. God knows you, loves you, sees you and has plans for you that you wouldn’t even be able to imagine, even if He told you! (Habakkuk 1:5)

Angel's Landing


“Let’s go on a hike,” my husband said. “It’ll be fun,” he said. I was all-in, but I had no idea what I was really in for. My family was on our summer road trip, and our first stop was Zion National Park, a breathtaking valley shadowed by awe inspiring mountains that look like towers jutting from the valley below. It’s one of those things that can’t be described, it needs to be seen. There are many trails to explore in Zion, we decided to start with Angel’s Landing. The park map said it was about a five mile strenuous hike that took four hours. Families with small children, people with heart conditions or fear of heights were strongly cautioned. Since our kids are 13 and 14 years old, had no physical ailments and were pretty active as a whole family, we figured we could handle it.

IT STARTED OFF NICE AND EASY, BUT THEN…WE FACED DRASTICALLY STEEP INCLINED SWITCHBACK TRAILS THAT WERE SPRAWLED ACROSS THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.

My oldest daughter has struggled with asthma and began to have a hard time catching her breath. My husband, having suffered from asthma himself, was able to help her calm down and get her breathing back to normal. She wanted to quit. We assured her that we could see the top from where we were standing and encouraged her that we would make it! After a short rest, we continued on the trail. Little did we know we were really only about 1/4 of the way through our hike, and things were about to get real sketchy.

We entered a slot canyon area that was lovely and shaded, and where you could hear your voice echo when you spoke (or sang, as I did of course). We figured the worst was over and our destination was just around the corner. But, no. There were more switchback trails that were shorter but much steeper. Once we got through those, we came upon a section of the trail that made me internally say, “OK, NOPE, that’s it! We have come this far, and we can go ahead and turn back now. There is NO WAY I am taking my children up there!”

Ahead of us was a mountain that I can only describe as looking a lot like a giant rock potato chip. I mean, who would want to climb a giant rock potato chip? It was towering and thin, with a sheer drop that I later found out was about 1500 feet above the ground below. Along the trail were thick metal chains anchored into the rock to help you climb without falling to your death. Some of the trail in this area was only two feet wide with drop-offs on either side. Hikers at the summit looked like little ants because they were so far away. This is something I would love to do with just my husband, but having our kids with me changed things. I could feel my heart pounding even thinking about traversing this final mile to the summit.

“C’mon,” my husband assured me, “It’s right up there; it’ll be fine.” My kids were keen on the idea too, and I wasn’t about to be a party pooper. I took a deep breath and started on the road of submission, craning my neck back to make sure I still had two daughters. “Be careful girls. Don’t step there. Hold on to the chain. Slow and steady. Oh my gosh, be careful. No, hold on to the chain!” I’m sure I was making my family insane, but I just couldn’t hold back my fear that one of them would lose their footing. Then the rain started, just a drizzle. Sure, it was refreshing, but it also made our hands slippery on the metal chain. You know, the metal chain that was supposed to save our lives. We were just getting to the most treacherous portion of the trail, almost to the summit when it began to really rain on us. OK, I was done. I couldn’t handle anymore.

MY PANIC WAS BECOMING OVERWHELMING, SO I HAD A DECISION TO MAKE. I COULD LET MYSELF BE TERRIFIED AND MAKE MY FAMILY MISERABLE BY NAGGING THEM, OR I COULD GIVE MY FEAR TO GOD.

I chose the latter. I prayed out loud, “OK, Lord, you love my kids more than I do, I need you to look after them and bring peace to my heart. Please take my fear and just keep my kids safe. And it would be really cool if this rain would pass.” About five minutes after I prayed this prayer, the rain stopped, and we came to the end of the metal chain to see the summit! We had done it, and the view was worth it! We spent some time up there, ate some snacks, drank some water and prayed as a family. I reminded our girls that when we admire creation and acknowledge that God is a perfect designer, we are worshipping Him! We were wowed by the vast valley, and the deep, rich, red of the mountains against the big, blue sky. It was a memory that none of us will soon forget.

On our way back down, we passed through the sketchy chain section, then came to the downhill switchbacks. We encouraged those weary hikers still heading up the trail by saying, “You’re almost there. You can make it. It’s worth it!” I told my oldest daughter how proud I was of her pushing through and finishing the hike, and I could tell she was pretty proud of herself too. I realized that our hike resembled our lives. We go through difficult climbs where we want to throw up our hands and say “NOPE! Not today!” But, when we stop and intentionally trust Jesus to protect us and guide us, He takes us higher than we ever thought we could go. And once we finish our journey, we get to encourage others because we’ve been there, and we’ve seen the view. We know that the climb is worth it, even if it’s a giant rock potato chip!

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Music

I spent the day in LA with my friend Jen, who also happens to be an amazing photographer! Well, she made a video project and I got to be the subject.  I may or may not have covered a Beiber song or two on ukulele.  Jen was able to capture the passion I have for music and writing songs in such a real, raw way.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  For more  about Jen, click here.

 

THE SECRET TO MAINTAINING VISION AT EVERY STEP OF LIFE'S JOURNEY

 

I’m an expert at starting things; it’s the completing that I’m not so good at. I have a small stack of books on my nightstand that I have been meaning to finish. In my backyard is some potting soil and mulch that I bought a couple of weeks ago for a backyard project that I haven’t gotten to either. And there are countless song ideas waiting to be finished on my phone’s audio notes app. Sometimes we are so excited, so passionate about something at the start, but when it comes to finishing, we run out of steam.

ECCLESIASTES 7:8 SAYS, “THE END OF A THING IS BETTER THAN ITS BEGINNING.”

My initial thought is to disagree. “Well, what about all it took to start, and what about the hard parts in the middle where I wanted to give up? Isn’t that important too?” But, as I ponder this verse deeper, I come to realize that the end really is better than the beginning.

Have you ever heard of a Ragnar race? I hadn’t either until a friend of mine started posting about a race she was taking part in. A Ragnar is a running race that covers the shocking distance of 200 miles! The difference between a Ragnar and your typical marathon race is that it is completed using a team. In my extensive research (not really, I just looked at a few websites) I found that there are two types of teams, ultra and regular. Regular is a team of 12 runners, while ultra is a team of six. Now, I don’t mind running, but oh my stars, that is a lot of miles, even to share with others!

Imagine being the first team member to run on a Ragnar team. It must take an amazing amount of mental fortitude to wrap your mind around finishing a 200-mile race when you’re only just starting mile one. But these Ragnar teams don’t focus on 200 miles; they focus on their own portion. And when they come to the end of the race, I’m sure they all share stories of how they made it through their part of the race. How their legs started to give out on them, or how they wanted to give up. Once the race is over, they are able to look back on how they worked together and arrived at the finish line. They always say hindsight is 20/20. When we’ve come to the end of anything in life, a difficult relationship, a project that felt it would never be finished or a ministry that sometimes feels like herding cats, we can take a look at all that has happened and evaluate the lessons learned in the process.

I wonder what would happen if a member of a Ragnar team just stopped running and decided to quit. How disappointed would the rest of the team be?

HAVE YOU EVER JUST THROWN YOUR HANDS UP AND SAID, “NOPE. ALL DONE. TOO MUCH!”

Often times we tend to give up when the finish line is within reach. But, where your mind goes, your feet will follow. Sometimes it has more to do with wrapping your mind around the task ahead and remembering that God never leaves us on our own to accomplish anything He’s called us to. When you feel like you are running out of hope and the finish line seems too far ahead, let these words from Galatians 6:9 encourage you.

“So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up.”

Hang in there my friends; it is always too soon to quit.

 

 

originally posted on https://calvarychapel.com

 

Seeds of Hope

 

 

THE LOWLY DANDELION HAS ALWAYS BEEN ONE OF MY FAVORITE FLOWERS.

While I can’t bring a bouquet of them inside and place them in a vase, I do enjoy finding one of these treasures outside. Now, I’m sure all you gardeners know a dandelion is a stubborn weed; therefore, you are probably wondering why on earth I love them so much, but just follow me for a minute. A sense of wonderment comes over me when I see one of these cotton ball blooms peeking out of a lawn or garden. I instantly want to pick it up and blow until every little part of that puffy blossom is floating on the breeze. Maybe it’s the kid in me, or maybe it’s something more. 

I recently learned from my less-than-pleased landlady that, while dandelions are a treasure for some of us, they are a curse to others.

Our newly sodded yard suddenly had dandelions popping up pretty much everywhere. She was definitely not very happy with me for allowing these weeds to live in her lawn. I began researching dandelions and found that they grow everywhere in the northern hemisphere, and they actually thrive the more you pull them!

EVEN MORE INTERESTING:

The dandelion is first a bright yellow flower that then dies and dries up, leaving it to turn into the identifiable white bulb that I am always delighted to find. Not only that, but as I found out from my sweet landlord, every time one of those white cotton candy-esque flowers is wished upon and blown, hundreds of new seeds are planted wherever the wind blows them. 

You may read all that and think two things: 1) Duh. And 2) “Okay, Shannon, that’s great that you embarked on a 6th-grade-level science project research mission, but what does this have to do with anything, and why am I still reading this story?” Here’s my point. I imagine each of our lives as one of those dandelions. We are beautiful, simply because God created us. We are His, we are loved, and we can be one hundred percent secure in that love. But, we are also guaranteed some hard times in this life. We know we will face sadness, sorrow and despair, which can cause us to wither. We can be left to feel like those little white flowers, dried up and completely fragile. 

THE TRUE BEAUTY OF THE DANDELION LIES IN THE WAY THAT IT PROPAGATES.

Each of the little seeds that are sent into a flurry are shaped like a flat little umbrella. They float about until they reach a destination (unfortunately for my landlord, it’s usually the new grass). Every time an excited two-year-old or fully grown woman (sideways smile) blows on one of these puffballs, we are planting hundreds of new seeds. From something dead comes new life. Now do you see where I am going with this? Isn’t it amazing!? How many times has God used your hard times to encourage another person in their struggles? God takes our dried up, broken down, dead lives, and allows us to plant new life in someone else, but we have to die first.

IT IS NO MYSTERY TO GOD IN WHO YOUR LIFE WILL TOUCH.

The seeds of hope that came from your tragedy will take off and land and take root wherever God has intended for them to land. That seed of hope will take root and cause the receiver to grow stronger.

Now do you see why I love dandelions so much? We are all little dandelions that go through seasons of growth, change, death and rebirth. God is constantly causing us to grow, walking with us through our hurts and using us to bring hope, always. I am more than willing to be broken for a time if it causes another person to find new hope and a renewed life. After today, may your view of the dandelion be forever changed! When you are aching for Jesus to take the pain and make you new, remember that He is doing just that. The seeds He is planting in you will go farther and reach more people than you could ever imagine.

 

This article first appeared on CalvaryChapel.com.  Click the link for more great articles.

Comfort of Familiarity

I typically loathe routine.  The same thing again and again makes me lose my mind a little.  I even rebel against my own plans.  For example I can make a to-do list for the day and then say "psshh!  You can't tell me what to do.  I'm not doing laundry today, today I'm watching Netflix".  You see, I thrive in the last minute, and I am in love with spontaneity.  Give me a spur of the moment coffee date, not a lunch date planned months in advance.  

 

That being said...there is something comforting about routine, something grounding about familiarity.  There's nothing and no one I am more familiar with than my husband Jessie, who I've been married to for 17 years as of today!  

 

Being familiar with my husband goes beyond knowing how he takes his coffee.  (It's black by the way, just like mine). What I mean is, I can spot him in a sea of surfers just by the way he moves from paddling out to sitting on his surfboard.  From across a crowded room I can find him by the way he crosses his arms and gently pushes his shoulders back, then lifts one arm to his chin when he's intently listening.  I know that whenever I'm away, even if it's just a weekend, I'll get a text from him telling me he misses me.  When I place my hand on his knee in the car, he'll always cover it with his hand.  These little bits of predictability bring little hugs of comfort and contentment.

 

This morning we were a tad jet lagged from a Costa Rican family vacation.  So we got up early and headed to our favorite little coffee shop to steal a few moments before the day officially started.  We sat and talked and laughed, took a selfie and shared a kiss and an "I love you" or two.  We talked about how it's taken us this long to get past accepting our differences and graduate to celebrating them.  

 

So here's to 17 years of finding comfort in the familiar.  Here's to having fought for hope when there seemed to be none and being generous with forgiveness when it didn't come easy.  Here's to loving the routine when escape seems tempting, and to embracing the next 17 years that God has planned that we can't even begin to imagine! 

 

 

Coffee & cheers to 17 years! 

Coffee & cheers to 17 years!